USAF Photo C-133B Over San Francisco Bay
Remembering an Unsung Giant:
The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster and its People
From 1956 to 1971, the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster carried outsize cargo
all over the world. Then, it was retired and forgotten by all but those
who flew or serviced it. I was a navigator in the C-133 for its last two
years of service, and said then that I should write a book about the airplane.
Now, the project is underway. Anyone with information about the airplane,
contact the author. Personal experiences,
pictures and other information about the airplane, its missions and the
places it went are all wanted to make the book the best possible history
of this magnificent airplane.
The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster was the Air Force's only production turboprop-powered strategic airlifter. It entered service shortly after Lockheed's C-130 Hercules but achieved neither the fame nor the longevity of the smaller aircraft. Despite its obscurity, the C-133 provided airlift services in a wide range of applications for most of two decades. It expanded the outsize airlift capability introduced by the Douglas C-124 and added the unique mission of airlifting fully assembled ICBMs. The Cargomaster soldiered on until the Lockheed C-5 entered service in the early 1970s. The C-133 was then retired and most airplanes were cut up as soon as they were delivered to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on their final flight.
Only a few C-133s remain intact, mostly in museums. At least one was used under civil registry to fly pipe and other large cargo to Alaska's North Slope oil fields. Various other ideas were put forth for using the C-133, but none were carried out.
This page is a recognition of the development and operation of a magnificent airplane that did its job well and passed into undeserved obscurity. It also recognizes the achievements and accomplishments of hundreds of crewmembers, many of whose service started before World War Two and extended into the Vietnam War. They saw modern airlift develop from the propeller-driven C-47 and C-54 through the C-124 to the C-130 and the C-5. In that service, they built and developed the foundation for worldwide strategic airlift which now forms one of the pillars of current American military forces.
Three squadrons flew the C-133. At Dover AFB, DE, the 1st and 39th Military Airlift Squadrons brought the airplane into service. Cadre from Dover later moved to Travis AFB, CA, to manage the conversion of the 84th MAS from C-124s to the C-133. Over the years, members of the three squadrons set several international records for weight lifted and distance. They also carried just about anything that would not fit into other transports for the Department of Defense, NASA and other agencies. When the airplane was retired, the three squadrons were also retired, though the 1st MAS was later reactivated at Andrews AFB, MD, where it is part of the 89th Airlift wing, flying special airlift missions in support of the President, Congress and other dignitaries. There is also a 39th Airlift Squadron, at Dyess AFB, and an 84th Airlift Flight, at Peterson AFB, CO. Both trace their lineage to Troop Carrier Squadrons, though.
The author was a navigator in seven types of airplanes in 26 years of Air Force Service. Of 6,738 flying hours, 1,809 hours were flown in the C-133 in just over two years.