“Red Bird” and “Blue Bird” are headed to the boneyard.

Those are the names of Boeing’s two Canadair T-33 chase jets – vintage aircraft Boeing uses to follow its airliners during test flights.

The single-engined support jets are easy to miss. But look close at photographs of first flights, and there they are.

Now, Boeing’s T-33s are flying into retirement, after 66 years of life. Canadair produced both jets in 1954, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Dreamliner 2

Source: Boeing

Boeing’s T-33 chase jet trails a 787-8 on 15 December 2009, the day that airliner made its maiden flight.

“Boeing is retiring its two T-33 aircraft,” the company confirms. “We are currently looking into other options to support our flight test activities.”

“T-33’s have been used in many flight-test support roles, including as the safety chase plane for the first flight of nearly every new and derivative commercial airplane starting with the 767 in 1981 through today’s 777-9,” Boeing adds.

Boeing does not elaborate and which aircraft might support future flight tests.


Source: Boeing

One of Boeing’s T-33 chase jets trails a 747-8 on 20 March 2011.

The decision to retire the T-33s reflects “lack of supply chain support to maintain the aircraft”, Boeing says.

Boeing has released undated images showing the T-33s flying in tandem.

T-33s in flight

Source: Boeing

T-33s formation

Source: Boeing

Boeing’s T-33s.

This year, “Red Bird” (registration N109X) flanked Boeing’s 777-9 during that aircraft’s first flight in January. “Blue Bird” has registration N416X.

777X landing

Source: Boeing, video screenshot

“Red Bird” trails a 777-9 during that type’s first flight on 25 January 2020.

The T-33’s history traces to 1943 when, during the Second World War, the US Army requested that Lockheed build a new fighter, according to the Air Mobility Command Museum.

That project developed the single-seat P-80, from which came a twin-seat variant called the TP-80C, later named the T-33.

Powered by single Allison J33 turbojets, the T-33 first flew in 1948. Canadian manufacturer Canadair later produced its own variant, which was powered by Rolls-Royce Nene 10 engines.

The US military variants had maximum speed of 456kt (845km/h), 45,000ft ceiling and about 870nm (1,611km) range, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.