The Jet That Fought A Dirty War

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The Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star also known as T-Bird is an American subsonic jet trainer. It was the first jet fighter used operationally by the US Army Air Force. 

However, some foreign nations would eventually use this seemingly harmless training plane for dark purposes. Its guns would eventually be turned against the US forces in covert operations at the height of the Cold War. 

A Fearsome Predecessor

During the latter days of WWII, the US Air Force commissioned Lockheed to develop a new jet fighter which will eventually be known as the Shooting Star, because of its staggering 600-mile-per-hour speeds. 

This will lead to several iterations of the type- the P80B, the F-94 all-weather interceptor, and the swift and agile chaser plane, the T-33. 

Classic Trainer

Adapted by lengthening the fuselage by slightly more than three feet and adding a second seat, the trainer would manage to outlive all other iterations. 

It made its first flight on March 22, 1948. Starting in 1949, the US Navy used the T-33 as a land-based trainer for many of its pilots. 

Darker Purpose

As harmless as this plane’s trainer and chaser roles have been, T-33s have been used in active combat assaults on at least one occasion, but not by American hands. 

Bay of Pigs Invasion

On April 17, 1961, over a thousand Cuban exiles launched a botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south coast. The CIA conducted a disastrous invasion of Cuba, aiming to overthrow the Castro regime on the island. 

To succeed, it required the destruction of Castro’s small Air Force before the landings. However, President John F. Kennedy feared the diplomatic consequences of a botched assault. 

As such, the Cuban Brigade only managed to destroy a limited number of Castro’s warplanes, leaving the dictator two B-26s, two Sea Furies, and the T-33s. Ultimately, it would be the T-33s that would make a difference, leading Castro’s Air Force.


Half of the US B-26s were shot down by the T-33s. The US made no further effort to support the Cuban Brigade and the remaining force surrendered. As humiliating as this operation had been, one thing was clear. The T-33 trainer aircraft was one hell of a fighter.