IQ TopShot: Flyover and out

T-Birds soar into history

March 11, 2021 in Innovation, Technology

Photo: Mark Mitchell

HEIGHT: 6,000 feet (1,829 meters)

PHOTOGRAPHER: Engineering test pilot Mark Mitchell

RED BIRD PILOTS: Randon Stewart (front seat), Mark Mitchell (back)

BLUE BIRD PILOTS: Norman Howell (front), Barry St. Germain (back)

After 46 years of service, “Red Bird” and “Blue Bird” are heading into retirement. License-built by Canadair in 1954, these variants of the Lockheed T-33 have been used in multiple test support roles, including as the safety chase plane for the first flight of nearly every new and derivative Boeing commercial airplane starting with the 767 in 1981 through today’s 777-9.

During the final flyover of Washington state, engineering test pilot Mark Mitchell snapped the photo from the back seat of Red Bird.

“The image captures the final formation flight of the T-33s over the Puget Sound area before these last two airplanes went into storage,” he said. “We had just taken off from Seattle’s Boeing Field as a formation, heading northwest toward Victoria, [British Columbia]. You can see Port Townsend in near field, front of wing leading edge. Whidbey Island’s at the top of the tip tank, and Mount Baker is off in the distance.

“The T-Bird is an exceptionally reliable and capable air vehicle. On top of that, they are a unique treat to fly.

“After this shot, we made a right turn for a formation pass along the runway at Paine Field [in Everett], where these planes had done safety/photo chase for most of Boeing airplanes’ first flight events over the past several decades. Then we did a formation slow pass along the runway to give everyone a final look before their last landing at Boeing Field.”

Boeing will keep the aircraft in storage.