The Boeing Skyfox was a modification program intended to modernized the large fleet of existing Lockheed T-33 "Shooting Star" jet-powered trainers which saw widespread service and sales during the Cold War. The T-33 was developed as a two-seat trainer aircraft from the single-seat P-80/F-80 "Shooting Star" fighter originating during World War 2. The F-80 saw combat action in the Korean War while the T-33 served to bring about whole new generations of jet pilots into the fold. With its World War 2 origins, it was only a matter of time before the system faced its technological limitations (T-33s, though largely retired from service today, were still being operationally used as recently as 2005). The T-33 was produced in over 6,500 examples by Lockheed with a further 656 examples produced by Canadair in Canada (as the CT-133 "Silver Star" with its Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine) and several hundred were manufactured under license by Kawasaki of Japan.
With the T-33 in quantitative use, Skyfox Corporation (founded as Flight Concepts, Incorporated in 1982) was established by former Lockheed engineers. A design initiative came about to drastically modify these older aircraft to a more modern appearance with completely reworked internals while offering much improved performance capabilities and lower operating costs. The program proved promising enough that The Boeing Company acquired Skyfox Corporation in 1986 to begin offering the modification kit to a larger market. However, few potential buyers emerged and stiff competition was being offered by cheaper propeller-driven alternatives. The program eventually fell to naught with only a single prototype being completed in 1982 - this being a converted former Canadian CT-133 "Silver Star" variant. First flight of the Skyfox prototype occurred on August 23rd, 1983. The program was shelved in whole by 1997.
The Skyfox program would have seen a complete redesign of the exterior surfaces of the T-33 to the point that the original aircraft was barely recognizable under its new guise. A new, more pointed nose cone was developed while the single-piece cockpit canopy took on more of a "tear drop" shape. The wings remained straight appendages and low-mounted along the fuselage sides but they were given additional surface area at the wing roots while the wingtip droptanks were optional. While the original T-33 made use of a single turbojet engine buried in the fuselage and aspirated by a pair of side-mounted air intakes, the Skyfox kit installed two external engine nacelles at the rear sides of the fuselage just aft of center. The original intakes were faired over and contoured with the aircraft's general shape while this internal volume was replaced by fuel tanks. This forced the horizontal tailplanes to be raised from the fuselage to the vertical tail fin itself in a "T" style arrangement. The undercarriage remained a traditional tricycle configuration and fully retractable with steering added to the nose wheel as well as power braking for improved ground control. Additional upgrade packages were to be offered to the Skyfox line that would have improved the avionics suite and electronics.
The original T-33s were powered by a single Allison J33-A-35 series turbojet engine while the Skyfox modification introduced a pair of more modern Garret branded TFE731-3A series turbofan engines of both increased performance and improved efficiency with a rated output of 3,700lbs thrust from each unit. In testing, the Skyfox prototype reported an operational range of 2,200 miles on internal fuel with external stores as optional. The airframe reached a service ceiling of 40,000 feet at a 4,900 feet per minute rate of climb while the new engines drastically reduced the aircraft's take-off distance from 4,600 to 2,600 feet and increased its time to altitude. Maximum take-off weight was 20,000lbs.
The Skyfox design effort went beyond that of developing an advanced modern jet trainer as a ground attack role was also envisioned. The airframe could therefore carry an estimated 6,000lbs of external stores across multiple underwing hardpoints and ordnance options would have included machine gun and cannon pods as well as provision for conventional drop bombs and rocket pods for use in the close-support strike role. This effectively broadened the tactical and logistical capabilities of the aircraft for a much broader market appeal.
Despite the impressive effort there was only mild interest generated on the market for a more modern T-33 alternative and this primarily emerged from interest within Bolivia and Ecuador while the United States Air Force and Portugal were also mentioned as candidates. As such, the Skyfox initiative fell to the pages of aviation history without much fanfare.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
44.0 ft (13.41 m)
38.8 ft (11.83 m)
12.3 ft (3.76 m)
8,501 lb (3,856 kg)
16,235 lb (7,364 kg)
+7,734 lb (+3,508 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Boeing Skyfox production variant)
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