Delaware Military History


Douglas C-133 Cargomaster

The first C-133A (s/n 54-0143) arrived at Dover Air Force Base on August 28, 1957 and was
officially accepted by Military Air Transport Service commander Lt. General Joseph Smith. The
new Cargomasters flown by the 39th Air Transport Squadron made the unit the first C-133A
Squadron in the Air Force. The 39th ATS was activated on 28 August 1957. On 8 Sep 57, it was
redesignated 39th Air Transport Sq, heavy, and finally as the 39th Military Airlift Squadron on 8
Jan 66.

Transitioning to the C-133 in 1960, the 1st Airlift squadron was again reassigned, this time to the
1607th Air Transport Wing, on 18 January 1963; and again on 8 January 1966, to the 436th
Military Airlift Wing, at which point it was redesignated as the 1st Military Airlift Squadron.
Prior to its inactivation on 30 June 1971, the 1st had been tasked with conducting worldwide
airlift beginning November 1953, including transport of personnel and equipment to and from
Southeast Asia, from 1966–1971.

The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster was a large cargo aircraft built between 1956 and 1961 by the
Douglas Aircraft Company. The C-133 was the USAF's only production turboprop-powered
strategic airlifter, entering service shortly after Lockheed's better known C-130 Hercules. Only fifty
aircraft (32 C-133A and 18 C-133B) were constructed and put into service with the USAF.  A two
section rear door served as a loading ramp, however the final three production models featured
clamshell doors allowing the aircraft to load and carry a Titan missile in its twelve foot high cargo
bay.  It provided airlift services in a wide range of applications, being replaced by the C-5 Galaxy
in the early 1970s.

In short order on December 16, 1958 a C-133 Cargomaster aircraft at Dover AFB airlifted the
heaviest load in the history of aviation, when it carried 117,900 pounds of cargo to an altitude of
10,000 feet, breaking the former world record held by a Soviet TU-104 in 1957.

Significant C-133 Airlift Missions

22 September 1959 The 39th Air Transport Squadron landed at Mildenhall, England, with 87,600
pounds of cargo, the heaviest load ever airlifted to an overseas location by a C-133.

25 June 1960 First C-133 Mercy mission flown when an Army specialist, with a serious eye injury,
was evacuated from Thule, Greenland, to the DAFB Hospital.

31 October 1962 Aircraft from Dover made their first paratroop drop at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

1 January 1964 Dover AFB assumed responsibility for all C-133 pilot and flight engineer training

5 July 1964 Four C-133 aircraft departed Dover, marking the first time a scheduled round-the-
world mission was ever attempted from DAFB using this model aircraft.

17-24 April 1967 A Dover-based C-133 set a record by completing a round trip to Saigon in less
than eight days, accumulating 81 flying hours.

On April 16, 1971, the wing received its first C-5 Galaxy aircraft, and began the phase out of the
propeller-driven C-133 Cargomaster aircraft.

Design and development

The C-133 was designed to meet the requirements for the USAF's Logistic Carrier Support System
SS402L for a new strategic transport.[1] The aircraft differed considerably from the C-74
Globemaster and C-124 Globemaster IIs that had preceded it. A high-mounted wing, external
blister fairings on each side for the landing gear, and rear-loading and side-loading doors ensured
that access to, and the volume of, the large cargo compartment were not compromised by these
structures. The cargo compartment (90 ft/27 m in length and 12 ft/3.7 m high) was pressurized,
heated, and ventilated.

The Cargomasters went directly into production as C-133A; no prototypes were built. The first
Cargomaster flew on 23 April 1956.[2] The first C-133As were delivered to the Military Air
Transport Service (MATS) in August 1957 and began flying MATS air routes throughout the
world. Two C-133s established transatlantic speed records for transport aircraft on their first
flights to Europe. The fleet of 50 aircraft proved itself invaluable during the Vietnam War, The
Cargomaster soldiered on until the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy 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 in 1971.

Fifty aircraft (32 C-133A and 18 C-133B) were constructed and put into service with the USAF. A
single C-133A and a C-133B were built and kept at Douglas Long Beach as "test articles." They had
no construction numbers or USAF tail numbers.

The C-133 had large tail doors and side doors and a large, open cargo area. With the C-133B, the
rear cargo doors were modified to open to the side (petal doors), making an opening large enough
to transport ballistic missiles such as the Atlas, Titan and Minuteman more cheaply, safely and
quickly than road transport. Several hundred Minuteman and other ICBMs were airlifted to and
from their operational bases by C-133s. The C-133 also transported Atlas, Saturn and Titan rockets
to Cape Canaveral for use as launch boosters in the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space programs.
After the Apollo capsules splashed down, they were airlifted in C-133s from Naval Station
Norfolk, Virginia or Hickam AFB, Hawaii to Ellington AFB, Texas, or to California.

Operational history

The C-133 was for many years the only USAF aircraft capable of hauling very large or very heavy
cargo. Despite the C-124 Globemaster II's capabilities, there was much cargo that it could not carry
because of its configuration with a cargo deck 13 ft (4 m) off the ground and its lower, though
substantial, engine power.

By 1971, shortly before the introduction of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the Cargomaster was
obsolete as well as being worn out, and all were withdrawn from service in 1971. The C-133 was
originally a 10,000-hour airframe that had been life-extended to 19,000 hours. Severe vibration had
caused critical stress corrosion of the airframes to the point that the aircraft was beyond
economical operation any longer. The Air Force managed to keep as many of the C-133 fleet in
service as possible until the C-5 finally entered squadron service.

C-133s set a number of unofficial records, including records for military transport aircraft on trans-
Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes. Among the longest were non-stop flights from Tachikawa AB,
Japan to Travis AFB, CA (17:20 hours on 22 May 1959, 5,150 mi/8,288 km, 297.2 mph/478.3 km/h)
and Hickam AFB, HI to Dover AFB, DE in about 16 hours (4,850 mi/7,805 km 303.1 mph/487.8
km/h). The only FAI officially-sanctioned record was in December 1958, when C-133A 62008 lifted
a payload of 117,900 lb (53,480 kg) to an altitude of 10,000 ft (3,048 m) at Dover AFB, DE.

C-133B AF Ser. No. 59-0536 is located at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB,
Delaware. This aircraft had been at the Strategic Air Command Museum at Offutt AFB, Nebraska
for many years and was donated to the AMC museum when the SAC museum moved in the late
1990s to its new location.

C-133 Losses and Major Accidents
Cal Taylor
                                                 
   
   Between 28 Aug 57 and 15 Aug 71, ten C-133 aircraft were lost in accidents. Six were A-models
and four were Bs. Crew losses were 55 personnel. Causes of seven of the accidents remained
undetermined, especially because four disappeared at sea and little or no recovery was possible of
wreckage or crewmembers. These losses were twenty percent of the fleet, giving rise to some
sardonic humor among crewmembers that continued to fly. The fleet was grounded more than
once, and the level of concern reached from the squadrons to every level of the Air Force and to
congress.

   The summaries that follow come from the Warner Robbins Air Material Area (WRAMA)
Historical Study No. 26, C-133 Cargomaster, 1953-1973 , written by Richard E. Maltais, Office of
History, Robins AFB, GA. Accident report findings remain privileged information and can not
currently (Aug 2000) be obtained from the Air Force Office of Safety.

   There are many conjectures about the reasons for the various crashes. These include stall
characteristics of the C-133, possible electrical arcing in radios installed in the wing "saddle back"
area, and icing. Especially for the airplanes that disappeared overwater, the mysteries will never be
definitively solved. Those that disappeared shortly after departing Dover AFB, DE, have even been
linked, however indirectly and absurdly, to the Bermuda Triangle. Given that any wreckage is
likely to have fallen into the Gulf Stream and moved miles downstream, the simple lack of finding
wreckage has a much simpler explanation than some mysterious outside forces.

   Although a loss of 20% of the fleet over its lifetime is perhaps uniquely high for a single aircraft
type, the lifetime accident rate (accidents per 100,000 flying hours) for the C-133 was lower than
that for the AF as a whole. The statistics that follow show the comparative rates. For the C-133,
the 1958 rate was so high because the fleet was still very small. In 1965, the rate showed another
spike because the fleet was grounded for a length period. The USAF rates for 1965-1970 were not
included in the table.  (Source: Maltais, Appendix I, p. 270)
C-133 Major Accident Rate
                                                                      (per 100,000 hours)
                                                       Year        C-133 Rate USAF Rate
                                                        1957           0                 13.6
                                                        1958         27.6               10.4
                                                        1959           0                   8.2
                                                        1960           0                   5.8
                                                        1961           3.4                6.3
                                                        1962           2.4                5.7
                                                        1963           3.1                4.4
                                                        1964           1.6                4.4
                                                        1965           2.68
                                                        1966           1.37
                                                        1967           1.5
                                                        1968           1.6
                                                        1969           1.6
                                                        1970           3.8
                                                     Ave.              3.61

Crashes
1. 13 Apr 58. Dover AFB, DE.  C-133A 54146 crashed and burned 26 miles south of Dover during a
local flight test, 17 minutes after takeoff. Four crewmembers perished. No cause was determined. In
e-mail to the author, one person who went to the site after the crash said the airplane impacted
inverted. Crew included: CPT Raymond R. Bern (AC), 1LT Herbert T. Palisch (CP), TSG Marvin
A. Aust and TSG Edward L. McKinley (FET).

2. 10 Jun 61.  C-133B 571614. Overwater, 33 minutes after takeoff from Tachikawa AB, Japan. Eight
crew killed. Only limited floating debris recovered. The cause was determined to be structural
damage resulting from a number three engine nose case failure with aircraft components striking
number four engine and causing it to separate from the aircraft. Subsequent severe structural
damage to wing and fuselage probably caused loss of aircraft control and electrical power.Crew
included:  MAJ Lawrence J. Ceretti, HQ 1501st ATW (FEAC), CPT Ray L. Willman (AC), CPT
Donald E. Holmes (P), CPT Leon M. Miller, 2223rdInstructor Sq (N), 1LT Nathan L. Patterson
(IN), TSG Oral G. Converse and TSG Howard J. Otero (FET), and SSG Billy R. Edwards (LM).

3. 27 May 62. C-133A 571611. Overwater, 32 minutes after takeoff from Dover AFB, DE, near
SHAD intersection (37° 43’ N 73° W). Six crewmembers lost. A life raft and nose gear assembly
recovered 28 May, 53 miles east of Ocean City, MD. Crew may have had a loss of flight control and
crashed. Crew included: 1LT James A. Higgins (AC), 1LT Robert J. Faller (CP), 1LT Danny D.
Hawkins (N), MSG William F. Wert and TSG Fred Parsons (FET), SSG Clifford E. Parker (LM).

4. 10 Apr 63. C-133B 590523.  Travis AFB, CA. Aircraft crashed 3/4 mile from Travis while making
practice instrument approach during local training. It was initiating a low visibility circling
approach when it went into a steep turn and crashed. Nine personnel aboard were killed. No
cause was ever determined. For more info, go to http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/c-
133b_crash_site.htm. Crew included: MAJ Roy M. Johnston (FEAC), 1LT William H. Grey (CP),
1LT Leonard R. Dorman (CP), 2LT Edward Melda (N), 2LT Russell R. Zablan, Jr. (N), TSG Donald
D. Cox (FET), TSG Joel H. Nipper (FET), TSG Lloyd J. Richard (FET), and A3C Charles W. Wittle
(Maintenance).

5. 31 Jul 63. C-133A 562005. Dover AFB, DE.  Aircraft destroyed in fire when ground crew allowed
fuel to overflow and spill to the ground. Fuel ignited by spark from GTU. Left wing and part of
fuselage damaged so severely in nine-minute fire that repair was considered uneconomical.
Airplane later torn down by Douglas for structural studies. No fatalities, minor injuries to one
ground crew.

6.  22 Sep 63. C-133A 562002. Overwater, 28 minutes after takeoff from Dover AFB, DE.
Disappeared from radar near SHAD intersection (37° 43’ N 73° W). Ten crew lost. No floating
wreckage or location of sunken wreckage. No cause determined. Crew included: CPT Dudley J.
Connolly, Jr. (AC), MAJ George V. Stricklin (CP), 1LT Walter J. Stewart III (2nd P), 1LT Jerold D.
Kopp,  1LT Robert J. Wibbels and 1LT Theodore R. McDaniels, Jr. (N), MSG Raymond P. Knott
and TSG Elwood M. Griffith (FET), SSG Carl McClung (LM) and AIC Paul R. Ruehl (Asst Crew
Chief).

7.  1964. A maintenance man was killed at Travis AFB when a C-133 slipped off the jack. He was
Ernest J. Luongo, Jr., from Massachusetts.This is the only such incident I know of where someone
among maintenance or other ground personnel was seriously injured or killed when directly
involved in C-133 operations. If there are others, please contact me.

8. 7 Nov 64. C-133A 562014. Goose Bay, Labrador. Aircraft appeared to stall at full power after
takeoff. Right wing, then left wing dropped, aircraft impacted 3,300' from end of runway in nose
high, left wing down and tail low attitude. Seven killed. Most probable cause a departure stall due
to icing or "possibly the aerodynamic instability of the aircraft." The author has had e-mail
correspondence with a Canadian who witnessed the crash. He was twelve at the time, on a Boy
Scout hike in the area just north of the runway. He stopped to watch the takeoff before getting
into the vehicle, and said the airplane lights went up into the sky, then stopped and went straight
down. There was no an explosion, just a huge fireball that erupted and he could feel the shock
wave from the combustion. He said he heard that the airplane was deiced twice before takeoff.
Crew included: 1LT Guy L. Vassalotti (AC), MAJ Frank X. Hearty (FEAC/CP), CPT Charles L.
Jenkins (CP), 1LT Douglas H. Brookfield (N), TSG John A. Kitchens and TSG Norman A. Baron
(FET), A1C Shelton Toler (LM). NOTE: Bob Hunter,who was in MX at Dover, has contacted me
to state very firmly that Sgt Kitchens was killed in the Sep 63 crash, not in this one. Hunter was
out of the service in Feb 64, long before the Nov crash. My source is Part A of the USAF accident
investigation board report. If anyone has a primary source reference to contradict that report, I
would be interested in seeing that material.

9. 11 Jan 65. C-133A 540140. Overwater just after a night departure from Wake Island. Plane
crashed from about 500' altitude, going into the sea about three miles from the end of the runway.
Wreckage was in 1,200-1,800' of water, and salvage and examination was impossible. Some limited
debris was recovered and taken to Wright Patterson AFB for examination in late Feb 65. No
official determination of the cause was established. An 8,000-hour C-133 instructor and examiner
pilot has expressed the opinion to the author that the crew probably experienced a fast-developing
departure stall that led to the crash. Crewmembers were: CPT Arthur F. Wiegand (AC), MAJ
Herman D. Stephan (CP), 1LT Jon B. Parker (N), TSG James O. Smith and SSG Anthony
Panzarella (FET), and SSG James Gold (LM).

10. 30 Apr 67. C-133B 59534.  Lost after takeoff from Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan. All crew
survived. Just after takeoff, power was lost and airplane was ditched 35 nm NE of Kadena and
approximately 2½ to 3 miles off the east coast of Okinawa. The aircraft sank in 900' of water about
one mile from Okinawa. Primary cause was material failure in propeller electrical system.
Either/both the propeller control circuit and the propeller power circuit failed, causing a fixed pitch
condition leading to engine flameout. Crew members were: CPT James Regan (AC), lLT Lawrence
Garret and CPT Richard Zabel (CP), CPT Regis White and 1LT Herb Nakagawa (Nav), MSG Ray
Wetsel and MSG William Patrick (FE), A1C Benton Seeley (LM) and A1C Darrell G. McIntyre,
crew chief. MSG Wetsel suffered serious injuries during the ditching.

11. 27 Sep 67. Another Dover C-133 crew was lost in the crash of a civilian aircraft belonging to
TEMCO. The crew had delivered a C-133 to TEMCO, at Greenville, TX, where the airplane would
undergo IRAN. They were going to Dallas Love Field aboard a TEMCO Aero Commander, which
crashed enroute, killing all aboard. Casualties included: Vernon L. Denman (TEMCO pilot), N. E.
Chappell (TEMCO employee), MAJ Jack H. Culp, Sr. (AC), CPT Donald A. Cook (CP), CPT
Anthony G. Lucci (N), MSG Julius V. Lee and MSG Kenneth P. Kennedy (FET).

12. 6 Feb 70. C-133B 59530. Location was 5 nm NNE of Palisade, NE.  Five crew killed. An existing
11" crack above the left side door propagated catastrophically, resulting in tearing of the upper
forward fuselage skin for about 17'. An explosive decompression caused large skin sections from
the top and right side of the fuselage to be torn away. Cargo included Lycoming T53 and T55
engines in sealed shipping containers and CH-47B Chinook (possibly 67-8487), all enroute to US
Army Depot New Cumberland, PA. Crew members were: MAJ Harold Tabor (AC), 1LT Duane
Burdette (CP), TSG James Clouse and MSG Joe Tierney (FETs), and SSG Ira Bowers (LM).

Accident and Major Incidents

1. 16 Jun 58. Dover AFB, DE.  C-133A 561999 caught fire during takeoff. No injuries or loss of life.
Takeoff aborted and aircraft recovered to ramp. Cause was buckled tail pipe due to broken clamp.
Fleet was grounded and emergency tech order action issued requiring removal of engines to check
exhaust nozzle and repair as necessary before releasing for flight.

2. 24 Apr 61. Cape Canaveral, FL. C-133 (tail number unknown) blew one right rear tire on takeoff
roll. No injuries or loss of life. Right wheel struck protruding bracket of a deactivated Snark
arresting barrier. During deceleration, the other right rear tire exploded, causing additional
damage to hydraulic and electric lines. Damage in gear pod was extensive enough to classify the
event as a major accident.

3. 31 Dec 62. Dover AFB, DE. C-133A (probably 71612) severely damaged by fire. Airplane was
being towed for maintenance and at least on GTU was running. Fuel poured out of the top of the
wing and onto the GTU exhaust. According to Ron Vautard, a crew chief who saw the damage,
the pods were removed and the airplane was flown out to depot with the gear locked down. Dave
Wilton researched records showing that 71612 was damaged on this date, then repaired by an
AFLC maintenance team before being flown to TEMCO, Greenville, TX, where it was under repair
from Oct 62 to Apr 63. This was one of three major C-133 fires at Dover, the other two being 62005
and 61999. Anyone with more information please contact Cal Taylor at firstfleet@aol.com.

4. Jan 1965. Tail number U/K. One accident. Numerous other incidents (total of 72) during 1965
predominantly involved airspeed indicating system, fire warning system and propellers.

5. 1966. Forty-three incidents involving same systems as in 1965 as well as numerous inadvertent
ejections of crash position indicators. One taxi accident at Tinker AFB, OK, due to nose landing
gear failure.

6. 1967. Forty-one incident reports. Most involved fire detection system, main and nose landing
gear, engine nose cases and the electrical system. Dover had another C-133 fire on 18 Jan 67. 61999
was damaged during fuel transfer. The left wing, flaps, nearby fuselage and wheel pod all were
burned. The airplane was repaired in the "Black Hangar, " Bldg 714. Repairs required 8,517.3
manhours.

7. 1968. Twenty-seven incidents reported.  20 Apr 68. C-133A 571615. Travis AFB, CA. During
engine runup, the aircraft jumped the chocks due to improperly bled brakes and ran into a metal
Butler building on the flight line. There was extensive damage to the top of the fuselage, both
landing gear pods and the two inboard engines. Photos show both bent downwards dramatically.
One outboard engine and the wing leading edge sustained minor damage. The airplane was
repaired and returned to flying status.

8. 1969. One accident, when a C-133 belly-landed at Travis AFB during a scheduled training
mission. Cause was pilot failure to extend the landing gear. The aircraft was repaired and returned
to flying status. There were also 33 incidents, with the propellers and landing gear most frequent
problem areas. On 21 Jan 69, C-133A 54139 suffered wing tip damage at Qui Nhon AB, Vietnam,
when the wing impacted slightly a parked CH-54 during landing.  Cause was attributed to failure
of tower personnel to have the runway adequately cleared.

There were probably other incidents not reported in the Maltais study, but the author has no
further information.

Copyright 2000 Cal Taylor