Final Flight


C 133A

SN: 56-1999

Travis AFB, CA August 30, 2008


C 133 N199AB arrived at Travis this morning only about 25 minutes late from filed flight plan ETA. The planned flyover before landing did not take place due to a wing overheat warning that occurred just as it arrived. Some observers noted puffs of black smoke coming from number three engine as the plane appeared over the Travis area.  As much as we C 133 fans were hoping for the magic sound and sight of a low level full power flyby, prudence dictated an immediate landing. The landing was perfect, the pilots greased it in.  The plane taxied through a shower from the fire trucks, then parked and was turned wide open for visitors including the cockpit area. Crowd control was pretty loose but rumors of damage and theft have not proven to be accurate.
I did a short cockpit interview with "Ski", Ken Kozlowski, the Crew Chief and FE. Ski told me that the highest maintenance items were not the props or engines but the Garrett (Airesearch) APUs. When he called Garrett for technical help, they denied having ever made the units. He set them straight on that issue, but he was largely on his own in trying to fix anything on the C 133. I shook his hand and thanked him for his decades of work and ingenuity keeping her airworthy. But for him she would have been cut up and smelted down for beer cans long ago.
I shot a bunch of photos of the FE logbook pages and hope to post them too. Aviation author Ralph Pettersen (Connieman) got there early and with press credentials and shot some good landing photos. Security was tight with every attendee having to go through a metal detector and bag inspection. The C 133 looked like a worker, not a show plane, but to my eye she was GORGEOUS. The nose wheel well had the usual USAF loudspeaker (like the C 97 did) but what was really surprising was the stock (USAF original) truck type horn wired into 28 VDC. Can you imagine a C 133 honking its horn while taxying or even on landing approach? Could anyone have heard it over the engine noise? One former crewman thought it might have been a warning horn for a APU fault. The APUs ran sometimes with nobody in the cockpit and this wheel well horn would have been a way to alert the ground crew of a APU problem. 

This just in (Sept 28,2008). Ski has solved the horn mystery:  .

"The horn on the front of the airplane is a horn that goes off when you are about to exceed nosewheel steering limits while towing. It actually went off when they were towing her at Travis."
The Cargomaster looked H U G E even in the company of nearby C 5s and C 17s. A nearby HC 130 looked anorexic in comparison. I am grateful and relieved that this magnificent aircraft will be displayed rather than scrapped. We all should thank M Sgt. Terry Juran, the Travis Museum director and a true lover of historic aircraft, Maurice Carlson, the owner-donor, "Ski" the crew chief/ FE, and all the C 133 vets, civil crews and supporters who helped make this possible. Let's not forget to credit Cal Taylor too, the author and former C 133 navigator who has been instrumental in getting the C 133 the notice and respect in aviation history that it deserves.
As I watched the C 133 on final, it struck me just how miraculous an event this was. Here was a plane written off by the USAF as fatigued, unsafe and unreliable in the 1970s coming back to an airbase in 2008 on her own power, with all major systems operational and with current IFR certification. After decades of profitable civil flying in Alaska, one of the toughest aviation venues anywhere, the biggest Big Doug of all had finally come home from the cold north to retire in sunny California.
LAST ENTRY IN N199AB's logbook dated August 30, 2008:
To the boys at Travis,
Keep this old girl in good shape.
She has been a great aircraft.


No microprocessors, no digital displays, no LCD screens. Analog electromech tech at its zenith. I love this cockpit. As delivered by Douglas, no software, not one BIT. As pointed out by some astute readers, some digital stuff crept in on avionics upgrades (e.g. transponder and GPS), but the basic plane is pure 1950s analog technology.


Pilots overhead panel shot. No touch screens or software driven controls here. Real toggle switches, potentiometers, rheostats, cable linked valve controls and incandescent bulbs. Those flip-up toggle switch guards probably saved more than a few crewmen from making a mistake. You had to think twice before you could flip a critical switch.


Circuit breaker panel. Lots of 28 volt DC power on a C 133 and 200 VAC 400 hz 3 phase power as well. There was also 115 VAC single phase 400 hz power for avionics and doubtless some transformer or inverter supplied 26 VAC 400 hz here and there for instrument gyros, selsyns etc. I would have loved to have Ski's in flight job, but not the knuckle busting wrenching he had to do for years out in the open to keep this old girl airworthy. No heated hangers, no giant USAF maintenance and logistics organization backing him up, no manufacturers tech reps helping him to troubleshoot problems. Just Ski and his colleagues performing a labor of love. That they were able to keep this plane flying more than 40 years after the USAF sent her to the boneyard as timed out and worn out is nothing short of incredible. You gotta take your hat off to these miracle workers. I sure do!


Above: further circuit breaker panel detail.


Below: Cavernous C 133 fuselage designed to carry ICBMs. As a longtime skydiver, all I could think about was the opportunity we missed to have 500 jumpers exit from a single aircraft.



Ferry permit for final flight to Travis AFB

Would you have flown pressurized with a cracked windshield pane like this? I am guessing that the crack on this multi-layer pane isn't as dangerous as it appears. The flight tracker website shows that N199AB was at 21,000 ft and making 240 kts on the flight from McChord to Travis. One person said that the crack occurred in flight during the leg from AK to WA. This is probably correct since the FAA ferry permit did not require unpressurized flight.


Two current USAF aircrew checking out how things were done back in the day.


 Note cracked windscreen this time shot from the inside.  Unlike most planes on their final ferry flight which have many non essential systems and instruments inoperative, N 199AB flew high and proud with all major systems fully operational and boasting a current IFR certification. Ken "Ski" Kozlowski, the crew chief and FE, took very good care of this old girl.


Ski's flight engineer panel. Note the vibration sensor indicator panel in the upper left. In a C 133, there was always a "whole lotta shakin goin on." If you double click on this picture it will expand. If you do this, you will then note a tiny + sign that can be moved with your mouse. Position it over something of interest and double click. This will allow you to see high detail on a selected portion of the image. Let me know if it works. My email address is at the very bottom.




The notorious Curtis Wright props. Endless trouble for the USAF but somehow "Ski" kept em running true. His secret? A custom made gauge given to him by a former N199AB pilot who Ski referred to as a genius on all things Cargomaster. This gauge allowed very precise spacing between a prop gear and a speed sensor coil that picked up pulses from the passing gear teeth. If that spacing was set properly, a lot of prop control and synching problems were avoided. Ski's "sweet spot" in the sensor-to-gear spacing dimensions was actually different than specified in the USAF TO manuals. Interestingly, Ski said the Garrett APUs, not the engines or props, were the biggest maintenance problems. Take off was always done with both APUs running but Ski usually shut down one once they were aloft. He wanted to be sure he had one in reserve that could get them home.


Another engine photo. 



These engines seem small for being capable of delivering 6500 HP. The black and yellow areas sported fresh paint. This proud old girl put on makeup for her star appearance at the Travis airshow.



C 133 navigator's station. Jurassic era. Note non FAA approved ancient Texas Instruments marine Loran C receiver in white plastic case on the left. These barely fetch $10 on eBay these days. No fancy Garmin IFR certified color GPS map gear here. The white faced CRT instrument to the right of the orange weather radar display is an ancient (APN ?) radio altimeter.

C 133 navigators were not  GPS moving map readers, they were the real deal using sextants to shoot stars, doing pressure pattern nav, lining up master and slave station pips on old Loran A sets and converting master slave delays (measured in microseconds) into hyperbolic lines of position. 


Above left: Bulbous nose radome housed the weather radar antenna. N199AB appeared to still have the original USAF radar, believed to be an APN 59. 

Above center: The last logbook entry is very poignant: " To the boys at Travis, Keep this old girl in good shape. She has been a great aircraft." Reading it choked me up, really.


LEFT: Typical logbook maintenance entries. Would anyone like to see more of these? I shot almost the whole logbook.

RIGHT:Nose gear well.  Note loudspeaker and horn. Did C 133s honk? I'd actually like an answer to this question? My email address is at the end of this website. NOTE: my question was answered. The horn warned of nose wheel steering angle limits being reached. It actuated while being towed at Travis. 


My (then) girlfriend Sara, relaxing  in the cool  shadow of N199AB's huge starboard wing.  Sara is not a propliner nut like me, but she is a very good sport about my various aerial addictions. Sara is on the mathematics faculty at a California public college. She has a passion for math that rivals my passion for aviation. UPDATE: After ten years I finally popped the big question and Sara said yes. We were married in August of 2010. It's been wonderful. I consider myself a lucky man. 



Little boy, big plane. Note the retrofitted fuselage hoop bands. Douglas made this post production mod to reinforce the C 133 fuselage skins which were prone to stress cracking. Some  C 133s suffered catastrophic in flight structural failure caused by rapidly propagating skin cracks.


Above and below: nose gear well detail



Above:FE panel and desk. 

Below: Engine controls


Below: Logbook entry showing crack in pilots eyebrow window on TO from ANC in 1989 and noting 1/2 psi limit on cabin differential pressure. Pane was later replaced. Another entry shows elevated GPU oil temp, solved by replacing a collapsed air duct. Another entry shows replacement of a defective turn and bank indicator on the pilot's panel. There is always something to fix on a C 133 or any vintage aircraft of similar complexity.




Above:looking forward to cockpit bulkhead. 

Yellow item on floor is the cargo winch.

Above: More panel pictures, this one is to the right of the navigator's desk and
has the control head for the weather radar. Note above this control head is a pressurization control for the radar. High voltages and high altitudes (low pressure) don't work well together, electrical arc flash-overs can occur and damage the equipment. The solution is to independently pressurize any high voltage gear that resides outside of a pressure bulkhead, like the nose mounted radar. I believe that only the radar feedhorn  (a waveguide that carries transmitted and recieved signals to and from  the scanning parabolic mounted in the nose) was pressurized, not the entire nose radome.
If you click to enlarge and view the labels on the circuit breakers, they tell a history of the C 133's earlier and current military avionics. The one labeled APN 70 was connected to a LORAN A receiver-indicator (no longer aboard N199AB) that was a 100% vacuum tube set to the best of my knowledge. It received precisely timed master and slave  radio signals broadcast from USCG stations on several frequencies just above the AM broadcast band around 1750 KHz. The USCG carried APN 70s on their rescue aircraft and even updated some to receive LORAN C signals on the 100 KHz VLF band. It is noteworthy that the C 133 did not have nearly as sophisticated electronic nav gear as did some USAF C 130s from the same era. Some of these cohort C 130s carried Marconi Doppler navigation gear which bounced radio signals off the terrain or water below the aircraft and measured the Doppler frequency shift of the reflected signal to derive ground speed. This Doppler gear made the navigator's job much easier by providing readouts of ground speed, course over ground, dead reckoned lat lon and much other useful information. 
One circuit breaker label is very puzzling: ASQ 13 pressurization. As far as I can tell, the ASQ 13 was a MAD boom system used to detect submarines. The USAF C 133 was never used in ASW, which a USN function. Maybe the ASQ 13 pressurization system was generic and could be used to pressurize the APN 59 antenna feedhorn on the C 133. Any C 133 crewmen care to solve this puzzle?

NOTE: Bill Hammond, a fellow ham radio operator (AK5X) and former avionics tech, supplied the answer to the ASQ 13 question above: 

"There was a question in your remarks about a ASQ-13 low pressure warning light on the Flight Engineers position. The ASQ designation refers to a package of equipment, an example, the F8 fighter had a ASQ-17 package that consisted of a UHF radio, ARC-27, a Air Direction Finding component used with the UHF radio, ADF-25, and the IFF system, APQ-5. It was all in one round package about 4' in diameter and 12" deep. It must of weighed 400 lbs. It was pressurized and had to be removed and installed with a crane. It was in an unpressurized area of the F8 behind the pilot, hence the need for pressure to keep the RF components from arcing in less dense air. After leaving the Air Force I did bench repair of the ASQ-17 package for LTV Corporation, who manufactured the F8."

Remember, back in the C 133's heyday there was no GPS and LORAN A did not have worldwide coverage by any means. Very early inertial navigation gear was used on some specialized Weather and ECM Connies, but never in C 133s. There were times on long trans oceanic flights when the position of a C 133 was just a very carefully prepared guess (maybe "estimate" sounds better). C 133 navigators sure earned their meager military salaries. They couldn't just sit back and read out lat lon from a display. C 133 navigators had to actually navigate.
I grew up in commercial fishing, my dad's profession, a trade with seemingly no intersection with C 133 operations. We did share a few common experiences with C 133 navigators however. We both used the low frequency radiobeacon on the Farallon Islands (approx 27 miles southwest of SF CA) as a guide to the Golden Gate when inbound from far offshore in the Pacific and we both used LORAN A. The Farallon Island NDB was a powerful LF beacon which ran 24/7, sending out a morse code "F" (..-.) on 318 KHz when it was finally retired. It was such a good feeling to hear that beacon through the static crashes and see the ADF needle swing to a dead ahead bearing. You knew you were on the home stretch.
The C 133 used an ARN 6 ADF to get a bearing on the Farallon Island and other beacons. I ran a converted surplus ARN 7 ADF aboard my boat and also had an R65A-APN 9 LORAN A receiver-indicator. The surplus USAF nav gear was dirt cheap in the 1960s but not used much outside of commercial fishing. The reason? It required 400 hz AC power and therefore was quite hard to adapt to 12 volt DC boat power systems... and it was waaaay too ugly for yachts. The surplus gear was of incredibly high quality though, actually far superior in construction and performance compared to the pretty commercial gear suitable for yachts. This superior quality and rock bottom price made the conversion effort definitely worthwhile once the kinks were worked out.


Above:  massive tail and ramp.

Prop synchronizer electronics, 1 master 3 slaves.


little girl playing pilot in a very big plane

Above: Flight Engineers vibration sensor selector and readout panel. What if the C 133 had been better designed so that it had no abnormal vibration problems. Would they have stayed in the USAF inventory as long as C 130s of similar vintage?  

Above: Collins 618T HF SSB radio transceiver. This radio was the C 133's only link to civilization on overseas flights when beyond VHF range. Comms over distances of several thousand miles were possible when ionospheric conditions were optimal. Since the Earth's ionospheric conditions are highly dependent on solar weather (sunspot activity), C 133s on long overwater trips could be completely out of radio contact for hours if there were no sunspots. Pretty spooky if you are flying a plane plagued by structural problems and unexplained crashes. Today, C 17s and C 5s have satellite comm gear that assures constant contact with land bases.

Massive C 133 cargo winch with levelwind mechanism and fairlead.Runs on a BIG 28 volt DC motor. Could function on 12 volts at reduced power/RPM. Just right for the front bumper of your monster truck!

Surprisingly, this monster winch is still in use in the USAF in 2008! I reprint an interesting email  below from a USAF loadmaster, CMSgt Thomas Dzwonkus (Ret) who wrote:

 "Great stuff.  I just retired as a loadmaster on 16 Jul 2008.  I flew on
C-124's,  C-130's and C-5's for a total of 37 years and 12,500 flight hours.
A little info for you, that big cargo winch is still used on the C-5 for 
specialzed loads.  I winched a 212000 pound trailer into the C-5 using this
old  but powerful tool as recent as last year.  They work awesome and most of us
wish  that there were more of those available as there are only about 20 left in
serviceable condition. 

It was tough to leave the loadmaster career field due to the fact that you had 
to use your brains to figure a solution to load some of the odd stuff into metal 
Again, enjoyed the pictures, maybe they will let you into the C-124 to 
photogragh that old beast, some interesting stuff in there including an
elevator and an awesome flight engineer panel."



Can you tell I like aircraft systems and not just exterior airframe shots? Thought so. Well, everyone shoots the airframe. Someone has to shoot the systems. That someone is me. 

The real truth?  Well... who can compete with Ruud Leeuw a far as airplane pictures are concerned?  Check this out: 

I have very little competition in photographing various systems components such as prop synchronizing servo amps, cargo winches and HF SSB radio transceivers. Aviation author and Lockheed Constellation history expert (I think he even has a type rating) Ralph "Connieman" Pettersen spied my pitiful point and shoot digital camera at Travis and quipped good naturedly: " Mark... when are you going to get a REAL camera?" Hey, at least if it gets stolen I will not have to get a Prozac prescription. You could probably buy a decent used Cessna for what Ralph's cameras cost. Mine would buy about 15 gallons of avgas.


   Collins 618M VHF AM transceivers. I think these are vacuum tube radios! Double click to enlarge and then double click again to see detail of all the complex autopilot system components above. There must be 1000 lbs of Cannon plugs on a C 133.

ARN 21 TACAN nav gear. Distance measuring equipment.

White box on celing house a liferaft which deploys through the top of the fuselage. Click to enlarge and look at the maze of wiring harnesses that criss cross the fuselage interior. Must be hundreds of miles of wire weighing several thousand pounds in this bird. Every  single wire is thoroughly documented in the C 133 TOs (tech orders, thick manuals).

Nose gear well detail.


Above: Fuselage hoop band detail. Wonder how much drag was added? The dark vertical strips appear to be some kind of caulking or sealant applied to a lap joint between portions of two bands and fuselage skin. Note that the band stops above and below the windows probably relying on the interior window framing to supply the needed crack protection reinforcement. Click on the photo to enlarge and note the huge overlapped skin patch that is on the upper fuselage exterior and under the hoop bands. This once sleek flush riveted fuselage surface now sports a lot of draggy lap joints which must have cost a couple of knots in speed. Well worth the speed penalty, of course, if it prevented skin cracks and catastrophic explosive decompression.

Below: there were many former C 133 crew milling about N199AB after its arrival, trading stories and reliving memories. Their consensus was that the ominous black stain below (an identical mirror image stain was on the port side as well) was that it was not a hydraulic fluid or fuel leak artifact, but rather a rainwater caused stain and no big deal at all. It was great talking with so many folks who flew, crewed and wrenched on the C 133. They came from all over the US to see N199AB's final moments of flight and arrival. Despite the checkered safety history of the C 133, to a man, they would all fly in one again given the chance.

 Spare engine on special trailer.

Pratt & Whitney T34-P-7WA

Fairly small engine for the amount of power it produced, 6500 HP! Later versions on the C 133B added 500 HP. Despite those impressive specs, the C 133 was considered by many to be a bit underpowered.



Below: N199AB after arrival at Travis on August 30, 2008.

On open display at the Travis Air Show. 

End of a long journey, from USAF boneyard, to decades of rugged Alaskan civil flying, to a well earned USAF base museum retirement.

Full circle for an Unsung Giant!

What you see here just scratches the surface. Cal Taylor has authored a truly great book about the C 133 which is meticulously researched, full of photos and covers civil as well as military history of this plane. Details are on his website. 

Hope you enjoyed this website. Comments and edits welcome.

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