The T-33 is one of the most successful jet trainers of all time. When Canada decided to move to jet trainers Lockheed won the competition and Canadair awarded the contract to build the aircraft under license. The RCAF gave the T-33 the name Silver Star in honour of the first Canadian airplane, the Silver Dart.
As with other aircraft Canadair built under license, there was extensive redeisgn work and new technologies to master. Canada chose the more powerful Rolls Royce Nene engine, which required extensive redesign work. The manufacturing technique for the aircraft was also new to Canadair, as the aircraft was literally split in half and then joined after the engine was installed.
The Silver Star began appearing in squadrons and schools in large numbers in 1953. Among operational RCAF squadrons, both Regular and Auxiliary, as well as some Royal Canadian Navy squadrons, the T-33 was used as a trainer and utility aircraft. Perhaps the best-known use of the T-Bird was the Red Knight – the RCAF’s official solo aerobatics act. RCN had their own solo display under the name Red Herring in an apparent parody of the RCAF.
In the NATO Air Training Plan, which ran from 1950 to 1958, Canadian and NATO pilots received their advanced flying training on the T-33. The T-33 continued in the training role until 20 June 1974. Thereafter, the Silver Star was used as a utility aircraft, towing target drogues for surface to air gunnery for the army and navy, and simulating enemy aircraft for combat training and when equipped with special electronic pods it could simulate an anti-shipping missile. The last T-33 retired on 31 March 2005 having been used by the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at 4 Wing Cold Lake as an ejection seat test bed.
Canadair built 656 Silver Stars for the RCAF between 1952 and 1959. Some also appeared in NATO air forces, as aircraft surplus to the RCAF were transferred to France, Greece, Portugal and Turkey under NATO Mutual Assistance in the late 1950s. The fact that the aircraft served for 54 years speaks to the excellence of its design and the quality of its construction and maintenance.