VIDEO: ‘Last Flight of the C-133 Cargomaster’

C-133 Cargomaster
The last flying Douglas C-133 Cargomaster lands at Travis AFB in California, completing the final flight of the type. (USAF Photo)

This incredibly well-produced video from the production team known as INVERSION documents the final flight of a Douglas C-133 Cargomaster on its trip from Alaska to its final resting place at Travis AFB in California on August 30, 2008.

The C-133 in question, USAF S/N 56-1999, was the last flying Cargomaster in the world. It had been flying Alaska Pipeline cargo around in the great north for a company called (adventurously enough) Cargomaster Corporation since 1975, four years after the retirement of the type from USAF service.

The C-133 was the first turbine-powered strategic airlifter. The first one flew on April 23, 1956, and the Air Force flew 50 of them with the Military Air Transport Service, and later, the Military Airlift Command. They were mostly used for carting ICBMs around to the various SAC bases around the country, but also lugged other loads back and forth to Vietnam. Their service life was short, as the T34 turboprops proved problematic, and the airframe suffered from fatigue problems. Over its service life, 10 of the 50 Cargomasters built were lost for a variety of reasons. The Air Force has to scramble to keep its C-133s flying until the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy came on line in June 1970. The Cargomasters were all unceremoniously retired within one year.

Sadly, the final service flight of a C-133 was from Travis to the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona in 1971. So bringing this gentle giant back home to go on display 37 years later it was a fitting way to conclude its career.

Another look at the landing from Don Von Raesfeld, one of the reported 8,000 spectators at the base that day, reveals two things:

First, these airplanes were LOUD. We normally think of turboprops like the C-130 Hercules as quiet giants these days. The Cargomaster was powered by four Pratt & Whitney T34 turboprops, churning out as much as 7,500 horsepower each. Back in the 1950s, when the Cargomaster was developed, noise was not of great concern. They just wanted to get the darn things to work properly. As the C-133 passes by the camera, it’s so loud that it overmodulates the considerable gusts of wind in the microphone.

Second, if you look closely at the right inboard engine at about 16 seconds, you notice a puff of black smoke from the powerplant’s exhaust, as well as another one at about 33 seconds. I am unable to decipher from the other video whether or not this was the engine giving the crew trouble on final approach, but it looks like that was likely the case. Nonetheless, the airplane landed safely.

Following its ceremonious final flight, the airplane was restored to its former glory with the livery of the 60th Military Airlift Wing, and sits on display at the Travis AFB Heritage Center in Fairfield, California, about mid-way between Oakland and Sacramento.

Regardless, this gorgeous video is a fitting tribute to one of the great unsung aircraft of the Cold War era. So sit back, relax, and turn the volume up, as you listen to what one of the first turboprop aircraft really sounded like back in the day.

C-133 Cargomaster
The last flying Douglas C-133 Cargomaster lands at Travis AFB in California, completing the final flight of the type. (USAF Photo)