The aircraft is formally owned by the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, which has about 450 airplanes on loan to VFW posts around the country.
The T-33A Shooting Star, built by Lockheed, is a modified version of the F-80 fighter jet.
The F-80, originally designated the P-80, entered service near the end of World War II and four of the planes were sent to Europe for tests, but the war ended before the planes were a factor. During the Korean War, the F-80 became the first American fighter jet flown in combat.
To create the T-33, Lockheed lengthened the fighter plane by about three feet and added a second seat in the cockpit to create a plane to train pilots to fly jets.
According to the National Museum of the Air Force, the first version of the plane took flight in 1948 and production continued until 1959, with 5,691 built. It is a widely known aircraft and has served in the military services of more than 20 countries.
This particular plane was built around 1952 and remained in service until 1965, when it was taken out of the active fleet at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base and brought to Wilmington.
It was originally displayed at Greenfield Lake and remained there until 1975. When it was no longer wanted at that location, Monty Ethridge, the VFW post commander at the time, arranged to have it moved to its current location.
“They basically towed the plane from Greenfield Lake to the VFW post with a pickup truck,” said Joe Stanley, the current post commander.
The post nearly lost the plane in 2003, when the land it sits own was originally part of a real estate deal to sell an old building that was owned by the VFW post and leased to a member who ran a bar. The VFW post initially contacted the Air Force museum about relinquishing the plane, but a plan eventually was worked out to refurbish the old building and retain the aircraft.
In order to keep the plane, the post must document to the Air Force museum that it is being maintained. But by 2007, the T-33 had fallen into such disrepair that post members worried the museum would demand its return.
That brought about a project in which the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 885 put in many hours to restore the plane.
Since then, members of the Civil Air Patrol, who meet at the VFW post, have taken over responsibility for keeping the plane cleaned and maintained.
Date posted: May 20, 2010
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