Gateguards & Other Relics : T-33 in Albania
Although, unfortunately, unable to photograph the Macedonian Mi-24 Hind which came flying in low over the public road at sunset, my parents have brought these slides back from their holiday trip to Macedonia and Albania last summer. The photos show the remains of an American T-33 at the National Museum of Weapons at Gjirokastėr, Albania.
The former U.S. Air Force '14413' (full military registration 51-04413) is a Lockheed T-33A-1-LO Shooting Star. On 23 December 1957, the T-33 was on a transit flight to an USAFE unit in Greece, being originally based at some US base in France. The two-seat basic jet trainer would become a so-called 'hack' for the unit. 'Hack' aircraft were used to ferry supplies, conduct liaison with other units, and transport people as required.
However the pilot navigated into Albanian airspace, exitted it, and then entered it again. Three Albanian Air Force MiG-15bis fighters were launched to intercept. However by the time they reached the T-33, being low on fuel, the pilot was already trying to find a suitable landing ground. It was forced to land at the unfinished runway of today's Tirana airport that was being build at that time mostly by political prisoners of the postwar Communist regime. The prisoners cheered up while the plane was circling the airfield, assuming the West was finally coming to their rescue. However when the aircraft had landed, the pilot was soon surrounded by armed guards and escorted away.
The T-33 ended up as a gateguard for the National Museum of Weapons located in the citadel of Gjirokastėr. The aircraft has not been maintained or protected against any damage caused by the public or the elements. When my parents visited the site in 2004 for the annual National Folk Festival, local children were climbing the aircraft and playing around it. I found some older photos of it on the internet. In 1990 it still had some of its canopy, a photo taken later in the 1990s show that the canopy had been lost by then, but it still had the wingtip fuel tank attached. Today, even the access panels on the nose are gone, and the fuel tank is lying somewhere in the grass. Also the metal fence surrounding the airplane is completely gone.
Gjirokastėr is an ancient city with lots of history. The city suffered many economic problems following the collapse of the Communist regime. Efforts are undertaken by officials to restore and retain historic buildings. It remains to be seen, if there will be any interest from the Albanians in saving the 'war trophies' of the former communist regime.
In addition to photographer, I wish to thank Arthur and LIKA at the Key Publishing's Message Board
for their help, providing the background information I needed to compose this report.
All photos copyright C. Hillebrand (firstname.lastname@example.org)