Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

1954

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Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

Lockheed's G. L. "Kelly" Johnson has designed some really exciting aircraft, but the company's Model 83 (which originated in late 1952) must qualify as outstanding when the state of the art at that time is taken into account. Lockheed were aware that USAF experience in Korea had shown the need for an air-superiority fighter able to operate from forward airfields and climb rapidly from the ground to engage in high-level combat. The Model 83 was designed to fulfil these roles, and in formulating his design "Kelly" Johnson attempted to keep it as cheap, small and readily maintainable as possible. Tendered to the USAF as an unsolicited proposal, it was necessary for competitive bids to be received and the USAF notified a formal requirement for such an aircraft in late 1952.

Submissions were received from North American and Republic; but as both of these companies were already heavily involved in fighter development and production, Lockheed's proposal was selected cautiously: two XF-104 prototypes being ordered for development and testing. The first of these flew on 28 February 1954, followed by test and evaluation aircraft. It was not until 26 January 1958 that the first production F-104A began to enter service - as interceptors - with Air Defense Command's 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

These production aircraft appeared quite revolutionary to those seeing them for the first time: with but a token monoplane wing mid-set on the fuselage - this latter assembly wrapped tightly round a powerful turbojet engine - needle-nosed and T-tailed. Able to demonstrate a level speed of around 2,250km/h and to climb to a height of 25km in about 4.5 minutes, it is not surprising that the Press dubbed the Starfighter the "missile with a man in it".

F-104A (170) and multi-mission F-104G (77) served with the USAF, as well as F-104B (26) and F-104D (21) two-seat operational-trainer counterparts of the A and C respectively. Major construction, however, was in Europe: following development by Lockheed of the multi-mission F-104G, more than 1,000 came from production lines in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy to equip the air forces of those nations. Similar versions were built under licence in Canada and Japan. Lockheed also built 179 F-104G for export or for supply to friendly nations through the Military Assistance Program.

Final production line was that of Aeritalia SpA in Turin, Italy which built 205 Starfighters for the Italian Air Force and 40 for Turkey. These multi-role combat aircraft have the designation F-104S and have extended production of this out-standing (and sometimes controversial) aircraft for a period of 20 years.

Interestingly a Starfighter - built from non-serviceable ex-military aircraft components by American Darryl Greenamyer over a ten-year period - was without doubt the fastest and most complex "homebuilt" aircraft ever completed. With this aircraft - known as the Red Baron F-104RB Starfighter - he raised the world speed record over a 3km low-level course to 1,590.45km/h on 24 October 1977. Unfortunately the F-104RB was lost in an accident in 1978.

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

Specification 
 CREW1
 ENGINE1 x General Electric J-79-GE-11A, 70.3kN
 WEIGHTS
  Take-off weight13166 kg29026 lb
  Empty weight6490 kg14308 lb
 DIMENSIONS
  Wingspan6.7 m22 ft 0 in
  Length16.7 m55 ft 9 in
  Height4.1 m13 ft 5 in
  Wing area18.2 m2195.90 sq ft
 PERFORMANCE
  Max. speed2400 km/h1491 mph
  Ceiling24400 m80050 ft
  Range w/max payload370 km230 miles
 ARMAMENT1 x 20mm machine-guns, 2200kg of weapons

3-View 
Lockheed F-104 StarfighterA three-view drawing (1640 x 1070)

Comments1-20 21-40
Randy Colby, e-mail, 25.03.2018 02:52

I was assigned to the Fire Control shop of the 479th A&E, at George AFB, from 63-67. It was an absolute dream to maintain most of the fire control system. An entire radar nose package could be removed, replaced, and tested in under 30 minutes by 2 people who knew what they were doing.
I was on the end of the runway in Jan. 64, when they deployed a squadron to Moron AB, Spain. It is a sight that I will never forget. Ten aircraft taking off two at a time with AB's lit, in the dark.
It was a sad day when they turned our aircraft over to the PRANG. I still go to visit the museums that have the C and D models, when ever I get the chance.

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Bill Gund, e-mail, 28.06.2015 04:20

My dad (Ed Gund) was a 104 IP at Luke AFB from 1964-1970, with a year off for an all expense paid vacation at Khe Sanh, flying O-1's. His favorite aircraft is a toss up between the F-104 or the F-86. He always maintained the 104 in the proper hands could be one potent air superiority fighter. "Get to know the vertical." For me, it was a privilege to hear the other worldly howl of the J-79 or see a formation of four breaking on the initial leg of the pattern.

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Scott Boyd, e-mail, 26.05.2015 01:23

My father-in-law flew a two-seater, during an eclipse with a photographer in the back.

He was a test pilot at Edwards at the time.

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George Haloulakos, CFA, e-mail, 01.07.2014 00:39

A static display of the F-104 Starfighter can be viewed by the public in Burbank, CA on Olive Avenue [in front of the Olive Rec Center & Park]. Another great asset in the US arsenal of freedom during the Cold War.

The F-104 Starfighter and a USAF pilot played a significant part in the episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday" in The Original Star Trek TV series in 1967. There is a great sequence of the F-104 closing in to fire missiles at the star ship USS Enterprise flying in very low orbit. Check it out! A great time-travel episode.

Identifying real aircraft featured in TV or motion picture fiction is part of my love for aviation. The love for aviation inspired me to write this book:

HIGH FLIGHT
Aviation as a Teaching Tool for Finance,
Strategy and American Exceptionalism
By George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA
ISBN: 9780-1007-2738-0
Order your copy online at: ucsandiegobookstore.com
Or by phone: 858-534-4557
"Partial proceeds support aviation heritage"

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Maresciallo Di 3 Classe, e-mail, 17.02.2014 04:01

I meant F-104S.

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Maresciallo Di 3 Classe, e-mail, 17.02.2014 04:00

I'll bet a thousand bucks that the Italian version of this, the F-106S, could beat the shit out of the normal Starfighter.

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Jim Barita, e-mail, 11.02.2014 16:20

337FIS Comm shop.Motto,"what,me worry"?I'm in Comm! F-104 easy to work on. Col. Jabara very personal, great commander. 1st Sgt Lee, Like a mother hen. Really took good care of us.Too bad the 104s didn't survive ADC.Went from NEW to Deactivate in two years. Dead stick pilot(Larry D.) was slated to recieve DFC. Wonder if he ever did?

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ross diehl, e-mail, 12.01.2014 22:49

I was a lockheed test pilot on the F104G thru J models and helped train German, Japanese,Norwegian, turkish,Canadian and USAF pilots. If one treats the aircraft as it should be, AWESOME power, ignoring the usual rumors, it will do a wonderful job. It lands(touches down)at 145 kts., glides nicely at 240kts,in the SFO pattern and was designed to pull 7.3 G just like normal fighters. A clean A /C(904gal.)will go 750nm,1100nm for a tip-tank A /C. In 1958 a stock F-104C went 1404mph,zoomed to 104,850ft. and WON the USAF gunnery meet at Nellis AFB in 1962. with the usual upgrades, it is no wonder that many foreign countries wanted the Starfighter so that they could make a quantom leap forward in state of the art technology. Lousy European weather justified pilot training in Arizona. Norway went 7 years before losing their first 104. The Italians enjoyed great success with the 104 and ceased operations about 6 years ago, 50 YEARS after the first flight in February,1954. Still skeptical, the altitude zoom profile calls for engine shutdown at 70m and it coasts up another 29,000 ft after engine shutdown. How about this, land in 2800ft. drop the drag chute, do a 360 on the runway, takeoff and do a triple immelmann off the end of the runway, followed by landing 200ft. past your dragchute. Just before I left Lockheed, I saw My first and only price quote. Lockheed offered a simple 104 in competition with the F5,for less than $750,000 EACH. Something about that 40,000fpm rate of climb endears this little jewel to those of us willing to look closely.

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tony french, e-mail, 06.12.2013 15:30

They might have been useful as bomber interceptors but as fighters they were un-maneuverable and lost out in the Indian-Pakistani wars against Mig 21s. Pilots easily lost control permanently at altitude. With the development of terrain following radar Western air forces found a use for them as low level nuclear delivery vehicles which could run through air bumps without much trouble due to the tiny wings.

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David Dahlke, e-mail, 13.06.2013 19:42

I remember being at Shepherd AFB in March 1971 when there were some being used for training. They had a unique hooting sound as they were being taxied around.

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Zippo, 19.06.2012 23:27

Very awesome interceptor, but they have very much accidents. Only the spanish F-104 not have shotdawns, why the spanish sky is very clear an the only use of the spanish F-104 is for intercpetion, not like bomber or fighter

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Jim Williamson, e-mail, 19.05.2012 06:38

I was a crew chief on the F-104 at George AFB.
We went from the lead sled (F-100) to the 104s and
what a pleasure it was to work on.
I was in the 476th T.F.S.and we were the first ones in TAC
to get 04s.we had brass all over the place.
We had a bunch of German enlisted there for awhile to train
because Lockheed was building a factory over there,they
were very bright and could ask questions that made you run
to the Teck orders.
I got out in 1959 and missed the smell of JP-4 so much I
joined the Army Guard as a UH-1 mike model crew chief.

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Dick Feuerherm, e-mail, 17.07.2011 18:57

I was a Loadmaster for the Flying Tiger Cargo Airlines for 32 years. In 1962 Flying Tigers was contracted by Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank Calif. to transport F-104 Starfighter to NATO bases in Europe, being, Messerschmidt plant in Inglestadt Germany, Eppengerg in Holland, Italy, and Japan.
In 1962 Flying Tigers was using the CL-44, swing tail, cargo airplane. With the swing tail design allowed the F-104 mounted in a shipping cradle to be loaded thru the aft end of the CL-44. We loaded two F-104's at a time in the CL-44. The first loading took almost 24 hours due to the "learning curve" and unexpected minor problems encountered during the loading. Positioning ea F-104 fuselage in it's cradle was done with the use of a electric winch, several pulleys and a "manpower". The first F-104 into the acft had to be moved to the front of the cabin, then it was "precisely" pushed by manpower at an angle to the fuselage centerline to allow the 2nd F-104 to be loaded and also "angled" to nest close to the 1st F-104, with only 6" of space between fuselages. The wings of the F-104 were removed down to the fuselage spar, and the high tail fin was removed and packaged in seperate cradles. The leading edges of the F-104 wing package were so sharp that we had to literally wrap them in cushion packaging and taped as many of the men working with loading during the first phase had minor cuts on the hands and arms when accidently contacting the very sharp leading edge of the wings.
When arriving in Inglestadt Germany, the German ramp crews offloaded the F-104's using the same loading system that Canada Air Engineers designed called the "A" frame. This "fly-away" A-Frame had to be assembled for loading, then dismantled and packaged up, then loaded aboard the CL-44 in the Forward and aft lower compartments. The Nose cone of the F-104's were also removed and packed in a shipping crate, this too was loaded in the forward lower compartment.
On an occassion when approaching Inglestadt airport in Germany for landing, we had to "hold" our position, while the ground crew was removing parts and pieces from a "landing crash" of the F-104's. At this time in the early 60's, the "Cold War" was in effect. The Russian boarder was so very close to the Inglestadt airport that the F-104's had to only a few minutes after take off to avoid crossing in the Russian sector since the F-104's speed was Mach 1. The weather in Germany for the most part was not good weather for the Germany pilots who were training on the F-104's. Some time in the mid 60's the German pilots were brought to the USA and to the Arizona area where they did most of their flite training on the F-104's. We, Flying Tigers, transported the F-104's to NATO bases in Europe over a period of 4 years. During offloading the F-104's and after the F-104 in it's cradle was positioned on the "A-frame" loader, the bottom platform supporting the F-104 in it's cradle was lowered to the ground level. The F-104 fuselage overhung the cradle at the front and aft ends approximately 5 feet at each end. When the F-104 was at ground level, and was clear of the CL-44 Fuselage, the "A-frame" was elevated approximately 4 ft off the ground. Then the F-104 was supported by jack stands at the front end and aft end "ball" points. The restraint straps were removed that held the F-104 in the cradle, the cradle was then lowered to ground level, the "A-frame" platform and F-104 cradle were removed and the "A-frame" was rolled away from the F-104 resting on the jack stands. The nose and main landing gears were then "manually" extracted and locked down and the jack stands lowered to allow the F-104 wheels to be grounded. The F-104's were pulled away.
A lot of planning, a lot of work, but it was a real challange that "Flying Tigers" was able to accomplish successfully delivering a few hundred F-104's for NATO bases in EU. over a 4 year period. Incidently, the last unloading we did of the F-104's in Los Angles at LAX airport took approximately 1 1 /2 hrs. "Guess we got good at it".
Dick Feuerherm, Sr. Loadmaster Flying Tiger Line, 1957 /1989.

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James McNaughton, e-mail, 11.05.2011 18:12

I started and ran the production powerplant assembly group at Lockheed Palmdale in the biginning of the f-104 program. Our first engines were the General Electric
YJ-79-3. There were many early teething problems with this and subsequent engines as they were largely still in a prototype stage of developement. My group did all kinds of modifications and repair on the J-79's during those early days of 1956 and onward. I left Lockheed in mid 1959 when their production slowed and I was laid off.

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Kristine Lehn, e-mail, 27.04.2011 22:02

Did any of you guys know my dad, Robert O. Kennedy (Capt - Lt Col). I believe he flew F-104's, possibly in Taiwan (Formosa) abt 1960-1962, or Hickam AFB, Hawaii? Would love to hear stories of him.

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Ken Van Wickler, e-mail, 13.04.2011 13:33

I remember fighting the F-104s out of Aalborg AB (Denmark) ca. '84 in our trusty F-4Es from Spangdahlem - fought one of them to a draw in a medium altitude turning fight and had to laugh because it was one of the few times that the F-4 could out-turn anybody! Almost got to fly in one of the two-seat "family models" while we were there, but it got MX cnx'd. In the three years I flew in Europe, I never tapped a Starfighter without him seeing me and reacting first (very unusual!), and when I talked to one of the German "Zipper" drivers about this, he said it was because "nothing in the cockpit worked" and they had nothing else to do but look outside! Finally, I remember pulling RSU duty at Spang and watchhing a couple of Italian F-104S's land @ 210+ knots - they'd appear as a dot and be past you before you could check for their gear down! Great jet - miss seeing them (and hearing them) fly.

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Don Hartford, e-mail, 12.04.2011 17:18

I served with the 337th FIS and was sent to Formosa with many of my Jet Engine and airframe mechanics in November of 1958. We were greeted with huge tents on a wooden platform and a small stove in the center for warmth. The food was OK, the San Miguel was a plenty. My good buddy, Mack Shaw (now deceased) and I tested the engines for the Starfighter, often during the evening hours, much to the chagrin of everyone on Tao Yuan. We had the A and B model aircraft. Our CO was Lt.Col. James Jabara. One night, he decided to visit us on the Engine Test site and asked me if I could minimize the noise of our testing. I very politely replied, "I will do my best but this engine has a mind of it's own, sir and I do believe you would want it to be in top shape when you climb in the cockpit." He said, Carry on Sarge. I did just that. The Star Fighter proved to be a viable and powerful retaliation tool to the Communist Chinese aggression. We were straifed only once, as I recall, and never again after that. The thing that impressed me was the fact that if the F-104 flamed out at altitude, the glide ratio, at least on one case I know of, wasn't all that bad if airspeed could be maintained. The only case I know of where a pilot experienced loss of oil pressure and had to shut down to prevent blowing up the engine, the pilot glided to home base from 6 miles out and landed safely with minimal engine damage (as I was told later). Sometime later I was stationed at Homestead AFB before going to Da Nang AB Viet Nam and Col. James Jabara was the Base CO. After departing for Viet Nam, I later learned that He died in an auto accident. It seems that his daughter was driving a V W and he was a passenger when the accident occurred. He was killed then. As many have stated, he was an excellent CO and he often spoke to the men in his unit.
I am glad I happened upon this web site because I know that many of you have wondered if there ever was a unit citation for the efforts of all who served in this mission. I was told that this project was not to be discussed and that it never happened. Could have fooled me. Anyway, now my children can know that it did in fact happen. God Bless all of you.

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Mike Halbrook, e-mail, 26.03.2011 17:52

The F-104 did not fit an existing AF requirement. In military procurement, meeting the stated requirements and fitting the process can be more important than performance. In the 1930's the Hughes H-1 was ignored, though it was the fastest plane in the world, the P-35 was initially adopted instead of the P-36, and the F4F Wildcat was rejected in favor of the Brewster Buffalo. The British were not immune, the first "Spitfire" was an extremely ugly aircraft with a cranked wing like a Stuka and the corrugated airplane skin of a Tin Goose. The Spitfire we know and love started as a private venture with a goal similar to the F-104, air superiority via the most efficient airframe around the most powerful engine. F-104 was popular in Europe because, like its Soviet counterparts, it was simple and cheap. It also had abilities no other aircraft had for most of its operational career.

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Dudley Larsen, e-mail, 21.12.2010 05:49

I am probably the only USAF pilot that has been qualified and mission ready in The F-104, Mig 21 and the Phantom. To answer Anthony's question "It depends" The CF-104(Canadian Exchange pilot) was a superb low level attack platform although limited in range. It would perform admirably in the visual multi-bogey ACM arena as it was very fast and small. If you turned more than 30 degrees you became a target.
The Mig 21 (4477TES) was a true sports car. We only flew it as an Aggressor and it was a great training aid. In the visual environment it would certainly handle the F-104 and the F-4. Against the new generation fighters. 14,15,16and 18 we would be able to win on day one but with a competent pilot in the new generation jets it was a lot tougher the second day. The gee whiz factor and no previous exposure to the Mig was a decider. The avionics of the new generation and exposure to the Mig made our job a lot tougher on day 2. The CF-104 would hold its' own against the Rhino and the proficiency of the pilot made a big difference. All in all the CF-104 was a good airplane in its environment(low and fast) and was great fun to fly. The Mig was a also a good airplane in the visual turning BFM world but was very limited in range. The Rhino was a warhorse, not superb at any one role but multi-purpose across the board and with a proficient crew would hold its' own in most environments.

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Ron Darcey, e-mail, 02.12.2010 06:04

I have been involved with a different history of the Zip and have made acquantance with many guys who flew the airplane particularly those with the 479th during their time at George who took them to Vietnam. In my possession I have the pilots manual and, each volume of the Sure Project provided me by Major David Bashow who flew them with the RCAF when he instructed in them at Nellis. His book "Starfighter" is without doubt a real life look at the airplane, one he believes was the best. To get to know the 104 one must certainly have his book. During my research I had the fortune to talk with Tony LaVier who also brought me up on why the Air Force (the bomber guys) didn't want the airplane and why. I also knew Tom Delashaw, know George Wells and have spent time chatting with Bill Kaa, guys who flew the airplane during its first deployment in Nam and, many others who flew it. What I learned from these guys (and as a pilot myself going over the airplanes capabilities) convinced me the airplane was poorly used throughout its service life in the USAF. Unfortunately the problem with most written material on the airplane is by people who are not pilots, do not understand aerodynamics and do not understand the realities of sitting in a single place airplane that was designed as an clear air, air superiority fighter, not a strike platform. To better understand the 104 as an air to air fighter, one must first understand that while it does not turn well, that is not the way the guys with the 479 flew it - fighting the airplane you play the verticle and few airplanes of the day will compete with it and if well flown will win most every time. The 479 guys would ACM with all types of dissimular fighters and if they played their turn and burn games would lose every time. If however they went verticle, and won, the other guys would go home; so...to keep the fight going they played the turning game, lost but each engagement, learned a lot more about the airplanes capability and how not to fight.
However the guys they really trained with were navy and marine pilots flying the F8. One of my Marine air officers who ACM'd with them commented; "when the 104 guys went into the verticle you rarly had a chance unless they made a mistake, which was not often."
Of interest when deployed in Nam, several engagements occurred, one involving a MiG-19S (Shenyang J-6) a flight of 104s flying an F-105 BARCAP for bounced the J-6 in which William Kaa locked up but was refused to shoot as they approached Hanoi; to this day he feels he should have taken the shot. There is much more to the story however, much of which tells how poorly the USAF ran the air war there. Also of interest, when the 104 was deployed as MigCAP, BARCAP or escort, the MiGs usually stayed on the ground. On occasion MiGs from China would scamble, probably to test reaction time, and on several times 104 pilots would respond, at mach to run them back.
The 104 was orignially deployed to nam once the VNPAF began intercepting air strikes as MiGCAP. When they flew these missions the VNPAF stayed on the ground as, it wasn't their mission to go air to air. Another critisism was its range. On air superiority missions (Nam) the airplane was configured with a pair of AIM-9s on the wing tips, and drop tanks under the wing. That gave the airplane a range comparable to the F4. But when configured with a pair of 750lb bombs (tip tanks) performance and range fell way off. Of course what should be realized is that the 104 did fly missions up to 7 hours at a time when required - air refueling of course - a must for every mission for every airplane. What was and still is appalling with our military procurment policy on fighters is if it can't carry a bomb, it ain't worth having. That was the Starfighter's swansong in the USAF.
The word I got from a Lockheed engineer, regarding the 104s deployment in Nam was, that the AF wanted a multipurpose airplane, even though they knew the F4 was not at its best in ACM and, did not want the 104 to prove its worth in that catagory. For more on how rediculous USAF tactical policy at that time a must read is "Clashes" by Marshall Michel and, "Boyd" by Robert Coram.
Cheers, Ron

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