For aircraft enthusiasts: 60 years of the most controversial jet-fighter, the F-104

Blazer

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Dec 2, 2003
Posts
17,756
Age
46
Location
The Netherlands
yf104a.JPG

It was in Februari 1956 that this sleek, Looking-fast-even-when-standing-still-on-the-tarmac jet first took to the air. Yet another brainchild of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and his Lockheed "Skunk works" which turned out to be their most controversial and at the same time it's most enduring.

The F-104 was developed, as legend says, when Johnson was asking USAF pilots who flew in Korea what kind of fighter the USAF really needed and that so far they hadn't gotten yet. Most of the pilots fought against the MiG-15 which had been a nasty surprise to the USAF, which were caught with their pants down. As a result of their combat against the Soviet fighter, the most recurring comments Johnson got from them were:
- It has to be light
- It has to be simple, the more basic, the better, planes like the F-86 Sabre and the F-84 Thunderjet were deemed "Too complex"
- It has to be super sonic, get to the SOB before he has any chance to react

Johnson submitted the design for approval in 1953 and got it approved later that year and with that the L-246, or as the world would come to know it the F-104 Starfighter, was born.
1280px-Lockheed_XF-104.jpg

In 1954 the first XF-104 prototype took to the air but seeing as how much it differed from what the production version would be, I decided to name the date of the pre-production YF-104 version as being the true first flight of the F-104.

Because the YF-104 got the General Electric J-79 engine that wasn't ready yet when the XF-104 took to the skies. Fitting that engine meant a complete redesign of the fuselage, if you compare the XF-104 and the YF-104, one can clearly see that the latter has different air intakes and an elongated fuselage, the result was that the YF-104 was a completely different plane from the XF-104. In 1958 the F-104 A starfighter entered USAF service.
831ad193555cbdcc8f016058cb36a659.jpg

This picture shows yet another feature that the original XF-104 didn't have, the underbelly ventral fin which added stability.

The "Missile with a man in it" quickly made a name for itself for being a record breaker, setting times world speed records soon after it entered service. But it also made a name for itself for being a home breaker when the not very nimble "too-fast-for-its-own-good" interceptor suffered catastrophic accidents. As a result the USAF cut it's original order for 722 to just 155.
xb-70-xb-70a-formation-w-fighter-jet-photo-print-5.jpg

This picture, taken only minutes before the most notorious crash involving a starfighter, shows a special publicity formation of from left to right a Northrop T-38 Talon trainer, a McDonnel F-4 Phantom II a North American XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, an F-104 and a Northrop F-5 Tiger. After this picture was taken, the planes were ordered to fly in a V-formation, when disaster struck.
close-closeformation.jpg

This picture shows to good effect just how close the planes were flying in proximity of each other, seconds after this picture was taken, the F-104 got caught in the jetstream created by the Bomber's massive wing, upsetting the ballance of the jet which then began to cartwheel and struck the bomber, making both planes crash.

Apart from crashes, the main problem with its interceptor role was the fact that the thirsty J-79 engine limited the F-04's range and that the armament of a Vulcan cannon and Sidewinder missiles was not sufficient for what the USAF needed and within a year the F-104 was being replaced by the Convair F-106 Delta Dart.

F-104Cs_475TFS_DaNang_1965.jpg

The only combat the F-104 saw while in USAF service, was in Vietnam where the much improved F-104C was used as air superiority fighter. The F-104C had extra fuel tanks and refueling tube to increase its range. As a deterrent they worked accordingly, many North Vietnam pilot avoided the starfighter, although as one Chinese MiG-19 pilot proved, the F-104 was a paper tiger, it simple wasn't nimble enough to dodge an attack.

Other early users of the F-104 were Pakistan and Taiwan and in the India-Pakistan war, the F-104 was facing the MiG 21 Fishbed and came out the worse of the two.

So all in all, the F-104 was a dud, reduced to a mere footnote.

Well not really, in the early sixties the West German Luftwaffe was looking for a multirole fighter to replace their aging fleet of Canadair-made F-86 Sabres and Hawker Seahawk jets of their maritime air arm. And after reviewing among others the Dassault Mirage III and the English-Electric Lighting ended up choosing the F-104, which strangely was not even designed to be a multirole fighter. Other NATO air forces following suit.

Disclaimer: we're not supposed to talk politics but there were some underhand tactics used to seal that deal here and I'll leave it at that.

Anyway. With an order for 916 aircraft for the NATO air forces in Europe, Lockheed brought forth the most built version of the Starfighter, the F-104G, "G" standing for Germany.
G0N2KAGKP.jpg

The G model differs visually from the earlier models by it having a longer tail to improve agility, but it also had revised avionics, strengthened wings and an arrester hook (Just visible behind the ventral fin) so it could be operated from air bases with short runways.

In addition to Lockheed, the F-104G was being built by Fokker (Netherlands), Sacba (Belgium), Messerschmitt (Germany), Kawasaki (Japan), Canadair and Fiat (Italy) In fact despite Lockheed being prime manufacturer, only 139 F-104G's were made there, the rest being build by the licence builders.
104wAC64%20arrow.jpg

A formation flight during a shared NATO gathering the planes are a Republic F-105 Thunderchief of the USAF, a Gloster Javelin of the RAF, a Mirage III of the French Armee De l'air and the starfighters are German, Belgian, Dutch and Canadian.

So with a hot seller on their hands all was well, right?


Well not really, you can polish a turd...
27+95_JBG34_accid_MichaelSchneiderCollection.jpg


Crash.jpg


f104dc+231.jpg


f104after.jpg

In Germany it earned several less charitable names due to its high accident rate, a common name being Fliegender Sarg ("Flying Coffin"). It was also called Witwenmacher ("Widowmaker"), or Erdnagel ("ground nail") – the official military term for a tent peg (OUCH!) in the Canadian Forces, the aircraft were sometimes referred to, in jest, as the Lawn Dart, the Aluminium Death Tube, and the Flying Phallus.

The thing was that Lockheed marketed the Starfighter as a multirole fighter which it was NOT, so it was used in roles it was never designed for and the planes themselves couldn't cope with what was demanded from them. Still it soldiered on until well into the nineties despite itself before the last European Starfighter was phased out.

So was the Starfighter just a colossal failure or did it have some redeeming qualities?

Why yes, it wasn't all bad news. The F-104 for years had been used to train astronauts at NASA since it was the only "conventional" plane which could ape the flight characteristics of space crafts like the X-15 and the Space Shuttle.
f-104_B-52.jpg

It also was used as a chase plane for missile tests, since its speed made it perfectly capable to keep up with a launched projectile.

And it it weren't for the F-104, we wouldn't have had THIS.
Project_Equine_1_FLASH.jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-186,171.jpg

Because to save from development costs, the boffins at Lockheed used the Starfighter fuselage to base the U2 on.

A few years ago a converted Starfighter was used in an attempt to break the world land speed record.
3473536575_24939ce377_b.jpg


These days there's an organization called "Starfighters inc." who fly a fleet of 11 aircraft for demonstrations, based on hot-rod culture.
550520main_Starfighter.JPG


In addition, private ventures like 4Frontiers Corporation and CubeCab were working on launching sattelites into space using Starfighters modified for that job.

No we haven't seen the last of the "Missile with a man in it" 60 years after it first took to the skies.
 
Last edited:

Steerforth

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 17, 2009
Posts
4,062
Location
Arkansas
Here I am over Germany, flying a Starfighter...

F-104G%20Starfighter.jpg


...in one of my flight simulators, LOL! :D

That's an older simulator and it doesn't have full systems modeling. I wish they'd make one for my best simulator, which does have the full boat systems modeling. But nevertheless, it's a lot of fun to fly. If you can tell much from a simulator, it seems to be quite an airplane, as long as you want to go in a straight line. Turning is a different matter. In a dogfight with anything that can turn, you'd better use speed and altitude to your best advantage.

I'd love to hear about it from somebody who's flown them in real life.
 

Glen W

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 10, 2003
Posts
2,059
Age
73
Location
CT
I remember building the plastic model of the F-104 Starfighter when I was around 10 or 11. I thought it was the coolest jet fighter back then, maybe replacing the F-89D Scorpion, or F-101 Voodoo as what I would fly around in while saving the world.

In the kit's (Revell or Monogram - I can't recall) instruction sheet, there was a paragraph or two on the airplane that you were about to build. They listed it's speed at 1500 mph. That blew my young kid mind at that time - around 1960.
 

Blue Lizard

TDPRI Member
Joined
Oct 6, 2016
Posts
13
Location
NE Lincolnshire, UK
An iconic piece no doubt, and the U2 development is certainly the most significant contribution this airframe has given, both in service value and historic significance.

However, if it hadn't have been for the "underhanded tactics" and a common UK failing of not committing sufficient funding to pioneering post-war engineering projects, then the SR177 may have had a service life... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saunders-Roe_SR.177
 

Boomhauer

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Aug 18, 2013
Posts
3,061
Location
Michigan
Here I am over Germany, flying a Starfighter...

F-104G%20Starfighter.jpg


...in one of my flight simulators, LOL! :D

That's an older simulator and it doesn't have full systems modeling. I wish they'd make one for my best simulator, which does have the full boat systems modeling. But nevertheless, it's a lot of fun to fly. If you can tell much from a simulator, it seems to be quite an airplane, as long as you want to go in a straight line. Turning is a different matter. In a dogfight with anything that can turn, you'd better use speed and altitude to your best advantage.

I'd love to hear about it from somebody who's flown them in real life.
Which flight sim is that?
 

RoyBGood

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Dec 13, 2012
Posts
12,624
Location
Northamptonshire, UK
Fantastic looking jet - especially with drop tanks or rockets on the wingtips. Reminds me of the baddies' interceptors in the Thunderbirds' episode 'The Uninvited'! It always amazed me how it stayed in the air with those tiny wings!
 

telleutelleme

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jan 15, 2010
Posts
22,987
Location
Houston
I " think I remember" my A/C pilot in SEA saying that they would send up F4C's with F104 call signs to get the MIGs to fly. If they knew it was an F104 flight, they would come up to play, not so with the F4C's which were much nimbler. However that memory is from 1967/68. Could also have been him telling a story about teasing a F104 fighter pilot.
 

Zepfan

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Nov 30, 2013
Posts
11,571
Location
Horn Lake, MS
The Rocket with Wings, Great looking plane. I remember Major Nelson flew one on the TV show "I Dream of Jeanie".
On the hot rod use of these jet engines, there's a truck that's used at airshows that started out with 2 of these engines in it. It was very fast.
 

Paul in Colorado

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Mar 17, 2003
Posts
23,351
Location
R.I.P. 2019
I remember building the plastic model of the F-104 Starfighter when I was around 10 or 11. I thought it was the coolest jet fighter back then, maybe replacing the F-89D Scorpion, or F-101 Voodoo as what I would fly around in while saving the world.

In the kit's (Revell or Monogram - I can't recall) instruction sheet, there was a paragraph or two on the airplane that you were about to build. They listed it's speed at 1500 mph. That blew my young kid mind at that time - around 1960.

I could have written that post. I was an airplane geek at that age and built lots of models. The Starfighter was my dream plane at the time.
 

Steerforth

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 17, 2009
Posts
4,062
Location
Arkansas
Which flight sim is that?

That's Strike Fighters 2: North Atlantic with the Europe map. It's getting a little long in the tooth and was always a "sim lite". These days I'm more into DCS World. I wish someone would make an F-104 for that one.
 

Toto'sDad

Tele Axpert
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Posts
59,666
Location
Bakersfield
Chuck Yeager nursed one up to around 108,000 feet specially equipped with an extra, (rocket?) engine. He had to eject at a (safe?) altitude and was badly burned. My ex boss and him had the same burn doctor, my boss was in a fuel race car that caught fire and burned him. The plane went into a flat spin, the engine quit, and the hydraulics failed. He was just sitting there in a rapidly falling object. There are a lot of details that I left out, you can find them on the net. Chuck had some pretty interesting times in his life.
 

Steerforth

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 17, 2009
Posts
4,062
Location
Arkansas
Chuck Yeager nursed one up to around 108,000 feet specially equipped with an extra, (rocket?) engine. He had to eject at a (safe?) altitude and was badly burned. My ex boss and him had the same burn doctor, my boss was in a fuel race car that caught fire and burned him. The plane went into a flat spin, the engine quit, and the hydraulics failed. He was just sitting there in a rapidly falling object. There are a lot of details that I left out, you can find them on the net. Chuck had some pretty interesting times in his life.

That incident is depicted in the movie, "The Right Stuff", which is well worth watching if you get a chance. Chuck Yeager's autobiography is a pretty good read, too.
 

Stingfan73

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
May 9, 2012
Posts
1,496
Location
The East Coast
It was in Februari 1956 that this sleek, Looking-fast-even-when-standing-still-on-the-tarmac jet first took to the air. Yet another brainchild of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson...

Why yes, it wasn't all bad news. The F-104 for years had been used to train astronauts at NASA since it was the only "conventional" plane which could ape the flight characteristics of space crafts like the X-15 and the Space Shuttle.

It also was used as a chase plane for missile tests, since its speed made it perfectly capable to keep up with a launched projectile.

And it it weren't for the F-104, we wouldn't have had THIS.
Project_Equine_1_FLASH.jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-186,171.jpg


No we haven't seen the last of the "Missile with a man in it" 60 years after it first took to the skies.
Great bit of history and info. Thanks!
 

Toto'sDad

Tele Axpert
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Posts
59,666
Location
Bakersfield
That incident is depicted in the movie, "The Right Stuff", which is well worth watching if you get a chance. Chuck Yeager's autobiography is a pretty good read, too.

I think I might remember seeing that in the movie, but my old boss got to know the guy pretty well, and his story is the one I heard the most! ;) My old boss said Colonel Yeager was an ok guy, and down to earth. (no pun intended) My boss at the time was very big in California stock car racing, but the burns all but ended his career. He would recover, but there was too much time away from the racing. His son was also successful wining even more races in number but not in as large of events. The blood ran true, even the grandson won 9 times at the old Mesa Marine before its demise.
 

moosie

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jul 18, 2010
Posts
19,809
Age
65
Location
Western Connecticut
I wasn't a model "geek", but I had this one. It was mounted on a little pedestal thing that pointed it skyward.

OK, I'm embarassed to add this, but we were all young once, so...

In addition to riding my (dad's) Snapper lawn mower all over the neighborhood, and through the woods, as my "land craft", when no one was looking, I used to sit in the wheelbarrow in the garage, and imagine the handles were jet "tailpipes", and that I had a perspex bubble canopy. Very similar to George Jetson's car! Except I was in the F-104, zooming uh, to other planets... and stuff... wait, mom's calling, it's dinner time, gotta go...
 

Steerforth

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 17, 2009
Posts
4,062
Location
Arkansas
I think I might remember seeing that in the movie, but my old boss got to know the guy pretty well, and his story is the one I heard the most! ;) My old boss said Colonel Yeager was an ok guy, and down to earth. (no pun intended) My boss at the time was very big in California stock car racing, but the burns all but ended his career. He would recover, but there was too much time away from the racing. His son was also successful wining even more races in number but not in as large of events. The blood ran true, even the grandson won 9 times at the old Mesa Marine before its demise.

It's pretty cool that you knew someone who was around when Yeager did that. Tough way to meet Yeager, though. Burns are about the most painful injury that you can get. That event was kind of immortalized by the movie, it's a very memorable scene to me. I love that movie. I have also heard over the years that I was in the military that Chuck Yeager was a pretty likeable guy. I wasn't in the Air Force, but I bumped into a couple of people who had encountered him and they liked him and had only good things to say.
 




New Posts

Top