Lockheed F-104 Starfighter


The single-place F-104G and two-place TF-104G airplanes are high-performance, all-weather, day and night fighter-bomber-interceptors powered by an axial-flow, turbojet engine with afterburner. The airplane, built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, is designed for high subsonic cruise and high supersonic combat speeds. The two-place TF-104G is used primarily as a pilot trainer. Notable features of the airplane include extremely thin flight surfaces, short straight wings with negative dihedral, irreversible-hydraulically-powered flight controls, controllable horizontal stabilizer, engine inlet duct anti-icing, an antiskid brake system, an automatic pitch control system, and on single-place aircraft a maneuvering automatic pilot. The wings have leading edge and trailing edge flaps, and a boundary layer control system which is used in conjunction with the trailing edge flaps to reduce landing speeds. An upward ejection system is used for emergency escape. A drag chute is installed to reduce the landing roll and an arresting hook is available for bringing the aircraft to an emergency stop. Internal fuel cells and external fuel tanks may be serviced through a single-point pressure refueling system. The photoreconnaissance version of the F-104G has three cameras installed in area of the shellcase stowage compartment and is referred to as the RF-104G. The F-104G was an improved version of the -C model built in the US under the Military Assistance Program (MAP) and internationally by Consortium. The USAF never bought any -G models; however, the aircraft was operated by the USAF for training of non-USAF pilots primarily from Germany.

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was nicknamed "the missile with a man in it," since its long, thin fuselage and stubby wings resembled a missile more than a conventional aircraft. The F-104 was the first American interceptor able to fly at sustained speeds above Mach 2. The design was a product of the Korean War, and was unique in several respects. The encounters with the MiG-15 in Korea caused a strong outcry among Air Force fighter pilots for a cheap, lightweight, maneuverable, high-performance fighter to confront future Soviet fighters. The result was the F-104, a fighter that overemphasized rate of climb and brute speed. Intended as a point defense interceptor, range was sacrificed for rate of climb. Range, however, could be extended using external tanks and in-flight refueling. It used an exceptionally small wing span of only 21 feet, and provided low speed lift through air bled from the engine and vented over the wing. The Starfighter’s design was radical for its time, as it was a small, straight-wing aircraft while most contemporary designs were much larger and featured swept-back wings. The wingspan is only 21 feet, 11 inches, and the wings themselves have a 100 negative dihedral. The razor-sharp leading edge requires a specialty fitted cover when on the ground to protect the ground crew. A narrow fuselage fits tightly around the power plant, and its forward portion curves down slightly to allow maximum pilot visibility.

The F-104 featured the General Electric 14,800-pound-thrust J79 turbojet engine and afterburner, which occupied more than half the length of the fuselage. The fuel tanks and cockpit took up much of the remainder, so that insufficient space remained for the necessary electronics systems. A series of self-contained electronics packages were

developed which could be ‘plugged in" to suit the individual mission. Basic armament consisted of an M-61 Vulcan 20-mm gun in the fuselage and a Sidewinder GAR-8 missile on each wingtip. The M61 was a Gatling type with multiple rotating barrels and an extremely high rate of fire.

Design of the F-104 began in November 1952. The U.S. Air Force had a requirement for a superior day fighter, and Lockheed began work on its Model 83. Two prototypes, powered by the Wright J65 engine, were ordered by the Air Force in March 1953. On February 7,1954, Lockheed test pilot Tony Le Vier made the first flight in the XC-104. Fifteen YF-104A aircraft, powered by the GE J79 engine, were ordered for testing.

The first F-104A deliveries took place on January 26, 1958. They were delivered to the 83d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base. California. Soon afterward, pilots from this squadron set new world speed and altitude records. Maj. Howard C. Johnson established a world airplane altitude record of 91,249 feet on May 7. 1958. On May 16, 1958, Capt. Walter W. Irvin established a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph. The F-104 also established seven climb-to-height records. Four of these replaced old records: the 15000 meter, 20.000 meter. and 25.000 meter climbs set completely new records.

The major variants were the F-104B, a two-seat version of the F-104A, used as an operational trainer: the F-104C, modified for use by the Tactical Air Command with provision for inflight refueling: and the F-104D, a two-seat version of the F-104C.

The majority of Starfighters were used in foreign service. Most of the F-l04Gs, F-l04Js, and CF104s were built under license in NATO and SEATO countries. The basic Starfighter was modified to be a multimission fighter with considerably strengthened structure and different operational equipment.

On October 12. 1959. the Starfighter protect was awarded the Collier Trophy.

Starfighters served in the US Air Force until the early 1960s. A few saw service in Vietnam. and they were also used in Air National Guard units until 1975. Their European counterparts stayed in service even longer.

The museum’s specimen is a Lockheed F-104A, military serial number 55-2961, the seventh F-104A produced (formerly a YF-104A). It was procured by the NASA Flight Research Center (then NACA High Speed Flight Station) at Edwards Air Force Base. California. on August 23. 1956. It was first flown by NASA on August 27. 1956, and logged 1.439 flights over a period of nineteen years.

The airplane. NASA number 818. was used in a number of research programs at Edwards It was used in the evaluation program of the Starfighter at first and was later used to help confirm wind tunnel data in actual flight, as a flying testbed, and as a chase plane. It was a part of the research program that led to the X-15 airplane program; a particularly important phase was the testing of reaction type controls.

Nineteen pilots flew the 818. Among them were three Apollo astronauts. including Neil Armstrong seven X-15 pilots, including Joe Walker: and six lifting body pilots. It made its last operational flight on August 26. 1975. and was flown to Andrews Air Force Base. near Washington D.C.. for transfer to the National Air and Space Museum later that year.



When the Canadians first took delivery of the F-104, they were very colorful birds. Left in their shiny metal finishes, the wings were painted white and the tail red, providing a striking scheme. This particular F-104 is from No 417 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta.

The Canadians had a detachment of F-104s in Europe as well. This one from No 439 Squadron is depicted in the later overall green finish, with the characteristic tiger's head emblem on the tail. This squadron was known for tiger striping one of it's F-104s for the annual Tiger Meets.

The Dutch flew the F-104 for a long time, like most NATO countries. This one from No 306 Squadron is finished in an early scheme of overall light gray. It has also been "zapped" by the German AG52 squadron, with an AG52 emblem underneath the windscreen.

Later in the life of the Dutch F-104s they got a new paint scheme based loosely on the German Luftwaffe pattern. It consisted of a dark green and gray over a light gray. This F-104 from No 312 Squadron has an interesting history. It was painted up to celebrate 3000 hours of flight time, with the words "Still the Best There Is" written on the sides. It was then the next kLu F-104 to crash in 1983.

The German Navy also flew the Starfighter. Finished in blue-gray over silver dope, this F-104 is from MFG2 and shows off the Naval anchor emblem and the word "MARINE" carried on all of the Naval Starfighters.

Last in this first part of the F-104 series is this example from the German Luftwaffe. This Starfighter is from JG34 as can be seen by the large unit emblem on the air intake. This F-104 shows the standard splinter style camouflage worn by Luftwaffe Starfighters throughout the majority of its career.


USAF designation: F-104


Single-seat multi-purpose combat aircraft.


Development of the F-104 began in 1951. After production ceased in the USA, Canada, Italy and Japan continued to produce the aircraft under license. The F-104 is still in service within the following countries: Italy (135+), Taiwan (130+) and Turkey (170+).


Cantilever mid-wing monoplane. Bi-convex supersonic wing section with a thickness/chord ratio of 3.36 per cent. Anhedral 10 degrees. No incidence. Sweepback 18 degrees 6' at quarter-chord. Leading-edge nose radius of 0.41 mm (0.016 in) and razor-sharp trailing-edge. Narrow-chord ventral fin on centerline and two smaller lateral fins under fuselage to improve stability.


All-metal structure with two main spars, 12 spanwise intermediate channels between spars and top and bottom one-piece skin panels, tapering from thickness of 6.3 mm (0.25 in) at root to 3.2 mm (0.125 in) at tip. Each half-wing measures 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in) from root to tip and is a separate structure cantilevered from five forged frames in fuselage. The fuselage is an all-metal monocoque structure. Hydraulically operated aluminum airbrake on each side of rear fuselage. The tail unit is a T-type cantilever unit with 'all-flying' one-piece horizontal tail surface hinged at mid-chord point at top of the vertical fin and powered by a hydraulic servo. Tailplane has a similar profile to wing and is all-metal.


Retractable tricycle type with Dowty patent liquid-spring shock absorbers on main units, oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers on nose unit. Hydraulic actuation. Mainwheels raised in and forward. Steerable nosewheel retracts forward into fuselage. Mainwheel legs are hinged on oblique axes so that the wheels lie flush within the fuselage when retracted. Mainwheels size 26 x 8.0, with Goodrich tyres size 26 x 8.0 Type VIII (18 ply rating), pressure 11.93 bars (173 lb/sq in). Nosewheel tyre size 18 x 5.5 Type VII (14 ply rating). Bendix hydraulic disc brakes with Goodyear anti-skid units. Arrester hook under rear of fuselage. Braking parachute in rear fuselage.


One General Electric J79-GE-19 turbojet engine, rated at 52.8 kN (11,870 lb st) dry and 79.62 kN (17,900 lb st) with afterburning. Electrical de-icing elements fitted to air intakes. Most of the aircraft's hydraulic equipment mounted inside large engine bay door under fuselage to facilitate servicing. Internal fuel in five bag-type fuselage tanks with total standard capacity of 3392 liters (896 US gallons; 746 Imp gallons). Provision for external fuel in two 740 liter (195 US gallon; 162 Imp gallon) pylon tanks and two 645 liter (170 US gallon; 142 Imp gallon) wingtip tanks.


Pressurized and air-conditioned cockpit well forward of wings. Canopy hinged to starboard for access. Martin-Baker IQ-7A zero/zero ejection seat.


Nine external attachment points, at wingtips, under wings and under fuselage, for bombs, rocket pods, auxiliary fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles. Normal primary armament consists of two Raytheon AIM-7 Sparrow III air-to-air missiles under wings and/or two Sidewinders under fuselage and either a Sidewinder or 645 litre (170 US gallon; 142 Imp gallon) fuel tank on each wingtip. Alternatively, an M-61 20 mm multi-barrel rotary cannon can be fitted in the port underside of the fuselage instead of the AIM-7 missile control package. Max external weapon load 3402 kg (7,500 lb).


Wingspan without tip tanks: 6.68 m (21 ft 11 in)

Wing chord (mean): 2.91 m (9 ft 67/12 in)

Wing aspect ratio: 2.45

Length overall: 16.69 m (54 ft 9 in)

Length of fuselage: 15.62 m (51 ft 3 in)

Height overall: l4.11 m (13 ft 6 in)

Tailplane span: 3.63 m (11 ft 11 in)


Weight empty: 6700 kg (14,900 lb)

Max internal fuel load: 2641 kg (5824 lb)

Max internal and external fuel load: 5153 kg (11,362 lb)

T-O weight 'clean': 9,840 kg (21,690 lb)

Max T-O weight: 14,060 kg (31,000 lb)

Max zero-fuel weight: 'clean': 6806 kg (15,006 lb)

Max zero-fuel weight: (fighter-bomber): 7148 kg (15,760 lb)

Max wing loading: 540 kg/m/2 (110.7 lb/sq ft)

PERFORMANCE: ( 9840 kg; 21690 lb AUW except where indicated):

Never-exceed speed: Mach 2.2

Max level speed @ 11,000 m (36,000 ft): Mach 2.2  (1259 knots; 2330 km/h; 1450 mph)

Max level speed at S/L: Mach 1.2  (790 knots; 1464 km/h; 910 mph)

Max cruising speed @ 11,000 m (36,000 ft): 530 knots (981 km/h; 610 mph)

Econ cruising speed: Mach 0.85

Service ceiling: 17,680 m (58,000 ft)

Time to climb to 10,670 m (35,000 ft): 1 min 20 s

Time to climb to 17,070 m (56,000 ft): 2 min 40 s

Typical landing run at S/L: 762 m (2,500 ft)

Radius with max fuel: 673 nm (1,247 km; 775 miles)

Ferry range (excl flight refueling): 1,576 nm (2,920 km; 1,815 miles)

Data from FAS, Jane's All the World's Aircraft, and Aerospace/Defense Companies.




Please note that all information is provided without any guarantees