Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was an American single-engined, high-performance, supersonic interceptor aircraft that served with
the United States Air Force
(USAF) from 1958 until 1967.
One of the Century Series
of aircraft, it continued in
service with Air National Guard
units until it was phased out in 1975. The National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) flew a small mixed fleet of F-104 types in
supersonic flight tests and spaceflight programs until they were
retired in 1994.
Several two-seat trainer versions were
produced, the most numerous being the TF-104G.
USAF F-104Cs saw service during the Vietnam
, and F-104A aircraft were deployed by Pakistan briefly
during the Indo-Pakistani wars
Republic of China Air Force
F-104s also engaged the People's Liberation Army Air
Force over the disputed island of Kinmen.
A set of
modifications produced the F-104G model, which won a NATO competition
for a new fighter-bomber.
The ultimate F-104 version was the F-104S all-weather interceptor
equipped with radar-guided AIM-7
missiles, designed for the Italian Air Force
. An advanced
F-104 with a high-mounted wing, known as the CL-1200 Lancer
, did not proceed. The project
was cancelled at the mock-up
stage in favor
of other lightweight fighters such as the F-16. A total of 2,535
Starfighters were eventually produced. The F-104 served with the
air forces of over a dozen nations until the summer of 2004, some
46 years after its introduction in 1958 by the USAF.
The poor safety record of the Starfighter brought the aircraft into
the public eye, especially in Luftwaffe
service. The subsequent
Lockheed bribery scandals
surrounding the original purchase contracts caused considerable
political controversy in Europe and Japan.
Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, the chief
engineer at Lockheed's Skunk Works, visited Korea in December
1951 and spoke with fighter pilots about what sort of aircraft they
Four-aircraft formation of
At the time, the U.S. pilots were confronting the
with F-86 Sabres
, and many of the American pilots felt
that the MiGs were superior to the larger and more complex American
design. The pilots requested a small and simple aircraft
with excellent performance.
return to the United
States, Johnson immediately started the design of just
such an aircraft.
In March, his team was assembled; they
studied several aircraft designs, ranging from small designs at
8,000 lb (3,629 kg), to fairly large ones at
50,000 lb (23,680 kg). The L-246 remained essentially
identical to the L-083 Starfighter as eventually delivered.
The design was presented to the Air Force in November 1952, and
they were interested enough to create a new proposal and invite
several companies to participate. Three additional designs were
received: the Republic
, an improved version of its prototype XF-91 Thunderceptor
; the North American
NA-212, which would
eventually evolve into the F-107
; and the Northrop
, a new General Electric J79
Although all were interesting, Lockheed had an insurmountable lead,
and was granted a development contract in March 1953. The prototype
was given the designation XF-104
Work progressed quickly, with a mock-up ready for inspection at the
end of April, and work starting on two prototypes late in May. At
the time, the J79 engine was not ready; both prototypes
were instead designed to use the
engine, a licensed version of
the Armstrong Siddeley
. The first prototype was completed by early 1954, and
started flying in March. The total time from design to first flight
was about two years; this was a very short time then and is an
unheard of time today, when several years is typical.
In order to achieve the desired performance, Lockheed chose a
minimalist approach: a design that would achieve high performance
by wrapping the lightest, most aerodynamically efficient airframe
possible around a single powerful engine. The emphasis was on
Wings and tail surfaces
The F-104 featured a radical wing design. Most jet fighters of the
period used a swept-wing
or delta-wing planform
allowed a reasonable balance between aerodynamic performance, lift,
and internal space for fuel and equipment. Lockheed's tests,
however, determined that the most efficient shape for high-speed,
flight was a very small,
straight, mid-mounted, trapezoidal
. The new wing design was extremely thin, with a
ratio of only
3.36% and an aspect ratio
2.45. The wing's leading-edges were so thin
(0.016 in/0.41 mm) and sharp that they presented a hazard
to ground crews, and protective guards had to be installed during
ground operations. The thinness of the wings meant that fuel tanks
and landing gear
had to be contained in
the fuselage. The hydraulic cylinders driving the ailerons had to
be only 1 in (25 mm) thick to fit. The wings had both
leading- and trailing-edge flaps
The small, highly-loaded wing resulted in an unacceptably high
landing speed, so a boundary layer control system (BLCS) of
was incorporated, bleeding
engine air over the trailing-edge flaps to improve lift. The system
was a boon to safe landings, although it proved to be a maintenance
problem in service, and landing without the BLCS could be a
(horizontal tail surface)
was mounted atop the fin to reduce inertia coupling
. Because the vertical fin
was only slightly shorter than the length of each wing and nearly
as aerodynamically effective, it could act as a wing on rudder
application (a phenomenon known as Dutch roll
). To offset this effect, the wings
were canted downward, giving 10° anhedral
The Starfighter's fuselage had a high fineness ratio
, i.e., it was slender,
tapering towards the sharp nose, and a small frontal area. The
fuselage was tightly packed, containing the radar, cockpit, cannon,
fuel, landing gear
, and engine. This
fuselage and wing combination provided extremely low drag except at
high angle of attack
which point induced drag
high. As a result, the Starfighter had excellent acceleration, rate
of climb and potential top speed, but its sustained turn
performance was poor. A later modification on the F-104A/B allowed
use of the takeoff flap setting to M1.8/550 knots, which materially
improved maneuverability. It was sensitive to control input, and
extremely unforgiving to pilot error.
wind tunnel tested a model of the F-104 to evaluate its stability,
and found it became increasingly unstable at higher angles of
attack, to the point that there was a recommendation to limit the
servo-control power that generated those higher angles, and to
shake the stick to warn the pilot. In the same report, NACA stated
that the wingtip tanks, possibly because of their stabilizing fins,
somewhat reduced the model's instability problems at high angles of
Detail of F-104G's J79 turbojet exhaust (the red coloring has been
added by the museum).
The F-104 was designed to use the General Electric J79 turbojet
engine, fed by side-mounted intakes with
fixed inlet cones
supersonic speeds. Unlike some supersonic aircraft, the F-104 does
not have variable-geometry inlets. Its thrust-to-drag ratio was
excellent, allowing a maximum speed well in excess of Mach
2: the top speed of the Starfighter
was limited more by the aluminum airframe structure and the
temperature limits of the engine compressor than by thrust or drag
(which gives an aerodynamic maximum speed of Mach 2.2). Later
models used uprated marks of the J79, improving both thrust and
fuel consumption significantly.
Early Starfighters used a downward-firing ejection seat
C-1), out of concern over the
ability of an upward-firing seat to clear the tailplane. This
presented obvious problems in low-altitude escapes, and some 21
pilots failed to escape their stricken
aircraft in low-level emergencies because of it. The
downward-firing seat was soon replaced by the Lockheed C-2
upward-firing seat, which was capable of clearing the tail,
although it still had a minimum speed limitation of 104 mph
(170 km/h). Many export Starfighters were later retro-fitted
with Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seats
, which had
the ability to successfully eject the pilot from the aircraft even
at zero altitude and zero airspeed.
The initial USAF
Starfighters had a basic AN/ASG-14T ranging radar
, and a AN/ARC-34 UHF
radio. The later international fighter-bomber aircraft had a much
more advanced Autonetics
NASARR radar, a simple infrared
Litton LN-3 inertial navigation
system, and an air data computer.
In the late 1960s, Lockheed developed a more advanced version of
the Starfighter, the F-104S, for use by the Italian Air Force
all-weather interceptor. The F-104S received a NASARR R21-G with a
moving-target indicator and a continuous-wave illuminator for
semi-active radar homing
missiles, including the AIM-7 Sparrow
and Selenia Aspide
deletion of the Starfighter's internal cannon. In the mid-1980s
surviving F-104S aircraft were updated to ASA standard
(Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma
, or Weapon Systems Update),
with a much improved, more compact Fiat R21G/M1 radar.
M61 cannon installation of a Luftwaffe
The basic armament of the F-104 was the 20 mm (.79 in)
M61 Vulcan Gatling
. The Starfighter was the first aircraft to carry the new
weapon, which had a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds per minute. The
cannon, mounted in the lower part of the port fuselage, was fed by
a 725-round drum behind the pilot's seat. It was omitted in all the
two-seat models and some single-seat versions, including
reconnaissance aircraft and the early Italian F-104S; the gun bay
and ammunition tank were usually replaced by additional fuel tanks.
Two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
could be carried on
the wingtip stations, which could also be used for fuel tanks. The
F-104C and later models added a centerline pylon and two underwing
pylons for bombs, rocket pods, or fuel tanks. The centerline pylon
could carry a nuclear weapon
"catamaran" launcher for two additional Sidewinders could be fitted
under the forward fuselage, although the installation had minimal
ground clearance and made the seeker heads of the missiles
vulnerable to ground debris. The F-104S models added a pair of
fuselage pylons beneath the intakes available for conventional bomb
carriage. The F-104S had an additional pylon under each wing,
allowing for a maximum of nine.
Several two-seat training versions of the Starfighter were
produced. They were generally similar to the single-seater, but the
additional cockpit required removing the cannon and some internal
fuel (very early versions of the F-104B did have a cannon fitted
but it became impractical for many reasons). The nose landing gear
bay was repositioned and the strut retracted rearwards. Two-seaters
were combat-capable with Sidewinder missiles, and, despite a
slightly larger vertical fin and increased weight, had similar
performance to the early model single-seat aircraft.
USAF Air Defense Command
The F-104A initially served briefly with the USAF Air Defense
(ADC) as an interceptor, although neither its
range nor armament were well-suited for that role. The first unit to
become operational with the F-104A was the 83rd Fighter Interceptor
Squadron on 20 February 1958, at Hamilton AFB, California.
After just three months of service, the
unit was grounded after a series of engine-related accidents. The
aircraft were then fitted with the J79-3B engine and another three
ADC units equipped with the F-104A. The USAF reduced their orders
from 722 Starfighters to 155. After only one year of service these
aircraft were handed over to ADC-gained units of the Air National Guard
, although it should be
noted that the F-104 was intended as an interim solution while the
ADC waited for delivery of the F-106
USAF Tactical Air Command
The subsequent F-104C entered service with Tactical Air Command
as a multi-role
fighter and fighter-bomber. The 479th Tactical Fighter Wing at George AFB, California, was the first unit to equip with the
type in September 1958.
Although not an optimum platform for
the theater, the F-104 did see limited service in the Vietnam War
. Again, in 1967, these TAC aircraft
were transferred to the Air National
Commencing with the Operation
campaign, the Starfighter was used both in the
air-superiority role and in the air support mission; although it
saw little aerial combat and scored no air-to-air kills,
Starfighters were successful in deterring MiG interceptors.
Starfighter squadrons made two deployments to Vietnam, the first
being from April 1965 to November 1965, flying 2,937 combat
sorties. During that first deployment, two Starfighters were shot
down by ground fire. One was shot down by a Chinese MiG-19
when the F-104 strayed over the
border, and two F-104s were lost to a mid-air collision associated
with that air-to-air battle. The 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron
deployed to Vietnam in April 1965 through July 1965, losing one
Starfighter; and the 436th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to
Vietnam in July 1965 through October 1965, losing four.
Starfighters returned to Vietnam when the 435th Tactical Fighter
Squadron deployed from June 1966 until July 1967, in which time
they flew a further 2,269 combat sorties, for a total of 5,206
sorties. Nine more F-104s were lost: two F-104s to ground fire,
three to surface-to-air missiles, and the final four losses were
operational (engine failures). The Starfighters rotated and/or
transitioned to F-4 Phantoms
1967, having lost a total of 14 F-104s to all causes in Vietnam.
operating in Vietnam were upgraded in service with APR-25/26 radar
warning receiver equipment, and one example is on display in the
Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The USAF was less than satisfied with the Starfighter and procured
only 296 examples in single-seat and two-seat versions. At the
time, USAF doctrine placed little importance on air superiority
(the "pure" fighter mission), and the Starfighter was deemed
inadequate for either the interceptor or tactical fighter-bomber
role, lacking both payload capability and endurance compared to
other USAF aircraft. Its U.S. service was quickly wound down after
1965, and the last USAF Starfighters left active service in 1969.
It continued in use with the Puerto Rico Air National
use of the Starfighter in US markings was training German pilots
for the Luftwaffe, with a wing of TF-104Gs and F-104Gs
based at Luke Air
Force Base, Arizona.
Although operated in USAF markings, these
aircraft (which included German-built aircraft) were owned by
Germany. They continued in use until 1983.
1967 Taiwan Strait Conflict
January 1967, four Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force
F-104G aircraft engaged a formation of 12 MiG-19s of the People's Liberation Army Air
Force over the disputed island of Kinmen.
MiG-19s were claimed shot down with one F-104 also lost.
At dawn on 6 September 1965, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam Khan in
an F-104 claimed a Dassault
destroyed over West
and another damaged, to mark the start of aerial
combat in the Indo-Pakistani
War of 1965
. It is claimed as the first combat kill by any
aircraft, and the first missile kill
for the Pakistan Air Force
Indian sources dispute this claim. The PAF lost one F-104
Starfighter during the 1965 operations, scoring two kills in
return. However, one of the F-104 Starfighter's victims was an
Alize aircraft which belonged to the Indian Navy, which was shot
down when a Starfighter was returning home from an aborted
The Starfighter was also instrumental in intercepting an Indian Air Force Folland Gnat
earlier, on 3 September 1965.
F-104s were vectored to intercept the Gnat flying over Pakistan,
returning to its home base. The F-104s, closing in at supersonic
speed, caused the Gnat pilot to lower the undercarriage and land at
a nearby disused Pakistani airfield to surrender. The Indian AF
claims Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh
(who later rose to be an
) made a navigation
error that led him to land on the
. Singh was taken as a
and later released. The IAF Gnat
is now displayed at the PAF Museum,
. In the 1971 war, four F-104As were lost in combat
against the IAF MiG-21s. One pilot successfully ejected from his
F-104 over shark-infested waters, but was never found.
At the same time that the F-104 was falling out of U.S. favor, the
Luftwaffe/Federal German Air Force
looking for a multi-role combat aircraft. The Starfighter was
presented and reworked to convert it from a fair-weather fighter
into an all-weather ground-attack, reconnaissance and interceptor
aircraft, as the F-104G. The aircraft found a new market with other
NATO countries, and eventually a total of 2,578 of all
variants of the F-104 were built in the U.S. and abroad for various
Several countries received their aircraft under the
U.S.-funded Military Aid Program (MAP). The American engine was
retained but built under license in Europe, Canada and Japan. The
Lockheed ejector seats were retained initially but were replaced
later in some countries by the statistically safer Martin-Baker
zero-zero ejection seat.
The so-called "Deal of the Century" produced substantial income for
. However, the
resulting Lockheed bribery
caused considerable political controversy in Europe
and Japan. In Germany, the Minister of Defence
Franz Josef Strauss
of having received at least US$
10 million for West Germany's
purchase of the F-104 Starfighter in 1961. Prince
of the Netherlands later confessed to having received
more than US$1 million in bribes. In the 1970s it was revealed that
Lockheed had engaged in an extensive campaign of bribery
of foreign officials to obtain sales, a
scandal that nearly led to the downfall of the ailing
The international service of the F-104 began to wind down in the
late 1970s, being replaced in many cases by the F-16 Fighting Falcon
, but it remained
in service with some air forces for another two decades. The last
operational Starfighters served with the Italian AMI, which retired
them on 31 October 2004.
Flying the F-104
F-104A flight envelope
The Starfighter was the first combat aircraft capable of sustained
Mach 2 flight, and its speed and climb performance remain
impressive even by modern standards. If used
appropriately, with high-speed surprise attacks and good use of its
exceptional thrust-to-weight ratio, it could be a formidable
opponent, although being lured into a turning contest with a
slower, more maneuverable opponent (as Pakistani pilots were with Indian Hunters in 1965) was perilous.
F-104's large turn radius was mainly due to the high speeds
involved, and its high-alpha
stalling and pitch-up behavior was known to command respect.
speeds were in the region of
219 mph (352 km/h), with the pilot needing to swiftly
raise the landing gear to avoid exceeding the limit speed of .
Climb and cruise performance were outstanding; unusually, a "slow"
light illuminated on the instrument panel at around Mach 2 to
indicate that the engine compressor was nearing its limiting
temperature and the pilot needed to throttle back. Returning to the
, the downwind leg
could be flown at with "land" flap selected, while long flat
were typically flown
at speeds around depending on the weight of fuel remaining. High
engine power had to be maintained on the final approach to ensure
adequate airflow for the BLC system; consequently pilots were
warned not to cut the throttle until the aircraft was actually on
the ground. A drag chute
brakes shortened the Starfighter's landing roll.
The safety record of the F-104 Starfighter became high profile news
especially in Germany in the mid-1960s, and lingers in the minds of
the public even to this day. Some operators lost a large proportion
of their aircraft through accidents, although the accident rate
varied widely depending on the user and operating conditions; the
Luftwaffe lost about 30% of aircraft in accidents over its
operating career, and Canada lost over 50% of its F-104s. The
Spanish Air Force
, however, lost
none. The Starfighter was a particular favorite of the Aeronautica
Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force), although the AMI's accident
rate was far from the lowest of Starfighter users.
The Class A mishap rate of the F-104 in USAF service was 26.7
accidents per 100,000 flight hours as of June 1977, (30.63 through
the end of 2007), the highest accident rate of any USAF Century
Series fighter. By comparison, the rate of the F-102 Delta Dagger
(13.69 through 2007), and the mishap rate for the F-100 Super Sabre
was 16.25 accidents per
100,000 flight hours.
Notable U.S. Air Force pilots who lost their lives in F-104
accidents include Major
Robert H. Lawrence,
and Captain Iven
. Civilian (retired USAAF) pilot Joe Walker
died in a midair collision with
an XB-70 Valkyrie
while flying an
F-104. Chuck Yeager
was nearly killed
when he lost control of an NF-104A during a high-altitude
record-breaking attempt. He lost the tips of two fingers and was
hospitalized for a long period with severe burns after the
The F-104 series all had a very high wing loading (made even higher
when carrying external stores), which demanded that sufficient
be maintained at all times. The
high angle of attack area of flight was protected by a stick shaker
system to warn the pilot of an
approaching stall, and if this was ignored a stick kicker
system would pitch the aircraft's
nose down to a safer angle of attack; this was often overridden by
the pilot despite flight manual warnings against this practice. At
extreme high angles of attack the F-104 was known to "pitch-up
" and enter a spin
, which in most cases was impossible to
recover from. Unlike the twin-engined F-4
for example, the F-104 with its single engine lacked
the safety margin in the case of an engine failure, and had a very
poor glide ratio without thrust
The J79 was a new engine that continued to be developed during the
YF-104A test phase and in service with the F-104A. The engine
featured variable incidence compressor stator blades, a design
feature that altered the angle of the stator blades automatically
with altitude and temperature. A condition known as "T-2 reset", a
normal function that made large stator blade angle changes, caused
several engine failures on takeoff. It was discovered that large
and sudden temperature changes (from being parked in the sun to
getting airborne) were falsely causing the engine stator blades to
close and choke the compressor. The dangers presented by these
engine failures were compounded by the downward ejection seat which
gave the pilot little chance of a safe exit at low level. The
engine systems were subsequently modified and the ejection seat
changed to the more conventional upward type. Uncontrolled tip-tank
sheared one wing off of an
F-104B; this problem was apparent during testing of the XF-104
prototype and was eventually resolved by filling the tank
compartments in a specific order.
A further engine problem was that of uncommanded opening of the
variable thrust nozzle
through loss of engine oil); although the engine would be running
normally at high power, the opening of the nozzle resulted in a
drastic loss of thrust. A modification program installed a manual
nozzle closure control which reduced the problem. The engine was
also known to suffer from afterburner
blow out on takeoff or even non-ignition resulting in a major loss
of thrust, which could be detected by the pilot—the recommended
action was to abandon the takeoff. The first fatal accident in
German service was caused by this. Some aircrews experienced
uncommanded "stick kicker" activation at low level when flying
straight and level, so F-104 crews often flew with the system
de-activated. Asymmetric flap deployment was another common cause
of accidents, as was a persistent problem with severe nosewheel
" on landing which usually
resulted in the aircraft leaving the runway and in some cases even
flipping over onto its back.
Luftwaffe F-104G in USAF
The introduction of a highly technical aircraft type to a newly
reformed air force was fraught with problems. Many pilots and
ground crew had settled into civilian jobs after World War II and
had not kept pace with developments, with pilots being sent on
short "refresher" courses in slow and benign-handling first generation
jet aircraft. Ground crew
were similarly employed with minimal training and experience.
in poor North West European weather conditions (vastly unlike the
fair weather training conditions at Luke
AFB in Arizona) and flying at high speed and low level over hilly
terrain, a great many accidents were attributed to controlled flight into
terrain or water, (CFIT).
Luftwaffe losses totaled 110
Many Canadian losses were attributed to the same cause as both air
forces were primarily operating over West Germany. An additional
factor was that the aircraft were parked outside in adverse weather
conditions (snow, rain etc.) where the moisture affected the
delicate avionic systems. It was further noted that the Lockheed
C-2 ejection seat was no guarantee of a safe escape and the
Luftwaffe retro-fitted the much more capable Martin Baker GQ-7A
seat from 1967, and many operators followed suit. In 1966 Johannes Steinhoff
took over command of
the Luftwaffe and grounded
the entire F-104
fleet until he was satisfied that problems had been resolved or at
least reduced. In later years, the German safety record improved,
although a new problem of structural failure of the wings emerged.
not taken into account the high number of g-force
loading cycles that the German F-104 fleet
was experiencing, and many airframes were returned for depot
maintenance where their wings were replaced, while other aircraft
were simply retired. Towards the end of Luftwaffe service, some
aircraft were modified to carry an ADR
or "black box" which could give an
indication of what might have caused the accident. Erich Hartmann who had commanded one of
Germany's first jet fighter-equipped squadrons and was a former World War II fighter ace had deemed the F-104 to be an unsafe
aircraft with poor handling characteristics for aerial combat and
had judged the fighter unfit for Luftwaffe use, even before its
introduction, to the dismay of his superiors.
Normal operating hazards
The causes of a large number of aircraft losses were the same as
for any other similar type. They included: birdstrikes
(particularly to the engine),
, pilot spatial disorientation
, and mid-air collisions
with other aircraft. A
particularly notable accident occurred on 19 June 1962 when a
formation of four F-104F aircraft, practicing for the type's
introduction-into-service ceremony, crashed together after
descending through a cloud bank. This accident was explained as
probable spatial disorientation of the lead pilot, and formation
aerobatic teams were consequently banned by the Luftwaffe from that
Lockheed XF-104 in flight
A total of 2,578 F-104s were produced by Lockheed
and under license by various
foreign manufacturers. Principal variants included:
- Two prototype aircraft equipped with Wright J65 engines (the J79 was not yet ready);
one aircraft equipped with the M61 cannon as an armament test bed.
Both aircraft were destroyed in crashes.
- YF-104A: 17 pre-production aircraft used for engine, equipment,
and flight testing. Most were later converted to F-104A
- F-104A: A total of 153 initial production versions were built.
In USAF service from 1958 through 1960, then
transferred to ANG until 1963
when they were recalled by the USAF Air Defense Command for the
319th and 331st Fighter Interceptor Squadrons. Some were released
for export to Jordan, Pakistan, and Taiwan, each of
whom used it in combat. In 1967 the 319th F-104As and Bs
were re-engined with the J79-GE-19 engines with 17,900 lbf
(79.6 kN) of thrust in afterburner; service ceiling with this
engine was in excess of 73,000 ft (22,250 m). In 1969 all
the F-104A/Bs in ADC service were retired. On 18 May 1958, an
F-104A set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph
- Three demilitarized versions with an additional 6,000 lbf
(27 kN) Rocketdyne LR121/AR-2-NA-1 rocket engine, used for astronaut training at altitudes up to
120,800 ft (36,820 m). An accident on 10 December 1963
involving Chuck Yeager was loosely
depicted in the motion picture The Right Stuff, although the
aircraft in the film was not an actual NF-104A.
- QF-104A: A total of 22 F-104As converted into radio-controlled
drones and test
- F-104B: Tandem two-seat, dual-control trainer version of F-104A, 26-built.
Enlarged rudder and ventral fin, no cannon and reduced internal
fuel, but otherwise combat-capable. A few were supplied to Jordan, Pakistan and Taiwan.
- Fighter bomber versions for
Air Command, with improved fire-control radar (AN/ASG-14T-2), centerline and two wing pylons
(for a total of five), and ability to carry one Mk 28 or Mk
43 nuclear weapon on the
centerline pylon. The F-104C also had in-flight refuelling
capability. On 14 December 1959, an F-104C set a world altitude
record of 103,395 ft (31,515 m), 77 built.
- F-104D: Dual-control trainer versions of F-104C, 21 built.
- F-104DJ: Dual-control trainer version of F-104J for Japanese Air Self-Defense Force,
20 built by Lockheed and assembled by Mitsubishi.
- F-104F: Dual-control trainers based on F-104D, but using the
upgraded engine of the F-104G. No radar, and
not combat-capable. Produced as interim trainers for the
Luftwaffe. All F-104F aircraft
were retired by 1971; 30 built.
- F-104G: 1,122 aircraft of the main version produced as
multi-role fighter bombers.
Manufactured by Lockheed, and under license
by Canadair and a consortium of European companies which included
Fiat, Fokker and SABCA. The type featured strengthened fuselage
and wing structure, increased internal fuel capacity, an enlarged
vertical fin, strengthened landing gear
with larger tires and revised flaps for improved combat
maneuvering. Upgraded avionics included a new Autonetics NASARR
F15A-41B radar with air-to-air and ground mapping modes, the Litton
LN-3 inertial navigation system
(the first on a production fighter) and an infrared sight.
- RF-104G: 189 tactical reconnaissance models based on F-104G,
usually with three KS-67A cameras mounted in the forward fuselage
in place of cannon.
- TF-104G: 220 combat-capable trainer version of F-104G; no
cannon or centerline pylon, reduced internal fuel. One aircraft
used by Lockheed as a demonstrator with the civil registration
number L104L, was flown by Jackie Cochran to set three women’s world
speed records in 1964. This aircraft later served in the
- F-104H: Projected export version based on a F-104G with
simplified equipment and optical gunsight. Not built.
- F-104J: Specialized interceptor version of the F-104G for the
Japanese ASDF, built under license by Mitsubishi for the air-superiority fighter role, armed with cannon and four
Sidewinders; no strike capability. Some were converted to UF-104J
radio-controlled target drones and destroyed. Total of 210 built,
three built by Lockheed, 29 built by Mitsubushi from Lockheed built
components and 178 built by Mitsubishi.
- F-104N: Three F-104Gs were delivered to
NASA in 1963 for use as high-speed chase
aircraft. One, piloted by Joe
Walker, collided with an XB-70 on 8 June 1966.
F-104S in original camouflage scheme
missiles mounted under the wings, c.
Italian versions produced by FIAT, one
aircraft crashed prior to delivery and is often not included in the
total number built. The F-104S was upgraded for the
interception role having NASARR R-21G/H radar with moving-target
indicator and continuous-wave illuminator for SARH missiles (initially AIM-7 Sparrow), two additional wing and two
underbelly hardpoints (increasing the total to nine), more powerful
J79-GE-19 engine with 11,870 lbf (53 kN) and
17,900 lbf (80 kN) thrust, and two additional ventral
fins for increased stability. The M61 cannon was sacrificed to make
room for the missile avionics in the interceptor version but
retained for the fighter-bomber variants. Up to two Sparrow; and
two, theoretically four or six Sidewinder missiles were carried on
all the hardpoints except the central (underbelly), or seven
750 lb (340 kg) bombs (normally two–four
500-750 lb/227–340 kg). The F-104S was cleared for a
higher maximum takeoff weight, allowing it to carry up to
7,500 lb (3,400 kg) of stores; other Starfighters had a
maximum external load of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg). Range was
up to 780 mi (1,250 km) with four tanks.
- F-104S-ASA: (Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma – "Weapon
Systems Update") – 150 upgraded F-104S with Fiat R21G/M1 radar with
look-down/shoot-down capability, new IFF system and weapon delivery
computer, provision for AIM-9L all-aspect Sidewinder and Selenia Aspide missiles. It was first flown
- F-104S-ASA/M: (Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma/Modificato
– "Weapon Systems Update/Modified") – 49 airframes upgraded in 1998
to ASA/M standard with GPS, new TACAN and Litton LN-30A2 INS, refurbished airframe,
improved cockpit displays. All strike-related equipment was
removed. The last Starfighters in combat service, they were
withdrawn in December 2004 and temporarily replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, while awaiting
- 200 Canadian-built versions, built under license by Canadair and optimized for nuclear
strike, having NASARR R-24A radar with air-to-air modes, cannon
deleted (restored after 1972), additional internal fuel cell, and
Canadian J79-OEL-7 engines with 10,000 lbf
(44 kN)/15,800 lbf (70 kN) thrust.
- CF-104D: 38 dual-control trainer versions of CF-104, built by
Lockheed, but with Canadian J79-OEL-7 engines. Some later
transferred to Denmark, Norway and Turkey.
Production summary table and costs
Production summary, data taken from Bowman, Lockheed
|TF-104G (583C to F)
|TF-104G (583G and H)
|Total by manufacturer
merged later to "Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm
(MBB) later a part of EADS
One aircraft crashed on test flight and is not
Costs in 1960 United
States dollars and have not been adjusted for
|Unit R&D cost
|Modification costs by 1973
|Cost per flying hour
|Maintenance cost per flying hour
The Starfighters, a civilian demonstration team in Florida,
operates three ex-Canadian Military CF-104 Starfighters (1 CF-104D
and 2 CF-104's). Another is owned and operated by a private
collector in Arizona.
The F-104 was operated by the militaries of the following
Aircraft on display
USAF F-104C at Wings Over the Rockies
RDAF F-104G at Flyvestation Aalborg,
Luftwaffe F-104G at Lasham
F-104G "22+40" at Le Bourget Museum,
CF-104A, RCAF s/n 12700 is on display at the
Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
- RCAF CF-104, RCAF s/n 104783 is on display
at the Atlantic Canada
F-104A is on display at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, United States.
F-104A, N818NA, is hanging
from the ceiling of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
- F-104A is on display at the Pakistan Air Force Museum, in
- USAF F-104C, AF Ser. No. 56-0934 is on display at the Museum of
Flight in Seattle, Washington.
- USAF F-104C, AF Ser. No. 56-0910, is on display at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space
Museum (former Lowry
AFB) in Denver, Colorado
- USAF F-104C, AF Ser. No. 56-0914, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air
Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton,
- F-104C, AF Ser. No. 57-0916, is on display at the Virginia Air & Space
Center in Hampton,
- F-104D, AF Ser. No. 57-1314 is on display at the Castle Air
Museum at the former Castle AFB in Atwater, California.
- F-104D, AF Ser. No. 57-1331 is on display at the Air Force
Armament Museum, at Eglin
- F-104G, Royal Danish Air Force s/n R-771, is
displayed at the entrance to Flyvestation Aalborg, Aalborg, Denmark.
- F-104G, R-756, is displayed outside at the
Museum, Coventry, England.
F-104G, Luftwaffe s/n 22+35, is on display at Lasham
airfield, England, 2006.
F-104G, Luftwaffe s/n 22+58, is preserved at the
"Traditionsgemeinschaft JaboG-34", in Memmingen, Germany.
F-104G, Luftwaffe s/n 20+47, is on external display at the Internationales
Luftfahrtmuseum, Manfred Pflumm, in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany.
F-104G, Luftwaffe s/n 25+74 (painted as MFG1 22+22) is on external
display at the Deutsches
Marinemueum in Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
F-104G, Luftwaffe s/n 20+81 (painted as 23+81) reconnaissance is on
display at the air base in Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
- GAF F-104G/CCV, Luftwaffe s/n 98+36, is preserved at the
Studiensammlung Koblenz, Germany
- F-104G is on static display at the Middle
East Technical University, Ankara,
- F-104G cn 7118 22+40 is on display at the
Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Le Bourget Airport, Paris, France.
F-104G Starfighter, Luftwaffe s/n 26+23, is preserved at the Air
Museum of Spain, in Madrid, Spain. The
aircraft is an ex-Luftwaffe machine which retains its
German markings on the left side but is unusually painted with
Spanish markings on the right side.
- F-104G is on static display at The Air
Victory Museum, South Jersey Regional Airport, Lumberton, New Jersey (Painted as RNLAF s/n "D-8090" but is actually
ex-Belgian Air Force s/n FX-81).
F-104G, Royal Netherlands
Air Force s/n D-8331, is on static display in the
Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
F-104J, s/n 36-8515 is preserved on display at Kakamigahara
Aerospace Museum, Kakamigahara,
- JASDF F-104J, (cn 3052) s/n 36-8552 is preserved on display in
the Family Spot Park in Chichibetsu City near Hokkaido AFB,
F-104N, N811NA, flown by
Neil Armstrong, is on static display
at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
F-104N, N812NA, is on display
at Lockheed Palmdale, Calif. "Skunk Works" facility.
J79 with components labeled
The Starfighter was featured in music and film. The German
controversy over the Starfighter's contract and its toll on pilots
inspired a rock concept album
by Robert Calvert
, called Captain Lockheed and the
. It repeated the commonplace grim joke in
Germany that the cheapest way of obtaining a Starfighter was to buy
a small patch of land and simply wait. After Kai-Uwe von Hassel
succeeded Strauss as
minister of defence, his son Oberleutnant Joachim von Hassel died
in a Starfighter crash. This event was the topic of the Welle:Erdball
Stock footage of F-104s was used when a U.S. Air Force F-104
intercepted the USS
in the Star Trek
episode, "Tomorrow is
". In the remastered version of the episode, the stock
footage was replaced by Computer-Generated Imagery
F-104G Starfighter in the guise of an NF-104A was featured in the
1983 film The Right
. The 1964 movie The
, about the training and operations of F-104
crews was subsequently featured in episode #612 of Mystery Science Theater
. The film starred future US Congressman Robert Dornan
The Starfighter was commonly called the "missile with a man in it";
a name swiftly trademarked by Lockheed for marketing purposes. The
term "Super Starfighter" was used by Lockheed to describe the
F-104G in marketing campaigns, but fell into disuse. In service,
American pilots called it the "Zipper" or "Zip-104" because of its
prodigious speed. The Japan
Air Self-Defense Force
called it Eiko
less charitable name appeared, "The Flying Coffin" from the
translation of the common German public name of Fliegender
. The F-104 was also called Witwenmacher
("Widowmaker"), or Erdnagel
("ground nail") – the official
military term for a tent peg. The Pakistani AF
name was Badmash
("Hooligan"), while among Italian pilots its spiky design earned it
the nickname Spillone
("Hatpin"), along with Bara
("Flying coffin"). Canadian pilots sometimes referred
to it as the "Widowmaker".
The engine made a unique howling sound at certain throttle settings
which led to NASA F-104B Starfighter N819NA
- F-104 Starfighter, NASA, 1 February 2005.
- Bowman 2000, p. 26.
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Books, 1997. ISBN 0-7607-0592-5.
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- Ferdinand C.W. Käsmann 1994 p.84
- Bowman 2000, p. 39.
- Thompson 2004, p. 155.
- Smith and Herz 1992.
- Thompson 2004, p. 157.
- Two Cs from the 435th Retrieved: 6 February
- Hobson 2001
- Fricker and Jackson 1996, p. 74.
- Bowman 2000, p. 165.
- Jagan and Chopra, 2006.
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- Bowman 2000, p. 21.
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5303 (104633), civil registry: N104JR , "Lockheed CF-104D
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Retrieved: 24 February 2009.
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Aviation Museum. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
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Aircraft on Exhibit
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National Museum of the USAF. Retrieved: 18 May 2008.
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- Air Force Armament Museum
- On loan from the USAF
- Midland Air Museum Retrieved: 6 February
- Luftfahrt Museum: Second World War Aircraft
Preservation Society Retrieved: 6 February 2008.
restoration of a Starfighter.
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- Kakamigahara Aerospace Museum Retrieved: 12
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Center's Historic Aircraft, NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center,
October 8, 2008.
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anywhere in Germany, Sooner or later..."
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