DESIGNED IN THE EARLY 1950'S, THE F-104 "STARFIGHTER" PROVIDED THE U.S. AIR FORCE WITH A LIGHTWEIGHT, HIGH PERFORMANCE FIGHTER POWERED BY THE NEW GENERAL ELECTRIC J-79 ENGINE WITH AFTERBURNER.
SPEED & CLIMB PERFORMANCE
Designed by the legendary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson in the early 1950's, The Starfighter was the first combat aircraft capable of a sustained Mach2 in flight, and its speed and climb performance remain impressive even by today's standards. Due to its length of 54' 9” and wingspan of only 21' 11” it was dubbed “a missile with a man in it.”
The first prototype flew in March, 1954 and went into production in February, 1956. The plane was activated by the U.S. Air Force in 1958 where it was pressed into action during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, when it was deployed as a deterrent to Chinese MiG-15s and MiG-17s. The F-104 served with the USAF from 1958 until 1969. From 1965 to 1967, the “C” model saw service in the Vietnam War in both an air superiority role and air support as a fighter-bomber.
In 1969 they left regular service with the USAF and continued the Air National Guard until it was phased out on 1975. Some aircraft were later operated by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Later models were flown by 14 countries in addition to the United States. The last operational military Starfighters were retired by the Italian Air Force in 2004.
In 1962, our aircraft set the altitude and speed record for an operational F-104C while stationed in Hahn, Germany with the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing, reaching 92,000 feet at a speed of 2.5 Mach. The plane was heavily damaged in the 1979 tornado which devastated the museum. The plane had been in storage until November of 2009 when the restoration project began. With the restoration now complete, it again wears the colors of the 479th when it made its record breaking flight.
Though it's speed earned the F-104 a nickname of Zipper or Missile With a Man In It, It's tendency to crash and kill its pilot also created nicknames like Death Tube, Lawn Dart, Silver Sliver, Hooligan, Flying Coffin and, of course, the Widowmaker.
Nimble and Fast
After a series of interviews with Korean War fighter pilots in 1951, Kelly Johnson, then the lead designer at Lockheed, opted to reverse the trend of ever-larger and more complex fighters and produce a simple, lightweight aircraft with maximum altitude and climb performance.
The F-104 was designed to use the General Electric J79 turbojet engine, fed by side-mounted intakes with fixed inlet cones optimized for performance at Mach 1.7 (increased to Mach 2 for later F-104s equipped with more powerful J79-GE-19 engines).
The Starfighter established world records for airspeed, altitude, and time-to-climb in 1958, becoming the first aircraft to hold all three simultaneously. It was also the first aircraft to be equipped with the M61 Vulcan autocannon.