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F-104 Starfighter

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F-104 Starfighter
NASA F-104G (ex-Luftwaffe)
Type Fighter-bomber
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
Designed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson
Maiden flight 1954-03-04
Introduced 1958-02-20
Retired 1975, US ANG
1982, Norway
1986, Denmark
2004, Italy
Primary users Luftwaffe
United States Air Force
Greek Air Force
Turkish Air Force
Number built 2,578
Unit cost US$1.42 million (F-104G)[1]
Variants Canadair F-104

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was an American high-performance supersonic interceptor aircraft, capable of high speeds and climb rates. The Starfighter entered service with the US Air Force in 1958 and was phased out by 1967 by the USAF and in the 1970s by the U.S. Air National Guard. An updated Starfighter sold well among the NATO air forces of Germany, Canada and Italy, where high-speed fighter-bomber versions continued in service until the mid-1980s. The last Italian Air Force examples were retired in 2004.

The later model Starfighter versions gained a reputation for being challenging to fly. Many air forces using F-104s eventually replaced them with the F-16 Fighting Falcon.


Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, chief engineer at Lockheed's Skunk Works, visited Korea in December 1951 and talked to fighter pilots about what sort of plane they wanted. At the time the US pilots were meeting the MiG-15 'Fagot' in their 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.

On his return to the US, Johnson immediately started the design of just such an aircraft. In March his team was assembled, and they studied several aircraft designs, ranging from small designs at 8,000 lb (3.6 t), to fairly large ones at 50,000 lb (23 t). In November 1952, a follow-on study started, the lessons learned from the earlier designs being used to eventually result in the Lockheed L-246, of about 12,000 lb (5.4 t).Template:Vs 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 to invite several companies to participate. Three additional designs were received: the Republic AP-55, 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 N-102 Fang, a new General Electric J79-powered design. Although all were interesting, Lockheed had an insurmountable lead, and was granted a development contract in March 1953.

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 J-79 engine was not ready; so, both prototypes were designed to use the Wright J-65 engine instead, a licensed version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. 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, a very short time even then, and unheard of today, when ten to fifteen years is more 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 minimizing drag and mass.

Wing and fuselage

The F-104 had a radical wing design. Most jet fighters of the period (and to this day) used a swept-wing or delta-wing planform. This 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, supersonic flight was a very small, straight, mid-mounted, trapezoidal wing. The wing was extremely thin, with a thickness-to-chord ratio of only 3.36%. Its aspect ratio was 2.45. The wing's leading edges were so thin (0.016 in / 0.41 mm) and so 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 motors driving the control surfaces had to be only one inch (25 mm) thick to fit.

The stabilator (horizontal tail surface) was mounted atop the fin to reduce inertia coupling. Because the vertical tailfin 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, given 10° anhedral. The wings had both leading- and trailing-edge flaps. Later Starfighter marks incorporated a system that allowed the flaps to be extended during combat maneuvering, reducing turn radius and generally improving sustained turn rate.

The combination provided extremely low drag except at high angle of attack (alpha), at which point induced drag became very high. As a result the Starfighter had superb acceleration, rate of climb, and potential top speed, but its sustained turn performance was very poor, described by some as more like a milk truck than a fighter. It was sensitive to control input, and extremely unforgiving of pilot error.

The small, highly-loaded wing resulted in an unacceptably high take-off and landing speed, so a boundary layer control system (BLCS) of blown flaps was incorporated, bleeding engine air over the trailing edge flaps to improve their 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 harrowing.

NACA 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 it was recommended to limit the servo-control power to generate those higher angles and shake the stick to warn the pilot. In the same report, NACA stated that the wingtip tanks, possibly because of their stabilizing fins, reduced somewhat the model's instability problems at high angles of attack.

A research version called Lancer, fitted with a bigger, higher aspect ratio wing and a rocket engine, was employed to develop rocket controls for yaw, pitch and roll, to be used at extremely high altitudes, where conventional aerodynamic control surfaces lost much of their effectiveness. The few pilots to have flown the Lancer used to say that, due to its bigger wing, it was extremely nimble and a better dogfighter than any other plane[citation needed]. Later, those same rocket controls were installed on the X-15 rocket plane for use in its record-breaking high-altitude flights.

The Starfighter's fuselage had a high fineness ratio, i.e., tapering sharply towards the nose, and small frontal area. The fuselage was tightly packed, containing the radar, cockpit, cannon, all fuel, landing gear, and engine.

Several two-seat training versions of the Starfighter were produced. They were generally similar to the comparable single-seater, but the additional cockpit required removing the cannon and some internal fuel. Two-seaters were combat-capable, and, despite a slightly larger vertical fin and increased weight, have similar performance to the single-seater.


Detail of F-104G's turbojet exhaust.

The F-104 was built around the General Electric J79 turbojet engine, fed by side-mounted intakes with fixed inlet scoops and a conical ramp optimized for supersonic speeds. (Unlike some supersonic aircraft, the F-104 does not have variable-geometry inlets.) Its thrust-to-drag ratio was superb, allowing a maximum speed well in excess of Mach 2: the top speed of the Starfighter is limited more by the aluminum structure and the temperature limits of the engine than by thrust or drag (which gives an aerodynamic maximum speed of Mach 2.2). Later models used uprated marks of the J79, improving thrust by almost 30%.

Equipment and armament

Early Starfighters used a downward-firing ejection seat (the Lockheed 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 USAF pilots failed to escape their stricken aircraft in low-level emergencies because of it. The downward-firing seat was soon replaced by a Lockheed C-2 upward-firing seat, which was capable of clearing the tail, although it still had a minimum speed limitation of 90 knots (170 km/h). Most export Starfighters were fitted with Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seats (having the ability to successfully eject the pilot from the aircraft even if the aircraft was at zero altitude and zero airspeed).

The initial USAF Starfighters had basic AN/ASG-14T ranging radar, TACAN, and radio. The later international fighter-bomber aircraft had much more advanced Aeroneutics NASARR radar, a simple infrared sight, Litton LN-3 inertial navigation system, and an air data computer.

In the late 1960s, the Italian Air Force developed a more advanced version of the Starfighter, the F-104S, for use as an all-weather interceptor. The F-104S received a NASAAR R21-G with moving-target indicator (for some ability against low-level targets) and a continuous-wave illuminator for semi-active radar homing missiles, including AIM-7 Sparrow and Selenia Aspide. The missile-guidance avionics forced the 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.

Basic armament of the F-104 was the M61 Vulcan 20 mm Gatling gun. The Starfighter was the first aircraft to carry the new weapon, which had a phenomenal 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 deleted in two-seat models and some single-seat models, including reconnaissance versions and the early Italian F-104S models (the gun bay and ammunition tank could be replaced by an additional fuel tank). Two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles could be carried on the wingtip stations, which could also be used for fuel tanks or other stores. F-104C and later models added a centerline pylon and two underwing pylons under each wing for bombs, nuclear weapons, rocket pods, or tanks. The centerline pylon could carry a "catamaran" launcher for two additional Sidewinders, although the installation had minimal ground clearance and made the seeker heads of the missiles vulnerable to ground debris. The F-104S and some F-104G and F-104J models added a pair of fuselage pylons beneath the intakes, usually used for Sidewinders (providing better ground clearance than the catamaran launcher and leaving the centerline available for other stores). The Italian F-104S had still another pylon under each wing, for a maximum of nine. The F-104S was cleared for a higher maximum take-off 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).

Pilot impressions

Chuck Yeager in the cockpit of an NF-104, December 4, 1963.

The Starfighter was generally considered a rewarding, if very demanding, "sports car" of a fighter. It was the first combat aircraft capable of sustained Mach 2 flight (not just a brief dash) and its speed and climb performance remain impressive, even by modern standards. If used appropriately, with high-speed slashing 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. The F-104's turn radius and high-alpha behavior were always tricky, and the Starfighter had a well-deserved reputation for unforgiving behavior. Some operators lost nearly half their aircraft through accidents, although the accident rate varied widely depending on the user and operating conditions; the Spanish Air Force, for example, 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.

Famous U.S. Air Force pilots who lost their lives to F-104 accidents include Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. Captain Iven Kincheloe, and civilian pilot Joe Walker. 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 with severe burns for a long period after the flight.


An ex-Luftwaffe Starfighter at Le Bourget.

The initial F-104A served briefly with the USAF Air Defense Command as an interceptor, although neither its range or armament were well-suited for that role. Its status was nonetheless enhanced when, on May 18 1958, an F-104A set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph (2,259.82 km/h), and on December 14 1959, an F-104C set a world altitude record of 103,395 ft (31.5 km). The Starfighter was the first aircraft to hold simultaneous official world records for speed, altitude, and time-to-climb.

The subsequent F-104C entered service with Tactical Air Command as a multi-role fighter and fighter-bomber. It saw service in the Vietnam War, commencing with the ROLLING THUNDER campaign, losing its first F-104 Starfighter (476th Tactical Fighter Squadron) to ground fire in June 1965, the pilot ejected and survived. On 20 September 1965, F-104's were flying a Combat Air Patrol over North Vietnam (CAP mission), when after straying either too close or actually over Red Chinese airspace they were engaged by Communist Chinese Mig-19's (Shenyang J-6's). The F-104 Starfighter, from the 436th Tactical Fighter Squadron, piloted by USAF Capt. Philip E. Smith was hit by the Mig-19's (J-6) cannon fire, forcing him to eject. Capt. Smith was captured and held in Red China as a prisoner, and after nearly seven years was released as a POW in March 1973. The Starfighter was used both in the air-superiority role (although, with the exception above, it saw little aerial combat,and scored no air-to-air kills) and in the air support mission. Starfighter squadrons made two deployments to Vietnam, the first from April 1965 thru November 1965, flying 2,937 combat sorties. During that first deployment two starfighters were shot down by surface to air missiles, one was shot down by a Red Chinese Mig-19 (J-6) when the F-104 strayed over their borders, and two F-104's were lost to a mid-air collision associated to that air to air battle. The Starfighters returned to Vietnam in June 1966 and fought on until July 1967, in which time they had flown 2,269 combat sorties, for a total of 5,206 sorties. Nine more F-104's had been lost; two F-104's 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 in July 1967, having lost a total of 14 F-104's in Vietnam, and were retired from U.S. service in 1975. [2]

The USAF procured only 296 Starfighters in one- and two-seat versions. The USAF was less than satisfied with the Starfighter. 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 and endurance compared to other USAF aircraft. Its U.S. service quickly wound down after 1965.

International service

At the same time as the F-104 was falling out of US favor, the Federal German Airforce was looking for a multi-role aircraft. The Starfighter was presented and reworked to convert it from a fair-weather fighter into an all-weather ground attack and interceptor aircraft the F104G. This brought it a new market with other NATO countries, and 2,578 F-104s were built in the U.S. and abroad for various nations, including Canada, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Pakistan, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Japan. Norway, Denmark, Greece, Jordan, Turkey and Spain received theirs under the military aid program. The American engine was retained but built under license in Europe. The Lockheed ejector seats were also retained at first but were replaced later by the superior Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat.

The so-called "Deal of the Century" produced considerable income for Lockheed, but considerable political controversy in Europe, particularly in Germany, where the Minister of Defence Franz Josef Strauß was almost forced to resign over the issue. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands later confessed to having received more than 1 million USD 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 ailing corporation's downfall.

The F-104 in international service began to wind down in the late 1970s, 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 frontline Starfighters were with the Italian AMI, which retired in mid-2004.


The German Starfighters proved especially problematic, as demonstrated by the modifed version's alarming accident rate. In German service alone, 292 of the 916 Starfighters crashed, claiming the lives of 115 pilots, leading to claims that the Starfighter was fundamentally unsafe and earning it the Widowmaker nickname, among others (see below). However, the non-German F-104 proved much safer and earned a better track record. For instance, Spain lost none in the same period. This has to be attributed in part to the German military's decision to deploy their Starfighters as Fighter bombers, the increased payload of bombs increasing the aircraft's stall speed and making for a very narrow window of safe flight speed though that is what the G model had been supplied to them for.[citation needed]
Josef Frolik, defected Czechoslovak secret service officer, claims (in his book "The Frolik defection : the memoirs of an intelligence agent") that large portion of these losses could be accounted to deliberate design flaws secretly introduced into German aircraft blueprints by Czech and Soviet secret services


A formation of Italian F-104Ss.

F-104 was a mainstay of Aeronautica Militare Italiana from the 1960s until the end of the 20th century. The first 105 F-104G, 24 TF-104G and 20 RF-104G became operational starting from 1962, for a total of nine groups, replacing the aging F-86s and RF-84s. Although far superior to the aircraft it replaced in performance terms, the F-104 lacked a powerful radar and its reconnaissance equipment did not prove an improvement. In the first 5 years 24 planes went lost. As only 80-90 F-104s were operational at the best, it was decided to acquire new aircraft, this time of a new generation designed by Aeritalia in collaboration with Lockheed, F-104S (see Equipment and armament. The first F-104S entered in service in 1969, but the rate of loss remained high (in total, Italy lost 137 F-104s in 928,000 flying hours). Two further improvement programs were carried out, resulting in the F-104ASA and F-104ASA-M until the introduction of the new Eurofighter Typhoon. The last Italian F-104 was decommissioned in 2004.


Pakistan was the first country in Asia to get a supersonic aircraft when they acquired the F-104 Starfighter in 1961 and the first to take it into combat.

On the dawn of 6 September 1965, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam Khan in an F-104 claimed a Dassault Mystère IV destroyed over West Pakistan skies and damaged another, to mark the start of aerial combat in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. At that time it was claimed as the first combat kill by any Mach 2 aircraft, and the first missile kill for the Pakistan Air Force. However Indian sources discredit this claim.[3] But there is little doubt that the first kill by a Mach 2 fighter belongs to the Pakistan Air Force, in the form of a English Electric Canberra bomber shot down on the night of September 21st[3]. Though the F-86 was the mainstay of the PAF, the F-104 had a very special task.

The Starfighter is also believed to have been instrumental in intercepting an Indian Air Force (IAF) Folland Gnat earlier on 3 September 1965. The Gnat was flying over Pakistan, on its way to its home base, when a F-104 was vectored to intercept the aircraft. Closing in at supersonic speed, the F-104 crossed the Gnat. There was no chance of making a successful intercept. But the Gnat pilot, probably thinking that there were more aircraft in the area, promptly lowered his undercarriage, landed at a disused Pakistani airfield nearby and surrendered himself. The Gnat is now displayed at the PAF Museum, Karachi. Indians claim that contrary to this version of events that there was a navigation error that led to its pilot wrongly landing on a Pakistani airstrip. The IAF pilot, Sqn Ldr Brij Pal Singh (who later rose to be an Air Marshal in the IAF), was taken as a POW and later released.[4]. The PAF lost two F-104 Starfighters during the 1965 operations.

In the later Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the F-104s were outfought and outgunned by the IAF's fighters and though Jordanian Starfighters were added to bolster the numbers, it did little to sway the air war in Pakistan's favour. It became the victim of the first supersonic dogfight in the subcontinent when an IAF MiG-21 shot down the Starfighter.[5] Up to four PAF Starfighters were shot down by IAF MiG-21s and another four were claimed by Indian ground fire [6][7] and even Pakistan admitted they didn't do so well,[8] admitting three losses, two to MiG-21s and one to AA fire.[9] [10].

After the war, the remaining five PAF F-104s were grounded due to lack of spares resulting from the U.S. military embargo. They were replaced by French-made Dassault Mirage III fighters.

Civilian use

The Starfighters prepare for a demonstration.

The Starfighters are a civilian aerobatic team based in Florida that currently flies two F-104s at airshows. Their two F-104 Starfighters, a CF-104D 104632 "N104RB" and CF-104 104850 "N104RD" [with a third to be restored] were originally with the Royal Canadian Air Force and both later served with the Royal Norwegian Air Force before being imported into the US in private hands. The team lost one of its founding pilots in 2003 when Tom "Sharkbait" Delashaw was killed in a two-seat Hawker Hunter at a Pennsylvania airport when apparently an engine failed.

Another civilian Starfighter, called the F-104RB (for "Red Baron"), was used to set the low-level speed record in October 1977 by world-famous air racer Darryl Greenamyer. Greenamyer built his F-104 over a period of 12 years from parts scrounged up in various places, including a "borrowed" J79-17/1 turbojet from a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, which developed over 2,000lbs. more thrust than the standard J79-19 engine. Greenamyer attacked the record at Mud Lake, near Tonapah, Nevada, and beat the previous low-level speed record by recording a top speed of 988.26 mph (1590.41 km/h) after five passes over the dry lake. He remained supersonic for most of the 20-minute flight, and rarely got much higher than 100 feet above the lake bed. Several months later, while practicing to set the world absolute altitude record, he was forced to eject when his landing gear failed to extend; a belly landing in the F-104 was considered too dangerous, as fuel lines run along the bottom of the F-104's fuselage.


The costs are in approximately 1960 United States dollars and have not been adjusted for inflation.[1]

F-104A F-104B F-104C F-104D F-104G TF-104G
Unit R&D cost 189,473 189,473
Airframe 1,026,859 1,756,388 863,235 873,952
Engine 624,727 336,015 473,729 271,148 169,000
Electronics 3,419 13,258 5,219 16,210
Armament 19,706 231,996 91,535 269,014
Ordnance 29,517 59,473 44,684 70,067
Flyaway cost 1.7 million 2.4 million 1.5 million 1.5 million 1.42 million 1.26 million
Modification costs by 1973 198,348 196,396
Cost per flying hour 655
Maintenance cost per flying hour 395 544 395 395


CF-104 displayed at CFB Borden.

A total of 2,578 F-104s were produced by Lockheed and under license by various foreign manufacturers. Principal variants included:

  • XF-104 - Two prototype aircraft equipped with Wright J65 engines (the J79 was not yet ready); no operational equipment.
  • YF-104A - 17 pre-production aircraft used for engine, equipment, and flight testing.
  • F-104A - 153 initial production versions. 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 pounds (79.6 kN) of thrust in afterburner. Note: service ceiling with this engine was in excess of 73,000 feet (22,250 m). In 1969 all the F-104A/Bs in ADC service were retired.
  • NF-104A - Three demilitarized versions with 6,000 lbf (27 kN) Rocketdyne LR121/AR-2-NA-1 rocket engines, used for astronaut training at altitudes up to 120,800 ft (36,830 m). (A December 10, 1963 accident involving Chuck Yeager was depicted in the movie The Right Stuff, although the aircraft in the film was not an actual NF-104A.)
  • QF-104A - 22 F-104As converted as radio-controlled drones and test aircraft.
  • F-104B - 26 dual-control trainer versions of F-104A. No cannon and reduced internal fuel, but otherwise combat-capable. A few were supplied to Pakistan and Taiwan.
  • F-104C - 71 Fighter bomber versions for USAF Tactical 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 centerline pylon. The 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to Vietnam in April 1965 thru July 1965, losing one Starfighter; the 436th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to Vietnam in July 1965 thru October 1965, losing four Starfighters; the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed from June 1966 thru July 1967, at which time they transitioned to F-4 Phantoms, and had lost nine F-104 Starfighters during their tour. No air-to-air kills were scored, although the Starfighters were successful in deterring MiG interceptors. Vietnam-serving F-104s were upgraded in service with APR-25/26 radar warning receiver equipment. Nine were lost in combat. One is on display in the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  • F-104D - 21 dual-control trainer versions of F-104C.
  • F-104DJ - 20 dual-control trainer version of F-104J for Japanese Self-Defense Air Force, built by Lockheed rather than Mitsubishi.
  • F-104F - 30 dual-control trainer based on F-104D, but using the upgraded engine of the F-104G. No radar, and not combat-capable. 30 produced as interim trainers for the Luftwaffe.
  • F-104G - 1,122 aircraft in major production version as multi-role fighter bomber aircraft. Built by 4 groups of European companies, Canadair and Lockheed. Strengthened fuselage and wings, increased internal fuel capacity, enlarged vertical fin, heavier landing gear, revised flaps for improved combat maneuvering. New Autonetics NASARR F15A-41B radar with air-to-air and air-to-ground modes, Litton LN-3 inertial navigation (the first on a production fighter), 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 civil version, civil registration number L104L, was used by Jackie Cochran to set three women’s world speed records in 1964.
  • F-104J - 178 Japanese version, built under license by Mitsubishi for the air-superiority fighter role, armed with cannon and four Sidewinders; no strike capability.
  • F-104N - Three F-104Gs delivered to NASA in 1963 for use as high-speed chase aircraft. One, piloted by Joe Walker, collided with the XB-70 on 8 June 1966. (To see its crash site, click here.)
  • F-104S - 246 Italian versions produced mainly by FIAT, upgraded for interception role with NASARR R-21G/H radar with moving-target indicator and continuous-wave illuminator for SARH missiles (initially AIM-7 Sparrow), two additional wing hardpoints, more powerful J79-GE-19 engine with 11,870 lbf (53 kN) and 17,900 lbf (80 kN) thrust, two additional ventral fins for increased stability. The cannon was sacrificed to make room for the illuminator and was never restored in subsequent variants.
  • F-104S-ASA (Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma - "Weapon Systems Update") - 147 upgraded Italian version with Fiat R21G/M1 radar with frequency hopping, look-down/shoot-down capability, new IFF and weapons delivery computer, provision for AIM-9L all-aspect Sidewinder, Selenia Aspide missiles.
  • F-104S-ASA/M (Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma/Modificato - "Weapon Systems Update/Modified") - 49 single seat and 15 two-seat (former TF-104G) upgraded from 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 eventually withdrawn in December 2004 and temporarily replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, while awaiting the Eurofighter Typhoon to become fully operational.
  • CF-104 - 200 Canadian-built versions, built under license by Canadair and optimized for nuclear strike, with NASARR R-24A radar with air-to-air modes and cannon deleted (the cannon was 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. Some later transferred to Denmark, Norway, and Turkey.
  • 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.

V/STOL Starfighter

VJ 101.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Germany used the F-104 as the basis for research into a V/STOL aircraft. Although two models (X1 and X2) were built, the project was canceled due to high costs and political problems as well as changing needs of the Luftwaffe and NATO. The EWR VJ 101C did perform free VTOL take-offs and landings, as well as test flights beyond Mach 1 in the mid and late 1960s. One of the test-aircraft is preserved in the Deutsches Museum in Munich [11].


The Starfighter was commonly called the "missile with a man in it," a name swiftly trademarked by Lockheed for marketing purposes. 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 ("Glory"), but other export pilots were less charitable, many dubbing it "The Flying Coffin". The German public called it Witwenmacher ("Widowmaker"), fliegender Sarg ("Flying coffin") 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 volante ("Flying coffin"). Canadian pilots sometimes referred to it as the Flying lawn dart (a nickname also sometimes given to the aircraft's successor in the lightweight dogfighter role, the F-16 Fighting Falcon). The engine made a unique howling sound at certain throttle settings which led some to call the Starfighter Howling Howland. At certain low speeds with high engine RPM, the aircraft produced a pronounced oscillating whine as the wings rocked from side to side. In Canada this was referred to as the "Whistling Wing Walk."

Popular Culture

A Lockheed F-104 displayed in the Militaire Luchtvaart Museum Soesterberg (Netherlands).

The German controversy over the Starfighter's contract and its toll of pilots inspired a rock concept album by Robert Calvert of Hawkwind, called Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters.

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 song "Starfighter F-104G."

Also, the Tom Tom Club song "Booming and Zooming" prominently features discussion of the F-104 Starfighter.

Land speed record car

A modified F-104A Starfighter airframe is being used for the North American Eagle land speed record jet car. The Eagle teams hope to attain 800 mph (1,288 km/h) or Mach 1.05.

Specifications (F-104G)

Orthographically projected diagram of the F-104 Starfighter.

Data from Quest for Performance[12]

General characteristics



  • Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.787 in) M61 Vulcan gatling gun, 725 rounds
  • Hardpoints: 7 with a capacity of 4,000 lb (1,800 kg),with provisions to carry combinations of:
  • Other: Bombs, rockets, or other stores


  1. 1.0 1.1 Knaack, Marcelle Size (1978). Encyclopedia of US Air Force aircraft and missile systems. Office of Air Force History. 
  2. Hobson, Chris-"Vietnam Air Losses"; 2001. ISBN 1 85780 1156
  3. 3.0 3.1 The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965 by P V S Jagan Mohan & Samir Chopra, Manohar 2006
  5. 1971 War history
  6. Air War in the West, Pg455 Official Indian Armed Forces History of the 1971 War
  7. Air War of 1971
  9. PAF Losses in 1971 war
  10. Starfighters in Pakistan.
  11. German VSTOL Fighters.
  12. Loftin, LK, Jr.. Quest for performance: The evolution of modern aircraft. NASA SP-468. Retrieved on 2006-04-22.

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Designation sequence

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See also

af:F-104 Starfighter cs:F-104 Starfighter da:F-104 Starfighter de:Lockheed F-104 es:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter fr:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter id:F-104 Starfighter it:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter hu:F–104 Starfighter ms:F-104 Starfighter nl:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter ja:F-104 (戦闘機) no:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter pl:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter ru:Lockheed F-104 Starfighter fi:F-104 Starfighter tr:F-104 zh:F-104星式戰鬥機 th:เอฟ-104 สตาร์ไฟเตอร์