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  • Lockheed F-104 Starfighter High-Speed Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft

    The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter served a greater role with air forces abroad than it did with the USAF, though its operational service was not without issues.

     Updated: 10/27/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Lockheed F-104 was in many ways an engineering marvel whose legacy suffered terribly due to several internal and external circumstances, so much so, in fact, that the aircraft was dubbed the unflattering name of "Widowmaker". Despite its setbacks, the aircraft was a record-setter and found a home with many an air force around the globe. The Starfighter was conceived of by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, fabled Lockheed engineer at its "Skunk Works" facility. From the outset, the F-104 was designed as a daytime supersonic air superiority fighter.

    The F-104 Starfighter came about after discussions Johnson had with United States Air Force pilots and their experiences in the Korean Air War. At the time, the Soviet Union had unveiled their feisty little jet-powered fighter - the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 "Fagot" - while the USAF and its NATO allies had to make do with early and outclassed jet-powered forms until the introduction of the North American F-86 Sabre. Though air superiority eventually found its way back into NATO control, the USAF was still left without a capable and dedicated intercepting platform to combat the new Soviet fighter types effectively. As a result, Johnson set to work in 1952 to design a new aircraft based wholly on performance. This aircraft would mate the smallest (and therefore lightest) airframe to the most technologically advanced and powerful engine available. The resulting creation became the basis for the F-104 Starfighter.

    An early proposal netted the liking of the USAF, which introduced several other aircraft firms into an open competition. The Lockheed design won USAF approval and a contract to product two prototypes, no labeled as "XF-104A", was signed in 1953. The first of these two prototypes was made available for its first flight in February of 1954. Despite being designed for the General Electric J79 turbojet engine, availability of the GE powerplant forced these prototypes to fit with a license-production versions of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engine (as the Wright XJ65-W-6 series) of 10,200lbs thrust until the General Electric J79's were made available to the F-104.

    The new jet-powered, post-war design was not without its issues however, and four years of development for the program would follow. At least 17 pre-production YF-104A aircraft were generated for the USAF to fulfill testing roles of the various problematic systems aboard the F-104 and iron out some resolutions before production would commence. By 1958, the first F-104A was made available for deliveries. These systems differed somewhat from their original design in that they sported a longer fuselage and were fitted with their General Electric J79-GE-3 series engines of 14,800lbs of thrust.

    Upon its induction into operational service, the Starfighter set about to cement a few "firsts" in its career. The aircraft became the first operational fighter platform capable of sustained flight at speeds past Mach 2 - twice the speed of sound. It eventually went on to become the first aircraft to simultaneously hold the world speed and altitude records in its F-104A and F-104C forms. Major Howard C. Johnson, in his F-104A, broke the altitude record by setting the new bar at 91,243 feet on May 7th, 1958. An F-104 Starfighter followed suit and set the new world air speed record on May 18th, 1958. The aircraft recorded a top speed of 1,404.19 miles per hour. The altitude record was then again bested - this time by an F-104C model - with a new ceiling of 103,389 feet. In this record setting endeavor, the Starfighter also became the first aircraft to break the 100,000 foot barrier under its own power (no rocket-assisted propulsion was needed). In this way, the Starfighter's legacy was enriched with accolades than any fighter would aspire to reach.

    Externally, the F-104 Starfighter was really a distinct aircraft design. The platform showcased an aerodynamic streamlined fuselage design that held all of the vital components (weapons, avionics, undercarriage, engine, etc...) in a cramped internal layout. The powerplant made up most of the internal space, as did the fuel, and covered about half of the tubular form. The front end was tapered to a sharp point while the cockpit tub was well-positioned in the forward part of the design, offering up exceedingly good visibility when in flight or taxiing. The canopy consisted of three major components- a framed forward section, a center section opening to portside, and a rearward section. The single engine was fed by two small half-circle intakes along the sides of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. The intake openings were fixed and not variable and were fitted with cones to regulate the turbojet airflow at high speeds. The undercarriage was completely allocated to the fuselage with the two main gears retracting into the fuselage portion near the wing roots and the nose wheel retracting into the fuselage portion under and behind the cockpit.

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    Lockheed F-104G Starfighter Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1958
    Type: High-Speed Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Aircraft Corporation - USA / Mitsubishi - Japan / Canadair - Canada / FIAT - Italy
    Production Total: 2,578

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 54.66 feet (16.66 meters)
    Width: 20.87 feet (6.36 meters)
    Height: 13.42 feet (4.09 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 13,995 lb (6,348 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 29,055 lb (13,179 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 1 x General Electric J79-GE-11A turbojet engine developing 15,800 lb of thrust with afterburner.

    Maximum Speed: 1,320 mph (2,124 kph; 1,147 knots)
    Maximum Range: 1,081 miles (1,740 km)
    Service Ceiling: 58,005 feet (17,680 meters; 10.99 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 48,000 feet-per-minute (14,630 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    1 x 20mm cannon multi-barrel M61 Vulcan cannon

    4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range, air-to-air missiles
    2 x AIM-7 SParrow medium-range, air-to-air missiles
    2 x Selenia Aspide medium-range, air-to-air missiles
    Conventional Bombs
    Rocket Pods
    Nuclear Weaponry
    External Fuel Tanks

    Up to 4,000lbs of external stores fixed to a centerline and multiple underwing hardpoints.

    Global Operators / Customers

    Belgium; Canada; Denmark; West Germany; Italy; Greece; Norway; Netherlands; Spain; Taiwan; Jordan; Pakistan; Turkey; Japan; United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    XF-104 - Two prototype examples; fitted with interim Wright XJ65-W-6 series turbojet engines of 10,200lbs thrust; both lost to accidents.

    YF-104A - Seventeen pre-production examples for flight testing of various systems; later converted to F104A production standard.

    F-104A - Initial production models; fitted with General Electric J79-GE-3 engines of 14,800lbs thrust; lacking all-weather capability.

    QF-104A - Radio-controlled drones of F-104A models; 22 examples converted as such.

    F-104B - Two-Seat Dual Control Combat-Capable Trainer based on F-104A models; enlarged tail surfaces; sans cannon; lighter fuel load.

    F-104C - Fighter-Bomber Variant; AN/ASG-14T-2 series fire-control system; two wing and centerline pylons for external stores; nuclear capable; in-flight refueling capability.

    F-104D - Two-Seat Dual Control Trainer based on the F-104C models; 21 examples.

    F-104DJ - Two-Seat Dual Control Trainer based on Japanese-produced Mitsubishi F-104J models; 20 examples.

    F-104F - Two-Seat Dual Control Trainer based on the F-104D models; fitted with powerplant of the F-104G series; sans radar systems; 30 examples produced.

    F-104G - Fighter-Bomber Variant produced for the German Luftwaffe; 1,122 examples produced; reinforced fuselage, wings and undercarriage; increased fuel capacity; new flaps; upgraded avionics suite.

    RF-104G - Tactical Reconnaissance Models of the F-104G series; sans cannon but fitted with three camera systems.

    TF-104G - Two-Seat Dual Control combat-capable trainers based on the F-104G; 220 examples.

    F-104H - Proposed export model based on the F-104G series; never produced.

    F-104J - Japanese license-production Starfighter under Mitsubishi label; interceptor/air superiority model; 210 examples.

    UF-104J - Radio-Controlled Target Drone conversions based on Mitsubishi-produced F-104J series.

    F-104N - Based on F-104G; NASA use as high-speed chase aircraft.

    NF-104A - Demilitarized Models for astronaut training; 1 x Rocketdyne LR121/AR-2-NA-1 rocket engine installed.

    F-104S - Italian production models built under FIAT label.

    F-104S-ASA - FIAT production models based on F-104S models; fitted with FIAT radar; AIM-9L Sidewinder and Selenia Aspide missile capability.

    F-104S-ASA/M - Italian Starfighter; upgraded models; rebuilt airframes; new instrument panels; strike capability removed.

    CF-104 - Canadian produced Starfighters; 200 examples; nuclear capability; increased fuel capacity; Canadian J79-OEL-7 series engines.

    CF-104D - Two-Seat Dual Control trainers based on CF-104 models; 38 examples.

    CL-1200 "Lancer" - Proposed modified version of the F-104.