How successful was the F-104 Starfighter?

IIRC, the F-104 Starfighter did not engage in many air-to-air battles. A Pakistani F-104 vs. an Indian MiG? Something like that? I don’t remember the outcome. Who won?

The ‘missile with a man in it’ has been called ‘The Widowmaker’, since apparently it was not an easy aircraft to fly. I know that West Germany used them for a while. What role did they play in the U.S.A.F.? Were they used in Vietnam?

I know NASA has at least one, and that their speed was useful for a chase plane. Chuck Yeager crashed an NF-104 while trying for an altitude record. (IIRC, the peroxide rockets that would provide directional control at altitude were not powerful enough.)

So was the F-104 a success, or a flop?

IIRC, it wasn’t that successful. It was a high-altitude bomber interceptor, and really not buile for mixing it up with other fighters. You are correct…the West Germans used them extensively there for a while. Because it wasn’t designed as a fighter, it was soon replaced by the F4 Phantom. See here for details of their deployments in Vietnam.

Of course, if I had bothered to read footnote #2, I could have saved myself the embarassment of that second sentence. :smack:

The U2 spy plane was rushed into production. To make the spy plane they wanted would take too long (this ended up being the SR-71), so they just used an existing body and put some different wings on it, crammed it full of different electronics, and shoved it out the door.

Wasn’t the F-104 the plane they used for the U2’s body?

Yes it was, with a lengthened nose section. I believe the engine was also practically hand built with parts selected for best fit in order to get the required performance at 80000 ft.

The F-104 was designed as an intercepter of incoming, high altitude bombers. Such a condition never took place.

The Starfighter had a badass look and was succeeded by another badass fighter: The Phantom.

"Like many aircraft before it that fell short of original expectations, the F104 Starfighter found a new job for itself as a multi-role fighter. In this form the F104G multi-mission Starfighter was used as a tactical support aircraft and reconnaissance machine.

"The F104 Starfighter has always been a striking aircraft to look at. This being mainly due to the very short wingspan of less than 22 feet (length nearly 55 feet). This earned the aircraft the nickname ‘the missile with a man in it’.
Due to a series of accidents with the plane it also had the unfortunate moniker of ‘flying coffin’.

Top speed: around mach 2. Operating ceiling: 55,000ft. “This just shortly after the Korean peninsula conflict where F86 Sabres were flying sub-sonic.

Wow. I almost forgot. When I was a kid, I knew an airline pilot who had once flown the Starfighter. As I recall, he said it was incredibly unstable due to its thin, stubby wings, but was an able fighter. I definitely recall him talking about pilots who had been killed in the F-104. Overall, he thought it was a flawed design, but fast as hell.

The Starfighter had a particularly tough time because of the attempt to turn them into strike/attack fighters, something that it had no business at. It was very much an interceptor – supposed to streak straight towards the oncoming commie bombers like a bat outta hell @ high altitude.

That said, in my childhood, late 60s to about 1976, the PRANG flew Starfighters – ostensibly as defense for Ramey AFB, a SAC base that operated here until 1973 (against possible attack from Cuba-based commie bombers?), and it was a thrill to have one of them zoom by overhead, or to be at Isla Verde beach next to the airport when a flight roared away. It may not have met expectations but it certainly looked and sounded like the complete opposite – Lockheed had a touch for aircraft aesthetics.

Note that the “G” was only licensed and flown in Europe, primarily by the Germans, and the USAF never attempted to use it in that absurd role. (Mind you, the European air forces may have also been smart enough to avoid that role, but there was a lot of political pressure (and various bribes) applied to the European governments to “encourage” those air forces to accept the plane.)

The overwhelming percentage of training acidents and deaths involving the Starfighter were among the F104Gs–overloaded, over-armored, and flown in unsuitable conditions.

Like the B-58 Hustler, it was a plane that had amazing performance for a brief period, for which changes in technology and tactics caused its mission to evaporate before it was ever deployed.

This site provides a comprehensive history of the F104 Starfighter, including its Pakistani combat record (mixed) and the European sale debacle. The site is maintained by a hobbyist, but I have not found any errors on it. (That does not mean there are no errors, but I haven’t found any.)

Correction: The site to which I linked mentions the “odd” nature of the sale, but does not delve into any of the allegations of corruption. (It had been a while since I read that web site and had forgotten that he did not detail the scandals. I do not know whether the 1975-76 Lockheed bribery scandal looked back as far as the late 1950s Starfighter acquisitions.)

Here is another history of the Starfighter. (.pdf format)

I knew a guy who was a CF-104 pilot here in Canada. Told me some old jokes about the Starfighter:

Q: How do you get your own Starfighter?
A: Buy a piece of land in Germany, and wait.

Says that some joker had inserted a page in the POH for engine-out procedures:

  1. Open canopy.
  2. Reach under seat. Find brick.
  3. Throw brick out of airplane.
  4. Follow brick to ground.

One of the problems with the F-104 is that its primary mission of high altitude intercept became obsolete, so the aircraft was pressed into service in roles it really wasn’t suited for. Flying low-level attack in an airplane with wings that are something like 7 feet long is just bound to be a tricky affair.

However, the Starfighter was designed in 1952, and it stayed in service in the U.S. until the late 70’s (and in some other roles even longer). It stayed in service in Canada until 1987. Even today, it’s one of the fastest and highest flying jets. And, it’s beautiful.

If you squint your eyes and look at the F104 just so, it’s stubby wings and overall shape kinda resembles an even faster aircraft: the X-15.

And, of course, here’s the inevitable link to info about the classic Robert Calvert concept album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters.

Carnac, I always thought the F-104 looked more like the X-3 than the X-15.

The X-3 was even more of a handful than the Starfighter, and was quite prone to roll coupling. I’ve always wondered if that was a problem with the F-104 as well.

And let’s not forget the classic flick The Starfighters, starring then-pilot, later-batshit-Congressman “B-1 Bob” Dornan.

Thanks for the link. I used to drive by the USAF Test Pilot School every day, and saw the surviving NF-104 on its pylon.

It sounds as if the problem with the Pakistani Starfighters was that their pilots had not learned the lesson P-40 pilots learned against the A6M: Don’t try to dogfight with an aircraft that has superior maneuverability!

No, it wasn’t. The U2 was created as an entirely new aircraft. It was designed by the same people (mainly Kelly Johnson, from what history tells) who designed the Starfighter, but it was very, very different.

When tasked to design a new spyplane, their first though was to take a '104 and toss the big wings and try to make the proper modifications for high-altitude. I think they even got as far as to build a prototype or two. But the performance wasn’t what they hoped for, so the U-2 was born.

Of course, this is just memory, from an article in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine a few years ago.

1986, actually.

I’m betting a lot of Canadians don’t know the original role of the CF-104: Nuclear strike bomber. No kidding.

That could be where the idea that the fuselage was from the 104 comes from.

I think this is the jet in “The Right Stuff” which is described as having “all the gliding ability of a set of car keys.”