A Starfighter, low overhead – and noisy!

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was (as far as I know) the first aircraft that had so much power, it could accelerate straight up in a vertical climb (provided it wasn’t burdened by too many external stores).  Its climb rate was almost as good as the much later, much more powerful F-15 Eagle.  It held numerous time-to-height world records.

It was also extremely fast, thanks to its pencil-like fuselage and razor-thin wings.  Here it is in a very low pass.

For a fast jet, that’s haircut distance from the ground!



  1. The Starfighters used to bill themselves a "the world's loudest airshow team". Last I heard they were contracting for NASA.

    A while back I read somewhere that at the right altitude, the F-104 could sustain a 7G turn.

  2. The last one I saw was back in '71 and it was a wreck lying about 200 yards off the south end of the runway at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio. The pilot was killed in the accident.

    The Luftwaffe called them flying coffins for a very good reason.

  3. The F-104 also killed pilots with great regularity. It was called Widowmaker, among other uncomplimentary names.

  4. Empty weight 14,000 pounds. J79 thrust with afterburner 15,600 pounds.

    Yes — can go straight up.

    On the other hand, with a single engine, and a wing area under 200 sq ft, it's not going to do much but crash quickly if the engine fails.

  5. I recall seeing film of a record attempt by one of these. Starts with the tires skidding with the brakes locked, as it spools up.
    Pilot snaps the gear up as soon as they reach full extension, and he hold it at that distance while continuing to accelerate.
    He's climbing vertically by the time he reaches the end of the runway.
    You can hear the sonic boom while he's still vertical.

    Had a long chat with a Canadien Pilot who flew one down to an airshow at Moffett NAS, around 1980. He loved it. flew it for at least 8 years. Said one of it's quirks was high speed stalls. A related factor was the stall recovery took about 10k feet, so SOP was to punch out if less than 12k AGL.
    Brakes couldn't be used above 100mph, IIRC, or they would burn out before it stopped. The drag 'chute was required, to get speed down to a rate the brakes could handle. Stall, dirty, was about 165mph, so over the fence was about 185mph. If you hit the brakes right after deploying the 'chute, they would be toast by the time you got down to 100mph. He said that was a common beginner's mistake, to get on them too soon.

  6. Bought a kit model F104 in 1972? Or so. Dad (ex USN, kicked from flight training over vision issues during WWII) looked at it after I assembled, made wry remark "even an anvil with a big enough engine will fly".

    It flew quite well… with a launch lug added and an Estes "D" rocket engine spliced into it. Crashed spectacularly on the way back down too, a very realistic model.

  7. Friend of mine flew those back in the day. An anecdote:

    That's what I trained on at Luke in Arizona defore transitioning to recips for Nam.
    Crazy to fly it so low. Tough to fly. Always had to fly it. Very tiring.
    I once did an intercept over Alaska flying from Arizona. Fly at 70,000 feet. Mach 1.8. Must have amused the Ruskies to see an Arizona decal on my tail. With air refueling about 2.5 hours.


  8. Maintainence Chief to pilot: "You know that bird strike you reported?"
    Pilot: "Yeah?"
    Maintainence Chief: "Turns out it was a jack rabbit."

  9. BTW, the flaps are rated to 550 mph! They could be used for dogfighting.

    They are blown flaps, so landing pattern use could be exciting, or lethal, if air discharge fails on one.

  10. Erich Hartmann (352 aerial kills) was separated from the West German Air Force over the decision to purchase the F-104. He was pissed that the politicians made that choice. He flew it in the US, and was not impressed.

  11. The F-104 was designed as a high altitude interceptor. For that mission it was fine. When it was used as a mid to low altitude fighter it was a death trap.

  12. The 104 does not stall, it will pitch up and enter a series of unco-ordinated and unpredictable gyrations while seriously obeying the law of gravity. Some recoveries took 35 thousand feet or more. Most pilots bailed.
    I have seen 450 knots by the end of the runaway and 35 thousand feet at 90 seconds. Standard run in for a nuke delivery was Mach .85 at 50 ft AGL, not a misprint. If you want a great book you can get Starfighter by David Bashow here….https://www.abebooks.com/Starfighter-Loving-Retrospective-CF-104-Canadian-Fighter/18121889640/bd
    I'm mentioned on page 199 🙂

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