Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

TypeInterceptor and fighter-bomber
Country of originUnited States
First flight4 March 1954
Introduced20 February 1958
Producedcirca 1955
Numbers built2,578
Unit costsUS$1.42 million (F-104G)
Max speed1,328 mph (1,154 kn, 2,125 km/h)
Max rangeCombat radius: 420 mi (365 nmi, 670 km)
Ferry range: 1,630 mi (1,420 nm, 2,623 km)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
DimensionsLength: 54 ft 8 in (16.66 m)
Wingspan: 21 ft 9 in (6.36 m)
Height: 13 ft 6 in (4.09 m)
Wing area: 196.1 ft² (18.22 m²)
WeightEmpty weight: 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
Loaded weight: 20,640 lb (9,365 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 29,027 lb (13,170 kg)
Powerplant1 x General Electric J79-GE-11A afterburning turbojet
Dry thrust: 10,000 lbf (48 kN)
Thrust with afterburner: 15,600 lbf (69 kN)
ArmamentGuns: 1 x 20 mm (0.787 in) T171 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon, 725 rounds

Hardpoints: 7 with a capacity of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) and provisions to carry combinations of:

Missiles: 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder

Other: Bombs, rockets, or other stores
OperatorsFormer Operators:
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Republic of China (Taiwan), Spain, Turkey, United States

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is an American-built supersonic interceptor aircraft which saw combats during Vietnam War, Indo-Pakistani War and some other conflicts. This interceptor was originally developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Lockheed. Since 1958, the F-104 Starfighter had served with the USAF until 1969 and with the Air National Guard as of 1975.This aircraft was widely used by NATO members.

The ultimate version of this single-engine interceptor was the F-104S all-weather interceptor designed by Aeritalia for the Italian Air Force which equipped with radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow missiles.

The Development of F-104

Finding that the Soviet’s MiG-15 was superior to the most advanced American fighter at the time, the North American F-86 Sabres, American fighter pilots thought that a simple and small aircraft with excellent performance could be pitted with the Soviet’s fighter.

In 1951, the chief engineer of Lockheed’s Skunk Works then commenced to develop a new aircraft to meet what the pilots needed. The new model was powered by the new General Electric J79, an engine of extremely enhanced performance in comparison to contemporary designs.

In November 1952, they presented the new design to the USAF and gained an interest leading to further development of a new replacement for the North American F-100. Three other manufacturers actually proposed their designs as well but the winner was the Lockheed which was then granted a contract to build two prototypes, designated XF-104.

The first prototype, powered by the Wright J65 engine instead of the previously intended the J79, was ready in early 1954 and took its first flight in March 1954. However, the J65 engine with afterburner could not work as expected to push the aircraft reaching the expected speed.

After several testing and evaluations, finally the General Electric J79 engine was fitted into the next variant, the YF-104A which had its maiden flight in February 1956. By January 1958, the first squadron of the F-104 was eventually formed.

The Design of F-104

From its research, Lockheed found that the most efficient shape to get supersonic flight an aircraft would need a very small, mid-mounted and straight wing. It was a radical design since at the time as other aircrafts used a swept-wing or delta-wing for having a reasonable balance between aerodynamic performance, internal space for fuel and equipment and lift. The new thin wing platform then was put on the design of the F-104.

The F-104 was engineered to employ the General Electric J79 turbojet engine, completed with side-mounted intakes with fixed inlet cones maximized for supersonic speeds. In contrast to several supersonic aircraft, the F-104 did not possess variable-geometry inlets. Its thrust-to-drag ratio was superb, enabling a maximum speed excessively of Mach 2. However, the maximum speed of the Starfighter was restrained by the aluminum airframe structure and the temperature limits of the engine compressor than by thrust or drag. By design, the aircraft could reach Mac 2. 2 without  the limitation. Later models utilized upgraded version of the J79, bettering both thrust and fuel consumption substantially.

The later versions of F-104, such as the F-104C, were also designed to carry nuclear weapon. Basically, the interceptor was armed with the 20 mm (.79 in) M61 Vulcan Gatling gun which had a rate of fire of 6, 000 rounds per minute. Two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles could be brought on the wingtip stations, which could also be employed for fuel tanks.

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