Tag Archives: Interceptor

17 April 1956

The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, i stowed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, is towed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

17 April 1956: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation rolled out the very first production F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. This airplane, one of the original seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.

Once the configuration was finalized, 55-2956 was the first YF-104A converted to the F-104A production standard. In this photograph, the F-104’s secret engine intakes are covered by false fairings.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Lockheed F-104A-5-LO Starfighter 56-737 launches two AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force)

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956 at NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

This Starfighter, 55-2956, was converted to a JF-104A with specialized instrumentation. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy to test AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles at Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) China Lake, approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. 55-2956 was damaged beyond repair when it lost power on takeoff and ran off the runway at Armitage Field, 15 June 1959.

While on loan to teh U.S. Navy for testing the Sidewinder missile, Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 crashed on takeoff at NAS China Lake. Damaged beyond economic repair, the Starfighter was written off. (U.S. Navy)
While on loan to the U.S. Navy for testing the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956, with Commander Herk Camp in the cockpit, crashed on takeoff at Armitage Field, NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

©2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 March 1954

Lockheed XF-104 prototype, 53-7786, photographed 5 March 1954. (Lockheed Martin)

4 March 1954: Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. LeVier takes the prototype XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7786, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. The airplane’s landing gear remained extended throughout the flight, which lasted about twenty minutes.

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 rolling out on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. This photograph shows how short the XF-104 was in comparison to the production F-104A. Because of the underpowered J65-B-3 engine, there are no shock cones in the engine inlets. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the XF-104 was a prototype Mach 2+ interceptor and was known in the news media of the time as “the missile with a man in it.”

Tony LeVier was a friend of my mother’s family and a frequent visitor to their home in Whittier, California.

Legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson shakes hands with test pilot Tony LeVier after the first flight of the XF-104 at Edwards Air Force Base. (Lockheed via Mühlböck collection)

There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptor prototypes.

The wing of the Lockheed XF-104 was very thin, with leading and trailing edge flaps and ailerons. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The wings had 10° anhedral. The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).

On 15 March 1955, XF-104 53-7786 reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.79 (1,181 miles per hour, 1,900 kilometers per hour), at 60,000 feet (18,288 meters).

XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.

Lockheed XF-104 55-7786. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 with wingtip fuel tanks. (Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has an excellent color video of the XF-104 first flight on their web site at:

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/100years/stories/f-104.html

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 February 1964

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)

29 February 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly revealed the existence of the Top Secret Lockheed YF-12A, a Mach 3+ interceptor designed and built by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s “Skunk Works.” President Johnson referred to the interceptor as the “A-11.”

Intended as a replacement for Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart, three pre-production YF-12As were built for testing. On 1 May 1965, a YF-12A set a speed record of 2,070.103 miles per hour (3,331.507 kilometers per hour) and reached an altitude of 80,259 ft (24,463 meters).

Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The reason for President Johnson’s announcement of the existence of the YF-12A prototypes was to conceal the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of Lockheed A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance aircraft based at Groom Lake, Nevada. Any sightings of these aircraft could be attributed to test flights of the YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles (258 kilometers) to the southwest.

The YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It was flown by a pilot and a Weapons System Officer. The airplane is 101 feet, 8 inches (30.988 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 7 inches (16.942 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). It has an empty weight of 60,730 pounds (27,547 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds (63,503 kilograms).

The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) high-bypass turbojets which produce 34,000 pounds of thrust (151,240 Newtons), each, with afterburner, burning JP-7 fuel.

Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The YF-12A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 (2,232 miles per hour/3,342 kilometers per hour) at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Its service ceiling is 90,000 feet (27,432 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers).

The United States Air Force ordered 93 production F-12B aircraft, which would have been armed with three Hughes AIM-47A Falcon air-to-air missiles in enclosed bays in the bottom of the fuselage. However, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds for the purchase for three consecutive years and eventually the project was cancelled.

AIM-47A missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)
Hughes AIM-47A guided missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)

The first YF-12A, 60-6934, seen in the top photograph, was extensively damaged by a brake system fire on landing at Edwards AFB, 14 August 1966. It was salvaged and rebuilt as SR-71C 61-7981. The third YF-12A, shown in the photograph below, was lost due to an inflight fire 24 June 1971. The crew safely ejected.

The only existing YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 February 1970

Convair F-106A Delta Dart of the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, with a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, circa 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A-100-CO Delta Dart 58-0775 of the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron with a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, circa 1970. This is the same type aircraft flown by Lieutenant Gary Foust, 2 February 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lt. Gary E. Foust

2 February 1970: At approximately 9:50 a.m., three Convair F-106A Delta Dart supersonic interceptors of the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 24th Air Division, based at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, were engaged in an air combat training mission.

1st Lieutenant Gary Eugene Foust was flying F-106A-100-CO 58-0787, an airplane usually flown by the squadron’s maintenance officer, Major Wolford.

During the simulated combat, Lt. Foust entered into a vertical climb with his “opponent,” Captain Tom Curtis, who was also flying an F-106, and they both climbed to about 38,000 feet (11,600 meters) while using a “vertical rolling scissors” maneuver as each tried to get into a position of advantage.

Diagram of Vertical Rolling Scissors Maneuver, (Predrag Pavlovic, dipl. ing. and Nenad Pavlovic, dipl. ing.)
Diagram of Vertical Rolling Scissors Maneuver. (Predrag Pavlovic, dipl. ing. and Nenad Pavlovic, dipl. ing.)

Lt. Foust’s interceptor stalled and went in to a flat spin. Captain Curtiss described it: “The aircraft looked like the pitot tube was stationary with the aircraft rotating around it. Very flat and rotating quite slowly.”

Foust tried all the recovery procedures but could not regain control of the Delta Dart. With no options remaining, at about 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), Foust ejected from the apparently doomed airplane.

This F-106A (S/N 58-0787) was involved in an unusual incident. During a training mission, it entered an flat spin forcing the pilot to eject. Unpiloted, the aircraft recovered on its own and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a snow-covered field. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 58-0787 made an un-piloted belly landing onto a snow-covered farm field near Big Sandy, Montana, 2 February 1970. (U.S. Air Force)

After the pilot ejected, the F-106 came out of the spin and leveled off.  With its engine still running, -787 continued flying, gradually descending, until it slid in to a landing in a wheat field near Big Sandy, Montana. Eventually the airplane ran out of fuel and the engine stopped at about 12:15 p.m.

Lieutenant Foust safely parachuted into the mountains and was soon rescued.

58-0787 was partially disassembled by a maintenance team from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and loaded on to a rail car. It was then transported to the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, where it was repaired and eventually returned to flight status with the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 21st Air Division, at Griffiss Air Force Base, New York.

After the Convair Delta Dart was retired from active service, 58-0787 was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

This F-106A (S/N 58-0787) was involved in an unusual incident. During a training mission, it entered an flat spin forcing the pilot to eject. Unpiloted, the aircraft recovered on its own and miraculously made a gentle belly landing in a snow-covered field. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 58-0787 sits in a snow-covered Montana farm field, February 1970. (U.S. Air Force)

The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1988, when it was withdrawn from service with the Air National Guard. It was a single-seat, single-engine delta-winged aircraft capable of speeds above Mach 2.

The airplane was a development of the earlier F-102A Delta Dagger, and was initially designated F-102B. However, so many changes were made that it was considered to be a new aircraft.

The F-106A is 70 feet, 8.78 inches (21.559 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3.5 inches (11.671 meters). The total area of the delta wing is 697.83 square feet (64.83 square meters). The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 60°. The top of the vertical fin was 20 feet, 3.3 inches (6.180 meters) high. The Delta Dart weighs 23,646 pounds (10,726 kilograms) empty, and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 38,729 pounds (17,567 kilograms).

Convair F-106A Delta Dart three-view illustration with dimensions. (SDASM)

The F-106 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-17 afterburning turbojet engine. The J75-P-17 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2-low pressure stages). The J75-P-17 had a maximum continuous power rating of 14,100 pounds of thrust (62.72 kilonewtons), and military power rating of 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). It produced a maximum of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 3 feet, 8.25 inches (1.124 meters) in diameter, 19 feet, 9.6 inches long (6.035 meters), and weighed 5,875 pounds (2,665 kilograms).

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 58-0787 sits in a snow-covered Montana farm field, February 1970. (U.S. Air Force)

The interceptor has a cruise speed of 530 knots (610 miles per hour/982 kilometers per hour). and a maximum speed of 1,153 knots 1,327 miles per hour/2,135 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The F-106A had a service ceiling is 53,800 feet (16,398 meters) and a rate of climb of 48,900 feet per minute (248 meters per second). Its combat radius was 530 nautical miles (610 statute miles/982 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 1,843 nautical miles (2,121 statute miles/3,413 kilometers).

A Convair F-106A Delta Dart launches a Genie air-to-air rocket. (U.S. Air Force)
A Convair F-106A-135-CO Delta Dart, 59-0146, of the 194th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, launches an AIM-2 Genie air-to-air rocket. (U.S. Air Force)

The Delta Dart was armed with four GAR-3A radar-homing, or -4A (AIM-4F, -4G) infrared-homing Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and one MB-1 (AIM-2A) Genie unguided rocket with a 1.5 kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead. The missiles were carried in an internal weapons bay. In 1972, the General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon was added to the rear weapons bay with 650 rounds of ammunition. (The number of gun-equipped Delta Darts is uncertain.)

Convair built 342 F-106 interceptors. 277 were F-106As and the remainder were F-106B two-seat trainers.

Convair F-106A-100-CO Delta Dart 58-0787 in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A-100-CO Delta Dart 58-0787 in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 January 1962

Sanford N. ("Sandy") McDonnell hands over the keys to the first F-110A Spectre to the United States Air Force, St. Louis, Missouri, 24 January 1962. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
Sanford N. (“Sandy”) McDonnell hands over the keys to the first F-110A Spectre to the United States Air Force, St. Louis, Missouri, 24 January 1962. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

24 January 1962: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the first F-110A Spectre to Colonel Gordon Graham and Colonel George Laven, United States Air Force, at the McDonnell plant at St. Louis, Missouri. The F-110A was soon redesignated as the F-4C Phantom II.

Two Phantoms were delivered to the Air Force for evaluation at Langley Field, Virginia. They were U.S. Navy F4H-1 Phantom IIs, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers 149405 and 149406. Initially the aircraft retained the Navy serial numbers but eventually were assigned Air Force numbers 62-12168 and 62-12169. The Air Force bailed them back to McDonnell to develop the YF-4C prototypes.

62-12169 (ex-Bu. No. 149406) was converted to a JF-4B (a special test aircraft). Operated by the McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Center at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, it suffered an engine explosion, 8 March 1967. McDonnell test pilot Charles (“Pete”) Garrison successfully ejected. The airplane crashed and was destroyed.

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F-110A Spectre 149405. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F-110A Spectre 149405. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
U.S. Air Force F-110A Spectre with bomb load.
U.S. Air Force F-110A Spectre 149405 armed with AIM-101 Sparrow missiles and Mk.82 500-pound bombs. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
U.S. Air Force F-110A Spectre 149405 armed with AIM-101 Sparrow missiles and Mk.82 500-pound bombs. (NARA)

McDonnell built 5,057 Phantom IIs. They served with the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force, and many allied nations. The last Phantom II, an F-4E, was completed 25 October 1979. The U.S. Air Force retired its last operational Phantoms from service 20 December 2004, 42 years, 10 months, 27 days after receiving the first F-110A.

McDonnell F-110A Spectre 149405 (F4H-1, F-4B-9i, and F-4C-15-MC 62-12168).
McDonnell F-110A Spectre 149405 (F4H-1, F-4B-9i-MC, and finally, F-4C-15-MC 62-12168). (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell F-110A 149406 at Nellis Air Force Base, March 1962. (NARA)
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom IIs 149405 and 149406, circa 1963. (NARA)
McDonnell F-110A 149405 and 149406 in formation near Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. (NARA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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