Tag Archives: Interceptor

31 December 1948

The first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

31 December 1948: One year and one day after the first flight of the MiG I-310 S01 prototype, the first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, serial number 101003, made its first flight. The production aircraft were based on the third I-310 prototype, S03. No. 101003 was designated МиГ-15(CB) (MiG-15 SV), and was retained by Mikoyan OKB for testing.

The MiG-15 is a single-seat, single-engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high-subsonic speed, the leading edges of the wings were swept aft to 35° and had 2° anhedral. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag and used “fences” to control air flow. The horizontal stabilizer was swept 40°, and the vertical fin, 55.7°.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

Rolls-Royce Nene Mk.I and Mk.II turbojet engines had been used in the three I-310 prototypes. The British engine was reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the RD-45F. The engine produced a maximum 22.26 kilonewtons of thrust (5,004 pounds of thrust). It was improved and designated VK-1. Most MiG-15s used this engine.

The production fighter was 10.10 meters (33 feet, 2 inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.08 meters (33 feet, 1 inch) and height of 3.17 meters (10 feet, 5 inches). The total wing area was 20.60 square meters (222 square feet). The interceptor’s empty weight was 3,247 kilograms (7,158 pounds), and its takeoff weight was 4,917 kilograms (10,840 pounds).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

The MiG-15 had a cruise speed 974 kilometers per hour (605 miles per hour, 0.79 Mach). Its maximum speed was 1,047 kilometers per hour (565 knots, or 651 miles per hour)—0.99 Mach—at low altitude, and 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots, 641 miles per hour, 0.97 Mach) at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). The maximum rate of climb was 2,520 meters per minute (8,268 feet per minute), and its service ceiling was 15,100 meters (49,541 feet). The fighter had a practical range of 1,335 kilometers (830 miles).

Armament consisted of one Nudelman NS-37 37 mm cannon with 40 rounds of ammunition, and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon with 80 rounds per gun.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

The first MiG 15, 101003, was built at Factory No. 1. Full scale production was considered so important that four other aircraft types were discontinued so that their factories could be used to build MiG-15s. They were also license-built in Poland and Czechoslovakia. More than 18,000 MiG-15s have been built. It has served in the air forces of at least 44 countries.

The MiG-15 soon entered combat in the Korean War. It scored its first air-to-air victory, 1 November 1950, when First Lieutenant Fiodor V. Chizh shot down a U.S. Air Force F-51 Mustang.

Soviet technicians service a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis of the 351st Fighter Aviation Regiment at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1962

Milton O. Thompson with a Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base, 20 December 1962. (NASA)

20 December 1962: Milton Orville Thompson, a NASA test pilot assigned to the X-15 hypersonic research program, was conducting a weather check along the X-15’s planned flight path from Mud Lake, Nevada, to Edwards Air Force Base in California, scheduled for later in the day. Thompson was flying a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, Air Force serial number 56-749, call sign NASA 749.

NASA 749, a Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter, 56-749, with an ALSOR sounding rocket on a centerline mount, at Edwards Air Force Base. Right front quarter view. (NASA)
NASA 749, a Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter, 56-749, with an ALSOR sounding rocket on a centerline mount, at Edwards Air Force Base. (NASA)

In his autobiography, At the Edge of Space, Thompson described the day:

“The morning of my weather flight was a classic desert winter morning. It was cold, freezing in fact, but  the sky was crystal clear and there was not a hint of a breeze—a beautiful morning for a flight.”

Completing the weather reconnaissance mission, and with fuel remaining in the Starfighter’s tanks, Milt Thompson began practicing simulated X-15 approaches to the dry lake bed.

X-15 pilots used the F-104 to practice landing approaches. The two aircraft were almost the same size, and with speed brakes extended and the flaps lowered, an F-104 had almost the same lift-over-drag ratio as the X-15 in subsonic flight. Thompson’s first approach went fine and he climbed back to altitude for another practice landing.

Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-749 (NASA 749) carrying a sounding rocket on a centerline mount. (NASA)
Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-749 (NASA 749) carrying an ALSOR sounding rocket on a centerline mount. (NASA)

When Milt Thompson extended the F-104’s flaps for the second simulated X-15 approach, he was at the “high key”— over Rogers Dry Lake at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) — and supersonic. As he extended the speed brakes and lowered the flaps, NASA 749 began to roll to the left. With full aileron and rudder input, he was unable to stop the roll. Adding throttle to increase the airplane’s airspeed, he was just able to stop the roll with full opposite aileron.

Thompson found that he could maintain control as long as he stayed above 350 knots (402 miles per hour/648 kilometers per hour) but that was far too high a speed to land the airplane. He experimented with different control positions and throttle settings. He recycled the brake and flaps switches to see if he could get a response, but there was no change. He could see that the leading edge flaps were up and locked, but was unable to determine the position of the trailing edge flaps. He came to the conclusion that the trailing edge flaps were lowered to different angles.

Thompson called Joe Walker, NASA’s chief test pilot, on the radio and explained the situation:

     I told him the symptoms of my problem and he decided that I had a split trailing edge flap situation with one down and one up.

     He suggested I recycle the flap lever to the up position to attempt to get both flaps up and locked. I had already tried that, but I gave it another try. Joe asked if I had cycled the flap lever from the up to the takeoff position and then back again. I said no. I had only cycled the flap lever from the up position to a position just below it and then back to the up position. Joe suggested we try it his way. I moved the flap lever from the up position all the way to the takeoff position and then back to the up position. As soon as I moved the lever to the takeoff position, I knew I had done the wrong thing.

     The airplane started rolling again, but this time I could not stop it. The roll rate quickly built up to the point that I was almost doing snap rolls. Simultaneously, the nose of the airplane started down. I was soon doing vertical rolls as the airspeed began rapidly increasing. I knew I had to get out quick because I did not want to eject supersonic and I was already passing through 0.9 Mach. I let go of the stick and reached for the ejection handle. I bent my head forward to see the handle and then I pulled it. Things were a blur from that point on.

At the Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1992. Chapter 5 at Pages 119–120.

Impact crater caused by crash of Milt Thompson's Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, 20 Decemver 1962. NASA)
Impact crater caused by the crash and explosion of Milt Thompson’s Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter, 20 December 1962. (NASA)

As Thompson descended by parachute he watched the F-104 hit the ground and explode in the bombing range on the east side of Rogers Dry Lake. He wrote, “It was only 7:30 a.m. and still a beautiful morning.”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 December 1959

Major Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, at Edwards AFB, 15 December 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, at Edwards AFB, 15 December 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

15 December 1959: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Joseph William Rogers, United States Air Force, flew a Convair F-106A Delta Dart all-weather interceptor, serial number 56-0467, to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 15 Kilometer-to-25 Kilometer Straight Course, breaking the record set two years earlier by Major Adrian E. Drew with a modified McDonnell F-101A Voodoo.¹

At an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), Rogers made two passes over the straight 11 mile (17.7 kilometers) course, once in each direction, for an average speed of 2,455.736 kilometers per hour (1,525.924 miles per hour)—Mach 2.31. For his accomplishment, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the FAI’s Henry De La Vaulx Medal, and the Thompson Trophy.

Convair F-106A Delta dart 56-0467, FAI World Speed Record holder, parked on Rogers Dry lake at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, FAI World Speed Record holder, parked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB. Note the jettisonable external fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
A copy of Joseph W. Rogers Diplôme de Record from the FAI. NOTE: The signature of LE PRESIDENT DE LA F.A.I. at the lower right of the document. (F-106DeltaDart.com)
A copy of Joseph W. Rogers’ Diplôme de Record from the FAI. NOTE: The signature of LE PRÉSIDENT DE LA F.A.I. at the lower right of the document. (f-106deltadart.com)
The Thompson Trophy
The Thompson Trophy

Major Rogers was the Air Force F-106 project officer assigned to Convair. He first attempted the record with another F-106A, 56-0459, but when that Delta Dart developed uncontrollable compressor stalls, 56-0467 was substituted. (This has led to confusion over which aircraft actually set the record, but in an interview, Colonel Rogers confirmed that it was 467.)

Joseph William Rogers was born at Chillicothe, Ohio, 28 May 1924. He grew up on a farm, and attended West High School, graduating in 1942. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and trained as a pilot. From 1944 he was assigned as a flight instructor in California. Rogers remained in the Air Force after World War II.

During the Korean War, Joe Rogers got the nickname “Whistlin’ Joe” when he put whistles on the wings of his North American Aviation F-51D Mustang in an effort to frighten enemy troops. 1st Lieutenant Rogers was awarded the Silver Star for his actions of 8 October 1950, in close support of a British infantry unit, which was surrounded on a hilltop by the enemy.

Though not officially credited, it is widely accepted that on 8 November 1950, with his Mustang Buckeye Blitz VI, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighter. An aerial victory of a piston-engine fighter over a jet fighter was a very rare occurrence. Rogers was one of a group of “The American Fighting Man” named Man of the Year by TIME Magazine. He flew 170 combat missions in the F-51 and another 30 in the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star.

Captain Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in teh cocpt of BUCKEY BLITZ VI, Korea, 1950. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Rogers in the cockpit of his North American F-51D Mustang, Buckeye Blitz VI, assigned to the 36th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter Bomber Group, Korea, 1950. Note the red dive bombing stripes on the upper surface of the Mustang’s left wing. (Photograph by Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Donnell, commanding officer, 36th FBS, via ww2color.com)

Rogers was a 1954 graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School and worked as a test pilot on the North American Aviation F-86D Sabre radar-equipped interceptor, and then the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart.

From 1960 to 1964 Rogers commanded the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, which was, at that time, the largest squadron in the United States Air Force. In 1963, he flew a F-102 in the annual William Tell competition at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, which he won, and was named the Air Force’s “Top Gun.”

Colonel Joseph W. Rogers with a Lockheed SR-71A. (U.S. Air Force)

Next, Rogers he commanded the Lockheed SR-71A and F-12A Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base. He is one of the few pilots to have ejected from an SR-71A, when 61-7953 went out of control, 18 December 1969. Both he and Radar Intercept Officer Lieutenant Colonel Gary Heidelbaugh safely escaped the doomed Blackbird.

Colonel Rogers was Vice Commander of the 3d Fighter Wing, flying the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II during the Vietnam War. After serving as Assistant Deputy Commander of the 7th and 13th Air Forces, he was appointed Chief of Staff for Operations at the Aerospace Defense Command Headquarters, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Rogers retired from the Air Force in 1975 after 32 years of service.

Joe Rogers worked for Northrop Aerospace for the next 13 years, marketing the company’s F-5 and F-20 fighters.

During his service in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Colonel Rogers was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and Air Medal with thirteen Oak Leaf Clusters.

Joe Rogers was married to the former Charis Tate. They had three children. Mrs. Rogers passed away in 2003.

Colonel Joseph W. Rogers died at Healdsburg, California, 6 August 2005, at the age of 81 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his wife.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 after setting World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 after setting World Speed Record. Note the missing paint on vertical fin as a result of the high speed flight. (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 is considered to be a new aircraft.

The F-106A is 70 feet, 8¾ inches (21.558 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4 inches (11.684 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, 3¼ inches (6.179 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).

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)

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).

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 round 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 Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight. Because of the filter used by the photographer, areas that are actually painted bright “day-glow” orange appear to be  white. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight, seen from left rear quarter. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight, seen from left rear quarter. (U.S. Air Force)

F-106A 56-0467 was built in April 1958 and was the eighteenth production aircraft. After being used for flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base it was converted back to an operational interceptor and assigned to the 329th Tactical Fighter Squadron at nearby George Air Force Base.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 on display at at Edwards AFB, May 1961.
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 on display at Edwards AFB, May 1961. (Gary Abel from Marty Isham Collection via f-106deltadart.com)

On 14 August 1961, while taking off from George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, on a routine training mission, 56-0467’s right tire blew out. The pilot, James Wilkinson, flew until most of the airplane’s fuel had been exhausted, and then landed at Edwards Air Force Base because of its longer runway and available emergency equipment. After touching down, the right wheel and brake assembly caught fire. The flames quickly spread to the wing and fuselage. The aircraft slid to a stop and the pilot safely escaped. 467 was totally destroyed.

56-0459, which had been scheduled to make the speed record flights, is on display at the McChord Air Force Base Museum.

Major Joe Rogers with Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0459 at Edwards Air Force Base before a speed record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Joe Rogers with Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0459 at Edwards Air Force Base before a speed record attempt. This airplane was originally scheduled for the speed record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force public relations photograph.
U.S. Air Force public relations photograph.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 December 1958

NASA test pilot Einar K. Enevoldson in the cockpit of a NASA/Lockheed F-104N, N811NA, in 1984. (NASA)
NASA test pilot Einar K. Enevoldson in the cockpit of a NASA/Lockheed F-104N, N811NA, in 1984. (NASA)

13 December 1958: First Lieutenant Einar Knute Enevoldson, U.S. Air Force, set seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-climb records in a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, serial number 56-762,¹ at Naval Air Station Point Mugu (NTD) (located on the shore of southern California), including Sea Level to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 41.85 seconds; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 58.41 seconds; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 1 minute, 21.14 seconds; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute, 39.90 seconds; 15,000 meters (49,213 feet) in 2 minutes, 11.1 seconds; 20,000 meters (65,617 feet) in 3 minutes, 42.99 seconds; and 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 4 minutes, 26.03 seconds.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-762 being prepared for a record attempt at NAS Point Mugu. (F-104 Society)
Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 being prepared for a record attempt at NAS Point Mugu, California. (International F-104 Society)

Lieutenant Enevoldson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for these accomplishments.

The Distinguished Flying Cross
The Distinguished Flying Cross

FAI Record File Num #9107 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m
Performance: 41.85s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9106 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 6 000 m
Performance: 58.41s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9105 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 9 000 m
Performance: 1 min 21.14s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9104 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 12 000 m
Performance: 1 min 39.90s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9103 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 2 min 11.1s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9102 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 20 000 m
Performance: 3 min 42.99s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9080 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 25 000 m
Performance: 4 min 26.03s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 on the runaway at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, December 1958. (International F-104 Society)
U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 on the runaway at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, December 1958. (International F-104 Society)

Einar Enevoldson later flew as a civilian test pilot for NASA from 1968 to 1986 and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He holds numerous FAI world records.

Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 climbing under Southern California's overcast coastal skies. (International F-104 Society)
Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 climbing under Southern California’s overcast coastal skies. (International F-104 Society)

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).

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.

The same type aircraft as that flown by Einar K. Enevoldson, this is a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, 56-761. It is carrying both wingtip and underwing fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The same type aircraft as that flown by Einar K. Enevoldson, this is a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, 56-761. It is carrying both wingtip and underwing fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ 56-762 was one of three F-104As later converted to an NF-104A rocket/turbojet Advanced Aerospace Trainer. It is the same Starfighter that crashed when Chuck Yeager had to eject after it went into an uncontrolled spin during a zoom-climb altitude record attempt, 10 December 1963.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1963

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)

6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .

Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off.  Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.

The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer zoom-climb profile. (U.S. Air Force via NF-104.com)

Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.

For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Robert W. Smith, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.

Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.

Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.

Lieutenant Robert W. Smith and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Jackson, with Lady Lane, Smith’s North American F-86 Sabre. (Robert W. Wilson Collection)

He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.

Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952 and flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing at Edwards Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He was later assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards Air Force Base for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Smith, United States Air Force

After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.

He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-756 following a landing accident at Edwards AFB, 21 November 1961. (U.S. Air Force via the International F-104 Society)

56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.

The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.

56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer 56-756, marked as 56-760, on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Kaszeta)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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