11 May 1964: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 62-12222, to 2,300.23 kilometers per hour (1,429.30 miles per hour)—Mach 2.16—over a straight 15 to 25 kilometer course. She was the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2 and she set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record. ¹
Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 15/25 kilometer straight course in her autobiography:
Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.
—Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.
Cochran set three speed records with this F-104G in May and June 1964. Under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Republic of China Air Force, where it was assigned number 4322. It crashed 17 July 1981.
The F-104G was the final production version of the Lockheed Starfighter. Rather than an interceptor, the G-model was a fighter bomber, with a strengthened fuselage and wings, and hardpoints for carrying bombs and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.
The F-104G was a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).
The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).
The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers) The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
Armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition. Up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles can be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles, two wingtip fuel tanks and another two under wing tanks could be carried.
On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb mounted on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton.
7 May 1958: Major Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force, the operations officer of the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, California, zoom-climbed a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2957, to an altitude of 91,243 feet (27,811 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base, establishing a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record. ¹
Using techniques developed by Lockheed aerodynamicists, Major Johnson climbed to 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and accelerated to the Starfighter’s maximum speed in level flight. He then started to climb, maintaining a steady 2.5 G load, until he reached the optimum climb angle. A piece of masking tape applied to the side of the cockpit canopy at the predetermined angle gave Johnson a visual reference during his climb. At approximately 77,000 feet (23,470 meters) the F-104’s J79 turbojet engine had to be shut down to prevent overheating in the thin high-altitude atmosphere. The interceptor continued from that point on a ballistic trajectory until it reached the peak altitude. On the descent, the engine was restarted and Johnson flew the Starfighter back to Edwards Air Force Base.
Major Johnson had broken the altitude record set just 17 days earlier by Lieutenant Commander George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy, flying an experimental Grumman F11F-1F Tiger. The Lockheed F-104 beat the Grumman F11F by 4,362 meters (14,311 feet). ²
The Daily Independent Journal reported:
Hamilton Jet Pilot Sets World Altitude Record
A 37-year-old Novato father of two today holds the world altitude record for flight in a powered aircraft.
Maj. Howard C. Johnson of the 83rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base yesterday nosed a jet-powered F104 Starfighter to an altitude of 91,249 feet above the Mojave desert.
His mark eclipsed by 2.1 miles an unofficial record of 80,190 feet claimed last Friday by a French Trident 06 at Istres, France.
Major Johnson, operations officer of the 83rd FIS, first Starfighter-equipped unit of the Air Force, took off at 9:40 a.m. from the Palmdale (Los Angeles County) facility of the Lockheed Aircraft Corp., manufacturer of the plane.
He sent the missile-like Starfighter upward on a 55-to-60 degree angle as it swept over the heavily instrumented range at Edwards Air Force Base. Then he pulled up sharply into a high angle climb, and zoomed out into the thin atmosphere over the desert—more than 17 miles above sea level.
Just 27 minutes later, he touched down again at Palmdale.
Describing the flight at a Los Angeles news conference today, the curly-haired major said he flew at 35,000 feet to Santa Barbara, went into a climbing turn at 40,000 feet and gave the jet full power about 10 miles from Mojave. Over Mojave, he went into his climb.
He said he had no trouble controlling the plane. With colder air, he thought, he could have gone higher. The temperature outside the plane at the peak of his climb was minus 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside it was 70 degrees above zero.
In the past week he had made six practice flights prior to yesterday’s record breaker.
What does the sky look like at such altitudes?”
I was so busy on most of my flights I didn’t notice,” he said. “On one flight I did and it was sort of a dark purple.”
Johnson estimated he was at his maximum altitude 10 to 15 seconds and was going 622 miles per hour at the top of his climb.
Johnson said he didn’t “feel like I was in outer space.”
“But this obviously is a transition from the atmosphere is a transition from the atmosphere we have known,” he said. “We are on the threshold of space—a step up the ladder.”
Back in Novato, his wife, Doris Jean, was at home at 1260 Cambridge street. Their children, Theodore 10, and Carol, 4, were at school.
Mrs. Johnson knew her husband was out after the record, but she wasn’t worrying, she said today.
“We’ve been married for 16 years and all of that time he has been in the Air Force,” she said, “so I’ve learned not to worry too much.
“He had oxygen and a suit to protect him. But I do wish he’d stay a little lower.”
Mrs. Johnson’s telephone rang soon after 10 o’clock. It was her husband, calling to say he had been successful in setting a new altitude record.”
That’s about all he said,” reported Mrs. Johnson.
The record is subject to review by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale before it goes down in the books as official.
Plane altitude records have been zooming since the adoption of the jet engine. The altitude record for a propeller-drive plane is 56,046 feet, set ‘way back in 1946 by Maj. F. F. Ross, pilot, and Lt. D. M. Davis, flying from Harmon Field on Guam.
An experimental rocket plane has gone higher than Johnson’s Starfighter, but the feats are not comparable. The rocket craft was launched from a mother plane high in the air, while the Starfighter took off from the ground.
A balloon piloted by Maj. David G. Simons ascended to approximately 100,000 feet last Aug. 19 and 20, according to the World Almanac.
Major Johnson is a native of Knoxville, Tenn. He has been in the Air Force since April 1, 1942, and has logged 4,600 hours flying time, including 1,800 hours in jets. He has been stationed in California, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, and then at Hamilton, for five years.
Lieutenant Colonel Johnson was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.
Howard Carroll Johnson was born at Knoxville, Kentucky, 2 February 1920. He studied at the University of Louisville. Soon after the United States entered World War II, on 1 April 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was accepted s an aviation cadet 7 April 1942.
Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Donna Jean Holder, a classmate at the University of Louisville, at the Presbyterian Church, McAllen, Texas, 4:30 p.m., February 20, 1943. They would have two children. Mrs. Johnson died in 1986.
After completing flight training, Cadet Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 20 March 1943. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 27 June 1944.
Capt air-res (inactive) 13 Nov 46
Rel’d active duty 12 Jan 47
1LT AC 19 June 47, dor 20 Mar 46
P-51 Korea 87 combat missions
1961 F-84F Germany
1966-67 F-105 SEA DO 388th TFW, 117 combat missions
Ret 1 Oct 1972
Cattle ranch, TX
live-aboard boat Palm Beach
Married Ms. Elena Rova O’Brien, a widow, April 1990. Mrs. Johnson died in 2016.
Colonel Johnson just celebrated his 100th Birthday in Palm Beach, Florida.
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 is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.
The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.
Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.
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.
55-2957 had been one of the first group of YF-104A pre-production aircraft. After the flight test program, it and the others were modified to the F-104A production standard.
The record-setting Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was later converted to a QF-104A high-speed drone. It was expended as a target 8 August 1967.
1 May 1963: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserve, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)World Speed Record when she flew this two-place Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, FAA registration N104L, named Free World Defender, over a 100-kilometer (62.137-mile) closed circuit at an average speed of 1,937.15 kilometers per hour (1,203.69 miles per hour).¹
Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 100-kilometer course in her autobiography:
The 100 kilometer closed course was so damn difficult. Imagine an absolutely circular racetrack, about a quarter of a mile wide, on the ground with an inner fence exactly 63 miles long. Now, in your mind’s eye, leave the track and get into the air at 35,000 feet. Fly it without touching the fence in the slightest. It’s tricky because if you get too far away from the inner fence, trying not to touch, you won’t make the speed you need to make the record. And if you get too close, you’ll disqualify yourself.
Eyes are glued to the instrument panel. Ears can hear the voice of the space-positioning officer. You are dealing in fractions of seconds. And your plane isn’t flying in flat position. It’s tipped over to an 80-degree bank to compensate for the circle. That imaginary inner fence may be to your left, but you don’t head your plane left. That’d lose altitude. Instead, you pull the nose up a bit and because the plane is so banked over, you move closer to the fence. You turn.
—Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.
She had flown this same F-104 to an earlier speed record at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 April 1963.
N104L was retained by Lockheed for use as a customer demonstrator to various foreign governments. In 1965 Lockheed sold N104L to the Dutch Air Force, where it served as D-5702 until 1980. It next went to the Turkish Air Force until it was retired in 1989.
1 May 1960: Near Degtyansk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, a Central Intelligence Agency/Lockheed U-2C, 56-6693, “Article 360,” flying at approximately 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) on a Top Secret reconnaissance mission, was hit by shrapnel from an exploding Soviet V-750VN (S-75 Desna) surface-to-air missile.
With his airplane damaged and out of control, pilot Francis Gary Powers bailed out and parachuted safely but was immediately captured. A trailing MiG-19 fighter was also shot down by the salvo of anti-aircraft missiles, and its pilot killed.
Gary Powers was interrogated by the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union, a military intelligence/counterintelligence service) for 62 days. He was held at the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow then prosecuted for espionage. Found guilty, Powers was sentenced to three years imprisonment and seven years of hard labor.
After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer who had been captured in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the Steven Spielberg motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]
Francis Gary Powers entered the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1950. He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1952. Powers was then assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, where he flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber. He received special training in the delivery of the Mark 7 variable-yield tactical nuclear bomb.
In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.
After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.
Powers was killed in the crash of a Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter at Van Nuys, California, 1 August 1977.
On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.”
After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War Medal was also authorized.
On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).
Article 360 had been built as a U-2A, the last aircraft of the initial production block. It was delivered to Groom Lake, Nevada, 5 November 1956, and was used for test and development until May 1959, when it was converted to the U-2C configuration.
The Lockheed U-2C was a very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force. It was 49 feet, 7 inches (15.113 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet, 2 inches (24.435 meters) and height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). The wings had a total area of 600 square feet (55.7 square meters). The U-2C’s zero fuel weight was 13,870 pounds (6,291 kilograms) and gross weight was 23,970 pounds (10,873 kilograms).
The U-2C was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B turbojet engine rated at 17,000 pounds of thrust (75.62 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. Two-spool axial-flow turbojet with 15-stage compressor (8 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine (1 high- and two low-pressure stages).
The U-2C’s cruise speed was 0.72 Mach at 57,000–59,000 feet, (17,374–17,983 meters), and its maximum speed was 0.87 Mach at 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), though the airplane was placarded for a maximum operating speed (MMO/VMO) of 0.80 Mach, or 240 knots. The maximum range was 4,600 nautical miles (8,519 kilometers). It could operate at 76,000 feet (23,165 meters).
The В-750ВН (13Д) Десна (V-750VN 13D Desna) (NATO designation: SA-2B Guideline) is a two-stage ground-controlled anti-aircraft missile. The two-stage rocket is 10.841 meters (35 feet, 6.8 inches) long, and its loaded weight is 2,283 kilograms (5,033 pounds). First built at Plant N41, it became operational in 1959.
The missile could reach an altitude of 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) and had a maximum range of 34 kilometers (21 miles). It carried a 191 kilogram (421 pound) blast fragmentation warhead.
The missile had a Circular Error Probability (CEP) of 65 meters (213 feet), meaning that 50% of the missiles launched could be expected to come within 65 meters of the target. Early warheads produced approximately 8,000 fragments, each with an initial velocity of 2,500 meters per second (5,592 miles per hour). The maximum blast radius against a high altitude target was about 250 meters (820 feet).
The rocket’s first stage had a maximum diameter of 0.654 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) and fin span of 2.586 meters (8 feet, 5.8 inches). It was powered by a solid fuel Kartukov PRD-18 engine. The engine burned for 3–5 seconds and produced a maximum 455 kilonewtons (102,288 pounds) of thrust.
The second stage was 8.139 meters (26 feet, 8.4 inches) long with a maximum diameter of 0.500 meters (1 foot, 7.7 inches). The maximum fin span was 1.691 meters (5 feet, 6.6 inches). Its loaded weight was 1,251 kilograms (2,758 pounds). The second stage was powered by a C2.711B1 (S2.711V1) hypergolic liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 30.4 kilonewtons (6,834 pounds) of thrust.
30 April 1962: Though it had been airborne briefly just a few days earlier, “Article 121”, the first Lockheed A-12, serial number 60-6924, took off from a Top Secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, on its “official” first flight. Lockheed test pilot Louis Wellington (“Lou”) Schalk, Jr. was in the cockpit.
The 72,000-pound (32,659 kilogram) airplane lifted off the 8,000-foot (2,438 meters) runway at 170 knots (196 miles per hour, 315 kilometers per hour).
During the 59-minute test flight, Schalk kept the airspeed to just 340 knots (391 miles per hour, 630 kilometers per hour), but climbed to 30,000 feet (9.144 meters) while he tested systems and handling characteristics. He described the airplane as very stable and extremely responsive.
The A-12 was a top secret reconnaissance airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency under the code name “Oxcart.” It was the replacement for the Agency’s high-flying but subsonic U-2 spy plane which had become vulnerable to radar-guided surface-to-air missiles. (A U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers had been shot down with an SA-2 Guideline missile while over Russia exactly one year before.)
The A-12 could fly faster than Mach 3 and higher than 80,000 feet—so fast and so high that no missile could reach it. By the time missile site radar locked on to an A-12 and a missile was prepared to fire, the Oxcart had already flown beyond the missile’s range.
The Lockheed A-12 was a single-place, twin-engine hypersonic reconnaisance aircraft. It was 101.6 feet (30.97 meters) long, with a wingspan of 55.62 feet (16.95 meters) and overall height of 18.45 feet (5.62 meters). It had an empty weight of 54,600 pounds (24,766 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 124,600 pounds (57,878 kilograms).
The A-12 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20 (J58-P-4) turbo-ramjet engines, rated at 25,000 pounds of thrust (111.21 kilonewtons) and 34,000 pounds of thrust (151.24 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The exhaust gas temperature is approximately 3,400 °F. (1,870 °C.). The J58 is a single-spool, axial-flow engine which uses a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J58 is 17 feet, 10 inches (7.436 meters) long and 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters) in diameter. It weighs approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms).
The A-12’s speed was Mach 3.2 (2,125 miles per hour/3,118 kilometers per hour) at 75,000 feet(22,860 meters). Its cruise altitude was 84,500–97,600 feet (25,756–29,748 meters). The range was 4,210 nautical miles (4,845 miles/7,797 kilometers)
Article 121 was the first of thirteen A-12s built by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works.” They were operational from 1964–1968, when they were phased out in favor of the U.S. Air Force two-man SR-71A “Blackbird.”
Today, the first Lockheed A-12 is on display at Blackbird Airpark, an annex of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California. It has made 322 flight and accumulated a total of 418.2 flight hours.