Today in History – March 4, 1981 – First flight of the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter.

“The Lockheed NF-104A was an American mixed-power, high-performance, supersonic aerospace trainer that served as a low-cost astronaut training vehicle for the North American X-15 and projected Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar programs.

Three aircraft were modified from existing Lockheed F-104A Starfighter airframes, and served with the Aerospace Research Pilots School between 1963 and 1971, the modifications included a small supplementary rocket engine and a reaction control system for flight in the stratosphere. During the test program, the maximum altitude reached was more than 120,000 ft (36,600 m). One of the aircraft was destroyed in an accident while being flown by Chuck Yeager. The accident was depicted in the book The Right Stuff and the film of the same name. On December 10, 2019, Edwards Air Force Base released the complete video transcription of films of the 1963 flight and subsequent crash.

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, vice president of engineering and research at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, visited USAF air bases across South Korea in November 1951 to speak with fighter pilots about what they wanted and needed in a fighter aircraft. At the time, the American pilots were confronting the MiG-15 with North American F-86 Sabres, and many felt that the MiGs were superior to the larger and more complex American fighters. The pilots requested a small and simple aircraft with excellent performance, especially high-speed and high-altitude capabilities.

Johnson presented his new fighter concept to the United States Air Force on 5 November 1952, and they were interested enough to create a general operational requirement for a lightweight fighter to supplement and ultimately replace the yet-to-fly North American F-100.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Timeline for the F-104 (from

1953 March 12
Order for 2 XF-104 prototypes placed with Lockheed.

1954 March 4
First XF-104 (53-7786) makes first flight, Lockheed chief test pilot A.W. “Tony” LeVier at the controls.

1954 August 3
Chuck Yeager was the first military pilot to fly the F-104. Yeager said of the F-104 “They’ve done an excellent job mounting it”.

1955 April 14
Second XF-104 (53-7787) was lost when test pilot Herman R. “Fish” Salmon ejected following gun malfunction during tests (explosion during a firing burst).

1956 February 17
First YF-104A (55-2955) makes a highly successful first flight. Lockheed test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon at the controls.

1956 August 27
The first NACA F-104 (55-2961) flown by NACA research pilot Joe Walker takes off from the NACA High Speed Flight Station facility (now the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center).

1957 October 8
Swiss Air Force pilots flight tested the Starfighter F-104A. NEW!

1958 January 16
The F-104B’s first flight took place on 16 January 1957, less than a year after the two-seater’s first mockup inspection. The first of an initial batch of six F-104Bs (serial number 56-3719) had been literally built by hand out of an F-104A airframe, and the larger area vertical tail, the automatic pitch control system, and the fire control system of later F-104Bs were not installed. It was unofficially designated YF-104B, although it was later brought up to production F-104B standards. This airplane was later used to test Lockheed’s downward-firing ejection seat that was initially fitted to the F-104A.

1958 February 20
83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron operational as the first F-104 fighter squadron in the world.

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