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Lockheed F-104C 'Starfighter'
Courtesy of the National Museum of the United States Air Force
Designed by the legendary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson in the early 1950’s the F-104 “Starfighter” provided the U.S. Air Force with a lightweight, high performance fighter powered by the new General Electric J-79 engine with afterburner.
The first prototype flew in March, 1954 and went into production in February, 1956. The Starfighter was the first combat aircraft capable of a sustained Mach2 in flight, and its speed and climb performance remain impressive even by today’s standards. Due to its length of 54’ 9” and wingspan of only 21’ 11” it was dubbed “a missile with a man in it.”
The F-104 served with the USAF from 1958 until 1969, and then with the Air National Guard until it was phased out on 1975. Some aircraft were later operated by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Later models were flown by 14 countries in addition to the United States. The last operational military Starfighters were retired by the Italian Air Force in 1994.
This particular aircraft served with the U.S. Air Force through the 1960's at the height of the Cold War. In 1961 it deployed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962 it set the altitude and speed record for an operational F-104C while stationed in Hahn, Germany with the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing, reaching 92,000 feet at a speed of 2.5 Mach. It later served in Viet Nam providing cover for air combat missions.
The Starfighter was heavily damaged in the 1979 tornado which devastated the museum and had been in storage until November of 2009 when the restoration project began. With the restoration now complete, it again wears the colors of the 479th when it made its record breaking flight.
You can view the F-104's cockpit and engine bay from our panorama page.