Part of the ‘Century Series’ of aircraft, the F-104 was born out of Lockheed engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson’s desire to design a new aircraft based on personal discussions he had with fighter pilots engaging Soviet built MiG aircraft in Korea. Built with a lightweight frame and powerful engine, F-104s set a number of speed and altitude records including Jacqueline Cochran’s setting of the women’s world speed record. The F-104 served in several NATO member air forces though its reputation suffered somewhat during the Lockheed Bribery Scandal.
As the MiG threat over Vietnam continued to grow, so did the need for escorts for radar equipped EC-121 Warning Stars and other aircraft. F-104s commonly served as escorts for these vital missions as well as serving in the close air support role.
As the world entered the “Space Age”, three F-104s were modified to serve as training vehicles for astronauts. Designated NF-104As, these aircraft were equipped with a supplementary rocket engine, allowing it to set a new altitude record of more than 120,000 feet. These were also equipped with a Reaction Control System (RCS) for maneuvering in the extremely thin air at high altitudes.
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1946 – 1975
First Produced: 1958
Number Built: 2,578