Lockheed F-104B Starfighter

Lockheed F-104B Starfighter

Built by Lockheed as a Mach 2+ interceptor and air superiority fighter, the F-104 was unique in several respects. With its exceptionally thin and small wing span of only 21 feet, low speed lift was generated by blowing air from the engine over the upper wing surface. The F-104B is a two-seat trainer and combat aircraft. NASA used ours as a test flight “chase” aircraft. A variety of models of the aircraft were built under license as part of the Military Assistance Program, and flew with air forces in Canada, Belgium, Germany, Pakistan, and Japan. In total, 2,578 F-104 series aircraft were built. Later models were equipped with a retractable probe for in-flight refueling, improving the range that was otherwise limited as all fuel had to be carried either in the fuselage or on external drop tanks.

The General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet engine powers the F-104, with air entering by the side-mounted fixed intakes. These are non-variable, and optimized for speeds in excess of Mach 2. High temperatures, created by air friction on the aluminum airframe, not engine thrust or airframe drag, limit the top speed of the Starfighter.

USAF S/N 57-1303 is an F-104B-10-LO, one of only 26 built by Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California. It was delivered to the Air Force on October 2, 1958, and handed over to NASA in December 1959. Based at Edwards AFB, California, it was the only F-104B that NASA operated, and it carried the registration N819NA. It was used to train pilots on how to land the X-15 and Space Shuttle, along with use as a “chase” aircraft. It was flown to the museum in a C-130 on July 13, 1983.


Crew: Two.

Power Plant: One General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, 15,600 lb. thrust, w/afterburner.


Span: 21 ft 11 in. without tiptanks.

Length: 54 ft 9 in. Height: 13 ft 6 in.

Weight: Gross – 23,590 lbs.


Speed: 1,328 mph (Mach 2.2) at 35,000 ft. Range: 900 miles

Armament: One 20mm T-171 Vulcan cannon; AIM-9M “Sidewinder” missiles on tips.


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