Lockheed L-188 Electra

in Paraguayan Air Force Service


Three L-188 Electras obtained in 1969. Used by Líneas Aéreas Paraguayas.

Individual Details

Serial c/no. Prev. Identity Delivered Fate/Notes
ZP-CBX 1032 N5521 18.2.1969 wfu
ZP-CBY 1078 N5538 18.2.1969 wfu
ZP-CBZ 1080 N5539 18.2.1969 sold as 9Q-CRR


None available at present.

More Information


Other Sources

To be added.

Lockheed Jetstar 731

in Lithuanian Government Service


One Jetstar 731 operated under contract by Lithuanian Airlines from 1994. Withdrawn from use in 2000 and sold abroad. (Note: Aircraft is NOT LY-AMD, as quoted in some sources).

Individual Details

Serial c/no. Prev. Identity Delivered Fate/Notes
LY-AMB 5161/53 N??? 1994 to N516R Jan 2000


None available at present.

More Information


  • European Air Forces Directory 2007/2008 (Ian Carroll)

Other Sources

To be added.

Lockheed P-38L Lightning

in Costa Rican Air Force service


No unit allocation is known.

Individual Details

Serial c/no. Prev. Identity Delivered Fate/Notes
GCR-1 n/a n/a 11.1948 n/a
GCR-2 n/a n/a 12.1948 crashed on 26.12.1948 at Crane,TX


None available at present.

More Information


  • Central American and Caribbean Air Forces (Daniel Hagedorn)

Other Sources

To be added.

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

Aircraft Profile
F-104A 56-0761 with tip tanks and pylon fuel
tanks. (photo, U.S. Air Force)


Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber is widely recognized as the longest-serving combat aircraft in the active inventory today. The original B-52 concept dated back to the late 1940s and early 50s. Nearly half a century after the first prototype took to the air the B-52, or ‘Buff’ as their pilots commonly refer to them, is still the backbone of the United States Air force’s bomber fleet. Although its position is undeniable, there’s another early 1950s designed aircraft that nearly went as far as the vaunted Buff. It was the incredible Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. The origins of the Starfighter program date back to the early days of the Korean War, when US pilots encountered for the first time the agile Soviet-produced MiG-15. The new Soviet fighter was more agile and maneuverable than the US first-generation of jet fighters, the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. At every instance, the MiG out-turned and out-maneuvered the Americans planes. It was a testament to the sheer skills and tactics of the American pilots that they were able to achieve and later, maintain, air superiority over the Korean skies. As time went by, there was a sentiment among high ranking officials that a new aircraft was needed, not only to oppose and defeat the current Soviet fighters, but to tackle anything the Soviet Union might be able to put into the air over the next two decades. A completely new and radical airplane was needed, and Lockheed, again, was ready to meet this new challenge.

Lockheed chief designer Clarence “Kelly” L. Johnson and his team of engineers traveled to the Korean Peninsula in the summer of 1951 to have an up-close encounter with the US pilots engaging this new and mysterious Soviet aircraft. They went on a fact-finding mission, and found that the need for a new air superiority fighter was greater than previously expressed. After the trip, Kelly Johnson and his team came up with a long list of systems and specification requirements for their new fighter design, a list not yet requested by the Air Force brass in the Pentagon. The new fighter would need to have advantages over anything flying or planned to fly in the next twenty years – and that meant higher speed and operational altitude. From this basic concept cornerstone, the team began the research phase of the still-not-government-funded program. After extensive research into aerodynamics and avionics systems, Lockheed presented its concept for an advanced fighter to the Pentagon in December 1952, less than a year after Kelly Johnson’s fact-finding expedition to Korea. After a relatively short analysis period, the US government gave Lockheed the project go-ahead in January 1953. With the overall concept in hand, the team shifted its attention to gathering data for the project development. Here is where the team struck gold. Over at Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works Division, engineers had produced an amazing looking aircraft: the X-7 unmanned research plane. As is the case with many experimental planes, the X-7 was designed to test airframe and wing performance at extremely high speeds and altitudes. The X-7 was able to fly at speeds between Mach 1.7 and 3.0 and was capable of reaching altitudes above 80,000 ft; all requirements needed within the new fighter performance envelope. One particular aspect that intrigued Johnson was the X-7’s short and ultra-slim wing structure. The thin wings were utilized on the X-7 project because it was determined by engineers that a small wing profile would give the aircraft an improved aerodynamic characteristic while at supersonic speeds. The X-7’s missile-type fuselage, used to improve lift-to-drag ratio at these altitudes, was also extensively evaluated by Johnson’s design team. After less than a year of research, design and construction, Lockheed unveiled its new aircraft platform to the Air Force top generals: the XF-104, the F-104 first prototype. The F-104 was truly a revolutionary aircraft. It represented Lockheed’s vision of the role of the air superiority fighter in the mid-twentieth century. It also represented a triumph of aviation design and development.

The newly built F-104 had a fuselage structure nearly two-and-a-half times longer than its wingspan. The complete wing carry-through structure was housed in the centre fuselage and centered on the horizontal reference plane. The nose cone was somewhat inclined and the aft part of the fuselage was elevated slightly from the horizontal reference plane. During flight operations, the F-104 assumed a nose-up profile which corresponded to the aircraft’s minimum drag angle of attack. In order to accommodate this flight profile, the engine air inlets, the engine thrust line, and the cockpit, were canted slightly with respect to the longitudinal center of the airframe. The short, straight, wing appeared to possess better aerodynamic characteristics in supersonic flight than conventional, swept wing designs. The shortness of the wing also enabled the aircraft to reduce drag. In order to achieve a better low speed performance for the wing, Lockheed engineers installed wing-leading edge as well as trailing-edge flaps. The function of these flaps was to convert the thin airfoil into a highly cambered one for better take-off and landing operations. A newly designed Boundary Layer Control System (BLCS) was installed of the F-104. The BLCS allowed the aircraft’s wings to delay flow separation at full flap setting and helped to increase the aircraft’s lift capacity, using high pressure bleed air blown over the trailing edge of the wing. The F-104 was one of the few aircraft in aviation history with more engine thrust than aerodynamic drag. This margin of thrust gave the F-104 it’s high speed capability and altitude performance. It also invested the aircraft with an uncanny ability to ascend at a steeper angle and with a higher climb rate than anything else in the skies. The climb rate was one of Johnson’s primary concerns in developing the Starfighter. He and his team designed the F-104 with the ability to intercept targets at an impressive climb rate of 60,000 ft per minute, with a fully loaded aircraft. This rate could be achieved with speeds in excess of Mach 1.7, the original profile requirement, without the aircraft losing overall forward speed. Overall speed and climb rate for the F-104 could only be achieved with the utilization of a massive power plant. The F-104 was fitted with a General Electric J79 engine capable of generating 15,800 pounds of thrust at sea level. It was a massive structure that weighed 3,500lb and was 17′-3″ in length. The J79’s twelve-to-one compression ratio assured the aircraft high supersonic thrust with the advantage of relative fuel economy while in subsonic cruise mode. The Starfighter engine air intakes were a fixed geometry inlet scoop with a conical ramp mechanism designed to provide a ram effect at speeds above Mach 1.5. Five bladder-type fuel cells were installed around the fuselage to provide fuel storage capacity. These cells gave the F-104 a capacity to store 896 gallons of aviation fuel. Additional wing-tip tanks, as well as two wing pylons and three optional tanks added to the airframe could give the F-104 an additional 855 gal of fuel for extended missions. An optional tank was also developed for use in the M61 gun position in the event of an extended flight operation.

The F-104 was fitted with one of the most advanced flight control systems ever developed, at that time. The aircraft’s speed brakes and flying surfaces control systems were hydraulically enhanced. An electrical system operated the wing flaps and trim mechanism. The Starfighter’s primary control systems were a rudder, one-piece horizontal stabilizer, and ailerons; all hydraulically powered. Secondary controls consisted of leading and trailing wing flaps and speed brakes. These control systems were augmented by a stability system that enhanced flight stability at any altitude. The Starfighter was fitted with a retractable, tricycle landing gear housed in the centre fuselage. All three components of the gear, the wheels, tires, and retraction system; were powered by hydraulic oil. In the event of a hydraulic failure, the gear could be operated manually to either of it’s two (landing or retracted) positions. To shorten the aircraft’s landing run, the F-104 was fitted with a landing drag chute that could cut landing distances by about 25%. The chute structure was 18 sq ft in area and it was housed at the end of the fuselage. An emergency arrestor hook, similar to those used by navy pilots on carrier operations, was also provided for emergency landings. At the time of its conception, the Starfighter was fitted with the most advanced avionics package in the world. The main instrument panel housed all the flight instruments on the upper section. Engine operation controls were located on the upper right hand side. Radar display and weapons controls were found on the lower instrument panel, directly in front of the pilot. One master alarm light, located in the center of the instrument display, was augmented by a strip panel display, each position indicating a different aircraft function – this replaced the multiple alarms system utilized on other aircraft. One of the most advanced features integrated on the F-104 was the Position and Homing Indicator or PHI. The PHI system plotted the aircraft’s position with reference to the terrain below, freeing the pilot from the painstaking task of manual navigation plotting.

Over it’s life, the Starfighter was fitted with a vast array of offensive and defensive weapon systems. A General Electric, rapid fire M61 20mm Vulcan cannon, commonly known as a ‘Gatling’ gun, was installed on the F-104 for air defense purposes. The Vulcan weighted 300 lb and was 72″ in length. At the time, this Vulcan gun was the most advanced gun system in the world. It possessed six 20mm barrels and could fire at a maximum rate of 6,000 rounds per minute or 100 rounds per second. The gun design was so successful that it can still be found on the world’s most advanced fighter flying today: the F-22 Raptor. A center-line bomb rack could be fitted, for up to 2,000lb of ordnance. Wing pylon racks could support an additional 1,000lb of weapons. Later versions of the F-104 were fitted with the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, located on the wingtips. Another innovative feature of the Starfighter was it’s integrated fire control system. The F-104 radar system could supply guidance information to the onboard fire control system computer. Air-to-air and air-to-ground targets could be plotted over the horizon. The system also provided the pilot with cockpit displays portraying ground mapping information and low altitude navigation aids.

The first XF-104 test flight occurred on the Edwards Air Force Base facility on March 4th, 1954 with Lockheed’s chief test pilot, Antony “Tony” LeVier, at the controls. Testing of the aircraft by both the Air Force and Lockheed soon accelerated to a high rate. The first operational F-104A was handed over to the US Air Force on the morning of February 20th, 1958. Production of this amazing aircraft ran until mid 1979 and a grand total of 2,578 units were built in seven countries under license from Lockheed, which was at the time, the largest international cooperation venture in the history of the world. An amazing sixteen Starfighter major variants were developed by Lockheed.

Fourteen countries around the world fielded the Starfighter at one time or another. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, West Germany, Greece, Japan, Italy, Jordan, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain, Pakistan, Turkey, and Taiwan all operated the F-104. The United States Air Force only purchased two hundred and ninety six of the type. The last in-service examples were retired from the Italian Air Force in October 2004 – more than 50 years after the prototype’s first flight. Today, only three F-104s remain flying in the United States. A truly incredible run for an amazing aircraft designed and built in the 1950s.


Requirement Specification: n/a
Manufacturers Designation: L-246 or Model 83, Model 183, 283, 383, 483, 583, 683, 783

Development History:
XF-104 Two prototypes. Wright XJ65 engine of 10,200lb thrust. Able to reach Mach 1.79. Short fuselage, plain engine intakes.
YF-104A Service test version. Longer fuselage, engine inlet shock cones added, YJ79 engine.
F-104A First production model. J79-3A engine, M61-A1 20mm cannon. Retrofitted with ventral fin
QF-104A Twenty four modified YF-104A/F-104As used as target drones 1959 – 1960.
NF-104A Rocket-boosted conversion of three F-104As, used for NASA astronaut training.
RF-104A Projected unarmed photo-recce version of F-104A. Not built.
F-104B Tandem two-seat trainer version of F-104A. Larger fin.
F-104C All-weather fighter-bomber for Tactical Air Command. Option for refuelling probe on left side of the fuselage, extra under-wing and centreline pylons, blown flaps, J79-7 engine.
F-104D Tandem two-seater trainer version of F-104C.
F-104DJ Version of F-104D for Japan. J79-IHI-11A engine.
F-104F Version of F-104D for West Germany. F-104D structure, F-104G avionics, C-2 ejection seats.
F-104G Upgraded F-104C all-weather fighter bomber aircraft with a strengthened fuselage, NASARR (North American Search and Ranging Radar) fire control system, inertial navigation, 5 stores pylons, J79-11A engine. Most retrofitted with Martin Baker ejection seats.
TF-104G Tandem two-seat trainer version of F-104G. No gun or centreline pylon.
RF-104G Tactical reconnaissance version of F-104G. KS67-A camera system in the nose.
RTF-104G Projected two-seat multi-sensor recce version of F-104G. Some for EW missions. Not built.
F-104H Projected export version of F-104G with NASARR deleted and simplified equipment. Not built.
TF-104H Projected tandem two-seat trainer version of F-104H. Not built.
CF-104 Canadian version of F-104G for attack and recce roles.
CF-104D Tandem two-seat trainer version of CF-104.
F-104J All-weather interceptor version of F-104G for Japan. J79-IHI-11A engine.
QF-104J Target drone conversion of F-104J.
F-104N Three F-104G operated by NASA as supersonic chase aircraft.
F-104S Upgraded F-104G for the Italian Air Force. All-weather interceptor adapted for Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles. R-21G/H radar, 2 extra hardpoints under engine intakes, 2 additional ventral fins, gun deleted. J79-19 engine.
F-104S ASA Conversion of F-104S with new avionics and latest generation missiles. Fiat R21G/M1 radar, new IFF, improved weapons computer.
F-104S ASA/M Further upgrade of F-104S ASA and TF-104G with refurbished airframe, improved cockpit displays and updated navigation avionics.
F-104G/CCV One F-104G rebuild by MBB to test Control Configured Vehicle technology, with twin canards added.
CF-111 Initial CAF designation for CF-104.
CF-113 Initial CAF designation for CF-104D.
CL-1200 Lancer Projected advanced development of F-104, using F-104 fuselage but with new larger shoulder-mounted wing. Not built.
X-27 Designation of lightweight fighter version of CL-1200. Not built.
XF-104 53-7786, note lack of inlet shock
cones. (photo, U.S. Air Force)
83rd FIS F-104A 56-0791 in Taiwan in 1958.
(photo, U.S. Air Force)


Key Dates:
March 1952    Design studies for new fighter launched.
November 1952    Unsolicited proposal for L-246 design submitted to USAF.
12 March 1953    Order for 2 XF-104 prototypes placed with Lockheed.
28 Feb 1954    First prototype (53-37786) makes initial ‘hop’.
4 March 1954    Maiden flight of first prototype.
October 1953    Order for pre-series batch of YF-104As placed.
17 Feb 1956    First flight of first YF-104A (56-730).
27 April 1956    A YF-104A reaches Mach 2 for the first time.
14 October 1956    First production order for F-104A placed.
16 Jan 1957    First flight of first F-104B.
20 Feb 1958    F-104A enters USAF service.
7 May 1958    F-104A claims world altitude record.
24 July 1958    First flight of first F-104C.
16 October 1958    First F-104C delivery to USAF.
October 1958    West Germany selects F-104G as next generation multi-role fighter.
2 July 1959    Canada orders CF-104.
1960    F-104A withdrawn from USAF Air Defense Command service.
1960    Taiwan becomes first export customer for F-104A/B.
5 October 1960    F-104G first flight.
18 March 1961    Production CF-104 first flight.
6 September 1965    First air-to-air victory by Pakistani F-104A.
January 1966    Italy orders F-104S to replace F-104G
30 December 1968    First flight of first F-104S.
July 1975    F-104B/C retired from Air National Guard service.
1981    F-104S ASA upgrade launched
16 October 1987    West German Air Force retires F-104G from frontline service
27 October 2004    F-104S ASA/M retired from Italian service.
Front view of F-104A 56-0758.
(photo, U.S. Air Force)
The first F-104B, serial 56-3719.
(photo, U.S. Air Force)


Military Operators

Belgium – Air Force (4 Sqns with F-104G/TF-104G)
Canada – Air Force (12 Sqns with CF-104/CF-104D)
Denmark – Air Force (2 Sqns. with F-104G/TF-104G, CF-104/CF-104D)
Germany – Air Force (7 Wings with F-104F, F-104G/RF-104G/TF-104G)
Germany – Navy (2 Wings with F-104G/TF-104G)
Greece – Air Force (2 Sqns with F-104G/TF-104G)
Italy – Air Force (7 Gruppi with F-104G/RF-104G/TF-104G, F-104S)
Japan – Air Force (7 Sqns. with F-104J/F-104DJ)
Jordan – Air Force (1 Sqn with F-104A/F-104B)
Netherlands – Air Force (5 Sqns with F-104G/RF-104G/TF-104G)
Norway – Air Force (2 Sqns with F-104G/RF-104G/TF-104G, CF-104/CF-104D)
Pakistan – Air Force (1 Sqn with F-104A/F-104B)
Spain – Air Force (3 Sqns with F-104G/TF-104G)
Taiwan – Air Force (4 Sqns with F-104A/B, F-104G/RF-104G/TF-104G)
Turkey – Air Force (4 Sqns with F-104G/TF-104G, F-104S)
USA – Air Force (F-104A/B, F-104C/D)

Government Agencies

NASA F-104A/B, NF-104A

Civilian Operators

‘Starfighters’ demo team CF-104/CF-104D
F-104C 56-0914 at the National Museum of
the USAF. (photo, U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed-built F-104G 63-13240 from
Luke AFB. (photo, U.S. Air Force)


Lockheed F-104A Starfighter
Type: Fighter-bomber
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 54 ft 8 in (16.66 m); Height 13 ft 5 in (4.08 m); Wing Span 21 ft 9 in (6.62 m) without wingtip AAMs; Wing Area 196.1 sq ft (18.21 sq m)
Engines: One General Electric J79-GE-3A turbojet rated at 9,600 lb st (4354 kg) dry and 14,800 lb st (6713 kg) with afterburning
Weights: Empty Equipped 13,384 lb (6,071 kg); Typical Combat Take-off 17,988 lb (8,159 kg); Maximum Take-off 25,840 lb (11,721 kg)
Armament: 20-mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon in port forward fuselage with ? rounds, wingtip launch rails for AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Performance: Maximum level speed ‘clean’ 1,037 mph (1,669 kph) at 50,000 ft (15240 m); Cruising speed 519 mph (835 kph); Initial rate of climb 60,395 ft/min (18,408 m/min); Service ceiling 64,795 ft (19,750 m); Normal range 730 mls (1,175 km), Maximum range 1,400 mls (2253 km) with drop tanks.
Lockheed F-104G Starfighter
Type: All-weather multi-role fighter-bomber
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 54 ft 9 in (16.69 m); Height 13 ft 6 in (4.15 m); Wing Span 21 ft 11 in (6.68 m) without wingtip AAMs; Wing Area 196.1 sq ft (18.21 sq m)
Engines: One General Electric J79-GE-11A turbojet rated at 10,000 lb st (4536 kg) dry and 15,600 lb st (7076 kg) with afterburning
Weights: Empty Equipped 13,966 lb (6,348 kg); Typical Combat Take-off 20,640 lb (9,362 kg); Maximum Take-off 29,038 lb (13,172 kg)
Armament: 20-mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon in port forward fuselage with ? rounds, wingtip launch rails for AIM-9 Sidewinder or similar missiles, four underwing hardpoints and one under-fuselage centre-line pylon for a maximum of 4,000 lb (1814 kg) of stores.
Performance: Maximum level speed ‘clean’ 1,328 mph (2,137 kph) at 35,000 ft (10668 m); Cruising speed 510 mph (821 kph); Initial rate of climb 48,000 ft/min (14,630 m/min); Service ceiling 50,000 ft (15,240 m); Normal range 1080 mls (1,738 km), Maximum range 1,630 mls (2623 km) with drop tanks.

Model Comparison:

Specs F-104A F-104B F-104C F-104G F-104S
Length 54′-8″ 54′-8″ 54′-8″ 54′-8″ 54′-9″
Height 13′-5″ 13′-5″ 13′-5″ 13′-5″ 13′-6″
Wingspan 21′-9″ 21′-9″ 21′-9″ 21′-9″ 21′-11″
Max. Weight 25,840 lb 24,912 27,853 29,038 31,000
Cruise Speed 519 mph 516 510 510 610
Maximum Speed 1,037 mph 1,145 1,150 1,146 1,450
Operational Ceiling 64,795′ 64,795′ 58,000′ 50,000′ 58,000′
Climb Rate (per min) 60,395′ 64,500′ 54,000′ 48,000′ 55,000′
Max Range 1,400 miles 1,225 1,500 1,630 1,815
WGAF F-104G 20+01 seen at Greenham
Common in June 1981. (photo, Anthony Noble)
Italian F-104G MM6542/3-40 seen at Honington
in June 1992. (photo, Anthony Noble)


Design Centre

Head of Design Team: Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson
Design Office: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, CA, USA


Production summary:

Model Lockheed Co-Prod’n Canadair Fiat Fokker MBB Mess. Mits. SABCA Total
XF-104 2 2
YF-104 17 17
F-104A 153 153
F-104B 26 26
F-104C 77 77
F-104D 21 21
F-104DJ 20 20
CF-104 200 200
CF-104D 38 38
F-104F 30 30
F-104G 139 140 164 231 50 210 188 1122
RF-104G 40 12 35 119 194
TF-104G 220 48 268
F-104J 3 207 210
F-104N 3 3
F-104S (2) 245 245
Total: 741 48 340 444 350 50 210 207 188 2578

Production Details by Factory

Total Produced: 2578 a/c

Production List

To be added.

312 Sqn KLu F-104G D-8266 seen in November
1982. (photo, E. Groenendijk)
F-104S ASA-M MM6767/9-37 seen in December
2003. (photo, David Cenciotti)

More Information


‘Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (Crowood Aviation Series)’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Martin W Bowman with Matthias Vogelsang
Published by Crowood Press, Dec 2000 ISBN: 1 86126 314 7
* Full design, development and service history.

‘F-104 Starfighter in Action’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Philip Friddell
Published by Squadron/Signal Publications, Aug 1993 ISBN: 0 89747 299 3
* Good pictorial history.

‘German Starfighters: The F-104 in German Air Force and Naval Air Service’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Klaus Kropf
Published by Midland Publishing, May 2002 ISBN: 1 85780 124 5
* Detailed history of the F-104 in German service.

‘Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (Warbird Tech Vol.38)’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Jim Upton
Published by Speciality Press, June 2006 ISBN: 1 58007 069 8
* Well illustrated design and development history.

‘Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (On Target Profiles 1)’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Jon Freeman
Published by The Aviation Workshop, April 2003 ISBN: 1 90464 300 0
* Well illustrated coverage of F-104 colours and markings.

‘Wings of Fame, Volume 2’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
Published by Aerospace Publishing Ltd, Mar 1996 ISBN: 1 874023 69 7
* Includes ‘Focus Aircraft’ 62-page feature on the F-104.

‘Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer (Air Force Legends No.204)’ [Order this book from Amazon USA]
by Scott Libis
Published by Steve Ginter, 1999 ISBN: 0942612973
* Fully illustrated history of the rocket-assisted NF-104A.

‘F-104 Starfighter (Photo Gallery & Profiles No.1)’ [Order this book from the Publisher]
by Alexandros Anestis and George Papadimitriou
Published by Periscopio Publications, 2006 ISBN: 0 9608345 54 5
* Close-up look for the scale modeller.


To be added.


(20 pages of good quality F-104 photos)

Cybermodeler Online: F-104 Starfighter
(Photo gallery, walkaround, US markings diagrams etc)

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
(Very detailed profile covering all variants and operators – no photos or drawings)

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
(Good profile of development, variants, service use and derivatives)

F-104 Starfighter il ‘Cacciatore di Stelle’
(Photos and details of Italian F-104 use)

(Home page for Yahoo Groups F-104 Starfighter discussion group)

Warbirds of India – F-104 Starfighter
(Pakistani F-104s and details of the surviving aircraft)

Lockheed/Canadair F-104A Starfighter
(Canadian CF-104 use and Canadian Aviation Museum exhibit history – 13 page pdf)

Wings Palette: Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
(120+ F-104 colour profile drawings)

International F-104 Society
(Lots of F-104 info: news, versions, operators, database, forum, photos, books etc)

Starfighters F-104 Demo Team
(US-based airshow demonstration team flying three CF-104s)

Harry’s Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Site
(Lots of F-104 info and photos)

(F-104 in Norwegian service)

916 Starfighter
(Comprehensive data and photos on the F-104 in German service)

First Dutch Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Website
(Photos, patches, articles, links etc)

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Walkaround
(Close-up photos of F-104G/D/TF-104G/F-104S variants)

F-104 Starfighter
(Global Security detailed profile of the F-104)

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
(Listing of F-104s held in US aviation museums)

F-104 Starfighter
(NASA Dryden photos of F-104s)

319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron
(USAF F-104 unit in 1960s – photos etc)

wikipedia: F-104 Starfighter
(Well-written profile)

wikipedia: Canadair CF-104
(Short profile)

wikipedia: Aeritalia F-104S
(Good profile of Italian-built versions)

wikipedia: Lockheed X-7
(short X-7 profile)

wikipedia: Lockheed CL-1200
(CL-1200 Lancer profile)

National Museum of the USAF
(F-104 photos)


Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.

Scale Models:
To be added.

Scale Drawings:
To be added.


To be added.

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter Manufacture

Production Summary

Belgian AF TF-104G FC06 seen in April 1981.
(photo, Joop de Groot)


Lockheed Aircraft Company
(Lockheed, Burbank, CA, USA.)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
XF-104 2 Burbank, CA 1953-1954
YF-104A 17 Burbank, CA Oct 1954-1956
F-104A 153 Burbank, CA 1956-Dec 1958
F-104B 26 Burbank, CA 1956-Nov 1958
F-104C 77 Burbank, CA 1958-June 1959
F-104D 21 Burbank, CA 1958-1959
F-104DJ 20 Burbank, CA 1962-1964
CF-104D 38 Burbank, CA 1961
F-104F 30 Burbank, CA 1959-1960
F-104G 139 Burbank, CA 1960-1962
RF-104G 40 Burbank, CA 1962-1963
TF-104G 220 Burbank, CA 1962-1966
F-104J 3 Burbank, CA 1961
F-104N 3 Burbank, CA 1963
Total: 741    
(Canadair Ltd, Cartierville, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
CF-104 (1 F-104A conv) Cartierville 1961
CF-104 200 Cartierville 1961-63
F-104G 140 Cartierville 1963-64
Total: 340    

Aircraft delivered to Canada (CF-104) and Denmark (F-104G).

(Societa Per Azioni Fiat, Turin, Italy)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104G 164 Turin June 1962-1966
RF-104G 35 Turin 1963-1966
F-104S (2 F-104G conv) Turin 1966
F-104S 245 Turin 1968-March 1979
F-104S ASA (147 conv) Turin 1986-1992
F-104S ASA/M (49 conv) Turin 1998-2000
TF-104G ASA/M (15 conv) Turin 1998-2000
Total: 444    

Aircraft delivered to Italy, Netherlands, West Germany and Turkey.

Fokker Aircraft [ARGE Nord]
(Fokker, Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104G 231 Schiphol 1961-1966
RF-104G 119 Schiphol 1962-1966
Total: 350    

Aircraft delivered to Netherlands and West Germany.

(MBB, Manching, Augsberg, West Germany)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104G 50 Manching 1970-1972
Total: 50    

Aircraft delivered to West Germany only.

Messerchmitt [ARGE Sud]
(Messerschmitt AG, Manching, Augsberg, West Germany – later part of MBB)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104G 210 Manching 1960-1966
Total: 210    

Aircraft delivered to West Germany only.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
(MHI, Komaki, Nagoya, Japan)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104J 207* Komaki Apr 1962-Dec 1967
Total: 207    

*29 assembled from Lockheed kits + 178 local. Aircraft delivered to Japan only.

(SABCA, Gosselies, Charleroi, Belgium)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
F-104G 188 Gosselies 1961-mid 1965
Total: 188    

Aircraft delivered to Belgium and West Germany.

The Next Generation Bomber:
A Brief Look at the B-2’s Program Early Life

In the middle of President Ronald Reagan’s massive military buildup of the 1980s, there wew a few very interesting concepts being discussed. One of the most exotic was the hypersonic aircraft. In the mid 1980s, the new Republican Administration began exploring the option of developing such a fantastic air platform. Reagan and his team of scientific advisers was pushing hard the idea of an airplane capable of achieving speeds of Mach 12. The President himself promoted the idea in a televised news conference. They way he described the concept, the new aircraft, a renewed symbol of America’s technological prowess, would have taken off from a regular designed runway, climb above the stratosphere, much like any ICBM does, then it would proceed to move into sub-orbit, before commencing its gradual descend like a any conventional airliner. The administration even got a name for this highly futuristic plane, “The Orient Express”. The name was in reference to the aircraft’s expected ability to reach Tokyo in just two hours. The whole concept was doomed to failure from the very beginning. The dynamics to make such an aircraft fly at that speed were not available at that time. Lockheed’s vaunted SR-71 Blackbird, for example, was able to flight at “only” at Mach 3.2 and that was achieved only after expending enormous amounts of effort and funds. At Mach 12, the Express’ surface would have come apart from heat friction interaction no matter what the skin composition would have been. A titanium airframe, which was the strongest material known at the time, could receive up to 2,500 degrees of heat, after which it would began to tear up. In the SR-71, the pilot wore a special space suit that protected him from the excruciating heat. If the cabin’s air conditioner system failed, he would most likely die from extreme heat exposure. Incredible, ridiculous, not even feasible, were some of the words used by many at Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works facility in California to describe the whole idea. But the dream of building such radical aircraft did not die then. In fact, the idea still passes around in Congress. The “Express” would had been a join effort between NASA and the Pentagon. But long before any funds were made available for the feasibility study, the Administration began to realize that the Orient Express, instead of being one sole unit, was in reality two separate platforms, a rocket and an aircraft, joined together mush like NASA’s space shuttle and that the science to make it a reality was not there yet. What was available was the technology to make America’s next generation bomber.

In the spring of 1978, a group of engineers, lead by the charismatic Ben Rich, head of Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works complex; made a pitch at the Pentagon for a new heavy bomber aircraft. Boosting Lockheed’s recently developed F-117 stealth fighter as its introduction card, Rich forceful promoted his idea for America’s next generation bomber. The meeting was presided over by Gene Fubini, director of the Defense Science Board and Under Secretary for Defense and one of the early proponents of stealth technology, William Perry. Both Perry and Fubini were distraught over the current state of Rockwell’s B-1 program. The B-1 was conceived as a replacement for the AF B-52 plane, but massive cost overruns and poor testing put Rockwell’s bomber program in serious peril. Nevertheless, the Pentagon and Strategic Air Command (SAC) were in dire need of a replacement for their vaunted, but aging, B-52 bomber. The poor results showed by the B-1 prompted SAC to look at another option. There were discussions inside the Air Force of upgrading General Dynamics’ F-111 swing wing tactical fighter/bomber. The idea had the partial endorsement of SAC’s top commander, AF General Richard Ellis who favored quantity over size. He believed that a more numerous fleet of bombers would have cost less than a somewhat smaller fleet of much larger planes. “Airplanes by the pound”, as the motto went on those days. It was not a perfect solution, but, AF generals were afraid of being stuck behind an aging fleet of B-52s and a new, problem-prone force of B-1s. This gave Rich and his team the opening they craved for, “if you guys are eager for a small bomber fleet, look no further than our basic design for the stealth fighter. All we got to do is make it larger and we have an airplane that could carry the payload of the F-111, but with a radar cross section at least ten orders of the magnitude better”. Those words resonated on both Perry and Fubini who were well informed of the F-117’s technological prowess. Perry, who had just signed a feasibility study for the possible development of a naval stealth vessel, was more receptive to the idea than the sometimes more rigid Fubini. Nevertheless, Perry was not ready to grant one company the sole monopoly on stealth.

But the Air Force had to deal with the problematic B-1 project before it could mount another huge and costly bomber program. Canceling such a vast program as the B-1, was and still is a potential political mess. The cancellation of the B-1, which was designed to penetrate a heavily saturated Soviet air defense system and proceed to deliver its nuclear payload flying near or on the deck; was bound to cost millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. But there was a powerful argument to be made for canceling the whole program: survivability. A year before, the AF had conducted an study looking into the B-1’s chances of surviving a deep penetration mission against heavily defended Soviet airspace, what the study revealed shocked most of the AF’s top brass. Sixty percent of the attacking B-1 force would be shot down before it could reach its operational target. That loss rate was unacceptable. Rich and his team argued that in an study performed that same year by an independent defense think tank, a bomber utilizing the latest in stealth technology would acquire a survivability ratio of almost eighty percent. A dramatic improvement. A few days after the Washington meeting, Rich received a call on Lockheed’s secure line. It was Major General William Campbell, head of Future Planning for SAC who said “(General) Ellis would be very receptive to a stealth bomber. I want to send out to the Skunk Works a couple of our most senior bomber pilots to sit down with you and your people and work up for Ellis’ approval the requirements for a deep penetration stealth attack bomber” The seeds of the “Spirits” were laid, although not in the direction Rich would want it.

Rich and his team, which now consisted of several SAC bomber pilots and colonels, worked diligently for almost three months developing the outlines of their program. “Peggy”, as the Skunks Works’ early stealth bomber research program was referred to (Peggy was the name of General Ellis’ wife), called for a medium sized bomber capable of having an operational range of 3600 nautical miles unrefuelled with a 10000 pound payload capacity. The proposal was quickly approved and Lockheed received a two year, fully funded, grant for research experimentation. Lockheed appeared to had been well on its way to acquiring the military’s biggest one program contract since the Manhattan Project. They had good reason to believe so. William Perry was convinced that only a stealth platform could give the United States the ability to penetrate and suppress any installation deep inside the USSR. It would take the Soviets decades to achieve the necessary technological breakthroughs to counter the US stealth technology, Perry thought. But the US presidential election changed it all. On November 1980, Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in a landslide victory. The problem Rich and Lockheed now faced was the expected resignations of most the current mid to top level civilian managerial pool at the Defense Department. It also meant that Perry, a lifelong Democrat and one of stealth’s most passionate supporters, would step down from his powerful post. Perry was the true force behind the stealth revolution. Pushing forward stealth programs even at the expenses of other, more conventional ones. Stealth and its early development was, and still is, his legacy.

Lockheed’s closest competitor for the new bomber was the Northrop Corporation. In the early 1970s, Northrop had lost a close competition with Lockheed to develop the US’s first stealth platform and were primed for a rematch. Behind Northrop’s effort was the brilliant, albeit unconventional, John Cashen who wanted nothing less than to “beat” Rich and his team for the new AF contract. In the 1970s, the US air and space industry was basically a monopoly of just four big companies and a vast network of subcontractors. The most powerful company at the time was McDonnell-Douglas which build thousand of F-15 fighters for the AF, plus the newest Navy fighter bomber, the F-18. McDonnell was followed by the massive General Dynamics Corporation which made everything from the F-16, to tanks, missile systems and even submarines. Lockheed was third with a solid experience of developing cargo and spy planes as well as the mainstay of the US ICBM force at the time, the Polaris Ballistic Missile. Northrop and Rockwell, which developed the B-1, followed.

Northrop was Lockheed’s main competition for the bomber program. There were several factors that pointed to Lockheed winning the coveted contract. First, Northrop had not developed the type of advanced research facility that Lockheed had with its Skunk Works. Second, the company have expended valuable resources developing the F-20 light weight fighter. After a cost overrun of more than $ 100 million, the F-20 fighter, which was a non-provocative air platform, meaning the the plane was advanced enough to be sold to Americas’ Allies but it was vulnerable (designed as) to the most sophisticated US anti aircraft measures. The idea behind the non-provocative concept was that US aerospace companies could sell off the shelf technologies to US Allies without compromising America’s ability to respond if they turn hostile. Northrop began to court the government of Taiwan which was desperately trying to upgrade their air defense assets. But strong Chinese opposition to the sale managed to kill the entire program, placing the company in a compromising financial position. This was perhaps the most important thing going for Northrop in the bidding process. If the company could not land the new bomber contract, it would join Rockwell, which was already struggling with the cancellation of the B-1; on the fringe of the US aerospace industry. Meanwhile, Lockheed’s team began planning for the expected order. They moved ahead with plans to enlarge their secret facility at Burbank and even had a tentative agreement with Rockwell to utilize their huge facility at Palmdale, plus, many of Rockwell’s skilled workers would be participating on the final assembly. At the other side, Northrop entered into a limited partnership with Boeing. The stage was set.

Everything seemed to be on track for Lockheed’s entrant to win out, everything, that is, except politics. After William Perry left DOD, the whole stealth bomber program was relocated from the Pentagon to Wright Field AF Base. Wright was under the command of General Al Slay, head of the AF System Command. As with Perry, Slay was a true believer in stealth, but, unlike Perry, the influential General wanted big, heavy bombers instead of the medium size type Lockheed had been pitching. Immediately, Slay authorized funds from one of the AF’s black accounts. The new bomber’s fund was assigned the name of Aurora by Colonel Buz Carpenter, a young and upcoming officer. Somehow the name of the fund was leaked to the press, prompting one of the world’s most enduring myths. Thus the competition began at earnest. Both conglomerates centered their efforts around Jack Northrop’s 1930s flying wing design. Both engineering team succeed in making the flying wing concept more feasible than was the case almost forty years early, the wing’s boomerang plan-form afforded the lowest radar return echo, plus it gave the platform an unusually favorable lift to drag ratio paving the way for reduced fuel consumption and a longer operational range. As each company began to develop a three quarter scale mock up, it was increasingly obvious which direction each one would take. Lockheed’s design was more along the lines of a medium-sized platform, while Northrop’s was more of a true heavy-bomber type. Here is where another significant factor was staked against Lockheed’s entry. Because the company’s design was relative small, the wing needed to be fitted with a small tail structure in order to add stability to the bombing platform. Northrop’s concept on the other hard was large enough to be able to operate with just its own surface control systems. This small difference gave Northrop’s design a better lift/drag ratio compared with Lockheed’s entry.

On May 1st 1981, the designs of both, Northrop and Lockheed were pitted against one another in an AF radar detection range. Data relating to the test is still classified, but rumor has it that Lockheed’s design beat Northrop’s entry on nearly all frequency tests, nevertheless, the following October, Ben Rich received a formal notification from the AF awarding the advance heavy bomber contract to Northrop on technical merit. Rich did not take the news well. Neither did his superior, Lockheed’s CEO Roy Anderson. Both men went to visit the newly appointed AF Secretary, Verne Orr, to protest the matter. A visibly angry Orr told both men that “not only was Northrop better than you, they were much better than you”, prompting Anderson to say “Well Mr. Secretary, time will tell”. It was later revealed to Anderson that the selection of Northrop’s design was attributed to size. A much bigger aircraft with a larger payload capacity provided a better bargain for the AF. Although the Northrop’s design registered a “bigger” radar signature than its counterpart, it would require fewer attack sorties because it carry a larger payload. Less sorties counterbalanced the real stealth advantages enjoyed by Lockheed’s design.

– Raul Colon

More information:
Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas that Revolutionized War, From Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes, and Experimental Aircraft, Editor Jim Winchester, Thunder Bay Press 2005
The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, Editor Chris Bishop, Amber Books 2001
Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide, Gunter Endres and Mike Gething, HarperCollins, 2002

The Graceful EC-121 Early Warning Star

Embed the most advanced electronic detection systems within the slick airframe of a Lockheed Super Constellation and you will have one of the most beautiful-looking aircraft that ever graced the sky: the Lockheed EC-121 Airborne Radar System. Between the early years of the 1950s thru the mid 1960s, the 121 guarded the United States coastline against a surprise enemy air incursion. It saw extensive action in Vietnam where its advanced electronic detection systems provided US force commanders with an in-depth look at the enemy’s movements, not only in the air, but also on the ground and on the seas. The 121 program had its roots at the end of the Second World War, when US military planners were facing what they thought would be an overwhelming Soviet Air Force superiority and they would need as much warning as possible to deploy their air and naval assets. Following the normal development path, the 121 entered full production mode in the early 1950s. The Warning Star, as the EC-121 was officially known – its crew knew it as the “Wily Victor” – first entered front line service with the US Navy in October 1955.

The Warning Star was designed for long and taxing patrols, thus the aircraft retained all the comforts of the airliner on which it was based. The flight deck was roomier than previous military planes, a feature well appreciated by its crew. The pilot and copilot were seated in the front of the aircraft’s cockpit; the flight engineer was seated directly behind them. The radio operator and flight navigator were seated at the end of the cockpit structure. Two rows in the middle of the fuselage were used to house 28 electronic operators who collected and directed information received from the Star’s radar arrays. One of the main reasons Lockheed selected the Constellation airframe to incorporate the most advance airborne radar system designed, was the need to locate the radome on the underside of the airframe. The Constellation had the required ground clearance because of its long undercarriage. The rear part of the aircraft was used to provide the crew with a comfort station. Four bunks and a primitive toilet were placed in the tail end of the 121. A small kitchenette was also installed there. Propelling the aircraft were four 2535-Kw Wright R3350-34 radial piston engines capable of generating 3,400 hp. The 121 could stay airborne for up to thirty five hours without refueling.

Four squadrons of the Warning Star were formed in the mid 1950s. Operating from bases in Scotland and Iceland, Warning Stars performed around-the-clock air patrols over the North Atlantic. They also operated from US Navy bases in Puerto Rico and Cuba. They saw combat action in the sky over Vietnam, offering assistance and relaying electronic information to US aircraft operating in the area. Only one EC-121 was lost during a combat operation. One 121 was shot down near North Korean territorial waters in 1969. The aircraft was lost along with its complementary crew. In the early 1970s, the US Air Force and Navy replaced its respective fleets of EC-121 Warning Stars with the first truly AWACS system platform: Boeing’s E-3. Today we can still see some Warning Stars gracing the skies above the US. All remaining 121s are privately owned and are flown at air shows all across America.

– Raul Colon

More information:
wikipedia: EC-121 Warning Star


In the summer of 1962, a secret department of the Lockheed Company, the now vaunted Skunk Works, began researching into a new type of weapons platform. The project was so secret that only about one hundred people inside the department knew what they were doing. The program, code-named Tagboard had its origins with the Administration of President John Kennedy and it achieved operational status under the Nixon Administration. The project was so secret that even today, little detailed information is available. The idea behind Tagboard was the development of a flying drone capable of reaching deep inside the People’s Republic of China to gather sensitive information regarding the country’s infant nuclear program. Since the downing of Gary Power’s U-2 spyplane over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, the United States armed forces began the process of developing the concept of an unmanned, remotely controlled flying vehicle capable of penetrating hostile territory in order to gather information. The concept of a drone gathered support with the loss of four Taiwanese U-2 planes. They were shot down while trying to collect information about Chinese experimentation with nuclear devices and rocket systems in remote sites around the country. One of those sites was Lop Nor. Lop Nor was located two thousand miles inland, nearly at the Chinese-Mongolian border. This facility was the main target of US intelligence collection effort during the late 1950s and all thru the 1960s. The remoteness of the location meant that U-2 pilots had to fly a high risk, deep penetrating mission over rugged terrain for a long period of time. Here’s where Tagboard came in. Skunk Works engineers would develop a drone-type system that could be deployed from a SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The drone they envisioned would fly at speeds above Mach 3, while operating at a height of 100,000 ft. After reaching its objective site, the drone would use it’s optical and electronic sensors to gather as much data as possible, then the platform would head back toward a recovery area. After reaching a pre-determined area, the drone would drop it’s camera film and an electronic gathering canister by parachute to a waiting US Navy destroyer. After accomplishing it’s mission, the drone system would self-destruct over the sea.

The idea of Tagboard originated deep inside the Skunk Works. One of its first proponents in the unit was the legendary Ben R. Rich. Rich pitched the idea to an even more legendary aviation eminence, Kelly Johnson; who at first balked at the concept. But political and military events, specially the downing of the four U-2s, persuaded him to pursue the idea. In the summer of 1962, Kelly Johnson met with John Parangosky at the Central Intelligence Agency to pitch the concept. The CIA was not interested, Parangosky stated. Johnson received almost the same answer when he went to the Air Force with the concept. But there were a Brigadier General, Leo Geary, the director of special projects for the US Air Force; who showed interest in the project. Geary pulled some favors and appropriated half a million dollars from the secret Black Projects contingency fund. Tagboard was born. The original concept called for the installation of a six inch ground resolution camera system in a small but sturdy airframe. The camera and electronic package had a combined weight of four hundred pounds; adding to the four hundred and twenty five pounds needed for the platform avionics. The system needed to have a long range capability, thus a minimum of three thousand nautical miles operational range was incorporated into the design equation by Johnson and his team. The first design plan of the new drone called for it to have the flat triangular shape of a manta ray. It was forty feet long and weighed in at seventy thousand pounds. The airframe was built from titanium and was powered by a Bomarc engine. The Bomarc was a ram jet engine design similar to the famous Marquardt engines once used in the development of ground to air missile systems. With the Bomarc, Tagboard could cruise three times faster than the speed of sound. The new drone also possessed the lowest radar cross section signature of any airborne system available at the time. It’s internal electronic packages included a then state-of-the-art, star tracker inertial guidance system that could be constantly updated via a computer feed from the Blackbird’s I.N. platform right up to the point of launch. The system was completely automated. Drone steering was achieved by stored digital signal directed at its hydraulic servo actuators. The system was capable of handling a sophisticated flight plan. It could handle numerous turns and twist to get to the pre-programmed location, then the system would instruct the drone to repeat the process for its extradition. When the drone made it out of hostile territory, the platform would proceed to release its payload in the form of a cone-type canister assisted by parachute. Then the drone would self-destruct.

Armed with Tagboard’s impressive blue print, Kelly Johnson descended on Washington during the second week of February 1963 to pitch the idea once again to the CIA. Again he was refused. The story was different at the Air Force. Secretary Harold Brown was impressed with the concept. He took the idea further, suggesting that the proposed drone platform could expand its mission profile to include the delivery of a nuclear payload. The Air Force’s interest in the project made the CIA think twice about the drone idea and on March 20th, 1963, the Central Intelligence Agency awarded a Letter of Contract to Lockheed, thus sharing budgetary and operational responsibilities with the Air Force. With this accord, the Tagboard project became the most secret program ever developed by the famous Skunk Works, even more secret that the assembly of it’s Blackbird aircraft. The Works became the new Fort Knox. In order to get inside the facility, engineers and operators were given secret passes. Regular background checks were performed on all those involved in the program. The strict regulations and security measures made a strained situation even more so. The task of designing and developing this new weapons system was daunting. The most technically challenging situation arose when the team began developing the form in which the drone would be delivered by an aircraft flying at three times the speed of sound. The sheer magnitude of the shockwave presented the engineering team with a monumental problem. It took the Works engineering teams nearly six months to figure out a possible solution to the dilemma. After gaining the upper hand in the deployment mechanism, other problems raised. The guiding system, parachute deployment mechanism, electronic and camera packages, and finally the avionics components; all were monster-like problems that needed solutions.

After three years of around the clock working, the drone system was finally ready to be unveiled to the air force and CIA top brass. On the morning of February 27th, 1965, with test pilot William “Bill” Park at the controls, a specially modified SR-71 took off from a secret Works facility carrying Tagboard with it. When the Blackbird reached the coast of California at an altitude of 80,000 feet, Park ignited the drone engine and Tagboard was released. It flew perfectly. Speeding at Mach 3.2, the drone flew 120 miles out to the sea before it ran out of fuel and crashed. The next month, another test flight proved to be even more successful. This time Tagboard flew an amazing 1,900 miles at a speed of Mach 3.3. The test showed that the drone’s aerodynamic characteristics were sound. The next test phase was designed to evaluate the complex steering system. On June 16th, 1966, the specially configured SR-71, again with Park at the controls, took off and headed to the California coast, just north of Los Angeles, he released the drone without any inconvenience. Tagboard made a 1,600 mile flight that included eight pre-programmed turns, at the same time the drone activated it’s camera system. The test was a complete success. The collected data on these early flights indicated that the system was a success. Aerodynamics, avionics, guidance, even the camera system; performed admirably during these early flights. The program seemed to be heading for full operational deployment sooner than expected when tragedy struck. On the afternoon of July 30th, 1966, Park and his weapons operator took off and proceeded west towards California. The test called for the release of the drone at Mach 3.25. But when deployed, the drone went down immediately and struck the Blackbird’s fuselage sending the aircraft into a tailspin. Park and his operator, Torick, ejected from the doomed aircraft, and splashed down 150 miles from the coast. Unfortunately, Torick opened his helmet visor while ejecting, thus at splashdown water began to pour into his pressure suit, sending him to the bottom of the sea. This was a setback to the program. Not only the loss of a crewman, which was daunting, but the lost of the modified SR-71, pushed the program back. Without anymore specially modified Blackbirds available anytime soon, Kelly Johnson drafted in the Strategic Air Command’s backbone, the B-52, as the vehicle to carry Tagboard. After meeting with then deputy secretary of defense, Cyrus Vance, Johnson got the go ahead to proceed with the use of a B-52 as a release platform. The air force supplied Johnson and his team with two of the massive bombers. Test flights commenced again in the winter of 1968. One B-52 would carry two Tagboard drones, one under each wing. The tests where conducted on the Hawaiian Islands and the drones were to follow a coordinated flight pattern. They flew over Christmas and Midway Islands, mapping them and anything that moved in the vast Central Pacific on their way there. The so called Captain Hook test flight series met considerable success during its fourteen month duration. The Air Force was really impressed with the results and by November 1969; Tagboard achieved operational status.

The drone system’s first operational mission, the over-flight of the Lop Nor region, was planned for November 9th. A sole B-52 took off from Beale Air Force Base, carrying two Tagboard drones in case one platform failed to separate from its mother-ship. When the B-52 reached its intended launching area, beyond China’s early warning radar stations, it deployed one Tagboard. The system penetrated Chinese airspace and proceeded to its target but communication with the system was lost before it reached Lop Nor. Guidance system error was believed to be the cause of the drone’s demise. Eleven months later, another operation was performed. This time Tagboard performed as advertised. It flew to the intended area and back, but when the system released its cargo, the cone parachute failed to open and the package plummeted to the bottom of the sea. The last operational flight of Tagboard occurred in late March 1971. This time, the drone was tracked by Chinese radar for the first time, 1,900 miles deep inside China, then the system disappeared from US tracking systems. The reason was never determined. The complexity of the system that was needed to launch and recover the drone and the limited operational success doomed the program. After this flight, the complete program was cancelled by the Nixon Administration in July 1971. In a footnote to the story of this remarkable system, in July 1986, a piece of Tagboard surfaced in Washington via a CIA courier. A Soviet agent gave the piece to a CIA counterpart during a Christmas party that past winter. Engineers promptly recognized the piece as being part of the second Tagboard mission drone, codenamed D21. It was found in Siberia by a local farmer. Although the program ended before the system could be further developed to meet new standards, Tagboard achieve legendary status serving as the cornerstone of the US unmanned aerial vehicle programs for decades.

– Raul Colon

More information:
Air Power, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
Front-Line Strike Aviation at the Threshold of the Missile Age, Alexandr Medved 1978
Russian X-Planes, Alan Dawes, Key Publishing 2001