‘For all the bad-mouthing the F-104 has received in the past, if I had the money (and my wife would let me … which she definitely would not!) I would buy and fly the Starfighter,’ Roger Daisley, retired USAF F-89 Scorpion fighter pilot.
Known as “the missile with a man in it,” the stubby-winged Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was the first US jet fighter in service to fly Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. Designed as a high-performance day fighter, the Zipper (as the F-104 was dubbed by her aircrews) had excellent acceleration and top speed, according to Smithsonian website. Armed with a six-barrel M-61 20mm Vulcan cannon, it served as a tactical fighter, and when equipped additionally with heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles, as a day-night interceptor.
On May 18, 1958, an F-104A set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph, and on Dec. 14, 1959, an F-104C set a world altitude record of 103,395 feet. The Starfighter was the first aircraft to hold simultaneous official world records for speed, altitude and time-to-climb.
‘I have flown a wide variety of Air Force aircraft, including Century Series fighters … but never the F-104.
‘My first assignment, as a Second Lieutenant, was with the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (F-89). at Hamilton Air Force Base, California. (Often referred to as the Garden Spot of the Air Force!)
‘[When I graduated from Flight School, I was #3 in the Class Standings. The first two graduates grabbed the F-86 and F-100 assignments, so my only choice was the F-89 … or B-47’s, C-54’s or “other” multi-engine prop aircraft. I chose the F-89 at Hamilton.]
‘There were two squadrons at Hamilton AFB: The 83rd FIS and the 84th FIS. The 84th, my squadron, had the F-89. The 83 FIS had the F-86D. About a year after I arrived at Hamilton. the 83rd FIS transitioned to the F-104A … the first F-104 squadron in the Air Force.
‘As the first F-104 squadron, they went through a few tough times! For example, the Squadron Commander was killed when he ejected on final approach to Hamilton, using the ill-conceived downward ejection seat. There also was a problem with the J79 variable engine fuel nozzles. They had a bad habit, every once in a while, of leaking flaming JP-4 fuel and burning a hole through the side of the aircraft.
‘All the above aside, watching a flight of two F-104’s in a formation takeoff was a sight to behold! At the departure end of the runway, they would pull up to what “looked like” 90 degrees straight up (probably more like 45 degrees) and disappeared out of sight. Even more spectacular was a night formation takeoff … two blue tinged twenty feet flaming afterburners disappearing into the night! To an F-89 pilot, these guys seems like a combination of Superman and Astronauts (Actually Astronauts hadn’t been “invented” yet … Sputnik had just made an appearance!)
‘Yet, for all the bad-mouthing the F-104 has received in the past, if I had the money (and my wife would let me … which she definitely would not!) I would buy and fly the F-104. I saw a civilian owned F-104 at Nellis Air Force Base, several years ago. What a beauty! Either he was single or a very “understanding” wife.’
So if you ask Daisley:
‘As a pilot, what’s a plane you’d love to fly?’
His answer is clear:
‘No question: F-104.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force