Military Aviation

That Time a German F-104 Starfighter Bowed Upwards the Power Lines during a Low Level Ground Attack Training sortie

The F-104 extremely short wingspan, which made it a very fast but highly unstable craft at low altitudes, didn’t scare the Germans one little bit.

The futuristic-looking F-104 Starfighter featured a long circular fuselage, sharply pointed nose, and tiny, thin wings.

Its wings were so small they could hold neither the landing gear nor fuel, which all had to be stowed in the fuselage. However the small wings were necessary to give the Starfighter its excellent acceleration, rate of climb and top speed. By contrast the small wings gave the F-104 also a poor sustained turn performance and since the could not carry fuel, the aircraft had a very limited range.

The aircraft did not feature a useful radar, and its loadout was made only by a cannon and heat-seeking missiles, making it a day, clear weather-only fighter.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-104G Starfighter Jagdgeschwader 71 (JG 71) “Richthofen”, JA+240, 1965

Nevertheless the Starfighter was adopted by a total of 15 NATO and other countries that adapted for use as a fighter-bomber. The variant delivered to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Marineflieger (German Navy) was designed F-104G (with G for Germany) and it was not the simple daylight fighter but an all-weather, ground attack version which was 2,000 pounds heavier than the original F-104 with the same engine. For most missions, it needed to carry four external fuel tanks, adding to the weight.

However the German Starfighters flew ground-attack training sorties without external fuel tanks too as Gregory Rush, former US Air Force Veteran, remembers on Quora. ‘Like walking with a buddy down a snowy icy road to work at an American air base in West Germany during a major military exercise, noticing a telltale whisper in the sky, and then both of us stopped dead with our mouths wide open as we were approached very swiftly by a German Air Force F-104 jet, flying down the road so low that he was below the span of the power lines.

‘In the couple of seconds before he passed overhead I saw the power lines bowing upwards on either side of the road, from the pressure wave he was pushing in front of him. We snapped our heads towards each other, thinking; “You Gotta be Shittin’ Me!”. Then I was airborne as we both dived into a dirty & icy ditch.

‘German pilots are very good, and very crazy.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

‘Apparently the F-104 very short flight range without external tanks wasn’t a problem for German home defense forces. The Starfighter extremely short wingspan, which made it a very fast but highly unstable (non-computer aided) craft at low altitudes, didn’t scare the Germans one little bit.’

Rush concludes;

‘People will still tell me that this plane would never, ever, ever be flown in the way I’ve described. Well I just say; “That’s what happens in your life, this is what happened in mine!”

‘One thing about their raiding tactic, is that I bet they wouldn’t need a whole lot of ammunition to bring an entire flight-line to a complete stop for some time. The plane that buzzed us made three similar flights over the base before the warning siren even began wailing…’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • Kamp Lintfort. Flugplatz Germany 1970 glider at the top of a winch launch approx 1000 feet - two 104s heading 07 at 1000 feet separate formation, one either side of glider, result glider pilot ‘S trousers (pants for the US) change from green to brown....... 104s close formation!

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