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F-104C Starfighter

New features to the F-104C included a J-79-GE-7A engine (15,000 1b static thrust with afterburner) having 1,000 pounds more thrust than the J-GE-3B (with afterburner) in F-100s, late F-104As, and retrofitted in early F-104As. The F-104C also featured an improved fire control system (AN/ASG14T2, replacing the F-104A's-1) for day and clear night operations, a probe drogue air refueling system, and external nuclear stores.

The Air Force accepted four F-104Cs in September 1958, then seven or more each month, beginning in October.

The 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George AFB, along with three other squadrons of the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing, became TAC's only F-104 combat units. All four squadrons at George converted from F-100s, the last in 1959.

A total of 77 F-104Cs were accepted. All F-104Cs were accepted in FY 59-seven to nine each month from October 1958 through June 1959.

Production ended in June 1959.

The Flyaway Cost Per Production Aircraft was $1.5 million-airframe, $863,235; engine (installed), $473,729; electronics, $5,219; ordnance, $44,684; armament, $91,535.

Shortages of engines, components, and supplies plagued TAC's F-104Cs and their few accompanying trainers (F-104Ds). Even worse was the unreliability of components-the new J-79-GE-7A engine being a major culprit. In less than 5 years, 40 major accidents occurred claiming nine lives and destroying 24 aircraft. This paved the way for Project Seven Up, a General Electric modification that started in May 1963 and ended in June 1964.

In October 1961, the Air Force had launched Project Grindstone by which Lockheed modernized the F-104 air superiority fighter. Completed by early 1963, Grindstone gave the F-104C four Sidewinders (all other F-104s carried only two), plus a variety of airground weapons - 2.75 inch rockets, napalm and gravity bombs.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 saw the unexpected deployment of F-104Cs to Key West, Fla. As a result of the same crisis, F-104Cs in 1964 were also called upon to fulfill some F-104A air defense commitments. They moved to Homestead AFB, while F-104A interceptors were retrofitted with M 61 Vulcans.

F-104Cs went first to Southeast Asia on a temporary basis. In 1965 one squadron stood alert at Kung Kuan, Taiwan, and Da Nang, South Vietnam. From Da Nang, the aircraft soon struck targets in both South and North Vietnam-enemy ground fire taking its toll. A new contingent of F-104Cs returned to SEA in mid 1966, this time permanently. F-104Cs of TAC's 479th Tactical Fighter Wing were then assigned to the 435th TFS at Udorn, resuming their attacks until they were replaced by more efficient F-41)s in July 1967.

The F-4D program slippage and the war's impact on USAF resources postponed the aircraft phaseout. In 1962 one of TAC's four squadrons of F-104 tactical fighters equipped a combat crew training squadron, the other three did not begin converting to F-4Ds until 1966. For all practical purposes, phaseout wound up in 1967-almost 5 years later than planned. with redeployment of the last F-104s left in Thailand. The aircraft joined the ANG in time for the 198th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Puerto Rico to convert in August from the elderly F-86H.

On December 14, 1959, an F-104C reached 103,389 feet, breaking the world altitude records set by the Soviets and the US Navy (who had broken records set by an F-104A in May 1958).

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:30:05 ZULU