Tiny wings gave it an edge in acceleration and climb. It was the first aircraft to reach 100,000 feet, the first to cruise at Mach 2, the first to hold speed and altitude records simultaneously. Few fighters have ever surpassed it.
Pilots called it the “Zipper.” NASA used Starfighters as chase planes and to provide astronauts with high-altitude maneuvers with thrusters.
But the F-104 had a terrible safety record. The tiny wings and T-tail created serious aerodynamic issues and were useless in stalls—causing hairy crashes like test pilot Chuck Yeager’s in 1963, made famous in “The Right Stuff.”
From 1958 to 1969, the USAF fielded nearly 300 F-104s. Other nations purchased most of the 2,578 planes produced and flew them until 2004, which was puzzling until Lockheed admitted to bribery. Safety was always an issue, and the Germans dubbed it the “Widow Maker.”
In 1958, this F-104A joined the 538th Fighter Squadron at Larson Air Force Base, WA, and later to Ching Chuan Kang AFB in Taiwan.
From 1963 to 1972, it was a chase plane at Edwards AFB, CA, and often appeared in the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie” as Major Nelson’s plane. In May 2013, it arrived in Hawaii — a speedster with a checkered past.