[Editor’s Note: There are some pretty good horror stories out there about the Lockheed-Martin F-104 Starfighter. Supremely powerful and fast, the jet was more like a missile than a fighter, and was so fast the aircraft even shot itself down from time to time. That said, it was a pretty remarkable aircraft in its own right!]
The Starfighter was a century jet with a big engine and a very thin stubby wing. The jet sacrificed maneuverability for speed and power. Built by Lockheed, the aircraft was originally built to battle the MiG-15 but its thin wing was notoriously finicky at low speeds,unforgiving at higher speeds and featured high takeoff and landing speeds of at 170+kts.
Flying a touch and roll in any plane is a very difficult and dangerous stunt. It requires a pilot to perform a roll very close to the ground with landing gear extended all while remaining at a speed low enough to descend and enter a landing flare just seconds later. Belgian fighter pilot Bill Ongena performed a touch and roll maneuver in the F-104 Starfighter.
The maneuver highlighted in this video was made even more impressive by the fact that the maneuver was thought to be so dangerous that not even experienced Lockheed test pilots would attempt such a stunt.
Although the F-104 had its shortcomings, Lockheed still enjoyed successful run of Starfighter production. The F-104 was built by the Lockheed and licensed partners for over 30 years. The key to the model’s longevity was its incremental approach to improvements and the success of its export in western allied air forces. The F-104 started out as a very limited daytime supersonic fighter that evolved over time with upgraded engines, radar, armament and techniques.
While the first F-104 was built in 1956, the final F-104 in the Italian Air Force was only retired in 2004. Nearly fifty years of operational flight for a century series fighter jet is unmatched by an other model of the era. If you are interested in learning more about the F-104, check out this video that originally appeared on the Discovery Channel back when they actually featured programming about aviation.
The original article can be viewed here on AvGeekery.
(Featured Photo courtesy of WarBirds News)