Starfighters with NASA

Last revised March 4, 2002






Over the years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has operated no less than eleven Starfighters for flight test purposes.

In August of 1956, the seventh YF-104A (serial number 55-2961) was transferred to NACA (later reorganized as NASA). It was initially numbered 818, but was later renumbered with the civilian registration N818NA (the "NA" standing for NASA). This airplane was used by NASA for various test flight purposes until it was finally retired in November of 1975. It is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

In October of 1957, NASA acquired two ex-USAF F-104A single seaters (USAF serials 56-0734 and 56-0749) for use in flight testing. So far as I am aware, these planes were never assigned NASA serial numbers F-104A 56-749 crashed in 1962.

In December of 1959, F-104B serial number 57-1303 was transferred to NASA. It was assigned the NASA number of 819. It served until 1978, when it was finally retired.

Between August and October of 1963, Lochkeed delivered three single-seat F-104G Starfighters to NASA, these planes being designated F-104N (N for NASA). They were to serve as high-speed chase aircraft. These three planes were the only purpose-built Starfighters produced by Lockheed for NASA--all other Starfighters operated by NASA were transferred to it from the USAF.

These three NASA F-104Ns were initially numbered 011, 012, and 013. 013 was lost on June 8, 1966 when it became involved in a mid-air collision with the second North American XB-70A Valkyrie during a General Electric-sponsored advertising publicity photographic flight. The pilot flying the F-104N, the experienced test pilot Joseph A. Walker, was killed. The XB-70A pilot, Alvin S. White ejected with injuries, but the XB-70A copilot, Major Carl S. Cross, went down with the Valkyrie and was killed.

The two surviving F-104Ns were later given the civilian registrations N811NA and N812NA. 811 was for a while in open storage for the USAF Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB, but is now on display at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ.

In December of 1966, NASA acquired another ex-USAF F-104A (serial number 56-0790) as a replacement for NASA 813. It was assigned the NASA number 820, and was withdrawn from use on October 30, 1983. 820 is now on outdoor display at Edwards AFB pending the creation of the USAF Flight Test Center Museum.

Later, NASA also received some additional F/TF-104Gs from military sources. In 1975, NASA received two tandem-seat TF-104Gs and one single-seat F-104G, giving them the civilian numbers N824NA, N825NA, and N826NA respectively. N824NA and N825NA are ex-Luftwaffe TF-104G two-seaters (carrying USAF serials 61-3065 and 66-13628), whereas N826NA was originally a Fokker-built single-seat RF-104G which had originally been built for the Luftwaffe but which had been serving with the Luftwaffe training unit at Luke AFB in Arizona (original German serial number was KG200). All of their military equipment was removed, and they were used by NASA for various flight test purposes.

N824NA have been reported in some of my references to have been retired to the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB, although Mary Shafer reports that 824 is still out on the ramp. 825 and 826 are kept at Ames/Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards AFB in California, where they are currently being used for various NASA-related flight test programs. These are the only Starfighters still flying in US service.

Thanks go to Mary Shafer for her report on the status of the NASA F-104Gs.

Sources:


  1. The Lockheed F-104G/CF-104, Gerhard Joos, Aircraft in Profile No. 131, Doubleday, 1969.

  2. The World's Great Interceptor Aircraft, Gallery Books, 1989.

  3. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Steve Pace, Motorbooks International, 1992.

  4. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987.

  5. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  6. E-mail from Dianne Bean on location of N811NA.