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Lockheed F-104


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The F-104 seemed like such an odd aircraft for the NATO countries to use given the type of warfare that was planned for if there was an invasion from the east. It was a very fast high altitude point defense interceptor, not very maneuverable and had limited fuel. Add to that a dangerous aircraft to fly. Why did they buy it? Was there any other type available that might have provided better service? I always thought it was a strange choice.

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Indeed it was a strange choice for NATO; it is now a matter of record that Messrs. Lockheed engaged in some rather er, 'creative' marketing, including large sacks of cash, to 'persuade' Euro-punters that it was too good to miss!

However, the much more publicised safety record of the aircraft seems to have been something of a lottery: the Bundesluftwaffe had a terrible experience with it, whilst Canadian and Spanish operators fared better (the latter losing not a single aircraft). I don't have any stats to hand, but I believe the JASDF managed to tame it effectively also.

What the NATO air-superiority landscape of the 1960s would have looked like if other solutions had been available on a level playing field is the source of much speculation and inspired 'whiffery'. Designs like the EE Lightning or Saunders-Roe SR.177 have been mooted as alternatives, but.... :dontknow:

Edited by ChippyWho
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I spent two years in the a/c and in my opinion your statements about the bird are flawed. It was much more than just an interceptor. One of the missions we trained for all the time was nuclear strike, and that is what most of the NATO countries bought it for. Where did the "not very maneuverable" come from? it had a better roll rate than anything other than the T-38, a better thrust to weight ratio than everything else. Granted, it was not a "turn and burn" a/c, but we regularly engaged anybody that would stick around and usually did very well. And with tanks it had about the same range as any other contemporary fighter. Add air refueling and it could go where ever needed. We did none stop from east coast to Europe. How much range do you want?

The aircraft was not any more dangerous to fly that other jet of the time. We flew F-100s prior to the F-104 and our accident rate wasn't any different.

Low level penetration/nuclear strike is a very hazardous mission. Add European poor weather, mountains and conflicting traffic and it get even worse. Any distraction, even just a glance away from what you're doing can and will result it surface contact. Most of the losses had nothing to do with the aircraft being flown. High speeds, very low altitudes and lousy weather tend to make for very bad days. The type of a/c being flown has nothing to do with it.

As to why they bought it, they did it for one very important reason. It was by far the best available for the mission.

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I spent two years in the a/c and in my opinion your statements about the bird are flawed. It was much more than just an interceptor. One of the missions we trained for all the time was nuclear strike, and that is what most of the NATO countries bought it for. Where did the "not very maneuverable" come from? it had a better roll rate than anything other than the T-38, a better thrust to weight ratio than everything else. Granted, it was not a "turn and burn" a/c, but we regularly engaged anybody that would stick around and usually did very well. And with tanks it had about the same range as any other contemporary fighter. Add air refueling and it could go where ever needed. We did none stop from east coast to Europe. How much range do you want?

The aircraft was not any more dangerous to fly that other jet of the time. We flew F-100s prior to the F-104 and our accident rate wasn't any different.

Low level penetration/nuclear strike is a very hazardous mission. Add European poor weather, mountains and conflicting traffic and it get even worse. Any distraction, even just a glance away from what you're doing can and will result it surface contact. Most of the losses had nothing to do with the aircraft being flown. High speeds, very low altitudes and lousy weather tend to make for very bad days. The type of a/c being flown has nothing to do with it.

As to why they bought it, they did it for one very important reason. It was by far the best available for the mission.

This^

The nuclear strike mission, coupled with the very limited fast-jet experience of the young German pilots assigned to fly it resulted in high accident / fatality rates. Also keep in mind the mission, flying very low, very fast, in all weather. Not a lot of time to correct problems if something goes wrong, not a lot of time to eject either. I'd suggest that the -104 was actually a pretty decent aircraft and was certainly more than a simple point defense interceptor.

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The aircraft was not any more dangerous to fly that other jet of the time. We flew F-100s prior to the F-104 and our accident rate wasn't any different.

The Class A Mishap (i.e.'Write Off') rate of the F-104 in USAF service was 30.63 accidents per 100,000 flight hours - the highest accident rate of any Century Series aircraft in USAF service. In comparison, the F-102 loss rate was 13.69, and for the F-100 it was 16.25 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Canada, in fact, had a worse F-104 Write Off rate than Germany. 46% of Canadian F-104's were written off in accidents, compared to 30% for Germany. IIRC the problems the Germans faced were around inadequate training, and the addition of extra equipment - such as the INS - not only adversely affecting the flight characteristics due to extra weight, but also increasing the pilot workload in an already intensive environment (i.e. low level & poor weather).

As for why NATO countries bought it, well there are three main reasons;

- It was a decent enough aircraft

- It was available in numbers

- The US Government allowed it to be sold to other NATO countries

Of course, Lockheed's approach to, shall we say, 'creative financial incentives' had a part to play too...

Edited by vince14
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The Class A Mishap (i.e.'Write Off') rate of the F-104 in USAF service was 30.63 accidents per 100,000 flight hours - the highest accident rate of any Century Series aircraft in USAF service. In comparison, the F-102 loss rate was 13.69, and for the F-100 it was 16.25 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Canada, in fact, had a worse F-104 Write Off rate than Germany. 46% of Canadian F-104's were written off in accidents, compared to 30% for Germany. I

Of course, Lockheed's approach to, shall we say, 'creative financial incentives' had a part to play too...

I'd argue that the mission drove a good percentage of those loss rates. The other century series aircraft had either VFR fighter / bomber missions or high altitude interceptor missions. A bit more benign than flying at 150', 500 knots in bad weather.

Lockheed's novel approach to business development probably deserves a book on the subject.

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I'd argue that the mission drove a good percentage of those loss rates. The other century series aircraft had either VFR fighter / bomber missions or high altitude interceptor missions. A bit more benign than flying at 150', 500 knots in bad weather.

The quoted F-104 loss rate is USAF accidents only, not including other countries. I might be wrong, but I don't think USAF F-104 jocks did a lot of low-level, bad weather flying.

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One of the best sounding aircraft ever on takeoff!! Screaming and howling like a banshee. I loved it when they'd come into refuel while transiting from east to west or vice versa. I wasn't the only one who would wander out of the hangar to watch them startup, taxi, and take off.

Happy Friday all!

Don.

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The quoted F-104 loss rate is USAF accidents only, not including other countries. I might be wrong, but I don't think USAF F-104 jocks did a lot of low-level, bad weather flying.

That changes things, thought we were talking NATO users as well. Think you are right, USAF fly a lot of missions like that. Wonder if SEA combat losses are included in that number or just training accidents?

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Well the USAF did not seem to keep the 104 around for very long in front line service if it was such a great aircraft. It's not that I don't like the plane, it is a very attractive design. The other Century fighters were kept around by the USAF well beyond their use of the 104. I'm certainly not the most knowledgeable person on the operational history of the 104 but the USAF lineage ended more or less with the C model. Was the 104 considered surplus to the airforce's needs once the F-4C/D came along? Were the subsequent versions strictly European by design, ie: the G and later versions or were those Lockheed improvements instituted by the European manufacturers?

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The F-104 seemed like such an odd aircraft for the NATO countries to use given the type of warfare that was planned for if there was an invasion from the east... Why did they buy it?

Because the A-10 wasn't available yet.

Deke

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One of the best sounding aircraft ever on takeoff!! Screaming and howling like a banshee. I loved it when they'd come into refuel while transiting from east to west or vice versa. I wasn't the only one who would wander out of the hangar to watch them startup, taxi, and take off.

Happy Friday all!

Don.

These two videos have some good audio of the taxiing and some circuit work. Those were the days...

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Lockheed's novel approach to business development probably deserves a book on the subject.

It wasn't that they bribed, it was that they bribed better than the people who ratted them out, plus they were lets say "Non-Europeans of the American Variety"

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It wasn't that they bribed, it was that they bribed better than the people who ratted them out, plus they were lets say "Non-Europeans of the American Variety"

your a lot closer to the truth than 80% realize. Bribery is a way of doing business in Europe and Asia.

gary

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Mind it was mostry payed by USA via MAPD funds. As a fighter it was a dog and could not dogfight due to very long turning radio but as interceptor it was the faster of them all at the time. As Strike bomber it was also very stable and with four fuel tanks also had a goor radius. I think in the very early '60 it was a very good plane, problem was we had to keep it for too long time!

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your a lot closer to the truth than 80% realize. Bribery is a way of doing business in Europe and Asia.

gary

Maybe in the past in Europe, but there are some pretty hefty anti-bribery laws over here now - I know that some large businesses now force all their staff to complete anti-bribery training courses, regardless of whether they're involved in sales or not. Asia, and especially Africa, are still pretty much Bribery Central.

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A well known joke in Germany was ...Question: "How does one acquire a Starfighter?" Answer: "Buy an acre of land and wait."

Back in 1965 Germany was losing a Starfighter in an accident once every two weeks....interestingly, though, the German F-104 loss rate per 100,000 hours was broadly similar to the EE Lightning in RAF service.

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your a lot closer to the truth than 80% realize. Bribery is a way of doing business in Europe and Asia.

gary

not saying it doesn't happen anymore but bribery is not the norm in Western Europe. 80% would mean that its visible to anyone and everyone from the poorest to the richest would be doing it and sorry i am not seeing that here.

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Maybe in the past in Europe, but there are some pretty hefty anti-bribery laws over here now - I know that some large businesses now force all their staff to complete anti-bribery training courses, regardless of whether they're involved in sales or not. Asia, and especially Africa, are still pretty much Bribery Central.

they were still quite active as late as 2006. I should know as I was offered kick backs on a regular basis. I promptly turned them in, and never did business with them again.

gary

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not saying it doesn't happen anymore but bribery is not the norm in Western Europe. 80% would mean that its visible to anyone and everyone from the poorest to the richest would be doing it and sorry i am not seeing that here.

it's so bad that it's almost expected.

glt

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