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Thread: F-104, the widowmaker.

  1. #1
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    Default F-104, the widowmaker.

    An aircraft that clearly showed the terrible things happening when you privilege the politics over technical virtues.



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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    After the "Starfighter" was introduced with the German Bundeswehr there was this humorous saying quite popular:
    -"How to get your own F-104?"
    -"Buy a piece of land and wait for one to drop on it!"
    "I just ran out of ammo. I will ram this one. Good bye, we'll meet in Valhalla." - Major Heinrich Ehrler, April 4, 1945

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Funny but very accurate.

    The Luftwaffe was the primary user of the Starfighter, operating over thirty-five percent of all F-104s built. Luftwaffe F-104Gs came from all five production lines of the Starfighter consortium. The West German Luftwaffe received a total of 915 Starfighters (30 F-104Fs, 96 F-104Gs, and 136 TF-104Gs from Lockheed, 255 F/RF-104Gs from the North Group, 210 F-104Gs from the South Group, 88 F-104Gs from the West Group, 50 F/RF-104Gs from the Italian Group, plus 50 replacement F-104Gs from MBB to replace some of those lost in crashes).
    At their peak in the mid-1970s, Starfighters equipped five nuclear-armed Luftwaffe fighter-bomber wings, two interceptor wings, and two reconnaissance wings. In addition, two attack wings of the Marineflieger (Federal German Navy) were equipped with Starfighters
    The first German Starfighters were the Lockheed-built two-seat F-104Fs which were initially used in the USA to train German instructors. At that time, the F-104Fs were painted with standard USAF insignia and carried USAF serial numbers. These machines were then handed over to Waffenschule 10, which was based at Norvenich in Germany. After handover, they were repainted in Luftwaffe insignia and assigned German serial numbers. They began converting pilots for JBG31 in July of 1960.
    The first operational unit to be equipped with the F-104G was Jagdbombergeschwader 31 "Boelcke" (JBG31), also based at Norvenich. JBG31 became fully operational in 1963. Other Jagdbombergeschwadern (fighter-bomber wings) to receive the F-104G were JBG32 at Lechfeld, JBG33 at Buchel, JBG34 at Memmingen, and JBG36 at Rheine-Hopsten. Two fighter wings (Jagdgeschwadern) received the F-104G--JG71 at Wittmundhafen and JG74 at Neuburg. Two Aufklarungsgeschwadern (reconnaissance wings) received the F-104G-- AKG51 at Ingoldstadt/Manching and AKG52 at Leck. In addition, two Marininefliegergeschwasedern of the Bundesmarine (West German Navy) received F-104Gs. These were MFG1 at Schleswig and MFG2 at Eggebeck. They operated in the armed reconnaissance and anti-shipping strike roles.
    With new aircraft being delivered almost daily to the new Luftwaffe, a massive pilot training was required in order to get them into service quickly. Northern European weather and operational restrictions placed severe limitations on the amount of training that could be done in Germany. The immediate answer was to set up a Luftwaffe training operation in the southwestern United States, where there was a lot of space, where the air was clear, and where the weather was good most of the time. Many Luftwaffe Starfighters remained in the United States and were stationed at Luke AFB in Arizona for pilot training. They were assigned to the 4512th, 4518th, and 4443rd Combat Crew Training Squadrons of the USAF. Although remaining Luftwaffe property, these aircraft carried USAF insignia and were assigned USAF serial numbers. Final F-104G training for the European environment was done at Waffenschule 10 at Jever.
    In Luftwaffe service, the F-104G got a bad reputation because of the large number of accidents, many of them resulting in fatalities. Intensive flying operations with the Starfighter did not start in Germany until 1961, when only two crashes took place. There were seven crashes in 1962, 12 in 1964, and 28 in 1965, or more than two a month. By mid-1966, 61 German Starfighters had crashed, with a loss of 35 pilots. At the height of the crisis, the Starfighter accident rate peaked at 139 per 100,000 flying hours. As a result, the German press went into a feeding frenzy and the F-104G was given derogatory nicknames such as the "Flying Coffin" or the "Widowmaker", which brings to mind all of the flak that surrounded the Martin B-26 Marauder during World War 2. One running joke at the time was that if you waited long enough, just about every square mile of Germany would have a Starfighter crash onto it. The press left many people with the impression that there was something intrinsically wrong with the F-104G, that it was just too difficult an airplane to fly for the new and relatively inexperienced Luftwaffe pilots. The high loss rate generated a flurry of criticism of the Bonn government, some critics claiming that the entire Starfighter program had been politically-motivated and should be cancelled outright.
    During its period of service with the German armed forces, about 270 German Starfighters were lost in accidents, just under 30 percent of the total force. About 110 pilots were killed. However, the attrition rate in German service was not all that much greater than that of the F-104 in service with several other air forces, including the United States Air Force. Canada had the unenviable record of losing over 50 percent of its 200 single-seat CF-104s in flying accidents. The loss rate of Luftwaffe Starfighters was not all that extraordinary, since the Luftwaffe had suffered a 36 percent attrition rate with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak, the Starfighter's immediate predecessor. There was nothing intrinsically dangerous about the Starfighter, since the Royal Norwegian Air Force operating identical F-104Gs suffered only six losses in 56,000 flying hours, and the Spanish Air Force lost not a single one of its Starfighters to accidents.
    Nevertheless, some of the Luftwaffe crashes could indeed be traced to technical problems with the F-104G itself. Engine problems, including difficulties with the J79's variable afterburner nozzle, and contamination of the Starfighter's liquid oxygen system causing loss of consciousness of the pilot were listed as contributing factors in some of the accidents. There were also problems with the automatic pitch-up limiter during high-speed low-altitude flying and in tight turns, resulting in its temporary removal, with accompanying restrictions on the maneuverability.
    However, the high rate of crashes while in Luftwaffe service could be blamed more on the hazards of flying low-altitude missions at high speeds in the bad weather of Northern Europe than on any intrinsic flaw with the F-104G. Human error was probably the major cause of the majority of the accidents. The Starfighter required 38-45 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air, and many of the Luftwaffe ground crew personnel were conscripts who were probably too hastily trained. In addition, German Starfighter pilots were only flying 13-15 hours a month, compared with the NATO average of about 20 hours. Another factor may have been the fact that the initial training of Luftwaffe aircrews took place in the USA rather than in Germany. The reason given for training Luftwaffe pilots in the USA rather than in Germany was that the clear air and good flying weather in the American Southwest was much more conducive to pilot training than was the often lousy weather of Northern Europe. However, one might fairly point out that were war to break out, the actual fighting would be done in the nasty weather of Europe rather than in the clear desert air of the American West. The sudden transition from the clear desert skies of Arizona to the winter skies of northern Europe may have been another factor in the rash of crashes.
    At the height of the Starfighter political crisis in mid-1966, the Luftwaffe chief, General Wernher Panitzki, was forced to resign after he had criticized the FRG's Starfighter procurement program as being politically-motivated. His successor was the World War 2 ace Lieutenant General Johannes Steinhoff, who had flown Me 262 jets during the war. Steinhoff had not initially been a Starfighter booster, and he had complained about the Bonn Defence Ministry's failure to implement the recommendations of his 1964 report on F-104G survival measures. One of Steinhoff's first moves was to review the F-104G's ejection system to enhance the probability of a successful escape by a pilot at low level. The Lockheed C-2 ejection seat initially fitted to the F-104G had been fitted with a more powerful Talley Corp 10100 rocket booster by November 1966 to give it true zero-zero capability. However, it was found that the Talley rockets had a destabilizing effect after ejection, and had to be removed. After the German Starfighter had to be grounded once again for fixes to the C-2 seats in December of 1966, it was decided to switch over to Martin-Baker Mk GQ7A zero-zero ejection seats. A contract was signed on March 8, 1967 to re-equip the entire German F-104G force with the Martin-Baker seats. This took about a year to get done. The first successful use of a GQ7 seat to escape from a German F-104G took place during a ground-level overshoot at Ramstein on September 24, 1968.
    Another part of the program to reduce the Starfighter accident rate was the revision of the training techniques and procedures. It soon began to pay off. The Starfighter accident rate dropped by about half in 1968. However, this was only temporary, and between 15 and 20 Starfighters crashed very year between 1968 and 1972. Crashes continued at a rate of 9 to 11 aircraft per year until the early 1980s, when all German F-104Gs began to be replaced by Tornados.
    Starfighter with Luftwaffe


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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Another prominent victim of the "Starfighter Scandal" was former WW2 fighter ace Erich Hartmann. He resigned as a colonel after falling from grace due to his harsh critics concerning the F-104.

    Here with USAF General Robert Lee (no, not that one), you can actually read Hartmann's thoughts...
    DJEH_256,1F.jpg
    "I just ran out of ammo. I will ram this one. Good bye, we'll meet in Valhalla." - Major Heinrich Ehrler, April 4, 1945

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Another prominent victim of the "Starfighter Scandal" was former WW2 fighter ace Erich Hartmann. He resigned as a colonel after falling from grace due to his harsh critics concerning the F-104.

    Here with USAF General Robert Lee (no, not that one), you can actually read Hartmann's thoughts...
    Nice picture

    Hartmann was a patriot, he saw the piece of schaiße the Starfighter was and did not try to hide things from the public.

    The attitude of Steinhoff towards the Starfighter still is not very clear to me, I think he probably would like to had another jet fighter, the Mirage III was offered to the Luftwaffe in 1959 but rejected.

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Quote Originally Posted by Panzerknacker View Post
    The attitude of Steinhoff towards the Starfighter still is not very clear to me, I think he probably would like to had another jet fighter, the Mirage III was offered to the Luftwaffe in 1959 but rejected.
    I certainly got to check on Mäcky Steinhoff's attitude on that topic...

    The F-104's appearance however could at least be called "vanguard" regarding the era...
    First two photos of Jagd-Geschwader 74 "Mölders", June 1965:
    B 145 Bild-F027401-0009.jpg
    B 145 Bild-F027410-0011.jpg
    B 145 Bild-F027437-0009.jpg
    "I just ran out of ammo. I will ram this one. Good bye, we'll meet in Valhalla." - Major Heinrich Ehrler, April 4, 1945

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Certainly...the F-104G packed a lot of electronics in a samll size aircraft. howevr that avionics remained unrealible in the eraly years mostly because the severe german winter wich affected parked aircraft. And beside the F-104 born as a simple good wheater day interceptor, the conversion to a multirole aircraft wasnt happy.

    It should born and die quickly, that would saved a lot of german lives as well other nationalities lives.

    Some detail of the F-104G.




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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Another interesting one showing the "alternation of the generations" back then. The new F-104 and Hartmann's good, old Sabre. Doesn't the Sabre's nose art look familiar???

    img994.jpg
    "I just ran out of ammo. I will ram this one. Good bye, we'll meet in Valhalla." - Major Heinrich Ehrler, April 4, 1945

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    Actually, the Starfighter was a great aircraft, I wonder how many interceptors were lost in accidents? The Italians certainly used them and Im not too sure how many pilots were lost.

    Possibly a case of an aircraft designed as an interceptor being used at low level by the Germans for ground attack, something that it shouldnt probably been used for.

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    As I understand it, firefly is correct, and it was the re-roleing that led to a dangerous combination of a Mach 2 more-or-less straight-line interceptor and hills.

    Imagine the Germans trying to put the Me 109 into a divebombing role, and wondering why they had a much higher accident rate than the Ju 87...
    1884 electric cartridge. Look similar to anything?

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    I dont know what suppose to mean "great" applied to the Starfighter, yes it was fast and had a terrific rate of climb...but in other hand it had poor range, poor combat payload and almost no doghfight capabilities.

    Imagine the Germans trying to put the Me 109 into a divebombing role, and wondering why they had a much higher accident rate than the Ju 87...
    Evidently in the germans lay the blame for the high atrition rate of the F-104G in Luftwaffe, the problem with the Starfighter is that it had a high atrition rate in others Air Forces and before and after being adopted by the germans.
    Last edited by Panzerknacker; 04-09-2009 at 06:36 PM.

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    I'm not sure the F-104 was truly brought to fruition as it was one of a number of aircraft that were largely rejected by the USAF in the 1950s and 60s --even though they may have seen some limited service. Another was the venerable F-5, as aircraft that were too simple, cheap, and maneuverable were seen as essentially useless and contrary to the doctrine of tactical aircraft as either Cold War nuclear bomb trucks, or missile-carrier interceptors. Anything that could actually dogfight was marginalized and left to languish by an air force that should have known better at the air war over Korea indicated that indeed dogfighting and air superiority were still issues...

    It wasn't until Vietnam that these lessons were largely learned, of re-learned as it were...

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    An interesting video of 1966 showing a german parliament member flying the F-104:



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6ZzRHdch7Q

    For those who dont speak german some translation of the dialogue between the anchor and the Paliament member:

    P- "Has been a great working society" ( in relation wich the european society of construction of the F-104)

    P "- I must say that I had no fear at all , nor for one minute"

    I -"Do you have the impression that the Starfighter pilots are excessive workloaded? "

    P- "The pilot of such a machine is, I would say, it does not make excessive demands of but only particular with takeoff and landing nevertheless so far tensely that one can say, they are demanded by in that seconds."

    I- " Would you endorse the purchase of Starfighters after your current experiences and with your current knowledge again? "

    P -" I am convinced that the acquisition of the Starfighter was absolutely correct (Pk- yea, sure) and we could no made better decision even today.
    We should to put all the effort in improve the Starfighters to the highest stardars.

    I- " Do you think that or you think we going to continue having accidents of Starfighter in this manner in the future?

    P- " The measures are partially already met or almost complete. I hope that that they will contribute to the fact we will no longer have so much Starfighter accidents.


    This video showed 2 things, ugly and corrupt politicians you can found them everywhere.
    Last edited by Panzerknacker; 04-09-2009 at 06:37 PM.

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    A great scene from a great film, "The Right Stuff."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I5zY-4ZtkY

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    Default Re: F-104, the widowmaker.

    I think the science-research role of F-104 was much more importaint that its' military employments. In fact it was basic aircraft for training of space pilots and testing the Shuttle equipment .

    NF-104 with rocket engine dives at stratosphere.

    "I decide who is a Jew and who is an Aryan "- Hermann Goering

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