NASA N819NA is a Lockheed F-104B Starfighter, a two-seat version of one of the hottest fighter aircraft ever designed. Born right after the Korean War ended, this Mach 2+ member of the 'Century Series' was called the 'Missile with a man in it' by Lockheed publicists. Known as the 'Zipper' by pilots (or simply 'the 104') and characterised by impossibly small wings (each one only 7.5 feet long), it was one of a number of advanced and controversial designs that would showcase the versatile genius of Lockheed's chief aeronautical designer, Clarence 'Kelly' Johnson.
‘Howling Howland’: The Story of a NASA F-104B Starfighter
To anyone familiar with the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, it would likely seem that Starfighters had always played a large role at that storied aerospace facility history. Indeed, Lockheed F-104s were routinely carrying a lion’s share of the important flight test support work almost from the arrival of the NACA’s (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, NASA’s precursor organization) very first F-104 Starfighter in 1956.
NACA’s first operational flight of a YF-104A (SN 55-2961, the #7 aircraft produced, and later designated NASA N818NA) took place on 27 August 1956 and lasted 30 minutes, with Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker at the controls. From that date to the date of the last F-104 Starfighter flight conducted by NASA on 3 February 1994, Lockheed Aircraft Company’s radically advanced Mach-2+ ‘manned missile’ would fly nearly 38 years of important aeronautical research and support missions at this historic desert flight test facility.
The following history is that of those 11 NACA / NASA Starfighters, and in particular a two-seat F-104B NASA example that was originally produced as a training version of the Starfighter, before it was given to the Aerospace Museum of California by the US Air Force Museum, as part of the AMC's permanent aircraft collection.
NASA N819NA (known to us as ‘Howling Howland’, for reasons that shall be explained) is a Lockheed F-104B ‘Starfighter’, formerly flown for two decades at the Edwards Air Force Flight Test Center’s Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave desert. Although N819NA began life intended for the US Air Force as tail number 57-1303, shortly after it was turned off the Lockheed production line in 1957 it was assigned to the nation’s civilian flight research organisation, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, whose job it was to explore and document the rapid advances made in aeronautical technological science following the end of the Second World War.
N819NA’s story actually begins nearly 42 years before it was built, with the establishment of NASA’s predecessor, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), in March of 1915. NACA’s mission at its inception was to “…supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their solution”, for it was quickly recognized when the first primitive aircraft took to the air that these new ‘flying machines’ would present complex challenges to our then rudimentary understanding of the principles of ‘manned heavier-than-air, powered flight’. As aircraft design and engineering knowledge progressed at a very rapid rate, the responsibility for documenting understanding of the many ‘unknowns’ in aeronautical science fell upon the NACA’s team of scientists and its research facilities.
In 1944, prompted by concerns over secret German wartime aviation researches, Congress approved funds for an experimental research aircraft program to be administered and conducted jointly by NACA, the US Air Force, the US Navy, and private aviation industry. When all of the advancements of Germany’s vast wartime aeronautics research programs suddenly became available to the United States at the conclusion of WWII (much of which came to us through what has become known as ‘Operation Paperclip’), many of Germany's radical new theories on aerodynamic flight found their way into a whole new series of American research aircraft (many of which came to be known as ‘The Century Series’ jets). It was not long thereafter that the first fully documented Mach 1 flight was made by the Bell Aircraft XS-1 (14 Oct 47), and a succession of advanced test aircraft followed that included the Bell X-1A & B, the Bell X-2, the Douglas X-3, the Northrop X-4, the Bell X-5 and many others. The ultimate expression of this near-logarithmic leap forward in aerodynamic research culminated in the famed North American X-15 rocket research aircraft that took flight testing into the fringes of space at speeds of up to Mach 6+, from 1958 through 1969.
Meanwhile, in the late 50s and coincident with the establishment of an ‘International Geophysical Year’ (IGY) in 1957, efforts were made to establish an entirely new agency on NACA’s foundation, to be known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). With a simple preamble ("An Act to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes."), the Congress and the President of the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. NASA's birth was directly related to the pressures of national defense in this period, since immediately after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became engaged in what has become known as ‘The Cold War’, a worldwide contest between opposing ideologies and a monumental struggle to win the allegiances of ‘nonaligned’ nations. During this period, space exploration emerged as a major arena of this contest and shortly became known to history as ‘the space race’. When NASA first came into being in 1958 it quickly absorbed the earlier NACA mission and from 1958 onwards NASA’s presence at the Edwards Air Force Flight Test Facility (near Mojave, California) became established at the Dryden Flight Research Center (formerly known as the NACA ‘High Speed Flight Station’).
An important part of NASA’s flight test operations was to support the flight testing being done on all the new aircraft designs being produced; in that capacity, certain types of high speed aircraft (usually of the jet fighter type) were employed by that agency both as flight test “chase aircraft” (aircraft that would closely follow a research aircraft during its flight to document the mission, observe the test flight, and provide direct support to the test aircraft’s pilot) and as actual component elements of various programs and projects dealing with advanced high altitude aerospace research. The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, promoted by Lockheed publicists as ‘The Missile with the Man in it’ (although no pilot ever called it by that highly imaginative name), was soon selected as the key player in a team that would eventually employ eleven of the type in its research programs.
In October of 1957, a second Starfighter was added to the NASA fleet (F-104A SN 556-0734) on loan from the US Air Force, and a third F-104 (F-104A SN 56-0749) was added in April of 1959. Later the same year, a two-seat F-104B Starfighter (“Howling Howland”, USAF SN 57-1303) already stationed at the NACA Ames Research Center at Moffitt Field in the San Francisco Bay Area was sent to the Edwards facility (NASA had decided to establish all of its high-speed research operations at the new Edwards desert facility) as the fourth member of NASA’s Edwards F-104 Starfighter research team.
The first four NACA / NASA F-104 Starfighters (including ‘Howland’) had been acquired from the US Air Force under terms that designated them as research loan airframes. In 1963 three Lockheed F-104G model type single seat Starfighters were personalized to NASA’s specific requirement and delivered to the Dryden facility, having been purchased directly by NASA; these three aircraft were designated F-104N models (N811NA, N812NA, and N813NA) and had no US Air Force numbered designations. They conformed to the G specification then being built on the Lockheed production lines, having all the features of that model, but lacked standard military features like weapons, a fire control and targeting system, and also had their internal compartments configured to suit NASA flight test mission requirements. Although these three aircraft were more often used as proficiency trainers and ‘safety-chase’, they also figured significantly in many of the advanced research projects.
In December of 1966, still another Starfighter (SN 56-0790, an F-104A model) was acquired by NASA on loan from the Air Force, due to the loss of N813NA (piloted by Joe Walker) in the much publicized accident involving the North American XB-70A Valkyrie on 8 June 1966. The addition of an F-104G model Starfighter (NASA N820NA, a G type produced for West Germany’s Air Force) in July of 1975 brought the NASA Dryden Starfighter fleet to a total of eight, but this was shortly reduced to seven again, when N818NA (the pioneering YF-104A and NASA’s very first Starfighter, USAF SN 55-2961) was retired to a place of honor at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. [In 1977, single seat N820NA was retired from service and was eventually consigned to the US Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio.]
Somewhat later, NASA acquired three F/TF-104G Starfighters that had been used in training German Air Force pilots. Two of these were tandem-seat TF-104Gs and one was a single-seat F-104G; they were given NASA designations N824NA (USAF SN 61-3065), N825NA (USAF SN 61-3628), and N826NA (German SN KG200), respectively. The last Starfighter, a single-seat RF-104G model, was originally built by the Fokker Aircraft Company for the Luftwaffe and had been used for Luftwaffe pilot training at Luke AFB in Arizona. After having been demilitarized, they were used then used by NASA for various flight test purposes. Since 57-1303’s (“Howling Howland”) retirement in 1978, the lack of a two-seat high-speed research support Starfighter had been keenly felt, so the addition of the two new tandem TF-104G models to the NASA Dryden fleet was very beneficial.
‘Howling Howland’, a rare F-104B bird
One of only 26 two-seat B model Starfighters ever made by Lockheed, during the 1957-58 time frame, with the addition of this two-seat Mach 2 aircraft another important dimension was added to the Center's research capability. The two-seat B model Starfighter’s mission consisted initially of carrying instrumented individuals and/or life support experiments in the aft cockpit (with a safety pilot flying the aircraft from the front cockpit), however, that role was soon greatly expanded. As a result of this expanded concept, the conduct of numerous bio-medical experiments was enabled, many of which were directly applicable to the space program and which would prove to be of critical use to the aerospace medical community. These were conducted under the direction of the Center’s Dr. William Winter.
Among these important biomedical programs was the development of biomedical physiological recording instrumentation that would enable the crew of an aircraft or spacecraft to be actively monitored for vital signs. Miniature pulse-oximetry was one important development in this area, as were miniaturised physiological recorders and monitoring systems, and pulse-wave velocity study instruments (enabling determination of pilot work-load factors). Many of the results of these tests would additionally result in highly valuable commercial sector applications for the civilian heath care and medical fields.
A further important result of studies carried out in 57-1303 was the development of real-time electrocardiogram capability, now used as a critical emergency medical diagnostic aid by most paramedics across the nation and in many regional hospitals and clinics. Among the numerous additional correlated benefits of these studies was the development of a ‘spray-on’ electrocardiographic electrode and the associated equipment needed to quickly attach monitoring devices and capture usable, artifact-free signals from actively working and diaphoresing (sweating) subjects.
Still further biomedical systems enabled by aft cockpit research done in 57-1303 included a miniaturised mass-spectrometer used for measurement of exhaled gas concentrations, and a liquid cooled flight ensemble that would have future applications in the design of space suits for orbital use. Various key crew components of the Apollo spacecraft’s crew member life support systems (the Apollo spacesuits) were also flight tested as part of their proof-of-concept evaluation in the aft cockpit of this two-seat B model Starfighter and on a number of occasions, NASA astronauts would fly in the aft cockpit to test those systems under high atmosphere altitude conditions.
A further important area of special research carried out in NASA N819NA (57-1303) involved precursor studies for the development of the Ground Command Guidance System (GCG), which was a forerunner of the Remotely Augmented Vehicle System (RAVS) now in use at the Dryden Center. This program finds many resulting applications today in modern ‘remotely piloted vehicle’ operations using unmanned reconnaissance and attack aircraft (such as the Predator).
One important program enabled by the GCG system in NASA N819NA was known as the Focused Boom Experiment (known to Dryden personnel as the ‘Big Boom’ project). The experiment required that a very specific flight profile (loaded in a ground-based computer) and certain precise aerodynamic parameters be flown, so that energy from the ‘sonic boom’ generated by the aircraft would be focused on a specific target below. The flight portion of the program took place above the Ely, Nevada, radar tracking site and the aircraft was temporarily deployed to Michael Army Airfield at Dugway, Nevada, for the duration of that particular test program. During this program a flight test milestone was achieved when a total of six test flights was achieved in 57-1303 in a regular work-day (with first flight take-off at 0845 and final flight landing at 1600 hours). NASA pilots Tom McMurty and Hugh Jackson were the key personnel assigned to this project, with Flight Engineer Vic Horton liaising with the Center’s research partner China Lake NOTS facility throughout. The aircraft’s crew chief at this time was Don Guilinger.
Some early studies 57-1303 participated in involved zero-G experiments using a small tank designed to supply fuel continuously under null-gravity conditions. Another important project involving 57-1303 was a study of indirect viewing systems, anticipating the need for such ‘fly by monitor’ capabilities in future earth-reentry vehicles. This project incorporated a binocular-periscopic apparatus installed in the aft cockpit to substitute for direct ‘out-the-canopy’ viewing that a pilot would normally use for visual reference to the ground. At hypersonic speeds (those reached by an earth orbital vehicle, for instance), the windscreen of an aircraft can exceed 2000 degrees F. and needs heavy and specialized glass to withstand the enormous dynamics of thermal heating effects. The thought was that if the aircraft’s windscreen could be done away with and an indirect viewing system utilized as a replacement, then a large savings in weight and structural complexity could be realized. With the binocular periscopic viewing system flight tested on 57-1303, it was found that the field of view was an excellent 180 degrees laterally and about 60 degrees vertically. Aside from some minor concerns with parallax and depth perception, and some difficulty with the need for a pilot to keep his face pressed against eyepieces during elevated G maneuvers, the system was quite successful and flight test pilots in the aft cockpit used the apparatus to make simulated X-15 unpowered (glide) descents and landings. This research later greatly aided development of the STS Space Shuttle’s flight control and guidance systems.
Two other areas in which this aircraft made important contributions were the development of the low lift/drag approach and landing patterns used by the X-15 and lifting bodies, as well as the testing of a ballute system. NASA N819NA was a major player in the early work done on simulated Shuttle landing approaches , including night flights, to develop and standardize the low-lift/hi-drag approach and landing technique used so successfully in a number of advanced programs flown at Dryden.
The principal ballute (a ‘ballute’ is a cross between a balloon and a parachute, thus ‘ballute’ used to slow an atmosphere-reentering vehicle) experiment involved obtaining data to evaluate a towed high-speed decelerator through a Mach number range from 0.7 to approximately 2.0 (7/10ths to twice the speed of sound), as a system that could be used to increase the drag of an asymmetrical vehicle on entry to Earth’s atmosphere. The ballute itself was a semi-spherical shaped device, 4 feet in diameter, similar to a small balloon that self-inflated with the air picked up by the small air scoops located around its circumference when deployed. It was installed in the drag-chute compartment of 57-1303 and deployed in a manner similar to that of a conventional drag chute. Up until these tests, the state-of-the-art research on ballutes was limited to wind-tunnel studies and rocket flight tests of ballutes behind symmetrical bodies. The two-seat F-104B Starfighter (57-1303) presented a flying test platform through which study of the ballute concept could be expanded. Investigated intensely as a means of decelerating the atmospheric descent of space vehicles (such as orbital capsules and lifting body type spacecraft), the ballute system was eventually ruled out for use on atmosphere re-entering American spacecraft, but much of the applied theoretical investigation into its suitability was carried out by 57-1303 as the principal ballute ‘proof of concept’ test aircraft. [Of interest is the fact that the Gemini space craft was fitted with two ejection seats, each configured with a ballute decellerator device to help slow the seat down as it plunged through the upper atmosphere. Although these seats were never used in an emergency, the ballutes they were fitted with would have proved an important asset in a safe astronaut recovery.]
One last area of research that 57-1303 participated in was the lifting body flight research program that took place initially in the late 60s. As data was gathered for the development of space reentry vehicles such as the X-20 DynaSoar Project and the later TS Space Shuttle orbiter vehicle, it became quite clear that ground based flight simulators were not fully adequate to prepare pilots for operation of aerodynamic ‘lifting body vehicles (essentially aerodynamically shaped gliders), nor were the actual flights themselves, which were very brief. Future moon lander Neil Armstrong was at Dryden at the time, conducting a series of tests to simulate the very steep glide parameters of a returning space vehicle using an aircraft. The F-104 was found to be the perfect aircraft for this purpose, since with its already substantial high rate of descent, with its gear down and control surfaces suitably configured, a very high lift-to-drag aspect could be contrived that quite adequately simulated the distinctive lifting body glide parameters.
A particularly interesting highlight in the operational career of “Howling Howland” occurred on April 11th 1975, when a day with no scheduled flight tests was selected for a pure ‘photo opportunity’ flight by a formation of the Center’s Starfighters. This formation flight of all the NASA Starfighters was documented extensively by NASA and there are a number of excellent photographs of the Center’s Starfighters in formation fly-bys over Dryden on that date. A photo-chase T-38 was on hand to carry the photographer and the ‘photo-op’ mission lasted just over an hour. Participants in that notable flight included Bill Dana in N818NA, Tom McMurtry in N812NA, Einar Enevoldson in N818NA, Gary Krier in N820NA, and Don Mallick and photographer Bob Rhine in the photo-chase T-38. Leading this 5 Starfighter formation was ‘Howling Howland’ (N819NA), our F-104B model two seater, being flown by Fitz Fulton in the forward cockpit and Flight Test Engineer Ray Young in the aft position. Our bird (57-1303 / N819NA) was distinctive not just as the formation leader, but also due to the fact that it was the only one of the five NASA Starfighters wearing its wing-tip fuel tanks during those memorable photo shoots!
During its more than 18 years of NASA flight test work, 57-1303 (NASA N819NA) flew 1,731 research flights and was flown by at least 19 different pilots (sixteen from Dryden, two from Ames, and one from the US Air Force). These individuals included Apollo astronauts (Schweikert, Armstrong etc.), X-15 pilots (Bill Dana, Joe Walker), Chuck Yeager, and lifting body as well as XB-70 and YF-12 pilots.
Eventually, after 19 years of extensive use, 57-1303 (NASA N819NA) was retired from active service in April of 1978 (last NASA flight: April 21, 1978) and flown to the US Air Force’s AMARC (Aircraft Maintenance and Recovery Center) facility in Tucson, Arizona. Although most of the 26 surviving B model Starfighters retired to AMARC were transferred to the Jordanian and Taiwanese air forces (such was the fate of 57-1304, N819NA’s sister ship) in the late 70s and early 80s, 57-1303 somehow escaped this fate and was put in the hands of the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio, which then allocated it to the Aerospace Museum of California’s aircraft collection.
Flown to McClellan AFB in the hold of a cargo aircraft in 1983, after having its General Electric J79-GE-3B engine removed and subsequent to having undergone required ‘de-mil’ procedures, ‘Howling Howland’ was put on display as the star of the museum’s ‘Century Series’ fighter row. In 1991, the aircraft received a new paint job provided by the McClellan Sacramento ALC, although it is a generic Starfighter paint scheme that is not representative of the aircraft’s appearance either in its original ‘bare metal’ configuration (when first used by Dryden) or of the final three-color white, dark blue, and sky-blue NASA paint scheme it was retired in. For a full-color illustration of the three correct paint schemes worn by this aircraft throughout its 19 years of NASA service, please refer to an excellent painting done by NASA Dryden artist and photographer Tony Landis, elsewhere in this folder. The museum eventually plans to have 57-1303 repainted in the correct three-color NASA livery it wore on its final flight at Dryden FRC, but due to the considerable expense involved (estimated at about $15,000.00), this plan has not yet been carried out.
Lockheed F-104B Starfighter SN 57-1303 / NASA N819NA is today maintained in generally excellent static condition and is regularly looked after by its present museum crew of three. The cockpit is authentically restored to the functional appearance it had upon retirement, complete with the upwards-firing Lockheed-Stanley C-2 ejection seats (replacing the original C-1 downward-firing model that proved very dangerous in actual flight operations) that were used in it, 140000-44 model seat-survival kits, and all key control instrumentation intact.
On special museum ‘open-cockpit days’ (typically, the first Saturday of each month), the canopies of Starfighter 57-1303 are opened and museum visitors are allowed to view the cockpit area of the aircraft. Visitors are not normally allowed actual entry into the cockpit (that is, sitting in the cockpit is not permitted), however, due to cramped space and safety considerations.
The major structural differences between the single seat ‘A’ model Starfighter and the two-seat ‘B’ model consisted of elimination of the 20 mm Vulcan cannon so that a second seat could be added, reduction of internal fuselage fuel capacity for the same reason, the installation of an extended canopy glazing over both seats, an increase in the size of the vertical stabilizer by about 21% (identical to that used on the later F-104G model) with power boost system, and replacement of the forward retracting nose gear by a rearward retracting system. All F-104B Starfighters were initially produced with a simplified extended canopy glazing and were fitted with two downward firing Lockheed C-1 ejection seats (the original C-1 seat ejected downwards out of the aircraft’s belly—a technique later found to be inherently hazardous at low altitudes). When these seats were replaced by the safer upwards firing rocket-catapulted C-2 seats in 1961, a newer, somewhat reconfigured extended canopy glazing was installed that allowed the canopies of fore and aft seats to be explosively blown off, each separately, for emergency egress upwards. [For information on the Starfighter egress history, see additional material presented at the end of this paper.]
Performance specifications of the two-seat F-104B are as follows:
Wing span: 21 feet, nine inches
Length: 54 feet, 8 inches
Height: 13 feet, 5 inches
Wing area: 196.1 square feet (resulting in VERY high wing loading of about 90 pounds per ft. sq—the highest of any aircraft ever built!)
Empty weight: 13,327 pounds
Maximum weight: 14,912 pounds
Combat weight: 17,812 pounds
Maximum speed at altitude: At least 1,145 mph at 65,000 feet
Cruise speed: 516 mph
Maximum rate of climb: 50,000+ feet per minute!
Service ceiling: 64,795 feet
Normal range (with internal fuel only): 460 miles (internal fuel capacity 897 US gallons, or 2,847 lbs)
Maximum range: 1,225 miles (fitted with external twin wingtip drop tanks)
Engine: General Electric J79-GE-3A or 3B axial flow turbojet with afterburner
Rated power (without afterburner): 9,600 pounds static thrust.
Some odd 57-1303 anecdotal history
One curious thing that came to light in researching the past of this aircraft is the following: At least a few of the Dryden and/or Lockheed personnel apparently knew this aircraft during its service life as “Howling Howland”. The strange name might be somewhat puzzling, as it indeed was to us when this fact was first uncovered. A possible and in fact very likely partial explanation of the name may be found in the fact that the General Electric J79-GE-3A/B turbojet (with afterburner) that is fitted to the F-104B Starfighter produces a very unusual sound that is unique to these aircraft (F-104s) alone.
This sound, variously described as ‘howling’, ‘shrieking’, ‘high-pitched moaning’, or even as a ‘wounded banshee scream’, resulted from the passage of fuel from the primary and secondary fuel jets in the exhaust section of engine as the airflow is disturbed by the engine bypass flaps during various throttle positions. Somewhat the same principle is responsible for the sound that is produced by pursing the lips and blowing over the top of a glass bottle neck (Venturi effect). Whatever the cause, the ‘howling’ sound was a most unique characteristic of the F-104 aircraft and could be produced at will by the pilot either in the air or on the ground by certain settings of the throttle.
A further curious fact is that the name 'Howland' was the name of a certain owlish character in 1950s era cartoonist Walt Kelly’s cartoon strip POGO. 'Howland Owl' was depicted as a somewhat pretentious, bookish, effete character who was always a bit uncertain about his acquired learning and feigned sophistry in the POGO strip. However, the name 'Howland' was also the last name, interestingly enough, of a very distinguished Lockheed Aircraft Company Flight Test Engineer whose full name was Dr. W. L. Howland. Over the course of Dr. Howland’s 25 years of work with Lockheed, his participation in the 5 year F-104 Starfighter Phase One flight testing is most notable as having had critical importance in the developmental research done on the Starfighter. A large body of Dr. Howland’s personal records and flight test documentation was recently disclosed to the public in which his key role in ‘making the Starfighter fly properly’ was clearly documented, thus adding to the mystery behind the name ‘Howling Howland’.
Returning to the cartoon character, ‘Howland Owl’ was coincidentally featured on the first (unofficial) emblem of the newly founded US Air Force Test Pilot School, when it moved from back east to its new Muroc Army Air Base location (Edwards) in the mid 40s. On that emblem, 'Howland' is shown disconcertedly riding what was at that time a new P-80 Shooting Star as it plunged downwards in an uncontrolled dive (see illustration adjacent). This use of the Howland Owl character in association with the Edwards Test Pilot School, together with the Starfighter engine’s known tendency to ‘howl’, and the importance of Dr. W. L. Howland in the Lockheed F-104 flight test program presents strong circumstantial evidence for the origin of the name apparently associated with NASA F-104B, N819NA/ 57-1303 (i.e. 'Howling Howland').
Whether this speculation is correct or not remains as yet to be determined, since no conclusive corroboration of this information has yet been uncovered. It does remain a most intriguing possibility, however, and if the story is true , it is also a most amusing ‘personalisation’ and further fascinating bit of history attached to this uniquely important aircraft in NASA’s Dryden stable of Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, and to its status as the only two-seat ‘B’ model Starfighter ever to be used at Dryden (as has been previously noted, NASA later acquired several ex-Luftwaffe TF-104G two-seat trainers for use at Dryden, after ‘Howland’ was retired, and it is easy to misidentify an F-104B model for an TF-104G, if tail numbers are not distinctly viewable).
By 1997, all the NASA fleet of F-104 Starfighters had been retired. Most are today preserved in air museums. One is located at the Edwards museum, one on a pylon in front of the Edwards Test Pilot School, another at the Estrella Air Museum in Paso Robles, two at the National Air and Space Museum, and still another at the Grass Valley, CA, airport.
There is little question about the fact that the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, contrary to all the bad publicity it unfairly received as a ‘pilot killer’, was perhaps one of the most useful and valuable research aircraft ever used by NASA. The Aerospace Museum of California is especially proud to have a rare and storied ‘B’ model former NASA Starfighter in the museum's aircraft collection!
[Note: The Aerospace Museum of California may be visited in Sacramento, California, on the site of the former McClellan AFB; the AMC website may be dialed up at http://www.aerospacemuseumofcalifornia.org/