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Our project's goal - break the existing record of 763 mph (1,228 km/h) by reaching 800 mph (1,287 km/h)!

We invite you to...
JOIN US IN OUR QUEST!

NAE™ Project: History of the NAE™ F-104A, Tail #56-0763

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The history of the North American Eagle™ is unlike any other in the history of 763image1automobile racing.  It is a part of American history, and in particular, aviation history. This project is using the fuselage of a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter as our test platform.  This particular F-104A, tail number 56-0763, serial #1051, was used at Edwards AFB from 1958 to 1964 in the J-79 testing program.  The airframe was built in 1957 at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California. From 1964 to 1968 it was used as a chase plane for the rocket powered X-15 project, the maiden flight of airframe #1 SR-71, and later, for the XB-70.

Jerry A. Sterk was one of the crew who worked on 56-0763 while at Edwards AFB. Here's a picture of Jerry (upper right) with other crew members assigned to it in the early '60s.

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Top L to R: Jack Oslund, unknown, Bob Smith, Charlie Jackals, Dale McGeehe,
unknown, Jerry Sterk.
Bottom L to R: Craig Markley, Russ Larson, Ned Colman, Hollis Spears, Ray Barth, Troy Taylor, Ray Billings.

a
b

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The following text, explaining the history behind the NF-104 program as part of NASA's early space program, is from Jirka Wagner's site:

NF-104A aerospace trainer
In 1963, three ex-USAF F-104As (56-0756, -0760, and -0762) were taken out of storage at Davis Monthan AFB and modified as NF-104A aerospace training aircraft. All of the military equipment was removed and the original F-104A vertical fin was replaced by the larger fin that was used on the F-104G. The wingspan was increased by four feet (to 25.94 feet) and a set of hydrogen peroxide control thrusters were mounted at the nose, tail, and wingtips. A 6000 pound thrust Rocketdyne LR121/AR-2-NA-1 auxiliary rocket engine was mounted on the tail above the jet exhaust pipe. This rocket engine could be throttled from 3000 to 6000 pounds of thrust, and the burn time was about 105 seconds.

The first NF-104A was delivered on October 1, 1963, with the other two following a month later. They were operated by the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, which was commanded at that time by Colonel Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager. To read an interesting article about the
Flight Test School at Edwards AFB, click here.

On December 6, 1963, the first NF-104A set an unofficial world altitude record of 118,860 feet for aircraft taking off under their own power. The official record at that time was 113,829 feet, set by the Mikoyan/Gurevich Ye-66A, an experimental version of the MiG-21 Fishbed. Later, the same NF-104A flown by Major R. W. Smith reached an altitude of 120,800 feet.

On December 10, 1963, the second NF-104A (56-762), with Chuck Yeager at the controls, went out of control at an altitude of 104,000 feet and fell in a flat spin to 11,000 feet. Yeager managed to eject successfully at that altitude, although he was badly burned on his face by the rocket motor of his ejector seat. The aircraft was destroyed in the ensuing crash. An investigation later showed that the cause of the crash was a spin that resulted from excessive angle of attack and lack of aircraft response. The excessive angle of attack was not caused by pilot input but by a gyroscopic condition set up by the J-79 engine spooling after shut down for the rocket-powered zoom climb phase. So it wasn't Chuck's fault. To view a video clip from the end of the movie, The Right Stuff, click here. Keep in mind while viewing it, though, that there are several discrepancies in this segment; the lack of tower clearance, no auxilliary rocket mounted on the tail, and an upward ejection.

In June of 1971, the third NF-104A, with Capt. Howard C. Thompson at the controls, suffered an inflight explosion of its rocket motor. Although Thompson was able to land safely, the aircraft's rocket motor and half its rudder were blown away. Since the program was about to end in any case, this aircraft was retired.

The number one NF-104A is currently on display on top of a pylon in front of the USAF Test Pilot School.

Some of 56-0763's pilots who flew this aircraft read like a "Who's Who" of aviation flight history. Listed below is a partial list of some of the pilots who flew her.

DATE

PILOT

CHASE

SEVERAL
Scott Crossfield
DEAD STICK

30-Jun-64

Joseph W. Rogers

CHASE 4

13-Jan-65

Bill Dana

CHASE 2

28-Apr-65

Joseph H. Engle

CHASE 3

10-Aug-65

Joseph F. Stroface

CHASE 4

25-Aug-65

Robert K. Parsons

CHASE 4

26-Aug-65

Robert K. Parsons

CHASE 4

27-Oct-65

Joseph H. Engle

CHASE 4

3-Aug-66

Donald K. Sorlie

CHASE 4

12-Aug-66

Michael J. Adams

CHASE 4

14-Sep-66

Joseph F. Stroface

CHASE 4

6-Oct-66

Bradley W. Spahr

CHASE 4

29-Nov-66

Jerauld Gentry

CHASE 3

22-Mar-67

Mervin L. Evenson

CHASE 3

28-Apr-67

Fred J. Cuthill

CHASE 4

8-May-67

Michael J. Adams

CHASE 4

29-Jun-67

Mervin L. Evenson

CHASE 4

16-Jul-68

Thomas J. Davey

CHASE 4

12-Aug-68

Wendell H. Shawler

CHASE 5

13-Sep-68

Jerauld Gentry

CHASE 4

Scott Crossfield, when talking with him in 2006 about the airframe we are using, informed us that he flew this aircraft over 70 times in "dead stick" landing configuration (engine power cut off to glide into a landing on Roger's Dry Lake bed) in order to practice for flying the X-15. For more details on the X-15, please visit our page about it by clicking here.

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The NF-104 Squadron patch.

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56-0763's appearance upon arrival in Washington State in 1997.
 
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Click here to view the General History Behind the F-104.

All photos and pilot information provided by Tony Landis.   Copyright © 2000 NASA Dryden R.C.

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