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List of F-106 Delta Dart units of the United States Air Force

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Convair F-102A-41-CO Delta Dagger 55-3372
Convair F-102A-41-CO Delta Dagger 55-3372

This is a list of United States Air Force F-106 Delta Dart Squadrons. The F-106 is considered one of the finest all-weather interceptors ever built.[citation needed] It served on active duty with the United States Air Force Air Defense Command (and successor organizations) and Air Defense squadrons of the Air National Guard for almost 30 years, much longer than most of its contemporaries.

Originally designated the F-102B, it was redesignated F-106 because of extensive structural changes and a more powerful engine. The first F-106A flew on 26 December 1956, and deliveries to the USAF began in July 1959 with the 539th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. Production ended in late 1960 after 277 single-seat F-106As and 63 two-seat F-106B trainers had been built. The last squadron to relinquish its F-106s was the 119th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the New Jersey Air National Guard, which sent its last plane to AMARC in August 1988.

The last operator of the F-106 was the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, which used retired F-106s as target drones beginning in 1990. The last shoot down of a QF-106 (57-2524) took place at Holloman AFB on 20 February 1997. The last unexpended flyable 82d ATS QF-106 drone was sent to AMARC in January 1998 for storage.

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  • ✪ Know Your Plane #2 | Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
  • ✪ Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21


Capable of flying faster and higher than any other aircraft of its time are two characteristics that define the F-104 Starfighter, also known as missile with a man. The Starfighter was the first American production jet to reach Mach 2 and was also the first aircraft to simultaneously hold both the speed and altitude records, reaching at times altitudes over 100,000 feet. Despite being designed for use only in the American military, the F-104 was operated by 14 other countries and was an important interceptor and fighter-bomber in middle of the cold war. This aircraft is now being featured on the second episode of the Know Your Plane series but before we get started just a quick word what I will be covering in this video. Given that I have found an incredible amount of information on the Starfighter and that I didn’t want this video to be too long I will be covering the following aspects of the Starfighter: Its design, specifications, armament, development, production and some trivia. Other aspects of the F-104 such as operational and combat history will be covered in later videos. Also I would like to thank the International F-104 Society for helping me out in this episode with pictures, videos and more information on about the Starfighter. With that said let’s get this started. Design The first thing people notice about the F-104 is that its wings are very thin and short, the first test pilot even asked where the wings were when he saw the plane for the first time. The wings of the F-104 are so thin that this plane is believed to hold the record of the thinnest wings ever built, they were so thin and sharp some people who worked with the F-104 even got cut by the leading edge of the wing, thus some of its operators even equipped the plane with wing covers. The reason behind the thickness and size of the wings was an attempt to minimize drag during high speed flight, however this configuration was the cause of some problems including lack of space for fuel tanks inside the wings and poor handling of the aircraft at low speeds. Another noticeable design feature was the unique T-tail of the F-104, which again was chosen to minimize drag and provide the best possible stability and control in the high speed and high altitude envelope that the F-104 was supposed to be operated. Also, because of the large vertical fin at the tail section, which was very effective in stabilizing the aircraft during a roll, the Lockheed engineers added an anhedral configuration to the wings, which means that the wing tip is lower than the wing root, in order to make the aircraft more agile and maneuverable therefore offsetting all that stability coming from the tail fin. Now like I’ve mentioned before, the F-104 didn’t have a good handling at low speeds, this created a problem of relatively high approach speeds when the plane came in for landing. While this was something that couldn’t be magically solved since the plane was designed for high speed, Lockheed did create a system to improve low speed handling: the boundary layer control which was automatically activated when the pilot put the flaps on the landing position. The boundary layer control basically utilises bleed air from the engine and sends it to the wings via a duct located inside the flaps, upon reaching the flaps the air is expelled over the wing as you can see in this diagram and this helps the aircraft gain some extra lift at low airspeeds by using air that came from the engine, therefore reducing the speed of the aircraft during the approach phase by about 30 knots. Another important feature of the F-104 was its inlets, which again were designed primarily for speeds over Mach 1.5. The inlets featured a fixed-geometry inlet scoop and conical ramp arrangement which would slow down the incoming air to lower supersonic speeds by creating shockwaves thus improving performance and keeping the engine from choking. Another capability of the inlet is that it allowed extra air, which wasn’t needed by the engine, to just pass through the system around the engine to help cool down the system. One unique aspect of the F-104 was that at first it featured a downward firing ejection seat, namely the STANLEY C1 as you can see in the picture. This approach may seen unorthodox but there’s a reason for its implementation, at the time there was the belief that the ejection seats weren’t powerful enough to eject and clear the pilot from the high T-tail had he ejected upwards, thus in the early days of the Starfighter the pilots would escape the plane going downwards. In order to eject, pilots would first depressurize the aircraft and activate the ejection mechanism, with the system activated the control column would be retracted, the pilot would pull his legs back against the seat and he would be ejected downward from the aircraft. This approach to the ejection seat wasn’t well received by the pilots and nobody liked the idea of ejecting at low altitudes because pilots would end up hitting the ground at high speeds, so because of this when pilots had to eject at low altitudes they were instructed to roll the airplane inverted and then eject. This technique increased the risk of damage to the pilots’ back due to the negative g-forces but in the end it’s better to get a back injury than to slam into the ground after ejection. Eventually though Lockheed produced and equipped upward firing ejection seats to its Starfighters with the C2 ejection seat and some of the newer versions of the Starfighters were equipped with the Martin Baker GQ-7A which was a zero-zero ejection seat, that is capable of safely ejecting the pilot from ground level with a zero forward speed. With that said I also want to talk about something that isn’t too mentioned when people talk about the characteristics of an airplane, and that is the design of the aircraft from a maintenance perspective. At a time when aircraft are becoming come complex and maintenance costs were rising quickly, the F-104 went against this trend. The radar system could be removed in 10 minutes, the gun in 30 minutes via a single panel on the fuselage, and there was one access door for the mechanics to reach the engine which means that in most cases the engine didn’t have to be removed which greatly reduced aircraft's downtime. There was also a compartiment located just behind the cockpit that housed all the electronic equipment of the plane and again could be accessed by one single door, a compartiment that was compatible with jeep cans. Jeep cans are packaged boxes with the same height and depth that contain the electronic systems and because they have the same dimensions they can be replaced very quickly and their shape is conveniently enough that the electronics can be checked during pre-flight. And by the way the name “jeep cans” comes from the fuel cans of the jeeps during WWII since they had a particular shape and were easy to fit in. Lastly, some Starfighters also had a drag chute and an arresting hook added, of course the Starfighter wasn’t supposed to land on carriers but these two elements were added in order to shorten the landing roll in case of the chute and provide an additional layer of safety if the plane was about to exit the runway in case of the hook. The chute and hook were not present in all Starfighter models though. Specifications As you have seen in the design section, pretty much everything on the aircraft was focused on getting a high speed and high climb rate so now let’s take a look at some numbers for the F-104A, the first production model of the Starfighter. Maximum operational speed of the F-104 was Mach 2, however the aircraft could go up to Mach 2.26 in cold weather or for a short period of time due to temperature limitations on the engine. And in regard to cruise speed a clean Starfigher could cruise at slightly supersonic speeds. The engine on most models of the Starfigher was the General Electric J79, that had a 12 to 1 compression ratio and could achieve a maximum thrust of 14,800 pounds on afterburner. As for altitude, the F-104 could reach an altitude of 64,000 feet on a normal climb or by using a zoom maneuver the Starfighter could reach altitudes of over 100,000 feet. Perhaps more impressive was the climb rate which could reach values of over 60,000 feet per minute. In regards to weight, the F-104 was relatively light at 13,384 pounds empty and 25,840 pounds for maximum take off weight. Range for the F-104 was rather short, in a clean configuration the F-104 had a range of 730 nautical miles by using the internal 896 US gallons tank, but range could be almost doubled to 1,400 miles with the addition of tip tanks and a pylon tank that could carry some extra 852 gallons of fuel. Armament The F-104 was the first operational aircraft to be equipped with the General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barrel rotary cannon, also known as the Gatling Gun, which was being developed together with the Starfighter and it was the aircraft’s main armament. This gun, which was 72 inches long and weighed 300 pounds, could fire at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute and at the time was considered the fastest gun in the world, although for the F-104 the fire rate had been decreased to 4,000 rounds per minute. Its ammunition box with 725 rounds was placed directly behind the cockpit and during its operation it would store the used cases internally while ejecting the links downward - and I will mention why they did this in development section of the video. One advantage of the gun port placement, under and behind the cockpit, is that the pilot wouldn’t be blinded by the muzzle flash while firing and also this was a very convenient location for the mechanics to work on the gun. Other than the cannon, the F-104 was intended to carry the GAR-8 (later the AIM-9B) sidewinder missiles as requested by the Pentagon for use against distant and non-maneuverable targets such as bombers. For these missiles to work the F-104 had to position itself behind the target and fire the missile with a load factor under 2-Gs, the missile would also have to hit the target without being attracted by another heat source such as the sun, ground heat or even clouds - as such was the early missile technology. Besides the missiles, the F-104 could carry the following: One 1,000-pound load on each wing or a 2,000-pound load on the center pylon, this includes: two general purpose bombs, two fire bombs carrying napalm, two rocket launchers with 19 70mm rockets each, or the Mk 28 or Mk 43 nuclear bombs. On minor note, some countries like Japan and the Netherlands also had additional hardpoints and they carried missiles under the fuselage. Italian Starfighters were also unique in the point that they had additional hardpoints under the fuselage, but this is because they operated a different variant. If you want to know more about the F-104 variants, how they differ and how you can visually distinguish them I’ll have a video on that topic. Development Unlike most aircraft, development on the F-104 didn’t start with a requirement by the air force or another branch of the US military, it all started with a trip of Lockheed employees to Korea during the Korean war in order to ask American fighter pilots firsthand what was their experience in combat during the conflict. Although the American pilots, who flew first the F-80s, F-84s and later the F-86s, had a positive kill rate against the Mig-15s they reported that they wanted to achieve a more clear superiority against the Soviet-made aircraft, more specifically the American pilots wanted an increase in speed and rate of climb. Amongst the Lockheed employees was Kelly Johnson, the famous designer responsible for the P-38 during the Second World War and the P-80 Shooting Star, the first operational American jet fighter. Once the Lockheed team was back in the states, Kelly Johnson started working on a design that would later become the F-104. The approach to the Starfighter’s design was a rather minimalist one, something against the trend in the US Air Force, where Johnson focused on a simple, small and lightweight aircraft that could achieve high speeds. Because this happened in the mid-50s, there wasn’t much knowledge about supersonic flights and aerodynamics so extensive tests had to be carried out on the Starfighter project which at this stage was completed funded by Lockheed. The engineers working on the program ended up creating over 100 preliminary designs, testing different wing shapes, the thickness of the wings, the shape and location of air inlets and many other things to achieve a speed of Mach 2. In December of 1952, after finding the ideal shape and expected performance of the future F-104 some members of Lockheed went to an air force base to showcase their design and theoretical specifications of a Mach 2 fighter/interceptor to some air force generals. At that time there was no requirement for the F-104 but because the air force liked so much the idea and performance some members of the Air Force improvised and wrote up a document of less than two full pages listing some of the requirements for a future air force jet on that day. In January of 1953 the air force approved the design of the plane and in March of the same year Lockheed got a contract to build two prototypes for the USAF. Progress on the two prototypes designated as XF-104 was incredibly quick and the first prototype had its first flight in March of 1954, less than an year after getting the contract from the air force. One notable thing about the two XF-104s was that they were equipped with the Wright J65 engines while they were waiting for the more powerful General Electric J79. As a result top speed of the prototypes was of Mach 1.79, still not Mach 2 but a promising result for a prototype. One thing I should also mention is that the XF-104 prototypes didn’t include the traditional inlets of the F-104 and that this was also the shortest version of the Starfighter. After flight test with the two prototypes, the US government ordered 17 pre-production aircraft that were later designated YF-104A. The pre-production model was 5.6 feet longer than the prototypes and came already equipped with the more powerful General Electric J79 engine. This model was also the first to introduce the conical inlets which would be present in all other subsequent models. First flight of the YF-104A was on February of 1956 and in the same year this aircraft became the first US production fighter jet to go double sonic. 1956 was also a special year for the F-104 program because it was by then that the program became public, two years after the first flight of the prototype. These pictures are from when the F-104 was unveiled to the American public in 1956 but note that the inlets are still covered, the reason why they were covered is because experts in aerodynamics would be able to judge the maximum speed of the Starfighter by the shape of the inlets, an information that at the time was still classified. The development of the F-104 program was rather fast, however that does not mean it was easy, there were several problems but probably the most important issues are those related to the gun. As mentioned before the M61 Vulcan, which is still in service as of today in aircraft such as the F-15, F-18 and F-22, was being developed at the same time as the F-104 and many problems with the gun were resolved during test flights with the XF-104. One notable incident was experienced by test pilot Herman Salmon in 1955 where gun firing caused impact on airframe and hatch, causing the pilot to lose control of the second prototype aircraft which crashed after a safe ejection of the pilot. Because of the impacts from the empty cases, Lockheed decided to store the used rounds internally and just eject the ammunition links. After an extensive flight test program was completed, the first F-104A entered in service in the United States Air Force in January of 1958. One thing to note about the late 50s is that by then it was believed that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States when it came to its bomber force, the Americans even believed that the USSR had nuclear powered bombers around the year of 1958, therefore the USAF was very pleased with the speed of the F-104 since it could intercept the so feared bombers very quickly and therefore avoid the incursion of the enemy into American airspace. However despite its fast speeds and impressive climb rate the Starfighter wasn’t seen as long-term asset to the American air defense, in the eyes of the air force, particularly Air Defense Command, the Starfighter was only seen as temporary fix while the US military waited for the larger Convair F-106 Delta Dart to become the primary interceptor in the American military. The F-104 also had its critics among the US air force, the airplane was criticized for its lack of all-weather capabilities, endurance and its short range. If a target was coming at 45,000 feet the F-104 would only be able to intercept it up to a distance of 150 nautical miles out from its base by using its internal fuel, or an even shorter distance if the target was at a higher altitude, however one advantage that the Starfighter had is that it could perform the interception faster than current aircraft such as the F-101 Voodoo or F-102 Delta Dagger. But this wasn’t enough to keep the Starfighter flying for in American air force for long, the original orders were greatly reduced and service in the American air force was rather short, by 1969 all surviving USAF F-104s had been transferred to the Air National Guard, however American F-104 units did participate or saw action during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. With many Starfighter’s orders cancelled by the US military, Lockheed entered a financial nightmare. The high costs allocated to the development of the F-104 became a heavy burden to the company and adding to the low sales of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar airliner in the civilian market, Lockheed was in a tough spot. So in order to turn debt into profit Lockheed began to market the Starfighter internationally, something that resulted in great success for the company and was even called by some “the deal of the century”. In addition to the United States, 14 other countries acquired the F-104 Starfighter, namely: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, West Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey. And below each flag you can see how many F-104 were acquired, although numbers for Taiwan and Turkey are a bit hard to get since they received many used Starfighters from other countries. Amongst these countries, the most notable Starfighter operator is West Germany, the largest of them and responsible for the F-104G variant also known as Super Starfighter. Germany purchased about a third of the total Starfighters produced but at the same time it had the worst safety record for them. Italy was also another important operator because the Italian air force had the most modern F-104 version and was the last country to retire its F-104s in the year of 2004. Amongst the best selling points for the F-104 we have its high speed, nuclear capability and the models that were designed for these many countries. Also note that the majority of these countries are of small size, thus range wasn’t a very important important factor for them, instead was all a matter of quickly climbing and intercepting or bombing a target. However not all of these sales are attributed to the advantages of the Starfighter, later it was found out that Lockheed spent a total of $22 million in bribes to officials and representatives of West Germany, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands so that these countries would purchase the Starfighters. On the bright side, one really good reason for some of these nations to buy the F-104 was the production deal that Lockheed offered, which really helped in recovering the aviation industry of these countries after World War 2. Production One of the reasons why the F-104 became so popular in the Western hemisphere, especially amongst European countries, was that the production of a total of 2,579 Starfighter happened in 7 different countries: The United States, where the planes were manufactured of course by Lockheed. (741 aircraft) Canada, with production under license by Canadair. (340 aircraft) Japan, with production under license by Mitsubishi and the Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, the later which was responsible for a modified engine. (207) And finally by the European consortium which produced by far the largest quantity of Starfighters: a total 1,291 of them. The European consortium was made up by manufacturers from Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands including classic companies such as Fokker, Messerschmitt, Heinkel, Macchi and the many others that you can see in the video. This deal was extremely well received by the European countries who could finally put their aircraft manufacturers into action of the long break since World War 2, although some of these companies did go bankrupt in the mid to late 60s. I don’t want to get too much in detail on what the differences are between all F-104 variants, but with this table you should notice that the F-104G, also known as Super Starfighter, was the most popular model of the F-104 and was operated by the majority of the countries mentioned previously. One thing to be noted about the F-104 production is that it was also very decentralized, different sections of the aircraft could be produced pretty much anywhere and they were put together on a modular assembly, reason why there were so many companies that worked on the project. Trivia As I’ve mentioned before the F-104 was the first aircraft to hold both the speed and altitude records simultaneously back in the late 50s. The highest altitude that the F-104 has achieved was 120,800 feet during an unofficial world record. This happened on the 6th of December of 1963 with Major Robert Smith at the controls of the NF-104, a modified version of the F-104 equipped with a 6,000 pounds of thrust rocket engine. This altitude record was achieved by a zoom climb in which the NF-104 would normally start accelerating at 35,000 feet and then do a 3.5 G pull-up at Mach 2.15. The General Electric J79 would be shut down at around 70,000 to 80,000 feet, when it was reaching its temperature limitations, and with the aid of the rocket engine the plane would achieve altitudes over 100,000. From there the pilot had to use the Reaction Control System to put the nose of the airplane down and then descent to about 75,000 feet, where he would restart the plane’s main engine. The speed of the F-104 was also one of its key characteristics, the Starfighter broke the world’s speed record in its first operational year of 1958 by going at 2.259 km/h (1.404 mph). And the same can be said about its climb speed, going from the ground to 3,000 meters in just under 42 seconds (41.85) or from the ground to 25,000 meters (82,000 ft) in under 4 minutes and 30 seconds (4 mins 26.03 secs). Speed was also a determining factor in the aircraft’s nicknames, in the United States it was called Zip-4 and later Zipper. Other countries had some other nicknames for the Starfighter such as Germany which called it the Flying Coffin, Widowmaker, or Ground Nail due to the high number of accidents that took place there. And if you want to know why Germany chose and had so many accidents with the Starfighter you can check my video on the topic right here. This brings me to the end of this episode and I would like to thank again the International F-104 Society for their help in this video and congratulate them on the amazing work they are doing to preserve the history of the Starfighter. Sources and extra information are available in the description, hope you have enjoyed this video and see you guys next time!


Air Defense Command/ADTAC Squadron Assignments

Number of aircraft assigned in parentheses

Air National Guard Squadron Assignments

Number of aircraft assigned in parentheses

Other USAF Assignments

In addition to the USAF, F-106s were operated in limited numbers by Convair, Rockwell International and Hughes Aircraft for Air Force testing programs, and by NASA for almost 40 years (1961–1999).


  • USAF Aerospace Defense Command publication, The Interceptor, January 1979 (Volume 21, Number 1).
  • Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (PDF) (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6.
  • Rogers, Brian. (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, UK: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

This page was last edited on 7 August 2019, at 14:32
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