NASA research aircraft 

The table lists the NASA F-104 fleet used for research purposes

F-104 Starfighter with NASA

F-104s were destined to serve NASA in the extreme regime of high-speed flight research.

Through the years, Dryden has used a variety of chase and support aircraft. First acquired in August 1956, F-104s were the most versatile work-horses in Dryden's stable of research and support aircraft, with 11 of them flying mostly research missions over the next 38 years.

In August 1956, the seventh YF-104A [55-2961] was transferred to NACA (later reorganized as NASA) as a JF-104A. It was initially numbered [818], but later renumbered with the civil registration [N818NA] (the "NA" standing for NASA). This plane was used by NASA for various test flight purposes until it was finally retired in November 1975.

In October 1957, NASA acquired two ex-USAF F-104A single seater [56-0734, 56-0749] for use in flight testing; [56-0749] crashed in 1962. Those planes were never assigned NASA s/ns. In December 1959, F-104B [57-1303] was transferred to NASA and assigned the NASA number of [819]. It served until 1978, when it was finally retired.

Between August and October 1963, Lockheed delivered three single-seat F-104G Starfighters to NASA, being designated F-104N (N for NASA) and were to serve as high-speed chase aircraft. Those three were the only purpose-built Starfighters produced by Lockheed for NASA-all other Starfighters operated by NASA were transferred from the USAF. Those F-104Ns were initially numbered [011/013]. [013] was lost on June 8, 1966, when it was involved in a mid-air collision with the second North American XB-70A Valkyrie during a General Electric-sponsored publicity photographic flight. The pilot of the F-104N, Joseph A Walker, was killed. The XB-70A pilot, Alvin S White, ejected with injuries, but his copilot, Maj Carl S Cross, went down with the Valkyrie and was killed. The two surviving F-104Ns were later given the civilian registrations [N811NA] and [N812NA].

In December 1966, NASA acquired another ex-USAF F-104A [56-0790] as a replacement for [N813NA]. It was assigned the number [N820NA], and was withdrawn from use on October 30, 1983.

Later, NASA also received some additional F/TF-104Gs from military sources. In 1975, NASA received two tandem-seat TF-104Gs and one single-seat F-104G, giving them civil numbers [N824NA/826NA], respectively. [N824NA] and [N825NA] were ex-Luftwaffe TF-104G two-seaters (bearing USAF s/ns [61-3065] and [66-13628]), whereas [N826NA] was originally a Fokker-built single-seat RF-104G for the Luftwaffe. After removal of their military equipment, they were used by NASA for various flight test purposes.

NASA Starfighters provided flight research data on everything from aircraft handling characteristics, such as roll coupling, to reaction control system research. With the approaching X-15 rocket-powered research aircraft program in the late 1950's, research pilots needed experience in flying with reaction control systems, which are key to spacecraft control and maneuverability. A NASA F-104 modified with a hydrogen peroxide thruster system provided the necessary experience for the soon-to-be rocket pilots.

Durability of Space Shuttle thermal protection tiles was investigated in flights aboard a Starfighter, flown on a special flight test fixture through rain in moisture impact studies.

Another important role for NASA's Starfighters included flying many safety chase missions in support of advanced research aircraft over the years, including the wingless lift body vehicles flown at Dryden during the late 1960's and early 1970's.

F-104 Starfighters proved most valuable to NASA as flight research and support aircraft for nearly 40 years, a distinction that few other aircraft share.

Tail number 826 flew the last of these missions on 31 January 1994. By then the 11 F-104s had accumulated over 18,000 flights at Dryden in a great variety of missions ranging from basic research to airborne simulation and service as an aerodynamic test bed.

type serial number remarks
serial number 1007 ready for delivery April 12, 1956; acceptance by USAF July 31, 1956; delivery date August 21, 1956; NASA 961 arrived on loan at NACA High Speed Flight Station (HSFS) on August 23, 1956. First flight with NACA on August 27, 1956. It was re-designated to a JF-104A. Used as Reaction Control System (RCS) test aircraft. NASA 818 was officially transferred to the NASA somewhere in the 60s when it also received its official NASA registration N818NA. Put in storage on December 7.1973. Last Flight with NASA August 26, 1975. On November 18, 1975 it was officially withdrawn from use. Pilot Don Mallik delivered the aircraft on November 18, 1975 to Andrews AFB for the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington DC, for permanent display; delivery flight was the 1.444 flight of the airframe. July 2020 noted.
19 NACA/NASA pilots flew this airframe, 3 became astronauts (including Neil Armstrong), 7 X-15 pilots and 6 pilots who flew the various lifting bodies.
F-104A 1022
serial number 1022 accepted by USAF on May 29, 1957, delivery date June 3, 1957 and loaned by NASA on October 7, 1957 (NACA HSFS (High Speed Flight Station) program, Dryden). Neil Armstrong flew it on January 14, 1958, Milt Thomson flew it May 28, 1959. On January 10, 1961 "NASA 734" (FG-734/6734) was transferred back to the USAF and was flown over to Palmdale from Dryden by John McKay. At Palmdale it received the latest upgrades (seen January 25, 1962) and was converted to QF-104A standard which was finalized on May 14, 1962. On June 14, 1962 it was flown from Palmdale to Eglin. There it was used as drone from that moment on by the 3205 Drone Squadron. During the QF drone missions it encountered a few accidents. Coded QFG-734 had a first a barrier engagement at Eglin on August 10, 1962 (drone flight), then again a barrier engagement (drone flight) on September 7, 1962. The third barrier engagement in 1962 took place on September 12, but then the aircraft sustained major damage while it collapsed. It was immediately repaired at Eglin AFB and received modifications towards a JQF-104A standard in October 1962. Conversion finished October 16, 1962. Lateron it went back in drone-business and again encountered a barrier engagement on February 6, 1963. Again it sustained damage but this could be repaired soon. On August 1, 1963 the aircraft was finally shot down during a drone-mission by a BOMARC missile after 114 drone flights.
F-104A 1033
serial number 1033 delivered to the USAF on November 29, 1957; retained by manufacturer; converted to JF-104A in Burbank; loaned to NASA and used at Ames Research Center in wind-tunnel tests from July 17, 1958 to May 6, 1960; March 19, 1959 to May 6, 1960 Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California for “Steep Approach” research; back to USAF on May 6, 1960; converted to QF-104A at Air Proving Ground Center (Air Force System Command), Eglin AFB, FL; QFG-745 delivered to 3205 Drone Squadron on October 10, 1961; crashed with 3205 Drone Squadron (DS) January 17, 1962 due to elevator malfunction on takeoff; 1st QF-104 loss; 2 drone flights before; total 3 drone flights; January 1962 to 3201st Maintenance Group (AF Systems Command), Eglin AFB and dropped from inventory due to a flying accident.
Steep Approach Research
Steep descent testing, including power-off landing approaches and demonstration of minimum lift-to-drag ratio (L/D) landings came out of the interest in the use of low L/D lifting bodies for recovery to landing from space. The question posed to the flight research organization concerned how low an aircraft's L/D could be for the aircraft to still be landed successfully. Flight tests with the JF-104A Starfighter were conducted by Fred Drinkwater, who demonstrated steep approaches that were ultimately used by the space shuttle These two-segment profiles consisted of a steep upper segment starting around 25,000 feet and aimed at a target a mile short of the runway, followed by a 3-degree path to the touchdown point. These profiles became widely known within the test pilot community as the "Drinkwater Approach"
JF-104A 1037
serial number 1037 delivery date May 27, 1957, Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) from 1957 until April 1959, arrived at NASA Flight Research Center (FRC) HSFS on April 13, 1959, (no NASA serial) modified as JF-104A for high-altitude centerline rocket (balloon) launch tests (with ventrally-mounted Air Launched Sounding Rocket (ALSOR)). The intent of the program was to release a balloon from an air launched rocket at over 1.000.000 feet altitude (approximately 190 miles) and then measure its rate of descent to determine the air density. NASA pilot Milton Thompson ejected safely at Edwards AFB when plane suffered asymmetric flap condition during X-15 gliding exercises which resulted in uncommanded roll, aircraft was destroyed in crash on December 20, 1962, written off.
serial number 1078 delivery date 1957. In the same year it was loaned by NASA and given back to the USAF late 1957 or early 1958. It was seen again in May 1958 at Edwards AB as USAF with a day-glow tail band and day-glow radome. It was used that month as chase plane during the record flight of FG-969. AFFTC/ARDC (May 1958-Mar 1959), FG-790 leased by Lockheed and modified 1959 to F-104G configuration (2.prototype F-104G) for system tests and nuclear weapons shape trials, first flight as F-104G on June 7, 1960. All tests were completed October 15, 1960. More test flights until July 31, 1961 after additional modifications and several improvements for some specific systems. Arrived at NASA FRC (Flight Research Center) on December 27, 1966 as replacement for NASA 813, FG-790 was designated NASA 820 later; last flight and placed in storage at NASA FRC on June 1, 1977, Dryden's F-104-820 logged 1,022 total flights, NASA stored (1977-October 1983). Transferred to the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) Museum on April 29, 1985, now on display at USAF Flight Test Center Museum Airpark, Edwards AFB, California, in NASA colors; October 21, 2005 noted; January 2007 last noted. Freshly repainted F-104A 56-790 was displayed at the Edwards Air Force Base Open House on October 27, 2006; towed to the Century Circle just outside the Rosamond Boulevard gate into Edwards Air Force Base on July 23, 2007; August 1, 2008 noted, October 24, 2009 noted, January 2019 noted.
F-104B 5015
serial number 5015 delivered to the Air Force on October 2, 1958, AFFTC support, used at Ames from October 3, 1958 to December 16, 1959 as 71303, arrived at NASA FRC on December 16, 1959 as FG-303/NASA 71303; 1977 as NASA 819 N819NA. After 19 years of extensive use, 57-1303 was retired from service in April of 1978 (last NASA flight April 21, 1978, research pilot John Manke and flight test engineer Ray Young took this F-104 on its final mission) and flown to the US Air Force's AMARC (Aircraft Maintenance and Recovery Center) facility in Tucson, Arizona. During its career of more than 18 years of NASA flight test work 57-1303 flew 1,731 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 (such as Neil Armstrong and Rusty Schweikert), X-15 pilots (Bill Dana, Joe Walker), and lifting body as well as XB-70 and YF-12 pilots. Transferred to McClellan AFB, California on June 16, 1983. (It was flown to the museum in a C-130 on July 13, 1983). On display at McClellan AFB, California as "71303 FG-303" in 1986. It is now the California Museum of Aerospace History, McClellan, in USAF colors; January 2019 noted.
F-104N 4045
NASA 011
NASA 811
NASA 811 [N811NA] F-104N (F-104G type)
construction number: 683C-4045 4045, model 683-10-19
F-104N officially delivered to the NASA on July 19, 1963; flown to NASA FRC August 19, 1963 (by Joe Walker) for high speed chase coded NASA 011. From the beginning it flew with code "011" and very bright NASA color scheme. In 1970 it was resprayed into the well known white-dark blue-light blue scheme which lateron changed into white-blue-white. It got also recoded into N811NA. On October 23, 1987 it made the last official NASA research flight with Bill Dana at the controls; operational storage until at least 1990 Then it was officially phased out with a total of 4370 fights accomplished. In October 1992 it was seen at Edwards Air Base completely cocooned to protect the airframe from the outside environment. Preserved at Prescott, Arizona, with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; first noted in 1997; 2018 noted in good condition.
F-104N 4053
NASA 012
NASA 812
NASA 812 [N812NA] F-104N (F-104G type), construction number: 683C-4053, model 683-10-19
F-104N was officially delivered to the NASA in July 1963 but was added to the official NASA list on September 30th, 1963 and eventually flown over to the NASA facility (by Joe Walker) on October 1, 1963 for high speed chase flights coded NASA 012; from the beginning it flew with code "012" and very bright NASA color scheme. In 1970 it was resprayed into the well known white-dark blue-light blue scheme which lateron changed into white-blue-white. It got also recoded into N812NA. The last big project for N812NA as chase plane was the X-29 development program which was in 1985. Its operational career ended on December 29, 1986 when NASA pilot Einar Enevoldson made the last flight and wrote the last of 4442 flights in total in the aircraft logbook. The NASA stored the N812NA at Edwards and used it also for spare parts to keep the other 104s in the air. After the last Starfighter operations within the NASA ended also this N812NA was dropped from the inventory and was prepared to become a display aircraft. First at USAF Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB till at least 1997, then it moved to Lockheed-Martin in Palmdale where they converted the aircraft into an XF-104 replica by removing some vital parts including inlet-cones and top fairing. It was put on display in 2002 near Plant 42 "Skunk Works" in bare metal with no markings; September 2005 preserved at Palmdale carrying the old NASA colors with code "012". They did not change it back to standard F-104G/N but the inlet cones were just painted in stead; 2018 noted.
F-104N 4058
NASA 013
NASA 813
[N813NA] F-104N (F-104G type), Construction Number: 683C-4058 4058 delivery date October 22, 1963 to the NASA, arrived at the Flight Research Center on October 22, 1963 with 4.75 hours on the airframe for high speed chase flights. It was piloted by Joseph A. Walker, and wore NASA tail number 013. Within a week, four other NASA pilots also flew 013. On November 1, 1963 Walker flew NASA 013 to "Yuletide" Special Operations Area northeast of Groom Lake, Nevada. The flight was in support of the X-15 program. Groom Lake was a contingency landing site for the rocket plane following launches near Delamar, Nevada. NASA 013 frequently served as chase or weather observation aircraft for the X-15. The aircraft made its 235th flight coded NASA 013 on March 5, 1965, again piloted by Walker. On its next sortie, flown by Milton O. Thompson on March 8 1965, the aircraft had been redesignated NASA 813. On November 29, 1965, Joe Walker flew NASA 813 as chase for the XB-70. Walker had been selected to become NASA's chief XB-70 pilot. He made four additional XB-70 chase flights in November and December 1965, and seven more in March 1966. The aircraft was lost in a mid-air collision during a photo mission with the XB-70A-2 Valkyrie bomber (62-0702) on June 8, 1966 in a tragic accident killing Joe Walker. It was during its 409th flight. It was replaced by NASA 820 During its three-year service life, NASA 013 (later 813) flew a total of 409 NASA sorties and logged 627.7 flight hours. It was flown by nine different NASA pilots including Joseph A. Walker, Milton O. Thompson, Bruce Peterson, John "Jack" McKay, Donald Mallick, William H. Dana, Fred Haise, John Manke, and flight surgeon Dr. James Roman. Walker made 165 of the flights, more than any other pilot.
TF-104G 5735
ex GAF 27+33
MAP to Germany delivery date May 21, 1963, KE+235 airlifted to Germany on June 10, 1963; DA+064 for test flights by MTT, DC+367 JaboG 33 on October 14, 1963, 27+33 WaSLw 10 on June 26, 1975 for familiarization of NASA pilots, flown on June 27, 1975 from Jever AB to Edwards AFB, arrived July 2, 1975, It was flown by Tom McMurty. On October 1, 1985 NASA 824 [N824NA] was flown over to Edwards from NASA Center by Ed Schneider and was put in flyable storage from October 15, 1985 onwards. In October 1992 it was still seen in storage (totally cocooned in white). On September 1, 1996 it was officially dropped from the NASA inventory and soon after it was seen without wings at Edwards. It was probably being prepared to ship it lateron to the California Polytechnic University where it arrived on September 9, 1996. It was preserved there at California Polytechnic Institute of State University, San Luis Obispo, for static display for some years. It moved to the Estrella Warbird Museum at Paso Robles Airport on February 21, 2000; July 2018 noted.
TF-104G 5939
ex GAF 28+09
manufactured by Lockheed (ARGE-USA) and Messerschmitt (ARGE-Süd) and VFW; parts assembled at Lockheed (flown as 66-13628) 1967; acceptance date May 10, 1967 by BABwLockheed; airlifted to Avio Diepen at Ypenburg AB, Netherlands on June 19, 1967; test flight August 21, 1967 coded KF+239; camouflage scheme “Norm 62” according tech order TA-196; DF+365 JaboG 36 Hopsten delivery date on August 25, 1967; JaboG 34 on July 24, 1968; JaboG 36 on September 20, 1968; 28+09 MFG 1 (Marine Air Wing 1) at Schleswig-Jagel AB on February 25, 1975; WaSLw 10 (Weapons School 10) at Jever AB on June 26, 1975 for familiarization of NASA pilots; struck off charge order July 3, 1975; ferry flight on June 27, 1975 from Jever AB to Edwards AFB, arrived July 2, 1975; on July 2, 1975 it was officially acquired (bought) by NASA and arrived at Edwards flown by Bill Dana and Einar Enevoldson in GAF color scheme; coded as NASA 825 (registration N825NA) at Dryden Research Center Edwards AFB, CA. On April 12, 1989 it was flown over to Dryden from NASA Center by an Air Force pilot and Roger Smith and was put in flyable storage from that day after arrival. It was seen in storage in September 1992 and August 1993. Operational again in October 1993. From October 1993 it was involved in the OPTP program (Optical Periscope Test Program) and from November 1993 it participated in the NASP (X30 shuttle) program. On January 24, 1994 it flew its last NASA mission and on February 1, 1994 it made its last flight. On February 3, 1994 it was dropped from the NASA inventory. It went in storage at Dryden (seen March 1994) and in January 1995 it was seen stored on the line-up at Edwards. In September 1995 stored inside the big hangar at Edwards AFB. On April 21, 1997 it was seen for the first time at the gate of Moffet Field. Preserved as gate guard at Moffett with NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA; taken from the US register October 3.2003; Moffett Field Historical Society Museum 2006 first noted; under restoration at Moffett Field in Hangar 3 seen June 6, 2009; NASA Ames Research Center air show April 9, 2010 noted after restoration; May 2017 noted; September 2019 noted.
A "NASA Blue flyby" at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, July 2, 1975 was the climax to a journey that began six days earlier (June 27, 1975) at Jever Air Base in West Germany for four of the Flight Research Center's elite test pilot cadre, Tom McMurtry (824), Bill Dana/Einar Enevoldson (825) and Gary Krier (826).
F-104G cn 8213
ex GAF 24+64
manufactured by North Group (ARGE-Nord); first flight January 30, 1964 coded KG+313; January 30, 1964 to Avio Diepen for RF-104G modifications according project "Recce"; March 5, 1964 to Fokker for camouflage scheme "Norm 62" according tech order "TA-196"; acceptance date by BABwFokker (RNAF-MTA) April 16, 1964; LVR 3 (Luftwaffenversorgungsregiment 3) on April 27,1964 for technical upgrading; EB+114 AG 52 delivery date on November 5, 1964; IRAN at SABCA July 8, 1966 with 170 flight hours; back to AG 52 on April 18, 1967; 24+64 WaSLw 10 on September 20, 1971; modified to AWX (All Weather Fighter) version F-104G on November 18, 1971; JG 74 on May 30, 1972; MFG 1 (Marine Air Wing 1) at Schleswig-Jagel AB on July 8, 1974; struck off charge order (AVA) December 4, 1973; WaSLw 10 on June 26, 1975 for NASA training with 1.671 flight hours; ferry flight from June 27, until July 2, 1975 together with construction number 5735 and 5739 via RAF Lossiemouth to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, CA; arrived at Dryden flown by Gary Krier. NASA 826 [N826NA] was used as aeronautical experiments testbed at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California. Last research mission with NASA 826 was January 31, 1994. Last flight was on February 3, 1994 as last NASA F-104.
A symbolic farewell with NASA 826 is piloted by Tom McMurtry, Chief Flight Operations Division. Preserved at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California from July 1995; on display at NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility in Visitor Center, Edwards California; 2003 first noted; August 2018 noted.
NASA and USAF F-104 Starfighter that supported the X-15 program as chase and support aircraft
type and serial number remarks
YF-104A 55-2961 NASA support and research aircraft;
displayed National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington DC.
F-104A 56-0740 AFFTC support aircraft; crashed September 22, 1960, USMC Capt. Harold O. Casada Jr. lost his life when his Navy F-104 Starfighter 740 collided with Josephine mountain north of Los Angeles, California near the junction of Mt. Wilson and Palmdale Roads in the Angeles Natl. Forest during a routine Sidewinder test flight. The cause of the crash was thought to be oxygen depletion at altitude.
JF-104A 56-0743 AFFTC support aircraft; converted to QF-104A.
JF-104A 56-0744 AFFTC support aircraft; converted to QF-104A.
JF-104A 56-0746 AFFTC support aircraft; converted to QF-104A.
F-104A 56-0748 AFFTC support aircraft; displayed Linear Air Park, Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas.
JF-104A 56-0749 >NASA support and research aircraft; crashed December 20, 1962
modified as JF-104A for high-altitude centerline rocket (balloon) launch tests (with ventrally-mounted Air Launched Sounding Rocket (ALSOR)). The intent of the program was to release a balloon from an air launched rocket at over 1.000.000 feet altitude (approximately 190 miles) and then measure its rate of descent to determine the air density.
F-104A 56-0755 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104A 56-0763 AFFTC support aircraft; North American Eagle, which will attempt to set a land speed record of 763 Mph; crashed and destroyed on August 27, 2019. NEW!
F-104A 56-0768 AFFTC support aircraft; crashed at Edwards AFB after a broken oil-line causing a fire on June 30, 1959, pilot Capt Norvin C. “Bud” Evans ejected safely, last downward ejection, Stanley C1 ejection seat.
F-104A 56-0790 AFFTC support aircraft; later to NASA FRC as N820NA.
F-104A 56-0817 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104B 57-1303 NASA support and research aircraft.
F-104D 57-1314 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104D 57-1315 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104D 57-1316 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104D 57-1331 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104D 57-1332 AFFTC support aircraft.
F-104N N811NA NASA support aircraft, originally NASA 011.
F-104N N812NA NASA support aircraft, originally NASA 012.
F-104N N813NA NASA support aircraft, originally NASA 013.
copyright: International F104 Society “Zipper“ magazine Nr.46 by Peter Merlin and Scott Vetter
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compiled by : Hubert Peitzmeier
update: @ December 20, 2020