The Luftwaffe at Luke

copyright © AEROSPACE HISTORIAN, Vol.24, No.2, June 1977

by Robert C. Sullivan

On April 4, 1963 the USAF and the Federal Republic of Germany signed contracts for a highly unique pilot training program. One agreement called for undergraduate pilot training for German Air Force (GAF) and German Navy (GN) students in T-37 and T-38 jet aircraft at Williams AFB, Arizona. The second agreement provided for advanced fighter training in the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter at Luke AFB, Arizona. The two programs were interrelated. Graduates of the basic flight training at Williams were programmed for the advanced training at Luke, resulting in an almost two-year tour of duty in the United States for the young German pilots. The advanced training at Luke was the unique aspect of the program.

For the first time, the USAF conducted pilot training in an aircraft that was not in its inventory. The F-104G aircraft and the two-place training version, the TF-104G, were owned by the Federal Republic of Germany. Maintenance was performed under contract by the Lockheed Aircraft Service Company (LAS), a division of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The maintenance of engine, radar, and inertial navigation systems was subcontracted by Lockheed to General Electric, Autonetics, and Litton, respectively. The USAF, through the Tactical Air Command, exercised operational control of the aircraft.

Such a program had never before been attempted. A foreign air force was using its own aircraft and paying its own way for pilot training conducted in the United States, including paying maintenance costs to a civilian contractor. The agreement called for the German Air Force to provide 50 F-104G from then existing resources and an additional 30 TF-104G from the production lines at Lockheed's facility in Burbank, California. In addition to aircraft, 34 spare J79-GE-11A engines were provided by the GAF from production at the General Electric Corporation, along with two flight simulators built in Canada.

Except for initial aerospace ground equipment, spares, and technical data furnished by the GAF, all logistical support was the responsibility of the Air Force Logistics Command. Contracts were affected for maintenance and supply support, and the Sacramento Air Logistics Center was designated as the procuring agency. A secondary contract administration office was established at Luke under the host wing to perform the base manager function.

Luke AFB was selected as the site for F-104G advanced flying training because of its excellent Gila Bend Gunnery Range, located some 60 miles southwest of the base, and the equally excellent flying weather available in the central Arizona region.

The host 4510th Combat Crew Training Wing (CCTW) at Luke was tasked with providing the advanced flying training. The operational organization for the program underwent several changes before solidifying. Originally, the advanced training was to have been conducted under an Assistant Deputy Commander for Operations in the 4510th CCTW. On January 27, 1964, however, a Director of GAF Training was created as a staff office under the Deputy Commander for Operations. Command and control problems were foreseen with the latter arrangement, and on February 20, 1964, the 4540th Combat Crew Training Group (CCTG) was organized and designated to conduct GAF training at Luke. The group was activated on April 1, 1964. Prior to designating the 4540th CCTG, an operational squadron had been activated under the 4510th CCTW to conduct the training: The 4518th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) was activated on March 1, 1964 and was reassigned to the 4540th CCTG upon the later's activation (April 1, 1964). The same special order that designated and organized the 4540th CCTG also provided for an existing 4510th CCTW unit, the 4512th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS), to be assigned to the group, effective July 1, 1964.

When a third squadron was added to the 4540th CCTG, however, it differed from the other two in that it was associated with the Military Assistance Program (MAP). On May 22, 1964, TAC relieved the 4443rd CCTS from its assignment to Headquarters, 831st Air Division, George AFB, California, and reassigned it to the 4540th CCTG, effective August 1, 1964. The reassignment involved aircraft and a different training program. The 4443rd CCTS had operated a small Combat Crew Training School in USAF configured F-104 aircraft for MAP countries at George. Because the 15 Starfighter involved were MAP aircraft maintained by USAF personnel at George, a separate contract was negotiated with Lockheed for maintenance. The program transferred was also a MAP training course, and its cost was not borne by the German government. The move consolidated all F-104 training at one location.

When the 4540th CCTG was activated on April 1, 1964, Col. J. D. Collingsworth assumed and remained in that capacity until June 14, 1964. On June 15, 1964, the unique GAF training program received a famous commander to guide it through the embryonic first year. Col. James Jabara, America's first jet ace and second ranking ace of the Korean War, assumed command and headed the group until May 1965.
Four days prior (June 11, 1964) to Jabara's assumption of command, the first class of eight USAF F-104 instructor pilots had graduated at Luke. Their entry date (April 1, 1964) coincided with the activation date of the 4540th CCTG. The new instructors received 61 flying hours of training on 47 sorties in their 60-day training course, an improvement over what their teachers had received before them.

On July 12, 1963 three instructor pilots from Luke had been sent to George to upgrade in the F-104 with the 4443rd CCTS in the MAP course. Their training had consisted of 40 hours flown on 33 sorties. Two of the three returned to Luke in September, a move that hampered their continuation training as Luke had no F-104 aircraft at the time. The third instructor remained at George to continue flying the F-104. By December, four instructor pilots were available at Luke, the foregoing three and one pilot who had been reassigned from George.

On February 12, 1964 the first F-104G was flown in from Palmdale, California, by Capt Charles E. Ball, the Luke instructor pilot who had remained at George. By mid July 1964, 23 TF-104G and 12 F-104G were assigned to Luke. A separate military sales case (i.e., program package) had been negotiated with the German government in 1963 for the modification of the German aircraft used in the program. Although the aircraft belonged to the GAF, all were painted with the USAF markings.

On August 26, 1964 a total of 14 USAF F-104 instructor pilots graduated in the second class conducted at Luke. With a sufficient number of aircraft and instructor pilots, preparations were on target to receive the first advanced training class scheduled for October 1964. They had entered undergraduate pilot training at Williams AFB in August 1963. (Later in 1967 the undergraduate program would be moved to Sheppard AFB, Texas, because of an increase in USAF training at Williams.)

Although the program at Luke was new in 1964, West Germany's involvement with the F-104 had begun more than five years earlier. The Federal Republic's Defense Committee selected the Starfighter as Germany's basic interceptor, fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft on November 6, 1958. On March 18, 1959, contracts were signed with Lockheed for licensed production of the aircraft in Europe. Within two years, a consortium of four European countries had emerged to produce F-104G aircraft. The Netherlands signed an agreement on April 20, 1960, Belgium on June 20, 1960, and Italy on March 2, 1961. Earlier, on July 2, 1959, Canada had signed a licensing agreement with Lockheed to produce 200 CF-104s for the eight Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons operating in Europe with NATO forces. In the following years, Starfighters were produced in all four European countries for the German Air Force. Delivery of the first foreign-built F-104Gs to GAF operational units was made in March 1962.

The GAF F-104G differed from its predecessors flown by the USAF, for which four models were produced. The original production Starfighter was the F-104A, a single-place Mach 2-plus fighter ordered for the Air Defense Command on October 14, 1955. On April 12, 1956, USAF ordered a two-seat version, the F-104B, also for the Air Defense Command (ADC). The first F-104A was delivered to the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton AFB, California, on January 26, 1958, with the first squadron becoming operational less than a month later, on February 20, 1958. On October 16, 1958 TAC received its version of the Starfighter, the single-seat F-104C. A two-seat model, the F-104D, was also produced for TAC. Total USAF productions of the F-104 amounted to 170 A, 77 C, 26 B, and 22 D models.

The GAF F-104G Starfighter was a revised edition of TAC's F-104C model. Primary changes were installation of an all-new electronics system, increased weapons carrying capacity, and structural modifications, the latter particularly in the tail assembly and wing root areas. The tail surface area was increased by 25 percent. The changes were made to meet the multi-mission GAF role of the F-104G. In addition to the TF-104G, the GAF also was equipped with another two-place training version, the F-104F. The F model was based on TAC's two-seat F-104D and was equipped with the Martin-Baker ejection seat.

A total of 30 F models were produced for the GAF by Lockheed under the initial contract signed in 1959. Delivery began, along with F-104Gs, in late 1959 from the Burbank production lines. All the F-104F models, and most of the TF-104Gs, were produced by Lockheed, as production in Europe was geared to the single-place models. In 1964 and 1965 some TF-104G were assembled in Europe, after production of the single-place versions had been phased out.

The F-104G Starfighter gave the GAF a supersonic capability and also created the need for an advanced fighter training program. Negotiations in November 1962 with USAF officials led to the contracts signed on April 4, 1963.

Prior to the first class of advanced students arriving, training syllabus conflicts had been ironed out in a joint USAF/GAF training conference held in Bad Godesberg, West Germany, during the week of June 27, to July 3, 1964. Original requirements had been for a 140-flying hour program to span 32 weeks with 135 training days. The GAF wanted to produce 80 pilots per year through the program. The flying hours were revised downward to 128 to accommodate more students, and the 140-hour figure was used as a basic guide. The original sortie total of 106 was revised to 96, with 10 instrument sorties deleted. Shortly after the first class entered training, syllabus requirements leveled off at 101 sorties, 125 flying hours, and 135 training days.

On October 12, 1964 the first class of 12 students entered training in the advanced fighter courses. The tuition rate for each student was $190,000. Training costs for the 18-month period of the first contract amounted to $15.8 million. The class graduated on June 4, 1965. Ironically, the Top Gun award, presented to the student who achieved the best gunnery score during training, went to the lone German Navy pilot in the class, Lt Dieter S. Seeck. Throughout the program's duration at Luke, German Navy pilots have continued in training, although the vast majority of students have come from the GAF.

By April 27, 1965 the full student load of five classes in training at one time was at Luke. Some two months earlier, the F-104 program had expanded with the addition of a short transition course. The 4510th CCTW was notified on February 3, 1965 that a new contract had been signed by the German government for the transition course. Total contract costs were $4.1 million for 135 training spaces at a tuition rate of $30,590 per student.

The first transition class entered training on February 18, 1965, and its 11 members graduated on April 17, 1965. The transition course replaced the MAP course that had moved from George AFB in the summer of 1964 and was an all GAF program. It was only 28 training days in length and was designed to parallel the GAF transition program conducted at Jever Air Base, West Germany, as closely as possible. Transition students received just over 16 hours of flying time on 14 sorties. The four phases of training were transition, formation, instrument, and evaluation check. The purpose of the course was to transition selected pilots from GAF F-84 and F-86 aircraft into the F-104G. Many of the transition students previously had trained at Luke in the old F-84F MAP program.

A number of dramatic events occurred during the first five years of the F-104 program at Luke. In January 1965 the first contingent of eight GAF instructor pilots arrived, marking the first time foreign pilots had been assigned to a USAF training unit as part of the permanent staff. A memorandum of agreement for GAF instructor pilots at Luke had been finalized on November 3, 1964 when Maj. Gen. Victor R. Haugen, Headquarters USAF, signed the agreement. Lt. Gen. Werner Panitzki, Inspector of the GAF, and equivalent to the USAF Chief of Staff, already had signed the agreement on September 11, 1964.

The agreement specified that eight GAF instructor pilots would be assigned to TAC for two year tours of duty, with a subsequent increase to three years. The GAF instructors were equivalent to USAF senior First Lieutenants and junior Captains. A minimum of 1,200 hours of flying time was required, with 500 hours in jet fighters and 150 hours in the F-104G. Furthermore, the German pilots were required to be qualified instructor pilots and fluent in English. Their duties were performed under the direction and supervision of USAF flight commanders, and they flew the same requirements as USAF instructor pilots.

The first year of training in the advanced fighter course was completed on 0ctober 11, 1965 with the graduation of a class of eight students. In that first year, 40 German pilots graduated from the course. An additional 81 German pilots completed the transition course. On November 26, 1965 a fire destroyed the main electronics and systems shop, causing an estimated $7.2 million in damages. Some of the damaged equipment was repaired, and training was not interrupted, as a van service was initiated between Luke and Lockheed's facility at Palmdale.

A manpower change also was effected in 1965 involving the contract administration office. Eighteen months experience had proved that the organization composed almost entirely of military personnel under the 4540th CCTG was not feasible. There were no USAF F-104G units, thus obtaining qualified aircraft maintenance inspector personnel was difficult, if not impossible. The function was converted to an almost completely civilian operation and placed under the Deputy Commander for Materiel.

On September 1, 1966 the 4540th CCTG and 4443rd CCTS were deactivated at Luke, and the F-104 training program was placed under the Deputy Commander for Operations of the 4510th CCTW. Training was conducted by the two remaining squadrons, the 4512th CCTS and the 4518th CCTS. Further change involved the termination of the short transition course. It was replaced by a longer refresher course of 40 training days. Flying hours were increased to 31 in the refresher course, and sorties increased from 14 to 25. Sorties were added in air combat tactics, air intercepts, radar navigation, and air-to-air gunnery phases. The refresher course was designed to provide air combat and interceptor training to German pilots current in the F-104G.

The first class of students in the refresher course graduated on December 20, 1966 and the last on August 9, 1967, when the course was terminated. A total of 33 pilots trained in the refresher program. The 15 MAP F-104 aircraft transferred from George were used to conduct the refresher course. The MAP aircraft were also used to conduct a special fighter weapons instructor course for three Royal Netherlands Air Force pilots and two Italian Air Force pilots from July 10, to September 26, 1967. Following the class graduation in September 1967, the MAP aircraft were placed in storage. The special course was important from the standpoint of experience gamed by the 4510th CCTW. That experience was drawn upon when a similar, but improved, course was developed for the GAF.

Discussions were held at TAC on February 13, 1968 concerning the activation of an air warfare instructor course (AWIC) in the F-104G. The German government signed a contract on November 22, 1968 for approximately $3.5 million to cover 50 training spaces at a tuition rate of $65,000 per pilot. The new AWIC course spanned 60 training days, some 39 flying hours, and 34 sorties. Primary concentration was in air combat and ground attack. Six phases of training were included: five sorties in air attack; seven in air combat maneuvering, eight in ground attack, seven in tactical ground attack, four in nuclear weapons delivery, and three on combat profile missions.

Six Luke USAF instructor pilots were assigned to a special flight, to conduct the course. All were graduates of the USAF's Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The Luke program was based on the course at Nellis: Entry requirements for GAF pilots included 1,000 hours of flying time, with 700 hours in jet fighters and 100 hours in the F-104G. Further requirements included a minimum of 30 hours in the F-104G within the previous 90 days preceding course entry as well as attainment of recurrency in conventional weapons delivery within the same time period.

The first class of six students entered training on January 8, 1969 and graduated on April 7, 1969. The AWIC course had been developed for the GAF because of its changing role in NATO. A ground-attack role had been assumed in addition to the GAF interceptor role. History repeated itself in the class, as German Navy Lt. Dieter S. Seeck, Top Gun in the first 1965 F-104 advanced fighter class, again emerged as the winner. This time he received the Flying Award given for the most points in gunnery.

On June 27, 1969, the designation of the advanced fighter course was changed to operational training course to bring flying training in line with the new ground-support policies in the GAF. A milestone was reached on August 19, 1969 when Technical Sergeant Ralf Pilawa of the GAF recorded the 100,000th flying hour in the F-104 at Luke. Major changes occurred in organization on October 1, 1969 when the 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing (TFTW) was activated, replacing the 4510th CCTW as the host unit at Luke. Concurrently, the 69th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (TFTS) and the 418th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (TFTS) were activated as F-104 training units, replacing the 4512th CCTS and 4518th CCTS.

The first half of the 1970s reflected several changes in the F-104 training program. Effective July 28, 1970 the programmed class load in the operational training course was reduced from 13 to 8 students per class. On January 14, 1971 the GAF announced two additional F-104 courses at Luke. A fighter training course of five weeks duration began with the entry of the first class of six students on April 5, 1971. The contract was for 12 spaces at $34,000 per student and a $772,230 total for the remainder of Fiscal Year 1971. The purpose of the course was to provide continuation training for GAF pilots in advanced fighter tactics and weapons employment. The four-phase course consisted of 18 sorties and 19 flying hours. Training was accomplished in basic flight maneuvers, air combat maneuvering, air-to-air gunnery, and ground attack. The bulk of training was in the combat maneuvering and air attack phases, with six sorties in each phase.

The second course was an advanced fighter bomber course, which had training concentrated in the ground-attack role. It was also a five-week course and consisted of 20 sorties and 23 flying hours. Four sorties were offered in ground attack, eight in tactical ground attack; and four in night ground attack. The remaining four sorties were equally divided between basic flight maneuvers and air combat maneuvers. The first class of nine students began training on July 1, 1971 and graduated on August 10, 1971. Subsequent class size in the fighter/bomber course was increased to 12 students.

The GAF alternated the two courses. The first two classes were in fighter training and the next three were in fighter/bomber training. The classes were rotated throughout the duration of the program. In August the two courses were combined into a single advanced fighter course. The last class under the previous arrangement was a fighter/bomber course of 12 students who graduated on August 27, 1974. The first class of the new advanced fighter course began that same date. Under the separate courses, 126 pilots completed the fighter training course, and 136 graduated from the fighter bomber course.

The new combined course lasted seven weeks and consisted of 22 sorties and 22 flying hours. The first class of nine students graduated on October 16, 1974. The air combat and air-to-air phases of the old fighter training course were combined with ground-attack, tactical ground-attack, and night ground-attack phases from the fighter bomber course. The new course was short-lived. The last class of eight students graduated on April 2, 1975. Two remaining classes were canceled before they entered training, and the contracted flying hours were transferred for use in the operational training and AWIC courses. A total of 35 pilots graduated from the advanced fighter course.

The period of 1974 to 1975 was marked by a series of actions designed to prolong the life span of the F-104 fleet at Luke. On July 12, 1974 the Federal Ministry of Defense announced that its Luke F-104 program would be extended into Fiscal Year 1982. An estimated 61,000 flying hours remained on the Luke aircraft. But the only training programs retained were the operational training and AWIC courses. The two classes canceled in the advanced fighter course had been the last programmed for that training.

The programmed student load in the operational training course, however, was also reduced from 50 students to 45. A further change in June 1975 reduced the number of flying hours and sorties in the basic course. The new syllabus allotted 87 sorties and just over 106 flying hours. The old syllabus had called for 101 sorties and 125 flying hours. Those totals had been constant during the Luke program, although certain phases of training had been altered from time to time.

A second major milestone was reached during the first week of February 1978 when the 200,000 flying-hour mark was met and exceeded.

The height of the F-104 program had been reached in 1971 when four F-104 courses existed at Luke. The mainstay of the program has been the operational training course, informally referred to as the long course.

As of December 31, 1975 more than 1,400 German Air Force and Navy pilots had been trained at Luke in 10 separate courses. More than half of that total, 758 students, were trained in the long course. The second most productive course was the short 16-hour transition course with 187 graduates, followed by the AWIC course with 158 graduates, the fighter bomber course with 136, and the fighter training course with 126. The remaining graduates came from among the advanced fighter course, the refresher course, and the instructor pilot upgrading courses. Although the old MAP course moved from George AFB was not a formal GAF F-104 training program, 19 German pilots graduated from it in the two classes conducted at Luke in late 1964 and early 1965.

Aircraft inventories at Luke peaked in 1967 and 1968. In 1967, 100 aircraft were assigned, 62 F-104G and 38 TF-104G: The total increased to 102 in 1968, 61 F-104G models and 41 TF-104G models. The decrease in training requirements was accompanied by a corresponding decrease in the fleet size. As of September 30, 1975 some 60 aircraft were assigned for training. A storage program was started at Luke in Fiscal Year 1973, when 10 aircraft were placed into storage. As of September 30, 1975 some 13 aircraft were in storage.

Since its introduction in the German Air Force, the F-104 Starfighter has been involved in 178 accidents, resulting in fatal injuries to 85 pilots. As of December 31, 1975 losses at Luke AFB were 35 aircraft and 21 fatalities, 15 of whom were German pilots. The other six fatalities were USAF pilots. The 35 aircraft were lost in 33 accidents.

Of the 35 aircraft lost at Luke, 30 were the single-seat F104G and 5 were two-place TF-104G. There were two one-year periods at Luke when no accidents occurred, September 17, 1966 through October 23, 1967 and October 23, 1970 through November 7, 1971. In addition, only one accident occurred in the each of the calendar years of 1967, 1971, and 1974. The 1967 accident involved the loss of two aircraft. Two accidents occurred in the calendar years of 1968, 1972, and 1973, with the latter involving the loss of three aircraft. Four accidents occurred in the years of 1965, 1970, and 1975. Five accidents occurred in 1966, and the worst year was 1969 with seven accidents. The first F-104 accident at Luke occurred on April 16, 1965.

Also in Fiscal Year 1973, other NATO countries began participating in the AWIC course. By December 31, 1975 some 11 pilots from Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium had graduated from the AWIC course. In such cases, the countries involved reimbursed the Federal Republic of Germany for training costs. As of June 30, 1975 training costs in the GAF F-104 program had amounted to some $175 million.

The very nature of the program has kept it fairly constant. Most of the changes that have occurred in the basic and AWIC courses have been internal, as flying hours were contracted. Any significant increase or decrease required renegotiation of contracts. Sorties and flying hours in the AWIC course have increased by only four in each category since the course's inception in 1969. The most dramatic change in the basic course was the reduction in flying hours and sorties in June 1975. Prior to that, changes were made in the types of missions flown, with internal adjustments not affecting the over-all totals.

The F-104 program at Luke has been more than an advanced pilot training program. Its participants have fostered international good will through their charitable work. A series of soccer games between German student pilots and the Air Force Academy team, begun in 1967 and continued until 1974, raised more than $30,000 for the Glendale, Arizona, Boys Club. The German pilots also have assisted in remodeling and improving the Boys Club facility. In December 1967, a severe blizzard stranded Hopi and Navajo Indians and their cattle herds in northeastern Arizona. German pilots were among the first volunteers to kick bales of hay out of C-119 transports to the cattle. One student remarked that it was their way of helping to repay American support during the Berlin Airlift. Also, through the years, a German pilot choral group has been well received at free performances throughout the Phoenix area.

On September 22, 1975, a dedication ceremony was held at Luke in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the first graduating class. An F-104 Starfighter obtained from the Puerto Rican Air National Guard and painted with GAF markings was placed on static display near Luke's main gate. Principal speaker at the ceremony was Lt. Gen. Walter Krupinski, Commander of the GAF Tactical Air Command. In June 1964, then Colonel Krupinski of the GAF Training Staff participated in the USAF/GAF conference at Bad Godesberg. After more than 10 years and 1,400 graduates, the GAF F-104 program at Luke is still going strong and is a monument to continued cooperation among the USAF, GAF and Lockheed, which had assumed complete maintenance responsibility in 1973.

What began as a unique concept has continued as a unique success and resulted in Luke being referred to as the largest German Air Force base in the world.

1.Esther Clark, "German Praises Luke Jet Training," Phoenix Gazette, 7 July 1966.
2.Time, 106, 19, 10 Nov. 1975, 86. [As of 7 May 1977, 190 F-104s have been lost in Germany]

The yearbook, in effect, of the Deutsche Luftwaffe "Die Aussergewöhnlichen Männer der Kaktus Starfighter Staffel" (Those Wonderful Men in the Cactus Starfighter Squadron), by Col. Barney Oldfield (USAF, Ret.) and Chief Master Sgt. Tom Rhone, is a tribute in German and English to the Luftwaffe pilots who have enriched the life of Arizona and have been worth $250,000 each in reverse lend-lease or payment of balances to the USAF.

Tom Rhone has been the Luftwaffe's "Our Man in Arizona"; he knows personally all 800 Luftwaffe pilots. Litton, for whom Oldfield works, was the company that decided that its products should be served not merely technically but also in a fraternal sense. So with the appreciation of an old flier for what it was like for pilots to have to shift from propeller driven aircraft of under 500 mph after 11 years without flying combat aircraft to fighters capable of 1200 mph, Oldfield initiated the program of making the Germans feel at home in Arizona.

Robert C. Sullivan is the historian, 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing, Luke Air Force Base; AZ. Sullivan is an active free-lance writer, formerly a free-lance columnist for a California newspaper.

copyright: Robert C. Sullivan

compiled: November 29, 2008