First USAF fighter to fly above Mach 2, the F-104 Starfighter made its appearance in the 1950s when it was decided to replace the still airworthy F-100 Super Sabre with a fighter which could be used mainly as an interceptor. Planning started in 1952 and the first of two prototypes took to the air on March 4, 1954. Seven months later came the initial order for 153 machines of the F- 104A series, followed by 26 two-seater F-104B trainers. Despite its exceptional qualities, however, the USAF considered it unsuitable for interception alone, and with the C version (77 machines, first delivery October 16, 1958), the F-104 was transformed into a fighter-bomber. This aircraft had a brief operational life in Vietnam. However, the Starfighter's fortunes were lifted by production of the next G version for the NATO allies. From 1960 to 1973 some 1,127 of this variant were produced under license in Canada, Japan, Belgium, Italy, West Germany and Holland. Italy, too, built 245 of the final F-104S version.
Almost all the F-104s in the fighter-bomber version, assigned the letter C, were used in Vietnam, for 21 months, during which time they performed important, far-ranging work. The first fifteen Starfighters arrived in April 1965, with the 476th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing: from April 20 to November 20 of the same year they carried out 2,927 missions of machine-gunning, bombing and escorting strike aircraft, sometimes in North Vietnamese air space, before returning to the United States. The 476th was back, however, in June 1966, operating from the Udorn base in Thailand. The F-104Cs were now camouflaged in accordance with operational needs and in July were handed over to the 436th TFS and in October to the 435th, still belonging to the 479th TFW. From June 1966 to July 1967 the F-104Cs carried out escorting and bombing missions on North Vietnam, with over 5,290 sorties. The last Starfighter left Thailand before the end of 1967, its duties being taken over by the Phantom F-4D. Although not much has been written and said about the F-104C, it seems to have given a good account of itself, but the shortage of machines obviously limited its use.
Aircraft: Lockheed F-104C