NF-104A 756 zooming skyward
The NF-104 is a modified F-104, with a 6,000-pound thrust liquid fuel rocket engine in addition to the conventional jet engine. This plane can reach altitudes over 120,000 feet where the atmospheric pressure is virtually a vacuum, and for all practical purposes, this is space. Control at these altitudes is accomplished with hydrogen peroxide reaction control jets for pitch and yaw, used to maneuver the craft just like the X-15 and manned space capsules orbiting the earth. When this aircraft flies a ballistic arc, and in going “over the top” the pilot experiences over a minute of weightlessness or no gravity. On November 1963, Major R.W. Smith set an altitude record of 118,600 feet. Smith also took it to 120,800 feet the following month but Guinness does not accept this as it did not exceed by 3% as required by FAI for world records.
So where are the NF-104s these days? Serial 60762 was lost when tested by Yeager, Serial 60756 was scrapped after its rocket exploded, removing half of its rudder, and serial 60760 is mounted on a pylon by the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB.
painting © Edwards AFB Gallery