NF-104A 756 zooming skyward
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