On December 10, 1963, Chuck Yeager, a legendary test pilot, crashed while flying an F-104 Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mohave Desert of California. The incident resulted in serious injuries for Yeager and the grounding of the entire NF-104 fleet.
The NF-104 and F-104 are both variants of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter aircraft, but they have some significant differences.
The F-104 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft that was developed in the late 1950s for the United States Air Force (USAF). It was widely used by many countries, including Canada, Italy, Germany, and Japan. The F-104 had a single engine and was designed to be a high-performance interceptor aircraft. It had a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 and was capable of flying at high altitudes.
The NF-104, on the other hand, was a modified version of the F-104 that was used for high-altitude flight training. The “NF” stands for “NASA Flight” because it was used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for astronaut training. The NF-104 was fitted with a rocket engine that allowed it to climb to higher altitudes than the F-104. The ceiling of the aircraft was supposed to be 125,000 feet. It was also equipped with a reaction control system (RCS) that allowed it to simulate the handling characteristics of a spacecraft.
Overall, the main differences between the F-104 and the NF-104 are that the latter had a rocket engine and RCS, which made it suitable for high-altitude flight training, while the former was a high-performance interceptor aircraft.
Chuck Yeager, on the other hand, was a highly experienced test pilot with a distinguished career. He was the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight, flying the Bell X-1 in 1947. Yeager was also known for his contributions to the development of several other aircraft, including the F-86 Sabre, the F-100 Super Sabre, and the B-58 Hustler.
On December 10, 1963, Yeager was conducting a test flight of an NF-104 Starfighter equipped with a rocket engine at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The purpose of the flight was to evaluate the aircraft’s performance at high altitudes and high speeds. Yeager was flying at an altitude of 80,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.5 when he experienced a loss of control.
According to Yeager’s account of the incident, he had just completed a steep climb to 108,000 feet and was beginning to level off when the aircraft suddenly pitched up and rolled to the left. Yeager attempted to recover the aircraft using the reaction control thrusters on. and applying opposite rudder and aileron, but the NF-104 continued to roll and dive and eventually fell into a flat spin.. Yeager ejected from the aircraft at an altitude of around 8,500 feet and landed safely, but he suffered several injuries, including a broken collarbone, several ribs, a punctured lung and severe burns to his face.
Following the crash, the United States Air Force launched an investigation to determine the cause of the incident. The investigation revealed that the F-104 had a notoriously difficult flight envelope, with a high stall speed and a tendency to enter a flat spin at high angles of attack. The investigation also revealed that Yeager had been flying with a faulty attitude indicator, which may have contributed to the loss of control.
However, the investigation ultimately concluded that the cause of the crash was pilot error. The investigation found that Yeager had exceeded the aircraft’s design limitations by flying at an altitude and speed that were beyond the F-104’s safe operating range. The investigation also found that Yeager had not received adequate training on the F-104 and had not been briefed on the risks associated with flying the aircraft at high altitudes and speeds.
The consequences of the NF-104 crash were significant. The incident highlighted the dangers of flying high-performance aircraft without adequate training and briefing. As a result, the United States Air Force grounded the entire NF-104 fleet until additional training and safety measures could be implemented. The incident also led to changes in the way that test pilots were trained and briefed on new aircraft.
In 1922, the movie Top Gun: Maverick featured a similar incident written into the story of the movie. Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick is attempting to reach a new speed record or Mach 10, when, at high alititude he is forced to bail our of the experimental plane he was piloting.
Chuck Yeager’s NF-104 cam to rest in the Mohave Desert, just west of I-14 and south of California City Blvd.
|Name||Chuck Yeagers NF-104 Crash Site|
|Location||Mojave Desert, Los Angles County, California|
|Date of Incident||December 10th, 1963|
|Latitude, Longitude||35.1236, -118.1469|