By Peter E. Davies, Rolando Ugolini, Gareth Hector
The 'missile with a guy in it' used to be identified for its blistering velocity and deadliness in air strive against. The F-104C flew greater than 14,000 wrestle hours in Vietnam as a bomber escort, a Wild Weasel escort and an in depth air aid plane. notwithstanding many have been sceptical of its skill to hold guns, the Starfighter gave a superb account of itself within the shut air help function. It was once additionally popular that the enemy have been particularly reluctant to probability their helpful and scarce MiGs while the F-104 was once escorting bombers over North Vietnam or flying wrestle air patrols within sight. The missions weren't with no probability, and 14 Starfighters have been misplaced throughout the conflict over a two-year interval. This was once no longer insignificant in view that the USAF in basic terms had one wing of those useful airplane on the time, and wartime attrition and coaching injuries additionally took relatively a chew from the inventory.
While the F-105 Thunderchief and F-4 Phantom acquired lots of the glory and exposure through the struggle in Vietnam, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter used to be no longer given a lot probability of surviving in a 'shooting war'. within the occasion, it did that and lots more and plenty extra. even supposing inbuilt small numbers for the USAF, the F-104C fought and survived for nearly 3 years in Vietnam. Like its predecessor the F-100, the Starfighter was once a mainstay of Tactical Air Command and Air Defence Command, with whom it served with contrast as an air superiority fighter and aspect defence interceptor. This small, tricky and intensely quickly fighter, dubbed 'The Missile with a guy in It', used to be known as upon to do issues it used to be now not particularly designed for, and did them admirably. between those have been shut air aid and armed reconnaissance utilizing bombs, rockets and different armaments hung from its tiny wings, in addition to its 20 mm Vulcan cannon, firing 6000 rounds in line with minute. The jet participated in probably the most well-known battles of the battle, together with the mythical Operation Bolo, during which seven North Vietnamese MiGs went down in flames with out US losses. while it was once battling in Vietnam, the Starfighter was once being followed via no fewer than six NATO air forces in addition to Japan and Nationalist China. It used to be later procured by way of Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan. The latter state took the Starfighter to struggle with India two times within the Nineteen Sixties, and it additionally observed strive against with Taiwan.
The tale of the Starfighter in Vietnam is one in every of tragedy and of final vindication. for many years the F-104's contribution to the air conflict in Vietnam used to be downplayed and its function as a floor assault computer minimised. in basic terms in recent times has that overview been re-evaluated, and the proof end up the Starfighter to were in a position to do its activity to boot or larger than the various different tactical airplane despatched to the theatre for simply that objective.
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Extra info for F-104 Starfighter Units in Combat
Harold Alston also experienced a brief encounter with communist Chinese MiGs during his 57th combat mission on 26 September 1966. In a two-ship escort flight, with Capt Donnie Tribble as wingman, he rode ‘shotgun’ on a 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) EC-130E-II Silver Dawn aircraft that was flying an electronic and communications ‘comint’ monitoring sortie just offshore from North Vietnam and China. This sortie was ‘somewhat boring because the EC-130 was much slower than us. Our job was to clear the area, keep him in sight and deter any airborne threats.
Sharing CAP duties with 24 F-4Cs for a strike force of 25 F-105Ds, they were challenged by four MiG-17s of the 923rd Fighter Regiment. One MiG was duly shot down, but it fell to an F-105D pilot rather than the MiGCAP aircraft. Strike force pilots often reported that the VPAF’s highly effective ground controllers were able to manoeuvre MiGs around the MiGCAPs to attack the F-105s. Sometimes this could be done by vectoring the MiGs in at low altitude within ‘ground clutter’ that hid them from the EC-121Ds or US naval radars.
From more than 500 tactical fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft poised to defend the southern areas of the USA, including F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4 Phantom IIs, the F-104 was thought most capable of meeting and defeating these opponents. Pilots in the 435th TFS were told that they could easily be involved in a ‘hot’ situation, as George Wells recalled; ‘For the first couple of days we were assigned to fly down to designated locations on the northern coast of Cuba and be prepared to fly over Cuba itself it proved necessary to protect either USAF RF-101 Voodoo or US Navy RF-8 Crusader reconnaissance aeroplanes that were taking photographs of the missile sites.