Fifty eight years ago today, a F-104C piloted by Lt William T. Smith and Einar K. Envoldson from the 538th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, zoomed to 103,395 feet setting a world altitude record. Designed as a supersonic superiority fighter, the F-104 was produced in two major versions. Armed with a six-barrel M-61 20mm Vulcan cannon, it served as a tactical fighter, and when equipped additionally with heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles, as a day-night interceptor. Development of the F-104 began in 1952, and the first XF-104 made its initial flight in 1954. On May 18, 1958, an F-104A set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph, and on Dec. 14, 1959, an F-104C set a world altitude record of 103,395 feet. The Starfighter was the first aircraft to hold simultaneous official world records for speed, altitude and time-to-climb.
The USAF procured about 300 Starfighters in one- and two-seat versions. In addition, more than 1,700 F-104s were built in the United States and abroad under the military aid program for various nations including Canada, West Germany, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Taiwan and Japan.
The International F-104 Society researched this specific record and here is what they reported. Alternately flown by Lt William T. Smith and Einar K. Envoldson, both flying with the 538th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Larson AFB, WA flew time to climb record flights over a two-day period from NAS Point Mugu, California. They reached: 3000 meter (9,800 ft) time-to-climb record in 41.85 seconds 6000 meter (20,000 ft) time-to-climb record in 58.41 seconds 9000 meter (30,000 ft) time-to-climb record in 81.14 seconds (1 minute 21 seconds) 12,000 meter (39,000 ft) time-to-climb record in 99.90 seconds (1 minute 39 seconds) 15,000 meter (49,000 ft) time-to-climb record in 131.1 seconds (2 minutes 11 seconds) 20,000 meter (66,000 ft) time-to-climb record in 222.99 seconds (3 minutes 42 seconds) 25,000 meter (82,020.8 feet) time-to-climb record in 266.03 seconds (4 minutes, 26.03 seconds), by Einar Envoldson. Photos beneath show the F-104A 56-762 at Point Mugu and also both pilots Envoldson and Smith shaking hands after the successfull record attempts. Note factory code “50” on the 104’s nose.
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