Lockheed F-104B Starfighter

Last revised October 25, 2002

The F-104B (company Model 283-93-03) was a two-seat, dual-control, combat trainer version of the F-104A. A second seat was provided underneath an extended canopy, with each crewmember being provided with a separate hatch which opened to the left. A full set of controls was provided for both crewmembers.

It was intended that the F-104B two seater would have the same performance and combat capability of the F-104A single seater. However, in order to provide space for the second seat, the 20-mm cannon of the single-seater had to be removed, some internal electronics had to be relocated, the internal fuel capacity had to be reduced from 897 to 752 US gallons, and the nosewheel once again had to be made to retract rearwards. However, the provision for two underwing and two wingtip drop tanks was retained, boosting total fuel capacity by 730 US gallons. The armament was limited to a pair of wingtip-mounted AIM-9B Sidewinders, although the AN/ASG-14T-1 fire control system was retained.

The first of an initial batch of six F-104Bs (serial number 56-3719) took off on its maiden flight on January 16, 1967. It had been literally built by hand out of an F-104A airframe, and the larger area vertical tail, the automatic pitch control system, and the fire control system of later F-104Bs were not installed. It was unofficially designated YF-104B, although it was later brought up to production F-104B standards. This airplane was later used to test Lockheed's downward-firing ejection seat that was initially fitted to the F-104A.

The initial batch of F-104Bs had the same vertical tail as did the F-104A single seater. However, the B did not have the ventral fin that was fitted to the A. During early flight testing, the F-104Bs exhibited an annoying tendency to snake back and forth during flight, indicating that a larger keel area was required. Twenty subsequent F-104B production versions (from FY 1957 batches) were fitted with the F-104A's ventral fin and were given considerably larger vertical fin area and a broad-chord, fully power-assisted rudder extending well beyond the end of the tail pipe. The area of the vertical fin of the F-104B was now fully 25 percent larger than that of the F-104A.

Like the F-104A, the B was initially powered by the J79-GE-3A, but this engine was later replaced by the more reliable J79-GE-3B as it became available.

Provisions were made for the possibility of removing the rear seat of the F-104B, fitting the 20-mm rotary cannon, and flying the aircraft as a single-seater if the need arose. However, I don't know if this was ever done in practice.

The first recipient of the F-104B was the 83rd FIS at Hamilton AFB in California, which took on its first aircraft in early 1958. Subsequently, all three F-104A ADC squadrons received the F-104B. The F-104B was assigned to operational units, at a rate of four aircraft per squadron. If required, they could be used for tactical operations. The last of 26 F-104B was delivered in November of 1958, against 106 originally ordered in 1957.

The performance of the F-104B was almost identical to that of the F-104A, but the lower internal fuel capacity reduced its effective range considerably.

During the service of the F-104B, the Lockheed C-1 downward-firing ejection seats were replaced with C-2 upward-firing ejection seats. Since the ejection was originally downward, the cockpit canopy of the F-104B had not been designed to be blown off the plane during the ejection. The canopy had to be extenaively redesigned so that this could be done. Among the changes was the addition of a stationary, fixed transparent central section separating the two individual jettisonable canopies to ensure clean canopy separation during ejection. In every case of the old-style canopy, you will see the early downward-firing ejection seat without upward guide rails. In every case of the new canopy, you will see the structure for the upward ejection seat rails. Also, the middle section of the new style canopy had a clear separator that formed a windshield for the aft cockpit if the forward canopy section was lost in flight or damaged by a bird strike.

Along with the F-104A, ADC F-104Bs were transferred to the Air National Guard in 1960. ANG squadrons operating the F-104A/B were called up to active duty during the Berlin crisis of 1961 and deployed to Europe. When the ANG squadrons reverted to state control in 1962, their F-104A/Bs were retained by the USAF and turned back over to the ADC. The last F-104B left ADC service in 1969.

In 1960, the Pakistan Air Force received two ex-USAF F-104Bs along with ten F-104As to equip one squadron. These aircraft took part in both the August 1965 and December 1971 wars with India. At least two F-104Bs were delivered to the Republic of China Air Force on Taiwan. In the spring of 1967, three F-104Bs were turned over to the Royal Jordanian Air Force along with two single-seat F-104As. At least two are on display in museums. F-104B 53-1303 was handed over to NASA as 819 in December of 1959. Others ended up in the boneyards at Davis-Monthan AFB.

Serials of the F-104B:

56-3719/3724		Lockheed F-104B-1-LO Starfighter
				c/n 283-5000/5005
57-1294/1302		Lockheed F-104B-5-LO Starfighter
				c/n 283-5006/5014
57-1303/1311		Lockheed F-104B-10-LO Starfighter
				c/n 283-5015/5023
57-1312/1313		Lockheed F-104B-15-LO Starfighter
				c/n 283-5024/5025

Specification of the F-104B:

Engine: One General Electric J79-GE-3A/3B turbojet, 9600 lb.s.t. dry and 14,800 lb.s.t. with afterburning. Performance: Maximum speed 1145 mph at 65,000 feet. Stalling speed 198 mph. Initial climb rate 64,500 feet per minute. Service ceiling 64,795 feet. Normal range 460 miles. Maximum range with two wingtip drop tanks 1225 miles. Fuel: Internal fuel capacity was 752 US gallons, and maximum fuel capacity with two wingtip tanks and two underwing tanks was 1482 US gallons. Dimensions: Wingspan 21 feet 9 inches, length 54 feet 8 inches, height 13 feet 5 inches, wing area 196.1 square feet. Weights: 13,727 pounds empty, 17,812 pounds combat, 24,912 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: Armament consisted of a pair of wingtip-mounted AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared homing air-to-air missiles. In an emergency, the rear seat could be removed and the 20-mm M61A1 cannon of the single seat version could be fitted.


  1. The Lockheed F-104G/CF-104, Gerhard Joos, Aircraft in Profile No. 131, Doubleday, 1969.

  2. The World's Great Interceptor Aircraft, Gallery Books, 1989.

  3. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Steve Pace, Motorbooks International, 1992.

  4. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987.

  5. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  6. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday 1968.

  7. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner, Third Enlarged Edition, Doubleday, 1982.

  8. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, John Fricker, Wings of Fame, Vol 2, Aerospace Publishing Ltd, 1996.

  9. E-mail from Michael Vorrasi on F-104B cockpit canopy modifications.