Air-to-air photography with the F-104D in 1964

Steve McCutcheon left two interesting comments on both my posts “Airborne pickup (rejoining with an F-104)” and “Air-to-Air photography”. He wrote that my story and pictures reminded him about his flight in a 104D  and also that he wish my explaination was available before he took his ride in an F-104 since they were too close to the other 104D and most of his photos don’t show the whole plane: “After going supersonic the pilot asked me what I wanted to do next and I said I wanted to take pictures of the other 104D. We did a 180 and pulled a lot of G’s and I don’t know how many, but I couldn’t move. We intercepted the other D around Gibralter and I got some great B/W photos”.

I asked him to describe his whole flight story and Steve kindly provided this detailed description of that sortie on the backseat on an F-104:

My flight on May 14,1964 in F-104D, 57-1330

I was in Spain at Moron Air Base on the last 2 TDY’s of the F104’s in 1964. We were packing up all our gear and getting ready for a final party and they had a drawing for anyone who wanted a flight in one of our 2 F104D’s. I was lucky and on May 14, 1964 I got my spur’s. We were given 1 hour familiarization training which was all about how to safely eject and then we got our flight. The take off and acceleration was great and the view was amazing. The Starfighter is so small that the canopy allows you to almost see directly below you. It would be hard for a plane to sneak underneath the F-104. After flying around a bit Captain Dold asked me to take the stick. I moved the stick to the left a little and the plant instantly turned about 70 degrees to the left and I moved the stick back and we were level again. He then told me to really move the stick next time. I did and this time the plane did about 260 degrees and I brought the plane back upright. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I brought both of my cameras and I had one on the instrument panel and no matter what position the plane was in my camera never left the instrument panel. Doing rolls with positive G’s was surprising. I then said I wanted to go supersonic. We accelerated and went 1.3 Mach. Captain Dold said I wouldn’t notice much difference except the air speed indicator and one other instrument would fluctuate when going through the sound barrier and the sound of the engine seem to move farther back. I know everyone on the ground knew we were supersonic. Captain Dold asked me what I wanted to do next and I told him I wanted to take pictures of the other F-104D, 57-1334. He radioed the other plane and found they were way south near the rock of Gibralter. We did a 180 and pulled a lot of G’s and I don’t know how many, but it put me way into my seat and I couldn’t move. We intercepted the other D around Gibraltar and I got some great B/W photos. After landing the farewell party had already started and I took my cameras and went to the party. After taking a few pictures and talking to my friends and telling them about my flight I realized I was really tired. I guess pulling all those G’s and my fighting them to take picture had worn me out. Pilots must be in really great shape because they are always pulling lots of G’s. I went back to the barracks and went to sleep.

It amazes me that the sound barrier was broken successfully by Chuck Yeager in October, 1947 and less than 16 years later I did it in a F-104 Starfighter which have been flying and doing it for years.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.