Honey I Shrunk the Checkbook

Last month, I visited with a gentleman who had a model of an F-104 Starfighter on his desk. Nearby was a portrait of him next to the “manned missile”. He explained that while he didn’t have a pilot’s license, he actually went through two days of training and later flew in the aircraft. I didn’t know any were still airworthy, much less the thought of getting a hop in one. This was a piece of history, one of Kelly Johnson’s (Skunkworks!) more famous efforts. It’s fast , has a terrific rate of climb but wasn’t much of a dog fighter. The F-104 was intended to deliver nuclear ordnance and bug out at mach 2 during the cold war era. It also saw limited service in Vietnam. So how do you get to strap into the rear seat in one of these? Through Incredible Adventures whose motto is: “All you need is the dream,  We take care of the rest”. More accurately all you need is a dream and  $30,000.

We’ll introduce you to the stomach-crunching g-forces of a high-speed vertical climb and the incredible sensations of freefall and weightlessness sure to be part of future civilian space flights. We’ll top that off with a rapid descent and shuttle-style landing on one of the world’s longest runways.

That means a take off and landing from the Kennedy Space Center which would be pretty amazing.  So it ain’t cheap, but for most pilots (and non pilots), it would be the flight of a lifetime.

Not to be outdone, the Collings Foundation received an FAA flight exemption that allows them to offer the “Vietnam Memorial Flight Program” to both pilots and non-pilots. (Featured at Airventure this year). The F-4 and A-4 Flight Programs take place at their Houston, Texas campus. Each participant will take part in academic sessions on board the aircraft, including safety procedures, ejection seat training and cockpit orientation, before putting on a fight-suit and manning the cat bird seat. While the Starfighter has one J-79 engine, the Phantom has two, making it one of the most powerful civilian operated fighters in the world. The F-4 Phantom program is $12,500, while the A-4 Skyhawk is $7,800.

While a fraction of the Starfighter flight, the price tag is still pretty hefty. This would fund a year (or more) of bugsmashing for many GA types but there IS something special about warbirds. You’re flying a piece of history. The stick has the gun and / or bomb release switches.  As you ready for take off, your eyes scan an analog cockpit with the wear and tear of countless missions. The harness is tight, seat is armed and the view out the canopy is nothing short of spectacular. Sit back, relax and enjoy pulling some G’s. The pilot in command is responsible to bring back the bird with all the parts attached and no one’s shooting at you.

All it takes is airspeed…and lots of money.

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15 responses to “Honey I Shrunk the Checkbook

  1. Wow…I have a personal connection to the A4, it’s been a dream of mine to fly in one since I could walk.

    $7800 sounds pretty reasonable…

    • Closer to home (Ballarat, closer than Texas anyway) is the Strikemaster. Not quite the same as the Skyhawk but you wouldn’t need to make a 20 hour flight to the states.
      Let me know how you’ll sell the idea to your wife: “Houston is lovely this time of year?”

  2. virgil xenophon

    A guy I “FAC’ked” with was a Sr Maj. from Paint Lick, Ky (who retired as a bird Col and was a REAL character from the “old school”) who had previously flown 104s (out of Tyndale, Fla., iirc) Had some *interesting* stories to tell…the MAJ take-away was that it was 1st CAD-CAM designed fighter and built with NO fudge-factors. The design limits ABSOLUTELY WERE the design limits and one exceeded them at one’s DISTINCT peril! Took a really experienced stick to master the thoroughbred if one wanted to get the max out of its performance envelope….no Harvey Hamfists need apply… check out the GAF (was their main nuke strike-fighter when I was over there–yes, nukes–we were going to hang them at wartime build-out–they were part of the warplan. One tgt I sat in Poland I was 3rd wpn on tgt 8 min behind a Pershing missile and 4min behind a W German 104, followed by an F-111 out of Lakenheath 4 min behind me.) accident loss rates if you want validation…not for the faint of heart..

  3. virgil xenophon

    PS: And needless to say the downward firing ejection-seat didn’t help much during landing, take-off or low-levels, either..lol

    • What sooper genius designed that? (Yah-Probably Kelley Johnson, who was a genius). It was probably due to the high T-tail.
      I thought only B-52’s did that.

      • virgil xenophon

        B-47s also. The pilot/co-pilot went up, the bomb/nav guy down below ejected down. I mentioned once here or at Lex’s that another FAC I flew w. (who was also a sr Maj) as a B-47 co-pilot got a single-msn DFC for bringing the plane back after a refueling probe broke loose (the gas cap was on top of nose rt in front of the pilot) and wiped out the canopy and the pilot. He said it got awfully windy and cold back there real quick. lol

      • Some of the best stories are from FAC’s or people that knew them.
        If I’m ever in NewAwlins, I’m buying. I’ll get enough info to populate the blog for months.

  4. virgil xenophon

    PPS: Should have noted that although they were eventually replaced w. an upward-firing martin-maker zer0-zer0 ejection seat they had only just begun
    when I was over there–hell WE didn’t even have a zero-zer0 in the F-4 until just at the end of my time on active duty–at least in the ones in every unit I was assigned to..

    • That’s why it was also called the “Widowmaker”. Extremely high wing loading and as you say a very high accident rate. West Germany had a whole bunch of class A mishaps. (The expression was buy some farmland in Germany if you wanted an F104. Eventually, one would auger in).

      Planform reminds me of a cross between an F-105 and an X-15.

    • While I’d love to get behind the stick of a Mustang, the F-4 would be the warbird I would most want to fly. Hard to justify when you can do a whole lot of”regular” flying for the same amount.

  5. I saw a documentary about the 104 the other day, too. Apparently a fair bit of the development problems, including the loss of 2 prototypes, was down to the new gun they installed which was being developed in parallel. The M61 Vulcan.

    • I liked the Vulcan. We made a lot of parts for it including the ammunition belts, actually a series of interlocking links.

  6. Very important weapon, the Vulcan. Every US fighter since has been equipped with it, up until the F-35. Still in service. Likely to be for quite a while.

  7. Pingback: American Patriot | Blue Side Up

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