20 Cold War-Era Warplanes of the U.S. Air Force

F-104 Starfighter

When Kelly Johnson asked Korean War pilots in 1951 what they wanted in a fighter, they answered a small plane that could outperform the enemy MiG-15. Soon, Lockheed produced a radical new prototype with short, straight, razor-thin wings installed towards the rear of the fuselage. The Starfighter was essentially a manned missile that could fly over Mach 2 once the powerful new General Electric J79 turbojet engines were installed. Originally, ejection seats shot pilots out of the bottom of the plane (to avoid the tail), a design that kept Korean War ace Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe and 20 other pilots from exiting their doomed rides while at low altitudes. Chuck Yeager almost lost his life in a Starfighter accident, and hundreds of American and allied pilots were killed while flying the plane that West German pilots called the “Witwenmacher” (German for “Widowmaker”).

Author: Chris Carter

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