February 17, 1956: Lockheed YF-104A Made Its First Flight

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The Lockheed YF-104A made its first flight, piloted by Tony LeVier. This was a service test F-104 redesign with a new GE79 axial-flow engine, lengthened fuselage, relocated vertical stabilizer, a ventral stabilizing fin, and redesigned air intake ducts. These changes aided stability and made the F-104 into the Air Force’s first operational Mach 2 fighter.

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier was an American air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s.  In 1936, he began to try his hand at air racing, starting with the national air races in Los Angeles. In 1938 he flew, for the first time, a Keith Rider racer dubbed The Firecracker, owned by air racing enthusiast Bill Schoenfeldt. In this plane, he won the Greve Trophy in Cleveland that year. His landing after that flight was rough and damaged the aircraft too heavily to allow him to compete for the Thompson Trophy the next day. A year later, he was back in Cleveland, and this time placed second in the Thompson race.  After the end of World War II, LeVier bought a war surplus P-38 Lightning for $1,250 in Kingman, Arizona. He modified it for air racing and painted it bright red. He competed at the national air races in Cleveland in 1946 and won second place in the Thompson Trophy.  After the 1939 races, LeVier got his first formal job, working as a mechanic for the Douglas Aircraft Company, hoping to get promoted to test pilot. However, frustrated by his chances with that company, he earned an instrument rating and went to work for Mid-Continent Airlines in Kansas City. Six months later, though, he left that job also, to work with General Motors testing engines for Cessna aircraft in Wichita. When a job opened for him at the Lockheed Corporation in Burbank, California, he left Wichita and returned to southern California.  LeVier started at Lockheed ferrying Hudson bombers to Canada for delivery to the Royal Air Force. He later trained and checked out pilots in the Hudson and its transport variant, the Lodestar. His job description was changed to engineering test pilot in 1942 to fly the PV-1 Ventura.  His test flying was instrumental in proving the Lockheed P-38 Lightning design. He and chief engineering test pilot Milo Burcham alternated flying dive tests to observe the design's performance at transonic speeds. To demonstrate the reliability of the design in the hands of a skilled pilot, he performed aerobatic shows for students at the Polaris Flight school at War Eagle Field in nearby Lancaster.  In 1944, LeVier visited Eighth Air Force air bases in Great Britain to demonstrate the engine-out reliability of the P-38.  He left England less than a week before the invasion of Normandy.


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