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F-104 STARFIGHTER IN COMBAT

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F-104 STARFIGHTER IN COMBAT



By: Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan, Pakistan Air Force (Retd) Introduction

This is a personal account of the crucial role played by the dozen F-104 Starfighters of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in the Indo-Pakistan War of September 1965. The Indian Air Force (IAF) had then approximately 900 aircraft against PAF's total of only 150. To win the battle for air superiority against these odds was a daunting task. Losing air superiority would have meant that Pakistan would have had to face the full might of the IAF, the consequences of which would have been disastrous. It was therefore imperative, that the PAF won and kept control of the air.

Induction of the Starfighter in the PAF

Sqn Ldr Sadruddin and Flt Lt Middlecoat landed the first Starfighters at PAF Base Sargodha in 1962. In the following months, Pakistan inducted a total of 10 F-104A and two dual seat F-104B training aircraft in No 9 Squadron. These were USAF F-104C aircraft refurbished and updated with the latest J-79-11A engine, and upward ejection seats. Equipped with the M-61 Vulcan six barrel gun, the AIM-9B Sidewinder missile and the AN/ASG-14T1 fire control system, the aircraft was designed for high altitude (above 5000 feet), day /night interception/combat. Pakistan was the first country in Asia to induct a Mach 2 aircraft into its airforce. While most countries in Europe were still flying subsonic aircraft and none in Asia had an aircraft of this class and technology, many in Pakistan and abroad were skeptical of the PAF's ability to fly and maintain this advanced system.

The PAF's flying skills, technological prowess, and competence, were soon proven. The pilots and ground crew of No.9 Squadron, who had been handpicked from F-86 squadrons, became the envy of the PAF by gaining mastery of the aircraft. To be part of No.9 Squadron, the cream of the PAF, was a great honour and privilege. In 1964 I was lucky to be given this honor. Sqn Ldr Jamal A Khan, the Squadron Commander was a very dedicated officer who set and maintained high standards. Training and flying in this Squadron was hard work. Safety always came first.

The J-79-11A engine was sophisticated and complicated. It had inlet guide vanes in front of the engine, and a variable nozzle system in the rear. These were liable to fail, but the PAF maintenance crew had mastered the equipment. We only had one engine flame out, and the pilot Flt Lt Khalid managed to make a 'dead stick' landing. This was a difficult maneuver requiring precise judgement. The pattern was flown at 240kts and the landing flare started 300 ft above ground level, to make a touch down at 190 kt, on a 9000 feet long runway. Only one F-104 was lost during training - a training air combat sortie - in which Flt Lt Asghar 'pitched up', and went into a spin. He ejected safely at high speed, and received major bruises. The aircraft was replaced under the MAP program. Operational training was fun. Flying at Mach 2 was an incomparable experience. The thrill of coming under radar control, attacking F-86 formations, that were denied radar help, was a fighter pilot's dream come true. The F-104 zoomed out of nowhere, and before the F-86 pilots could start their defensive maneuvers, the F-104 had completed its simulated missile launch and was breaking off.

Conditions Prevailing Before the War

Sqn Ldr Jamal handed over the squadron to Sqn Ldr Middlecoat who commanded it during the 1965 War. Sqn Ldr Middlecoat was a thorough professional, who remained cool in the most trying circumstances. It was a pleasure serving under this wonderful and humane person. It wasn't long before war clouds started to appear on the horizon. The fun days were coming to an end. The real stuff was starting. Everybody started looking into the operational aspects of the aircraft. How could the F-104 be used in Combat against India? The F-104 was capable of very high-speed, and a terrific rate of climb, but its turning capability was severely limited. It had to achieve complete surprise to accomplish a successful attack. The enemy had radar cover above 5000 ft. Even if the target maneuvered slightly, the F-104 had to break off. Several exercises were conducted under these conditions, and the subsonic aircraft operating under radar cover were found able to easily defend themselves. The combat potential of the Starfighter, under these conditions was therefore questionable.

Besides the F-104, the PAF had about 102 F-86F aircraft of 1952 vintage. Compared with the relatively modern Hawker Hunter Mk VI with an engine of 10,000lb, the F-86 with only 6000lb thrust was grossly under-powered. Some Pakistani pilots in the UK had flown the Hunter and the Gnat and they reckoned that the F-86F did not stand a chance against the either the Hunter or the Gnat in air combat. The IAF also had excellent ground attack aircraft, Mystere IV and Vampires; these would become effective after air superiority was achieved. Therefore, the PAF could not afford to lose the battle for air superiority. If they did, the Pakistani ground forces would have come under severe pressure. Pakistan had only one main fighter base at Sargodha, and two smaller bases at Karachi and Peshawar. There were only two high powered radars, one in the north, and one in the south. The lines of communication ran north-south, close to the border and were very vulnerable. The PAF had a huge responsibility.

Early in 1965, warlike activity started in the disputed territory of Indian held Kashmir. Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Nur Khan had taken command of the PAF, just before the war. These were the days when we would be briefed daily, 'under no account should any IAF aircraft be pursued across the border, if an aircraft is shot down, the wreckage must fall within Pakistani territory'. This was done to ensure that India would not be provoked into escalating to an all out war. All the concentration was along the disputed territory of Kashmir. On 3rd September 1965 an IAF Gnat was flying over Pakistan, on its way to its home base. A lone F- 104 was vectored to intercept the aircraft. Closing in at supersonic speed, the F-104 crossed the Gnat. There was no chance of making a successful intercept. But the Gnat pilot, probably thinking that there were more aircraft in the area, promptly lowered his gears and landed at a disused Pakistani airfield below, and surrendered himself. At that time, few thought that there was any chance of a real war breaking out. Life went on as usual. The routine was that a daily morning Combat Air patrol (CAP) would be airborne well before dawn. The F-104 formation would climb to 30, 000 feet, patrol the area near Kashmir and land back one hour after sunrise.

The War

The balloon went up on the morning of 6th September 1965. I got airborne with my wingman on a CAP mission. We climbed out under radar control, and were directed to the border near Kashmir. I was informed that the IAF had crossed the Pakistani border and were attacking ground positions approximately 80nm south of us. This meant that India had actually decided to start an all out war. We were immediately vectored to the area, and were soon over the site where the Indian aircraft were attacking. While dawn was breaking at 15,000 feet, it was still dark down below. I asked for permission to descend to ground level, but was denied. The reason given was that radio contact would be lost. I, however, decided to descend and leaving my wingman at 15,000 feet, to act as radio relay, I dove down and headed towards some flashes. As I reached the area, I was surprised to see that I was flying head-on into a formation of four IAF Mystere IV aircraft that were attacking ground targets. I was shocked more than I was surprised, as I felt a wave of anger leap through me. I had to shoot down these aircraft. I jettisoned my external fuel tanks and started to engage the Mysteres, as they turned into me. Maneuvering started at tree top level. I kept my eyes 'glued' on the target. I could feel the strain, under high 'G's', looking over the tail of the aircraft, keeping the enemy in sight, and skimming the trees at high speed. One mistake, and I would have hit the ground. If I had lost sight of the Mysteres, the fight would have been over. The F-104, with the afterburner blazing, at low altitude, was responding very well. I used the high speed take -off Flaps to improve the turning capability as required. The 'Stick Shaker' was a big help, in flying the aircraft to its limit. The Mysteres would have no problem keeping the F-104 in sight because of its afterburner. After some hectic maneuvering, I was positioned behind two aircraft, but the other two were still not visible. I then spotted them, further ahead. Joy leapt through me; I armed my weapons, and decided to shoot the first two with missiles and the next two with guns. I fully realized that a confidential order prohibited me from using the missiles below 10, 000 ft. However, I was sure the missiles could be used effectively at any height, provided the targets could be discriminated from background heat sources. A distinct increase in missile tone ensured this. I set the wingspan of the Mystere IV, and started to recall the missile-firing checklist. 'Check Range', 'Check Tone', 'Check G's', 'Squeeze the trigger and hold'. I aimed the missile at the nearest aircraft, and heard the loud pitched missile tone. The sight indicated that I was in range. With all other requisite firing conditions met, I squeezed the trigger, and kept it pressed. I waited, only to note that the missile had not fired. As I looked towards the left missile, I saw a big flash, and the missile leaving the aircraft. The missile had taken, as stipulated in the manual, approx. 8/10ths of a second to fire after the trigger had been pressed but in combat, this seemed like an eternity. The flash of the missile blinded me for a few seconds. The radar controller who was also monitoring the radio of the Mystere's, immediately informed me that one Mystere had been shot down and that another had been damaged. I was then at once instructed to turn right and pick up visual contact with the other Mysteres, which were exiting. I turned as directed but could not see them.

On landing back, I was informed that the dog fight had taken place overhead the Rahwali Airfield where a low powered radar was located. The Mystere's wreckage had fallen close by; the other three had gotten away. It gave me great satisfaction and amusement to think the effect that would be created on the IAF when the tale of the encounter with, 'the F-104' was narrated by the pilots who got away. To quote Hussaini, the PAF's official aviation painter, 'Apart from being the first encounter to start the war in earnest, the engagement was also significant in other respects. It marked a new era in dogfighting at very low altitude. It was also the first combat kill by any Mach 2 aircraft and the first missile kill for the Pakistan Air Force'. Moreover, it was also proven that the F-104 and the Sidewinder missile were an effective weapon system at low altitude.

India had launched a full-scale attack, and we were now at war. India had the advantage of the aggressor, but had failed to take advantage of the 'first strike'. The PAF now had to counter attack. The Air Chief arrived on the base. As I saw him he looked confident, and very aggressive. He was a genius; his planning was only surpassed by his boldness in execution. He had to fight 900 Indian aircraft with his 150. What could he do? The odds were impossible. He immediately gave instructions to reconnoiter (recce) the forward IAF air bases of Halwara and Adampur with the F-104. The pilots returned to report that the airfields had a full compliment of aircraft. He then enquired how many aircraft were available for a 'dusk attack'. He was told that only seven F-86's were serviceable. He ordered four to attack the IAF Base of Adampur, and three to attack Halwara Air Base. The plan appeared absurd. Attacking an airfield with only four aircraft and three aircraft respectively, after a recce .The enemy would be waiting. The attack was sure to fail. Subordinate commanders tried to convince the Chief to withdraw the order. None of us could appreciate the reason behind his logic. Command is lonely, and it takes courage to stand by one's convictions. The Chief stood firm. The 'dusk attack' was launched.

Of the seven PAF F-86 aircraft that took part in the 'Dusk Strike' two were shot down. The PAF kept attacking the IAF bases all night with B-57 bombers. The Air Chief hoped that the IAF would retaliate next morning, and attack the main PAF fighter base Sargodha that was 90 nm from the border. Radar was not effective at low altitude; therefore, the PAF had a string of Mobile Observer Units (MOU's), that could plot and report low flying aircraft in Pakistani territory. Since the IAF attack was expected at low level, it would not be a surprise for the PAF. The only question now was, whether the IAF would take the bait, and attack Sargodha. Early next morning, on 7th September 1965, a large number of PAF F-104 and F-86 aircraft set up a Combat Air Patrol (CAP), over /near Sargodha, waiting for the enemy to attack. The F-104s were assigned the outer perimeter, while the F-86s were kept closer to the airfield. The Mobile Observer Units started to report the incoming intruders as they crossed the border and headed for Sargodha. The anti-aircraft guns opened fire as the first group of attacking aircraft came in. Surprisingly, these planes got through, without being intercepted.

The next attack was picked up by Flt Lt Arif Iqbal in a F-104, and as he was about to fire, he suddenly saw an F- 86 flight appear between him and the enemy, and shoot down the Mystere. The attacks then came wave after wave, each one being intercepted, mostly by F-86's, because they were positioned closer to the airfield. Flt Lt Amjad, in a F-104, shot down a Mystere, only to fly into the debris of the exploding aircraft. He ejected safely. By noon all attacks had ceased. The 'Battle for Sargodha' had been won. Never again in this war did the IAF venture to attack Sargodha in daytime. AVM Nur Khan had scored; the genius and courage of his plan had worked, his main air defence assets were safe.

The pilots of No.9 Squadron competed fiercely, to undertake as many combat missions as they could. Never missing a chance to close with the enemy, hungry for combat. In the days that followed, the F-104 pilots noted that whenever they got airborne, the IAF grounded all its aircraft. This made it very difficult for the F-104 pilots to engage the enemy during daytime hours. Flt Lt Mushtaq, my brother, flying a F-104 in the same Squadron, made contact with the enemy, only to note that as he approached the target, the IAF Hunters disengaged well in time. Flt Lt 'Micky' Abbas in an F-104 had a similar episode. This experience would be repeated for the F-104 pilots for all daytime interceptions. I personally patrolled in a lone F-104, at 30,000ft, deep inside Indian territory, over the two Indian fighter airfields of Adampur and Halwara for one hour, and there was no response from the Indian side, no IAF fighter aircraft were scrambled to engage the intruder leisurely loitering over Indian airbases. This was total air superiority, and it displayed the complete and utter supremacy the Starfighter enjoyed over the IAF.

At medium and high altitudes the F-104 ruled the sky. The IAF refused to challenge the Starfighter, keeping at a safe arm's length distance from challenging it. But below 5000ft, a fierce battle raged between the F-86 and the IAF fighters, mainly the Hunters and Gnats.

The F-86 was the workhorse of the PAF, it was under-powered, outnumbered, and out-gunned. Nevertheless, the F-86 pilots showed great courage as they fearlessly engaged their opponents, and displayed an unusual skill for air combat, achieving an excellent kill ratio. The F-104 by controlling the sky at medium and high altitude, had reduced the workload for the F-86 's to the extent that the disparity in numbers was manageable. The F-86's could now hold their own against the enemy at low altitude. The F-104/F-86 team had won the battle for the air. The PAF had fully established air superiority. The job had been done; numbers did not matter now. The will of the enemy to fight the F-104 had been broken. It was a tremendous contribution by the F-104 in the war effort. The Starfighter reigned supreme. It had played a pivotal role in the defense of Pakistan, and the battle for air supremacy by the PAF.

Reconnaissance

Immediately after the start of the war there was an urgent need for a high speed reconnaissance aircraft. The PAF RT-33 was rendered obsolete, with a speed of less than 400kts; it was liable to be shot down as it crossed the border. At night we were on constant operational standby duty, one hour in the cockpit and one hour off. In the off time, I would go and receive the B-57 pilots returning from their bombing missions over Indian airfields.

The battle damage from these missions needed to be assessed. I suggested to the Base Commander, that if he authorized a recce mission by the F-104, I would have a photograph on his table, by noon next day. He ordered the mission. Low flying was not a part of the F-104 war plan, no training had been conducted, but while demonstrating the aircraft's capabilities, I noticed that the Starfighter flew very well at low level. I planned the mission at 600kts, (10 miles a minute). Low flying was normally done at 420kts in the F-86 Squadrons. For the photograph, I went to town early morning, and bought a roll of film for my personal Yashika 120 camera. I then requested the Squadron Commander to allow me to fly while he took the photographs. He consented. The mission was flown in a F-104B dual-seater. Ten miles a minute made the DR navigation very easy. Over flat terrain, the altitude of the aircraft was lowered until the Squadron Commander, acting as the rear pilot for this mission said that the downwash was hitting the ground. This height was then maintained - a thrilling experience. We pulled up, slightly off-set from the airfield. Pictures were taken and a visual recce made. The photographs were placed on the Base Commander's table, as promised. The missions that followed were with bigger and better cameras, but I was always told to fly. The F-104 had a new role.
 

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Missed Opportunity

The reconnaissance flights revealed that the forward IAF bases had only approximately forty aircraft each at Adampur and Halwara, and even fewer than that at Pathankot. Where were the rest of the IAF aircraft? This got me thinking, and I went on to study the map. Moving further east from the Indian Airfields of Adampur and Halwara were Agra and Delhi. These airfields were 350nm from Sargodha. There was no attack aircraft in the PAF inventory that could reach these airfields flying at low level. If an aircraft approached at a high altitude level, it could easily be intercepted. I, therefore presumed that the Indians would have the bulk of their aircraft at these bases, and because they were sure they could not be attacked, the aircraft would be in the open. Pakistan had the F-104A with the J-79-11A engine, which was very fuel-efficient. This gave the PAF F-104's an extended range capability. I marked the route and was surprised to note that if we took off with four tanks and jettisoned them as they went empty, we could reach these bases while maintaining a speed of 540 knots at low level. It would also allow us to make two gun attacks, exit at 600 knots to the border, climb to attain height and land back with 1000 lbs of fuel remaining.

The plan looked like a very exciting possibility to me. I thought of 'Pearl Harbor'; complete surprise could be achieved. I stayed up all night, made the Flight plan, and next morning made the proposal to my Squadron Commander. He told me that he was against submitting the proposal, as it was too risky. I then took the plan to the Wing Leader who had been my instructor on the Harvard T-6G. He said that it was a good plan but refused to take it any higher. I then went to the Base Commander. He said he liked it, but he would not make the proposal to the high command. There was nobody else to go to. Immediately after the war, The Air Chief ordered a high altitude recce mission of the airfields at Agra and Delhi. This was to be flown by the B-57F (Droopy), a four engine Fanjet modified B-57 that had replaced the U 2, and was flown by Pakistani pilots. The recce Flight revealed that Agra and Delhi were sprawling with aircraft. If the F-104 had attacked Delhi and Agra, it could have been a historic day for the PAF, as well as for the IAF to remember. This was the greatest chance missed by the PAF and the F-104. After the war I had a chance to discuss the plan with the Air Chief, he said that he would have definitely ordered the attack if it had been brought to his notice.

F-104 as a Night Interceptor

The F-104 was the only night fighter with the PAF. Its radar was good for high altitude, line astern missile attack, but was unusable below 5000 ft, because of ground clutter. Also, if the target started to turn, it was not possible to deliver a missile attack. These were the limitations of the system. The IAF Canberra bombers would operate at night, usually below 500 feet. One aircraft would drop flares while others bombed the targets. After delivering their ordinance they would exit at low altitude, but as they approached the border, the Canberra's would start climbing. At this time the F-104's would be vectored for the intercept. The IAF had also installed tail warning radars on their Canberras. As the F-104 started to get into a firing position, the bombers would start a defensive turn and radar contact would be lost. Twice, I had made radar contact but as I closed into missile range, the aircraft executed a defensive maneuver. Only Sqn Ldr Jamal A Khan was lucky enough to shoot down a Canberra. He executed a perfect 'text book ' attack, with a missile launch. The Canberra Pilot was captured. He stated that the tail warning radar made very annoying beeping sounds at low level, therefore, he had switched it off, and he had forgotten to switch it on again as he had climbed out. Although the F-104 made only one night kill, it did achieve an ancillary objective, i.e. it did prevent the enemy from doing damage. The threat or fear of the F-104, forced the Canberras to operate at low altitude levels, once over Pakistani airspace. This prevented the attacking pilots from making determined attacks. They did not, or could not properly identify their targets, and thus dropped their bombs at random, doing little or no damage.

As the war progressed, a radar controller assigned to the army gun radar unit told me that the army radar could spot the IAF Canberras very clearly at night, but the track length was limited to approximately 20 NM. I realized that this was good enough for the F- 104 to make an interception. With its high speed it could position itself behind the target very quickly, and once this was done, the F-104 could be aligned with the help of its InfraRed (IR) gunsight for a missile or a gun attack. The Canberra tail warning radar was ineffective at low altitude. To get the system functioning, only a radio had to be installed in the army radar unit. The war ended before the system was made effective and put into practice.

Flying the high speed F-104 at night in war time conditions was hazardous. The environment was as hostile and dangerous as the enemy. When there was no moon visible, the nights were pitch dark, as the blackout was complete. Haze and poor visibility was common. The runway lights were switched on once the aircraft was about to pitch out for a landing, we were lucky if we could see the airfield lights on downwind, and turning base. The landing conditions were severe. The TACANs were not aligned with the runways, there were no approach lights, ILS or VASI. It was under these conditions that Flt Lt Abbasi, while making an approach, crashed short of the runway. The F-104 was completely destroyed but he miraculously escaped and survived to fly again.

The Last Flight

A cease-fire had been agreed to, and the fighting was to stop at 3 am on 23rd September, 1965. I was told to confirm the same from the air. The visibility was excellent, but it was a dark night. From 30,000ft, I could see the firing along the bombline. It looked like a ping pong match. Exactly at 3 a.m. the firing started to slow down and then it stopped completely. I made the report and was ordered to land back at the home base. As I came on for final approach, I noticed the runway was tilted to the left, I turned left, and discovered that I was no longer aligned with the runway. I approached the runway in a zig- zag manner and decided to go around and try again. I guess the stress, fatigue and landing conditions were creating illusions. I asked for my Squadron Commander, who came immediately, I explained the problem, and he gave me the necessary instructions. The next approach was worse, after which I had fuel left for two further attempts. I tried again, and was told to overshoot. My Squadron Commander then told me to eject on the down wind; he was getting the Helicopter airborne. Now I only had 200lbs of fuel left, just enough for one last approach. At this time the air traffic controller requested permission to switch on the entire airfield's lights, as the war was over. As soon as this was done, my senses returned to normal, and a safe landing was carried out. Thus ended the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The F-104 and myself had seen it start, and we saw it finish, a lucky and historic coincidence.

Tribute to the Starfighter

Pakistan got the better of the IAF, with odds of 1:6 or 150:900, and the PAF maintained Air Superiority, day and night. The genius and courage of Air Marshal Nur Khan and the F-104/F-86 team had made this possible. Undoubtedly, the F-86 was the workhorse, but the F-104 had a very special task. The PAFpilot/F-104 team had created a situation where the IAF pilots did not have the will to fight the F-104. When the F-104 was 'UP', the Indian Air Force was 'Down on the Ground'. This removed a major portion of the threat. The Starfighter and its pilots had contributed immensely to achieve this victory. The pilots by flying and engaging enemy aircraft very aggressively, never losing any opportunity to engage the enemy, by day or by night. Working long hours, and flying under difficult flight conditions. The maintenance crew and the F-104 deserve a special accolade, 'not one technical abort, or snag affected a mission'. The F-104 was flown by determined pilots, maintained by efficient crew and supported by dedicated radar controllers. This made a tremendous team, that helped win the battle for air superiority for the PAF. The F-104 Starfighter was in a class of its own-'Superlative', to say the least. Without the dozen Starfighters the outcome of the war might not have been so good. 'It definitely was a pleasure, a great thrill, and the ultimate experience to fly the F-104 in Combat'.

THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
0525 Hours, 6 September, 1965

Dawn 6th September, 1965, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam Khan in F-104 A Starfighter destroys a Mystere IV and damages another, to mark the start of theIndo-Pak War over West Pakistan. Apart from being the first encounter to start the war in earnest, the engagement was significant in many respects. It marked a new era in dogfighting at very low altitude. It was also the first combat kill by any Mach 2 aircraft, and the first missile kill for the Pakistan Air Force. The Air Defence Controller for this interception was Flight Lieutenant Farooq Haider from Sakesar radar.

Air War College PAF Faisal. Painted by Group Captain Hussaini, 1987.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
June 22, 1999
The Editor
Defence Journal
Pakistan


Dear Sir,

I read with great interest an article in your current issue titled 'F-104 Starfighter in Combat'. Very interesting indeed! Since I happen to have spent time at PAF Base Sargodha in the early sixties and also fought the 1965 war from that base, I have had the opportunity to have observed the performance of the F-104 and the pilots flying them very closely.

The aircraft was, in my opinion most ill-suited for kind of combat the PAF was expected to get involved in with a war with India. Though the 104 was very fast (Mach 2), had an excellent rate of climb and acceleration its performance in close combat was extremely poor with a wing span of just 22 feet. What is most creditable, however, is that despite all these limitations the overall performance of No 9 Squadron, the only one equipped with the 104s, was exceptional to say the least.

The credit for its outstanding performance must be given to the supreme dedication and the fighting spirit of the No. 9 Squadron pilots, the 'Griffins' as they were then called. They were most outstandingly led by their Commander, Squadron Leader M.I. Middlecoat, pilots of the likes of Aftab Alam, his brother Mushtaq, Saleem Sundal, etc would have excelled on any type of aircraft because of his leadership and their collective dedication.

Through the columns of your esteemed journal I would like to illustrate the dedication and the fighting spirit of the pilots of No.9 Squadron during the war. One day I found Middlecoat very disturbed, which was not in his nature, and being very close to him I asked him as what was troubling him. His reply to me was that an 'outstanding pilot of his Squadron, Flt. Lt. Aftab Alam, had been awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat and he has refused to accept it saying that he was only doing his duty to the best of his ability.'

It was this spirit that made the pilots of No. 9 Squadron do the impossible, this was their 'ULTIMATE WEAPON'.

Yours sincerely.

CECIL CHAUDHRY, SJ, SBt
Group Captain (Retd)

In addition to those built by NATO and Japan, surplus American F-104As found their way into the air forces of Jordan, Pakistan and Taiwan. F-104As and F-104Gs of Taiwan's Republic of China Air Force claimed several victories in occasional clashes with reconnaissance and fighter planes from the People's Republic of China. Apart from Vietnam, however, Starfighters saw their principal combat use with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which used them in two wars against India, in 1965 and 1971. The PAF's experience over Kashmir was more significant than the U.S. Air Force's over Vietnam because its F-104s were the first ones to engage in the type of air combat for which they had been designed.

Pakistan acquired its Starfighters as a direct result of the Soviet downing of an American Lockheed U-2 spy plane that had been based in Peshawar in 1960. Understandably annoyed at the Pakistanis for allowing the Americans to use their country as a base for espionage missions, the Soviets threatened to target Pakistan for nuclear attack if such activities continued. Taking the threat seriously, the United States agreed to provide Pakistan with enough surplus F-104A interceptors to equip one squadron.

Although the F-104As were intended to defend Pakistan against high-flying Soviet bombers coming over the Hindu Kush Mountains, their actual combat use would be under quite different circumstances. In the summer of 1965, a dispute involving sovereignty over the Vale of Kashmir--smoldering between India and Pakistan for many years--erupted into war. At that time the PAF had about 140 combat aircraft, mostly American-built, including the F-104As of No. 9 Squadron. Facing them was the Indian Air Force (IAF), with about 500 aircraft of mostly British and French manufacture. The IAF had also begun to acquire MiG-21Fs, new Soviet interceptors capable of Mach 2, but only nine of them were operational with No. 28 Squadron in September 1965, and they saw little use.

The war, which lasted from August 15 to September 22, 1965, did little for either side except waste lives and materiel. Pakistan used the F-104As primarily for combat air patrols, usually consisting of two Sidewinder-equipped F-86F Sabres, with a Starfighter to provide top cover. The F-104s occasionally provided escort to PAF Martin B-57B Canberra bombers or reconnaissance aircraft and sometimes flew high-speed photoreconnaissance missions themselves.

Indian pilots were initially intimidated by the formidable reputation of Pakistan's Mach-2 interceptors. In their first aerial encounter on September 3, two PAF F-86s battled six IAF Hawker Siddeley Gnats while an F-104A, flown by Flying Officer Abbas Mirza, darted around above, vainly trying to get a shot at one of the elusive Gnats. When a second F-104A arrived, however, one of the Gnats, flown by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, suddenly descended and landed on the airfield at Pasrur.

The first air-to-air victory by an F-104--or by any Mach-2 airplane--came on September 6, when Flight Lt. Aftab Alam Khan, disobeying orders by descending below 10,000 feet, downed one Dassault Mystère IVA fighter-bomber with a Sidewinder at an altitude of 5,000 feet and damaged a second. During attacks on Rawalpindi and Peshawar by IAF English Electric Canberras that night, three F-104s tried to intercept them but failed to get a target acquisition because the bombers were too low. During an Indian attack on Sargodha air base, however, Flight Lt. Amjad Hussein Khan used his cannon to destroy a Mystère IVA, killing Squadron Leader A.B. Devayya of No. 1 Squadron, IAF. Debris from the exploding Mystère struck the Starfighter, however, and Amjad was forced to eject at low altitude. He had reason to be grateful that his F-104 did not have the original downward-firing ejection seat--otherwise, his subsequent award of the Sitara-i-Jurat would probably have been posthumous.

On the night of September 13-14, Squadron Leader Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat achieved the first blind night interception in an F-104, firing a Sidewinder at a Canberra from a distance of 4,000 feet and reporting an explosion, but failing to obtain a confirmation. Another Starfighter was lost on September 17, when Flying Officer G.O. Abassi tried to land in a sudden dust storm, undershot the runway and crashed in a ball of fire. Miraculously, he was thrown clear, still strapped in his ejection seat, and survived with only minor injuries.

On September 21, in the last days of the war, Flying Officer Jamal A. Khan finally got to use the Starfighter in the manner for which it had originally been designed, scoring a solid Sidewinder hit on a Canberra at 33,000 feet over Fazilka. The Indian navigator was killed, but the pilot, Flight Lt. M.M. Lowe, bailed out and was taken prisoner.

During the course of the Kashmir War, No. 9 Squadron flew a total of 246 sorties, of which 42 were at night. The F-104As gave a good account of themselves on the whole, but criticism was raised over their insufficient maneuverability, lack of ground-attack capability and the inefficiency of their radars at low altitudes. The Pakistanis had actually gotten a lot more value out of their older Sabres, which could be used for both air combat and ground attack.

Hostilities again broke out between India and Pakistan on December 3, 1971, this time over the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Once again, the IAF outnumbered the PAF by nearly 5 to 1. More significant, however, the qualitative advantage enjoyed by the PAF in 1965 had been considerably reduced. For all intents and purposes, the F-104A had been the only supersonic fighter in service over the subcontinent in 1965. Since then, India's Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd., had been producing improved model MiG-21FLs under license. By 1971, the MiG-21 had become numerically the most important fighter in the IAF, with 232 in service, enough to equip nine squadrons. In addition, the IAF had six squadrons of Soviet-built Sukhoi Su-7BM supersonic fighter-bombers.

Pakistan had managed to acquire enough F-104As from the Royal Jordanian Air Force to keep No. 9 Squadron operational, but the Starfighter was no longer Pakistan's only supersonic fighter. By 1971, the PAF had three squadrons of French-built Mirage IIIEJs and three squadrons of unique Shenyang F-6s--illegal Chinese copies of Russia's supersonic MiG-19F, which the Pakistanis had improved with British Martin-Baker ejection seats and American Sidewinder missiles. In addition, the Pakistanis had replaced their older model F-86Fs with five squadrons of a far more potent version, the Canadair Sabre Mark 6, acquired via West Germany and Iran.

The air war began in earnest on December 3, when the PAF launched strikes against 10 Indian air bases but failed to eliminate the IAF with that one blow. When the IAF struck back the next day, No. 9 Squadron's F-104As downed a Gnat and an Su-7 over Sargodha. During an attack on the radar installation at Amritsar on December 5, No. 9 Squadron suffered its first loss of the war to anti-aircraft fire. Flight Lt. Amjad Hussein Khan ejected from his F-104 and was taken prisoner. Wing Commander Arif Iqbal scored an unusual Starfighter victory during a raid on Okha Harbor on December 10, when he downed a land-based Bréguet Alizé turboprop anti-submarine patrol plane of the Indian navy over the Gulf of Kutch.

A particularly significant air battle took place on the afternoon of December 12, when a pair of F-104As tried to strafe the Indian airfield at Jamnagar and were themselves attacked by two MiG-21FLs of No. 47 Squadron, IAF. One F-104 fled northward, and the other sped southwest over the Gulf of Kutch with Flight Lt. Bharat Bhushan Soni in pursuit. Applying full afterburner to his MiG, Soni fired a K-13 missile, but the F-104 evaded it and then turned sharply to the right. Cutting inside the Starfighters turn and closing to 300 meters, Soni fired three bursts from his GSh-23 cannon, then watched the stricken plane pull up. The pilot ejected and parachuted into the shark-infested Gulf of Kutch. Soni called for a rescue launch, but no trace of his opponent, Wing Cmdr. Middlecoat, a decorated veteran of the 1965 war, was ever found. The Starfighter had clearly been unable to our accelerate or outturn the MiG-21 at low altitude. It was equally clear that Indian pilots were no longer intimidated by the F-104.

That fact was demonstrated again on the last day of the war, December 17, when No. 9 Squadron's Starfighters clashed with MiG-21s of No. 29 Squadron, IAF. Squadron Leader I.S. Bindra claimed an F-104, though in fact it escaped with damage. In a later fight over Umarkot, Flight Lt. N. Kukresa made a similar premature claim on an F-104, but when he was attacked in turn by another Starfighter, Flight Lt. A. Datta blew it off his tail, killing Flight Lt. Samad Ali Changezi. Interestingly, while no MiGs were downed by Starfighters during the war, one was reportedly shot down by an F-6 on December 14, and another MiG-21 lost a dogfight with a Sabre flown by Flight Lt. Maqsood Amir of No. 16 Squadron, PAF, on December 17--the Indian pilot, Flight Lt. Harish Singjhi, bailed out and was taken
 

Hakikat ve Hikmet

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90% of the modern Air Forces can't even dream of the amount of combat PAF has been taking part in with great successes, but limited physical resources, against the overwhelmingly larger enemies supported by the almost entire Ehl-i Kufr......

And, as an example compare it with the Arab forces: despite having enormous resources they're all like "cow dung IN, cow dung OUT".....

It shows the Iman and Ihlas of the Pak warriors when the most of the Muslims are in fact Munafikin and Murtedin...
 

ghazi52

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Pakistan Air Force F-104 Pilots From No. 9 Squadron Discuss A Map Before A Training Sortie, Sargodha, Circa 1962/63.

© Usman Shabbir


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Deltadart

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Instead of retiring them prematurely, Couldn't we have obtained attrition replacements from europe or the US to maintain the F104s squadron(s) post 71? They lasted well into the 90s in Germany and italy with much more advanced and capable versions.
 

Trango Towers

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The IAF feared the f104 in 1965 and they feared f16 in Feb 2019. Odd then were 1:6 and now approx 1:2.5 approx. No matter what the Indians say they have very little chance
 

ghazi52

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F-104 Starfighter (missile with a man in it) of Pakistan Air Force.

Lockheed starfighter was designed as a supersonic air superiority fighter & was claimed to be the world’s fastest combat aircraft of its time. It was credited with a max design speed of Mach 2.5 both in level and climbing flight, although the standard F-104 was limited to Mach 2.2.

The design development was began in 1951 & the first prototype flight was conducted on 7 February 1954. F-104A flew for the first time on 17 February 1956. It had a greater range than many other much larger fighters of that period & could climb to height of of 58,000 feet and could zoom to 90,000 ft.

The F-104B was a two-seat tactical trainer version of the F-104A, which could be used as both a combat aircraft and an operational trainer. Pakistan was the first non-NATO country to equip with the Starfighter when in 1961 twelve F-104 As and two F-104 Bs were delivered by US. At PAF’s request, all its F-104As were refitted with the M-61 Gatling 20 mm gun.

The PAF’s foresight was amply rewarded in actual combat & USAF too reverted to have machine guns as mandatory equipment on all its fighters in due course. The newer GWE- J-79-11 engine was also installed on the aircraft. This made the Pakistan F-104s somewhat unique: they had the gun and being the lightest of F-104 series with a more advanced J-79 engine enjoyed the best thrust-to-weight ratio.

The only PAF unit to be equipped with the F-104 was No 9 Air Superiority Squadron. The fighter was employed in the air-to-air role by the PAF & was used extensively for aerial gunnery against both banner targets and the Dart targets with excellent scores.

In strafing attacks, the M-61 gun was superbly accurate. The F-104 Starfighters remained in service with PAF for 12 years & flew 11,690 hours. During the 1965 Pakistan-India War, the F-104s flew a total of 246 hours and 45 minutes while during the 1971 War, the F-104s flew a total of 103 hours and forty-five minutes. In the two wars fought with India, the Starfighter had 9 enemy aircraft kills and one IAF Gnat aircraft forced landed at Pasrur Airfield. PAF phased out F-104 fleet late 1972.

Pakistan Air Force phased out F-104 fleet in late 1972. This ended the memorable story of PAF and its love with an engineering marvel, remembered by many as a "missile with a man in it”.
 

ghazi52

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Fast & Furious: A Tale of Starfighter – Speedster of PAF

February 20, 2021
Editor Fast & Furious: A Tale of Starfighter - Speedster of PAF






If you ask a teenager today,
to draw or design a jet fighter, the ultimate result would surely resemble the likes of F-104 ‘Star Fighter’- every fighter pilot’s dream of the 1960s era. Interestingly, it looked less like a plane and more like a rocket with some extra bits added as an afterthought. That’s the reason it was famously nicknamed sometimes as ‘Missile with a man in it’, or ‘Flying Pencil’ or ‘Manned Missile’. It appeared to be a ‘Speed Machine’, breaking velocity and altitude records the world over. Its long thin fuselage – with a tiny cockpit perched behind its pointy nose and short stubby wings – makes it look state-of-the art even today.

One can only imagine how revolutionary it seemed when it was first unveiled in the 1950s. The world owes the design criteria for the F-104 Starfighter to the Korean War. USAF pilots operating during the Korean war were amazed at the high performance of Soviet Mig- 15 fighters. The Migs could outrun and out-turn any Western jet operating in the region. Naturally, they wanted something potent, which could beat the Mig-15s. With this comes into play, the role of Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson, the famous aviation expert who was instrumental in designing the fastest fighter of the world, the SR-71 ‘Black Bird’. Johnson, with his team of experts, went out and met front-line US Air Force pilots during the Korean war and asked them what they wanted in a next-generation fighter. The answers were hardly surprising…. “They wanted a lot more speed, altitude, and maneuverability,” says aviation historian Ray Panko, of the Pacific Aviation Museum.

“The F-104 gave them the first two but sadly not the third.” Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson’s Special Project team at Lockheed, refined a number of possible designs to find the best compromise between these conflicting requirements. The final design featured a long, thin body that housed a single turbojet, a thin un-swept wing of short (21ft 9in or 6.63m) span, and a T-tail. The F-104 first flew in March 1954. It made an almost immediate impact. The needle-nosed jet quickly earned the nickname ‘the missile with a man in it’, however, its official name remained the ‘Starfighter’.







The arrival of Star (Fighter)


As the Soviet threat grew in the region in the 1950s, Pakistan aligned itself with the United States of America under the newly formed SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization) and the later British sponsored CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) security pacts. The treaties were signed to contain the former Soviet Union. This was the same time when PAF was fortunate to have a visionary leader like AM Asghar Khan at the helm of affairs.

Taking advantage of the newly signed pact, AM Asghar Khan embarked upon a plan to modernize the Pakistan Air Force based on the model of the United States Air Force. Over the late 1950s and till the middle of 1960s, under the Mutual Assistance Program (MAP), PAF was equipped with American aircraft like the F-86 Sabre, T-33, T-37s, C-130s, and B-57s, most important being the F-104. The Star Fighter had by now stormed the world with its futuristic design and supersonic performance.

A total of 14 F-104 Starfighter aircraft were transferred to Pakistan, including 12 F-104A and two dual-seat F-104B for training purposes. All the aircraft were ex-USAF Air Defence Command and were equipped with the 20 mm M61 Vulcan Gatling gun. It could also carry AIM-9B Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on wingtips. All aircraft delivered were also equipped with the C2 upward-firing ejection seat and higher thrust General Electric J-79-GE-11A engines.

Pakistan was the first country in Asia to fly a Mach 2 aircraft. While most countries in Europe were flying subsonic planes and no country in Asia was flying aircraft of this class and technology, many questioned the PAF’s ability to maintain this advanced system. However, the PAF’s flying skills and technological competence were soon proven.

The pilots and ground crew of No 9 Squadron, who had been handpicked from F-86 squadrons, became the envy of the PAF by gaining mastery of the aircraft. The performance of these daredevils in following years proved all the western critics ‘wrong’. The first three pilots selected to undergo type conversion in the US included Sqn Ldr M Sadruddin, Flt Lt Mervyn Middlecoat, and Flt Lt Alauddin ‘Butch’ Ahmed. Sqn Ldr Sadruddin was sent to George AFB, California (east of Los Angeles) and spent time with 434 TFS, 479 TFW. This was part of “on the job” training as an executive officer for a squadron for 6-7 months. Towards the end of the stay, he transitioned to F-104s and flew about 22 hrs on the aircraft during his training. Sqn Ldr Sadruddin also became the first Pakistani to push the Star Fighter to Mach 2. The other two pilots went to an Air National Guard unit in South Carolina for type conversion. The fully assembled aircraft were shipped to Pakistan, arriving at Karachi harbor in August 1961. The cargo reached Karachi harbor onboard the USS Carrier CORE.

Before these newly delivered Star Fighters could scream through Pakistani skies, they had to undergo a mundane journey. These supersonic jets were towed by tractors, from the seaport, through the streets of Karachi to PAF Station Drigh Road (now called PAF Base Faisal) at 3-5 mph during the night. Pilots sat in the cockpits to apply aircraft brakes if necessary. It was an exciting journey, especially for the general public to witness. Upon arrival at Faisal, the aircraft were assembled and were air tested. 15 September 1961 would always be remembered as the red-letter day in the history of PAF. Sqn Ldr Saddrudin (leader) and Flt Lt Middlecoat (No 2) flew the first pair of Star Fighters from Faisal to Sargodha (now PAF Base Mushaf). When the pair landed at around 1030 hrs, officers, airmen, and families lined up on the tarmac to catch their first glance at the shining Star Fighters. It was a historic movement.

After arrival at Sargodha, these aircraft re-equipped PAF’s No 9 Squadron, Griffi ns. Sqn Ldr M Sadruddin took over as the squadron commander with Flt Lt Alaudin Ahmed as his flight commander. Other early joiners included Flt Lt Jamal A Khan, Flg Off Farooq F Khan, Flt Lt Hakimullah, Flg Off M M Khalid, Flt Lt Arif Iqbal, Flt Lt Hashmi, Flg Off Amjad Hussain, and Flg Off M Akbar. Those PAF senior commanders literally led from the front was demonstrated by the fact that then C-in-C Air Marshal Asghar Khan and some other senior officers attended the relevant ground school and undertook a number of familiarization flights on the aircraft. The conversion course included 2-3 weeks of academic classes followed by a few rides in F-104Bs and final check rides in a single-seater. Once the pilot was qualified, an initial training period of 40-50 sorties commenced. This included navigation, formation flying, gunnery, air combat maneuvering, and interceptions.


A Manned Missile

F-104’s clean profile meant quick acceleration on take-off. Pilots had to be quick with retracting under-carriage as the maximum allowed speed of 240 knots for undercarriages down was reached quickly. That the gears retracted within 3 seconds of selection, was another small but impressive feature of the aircraft. In case the pilot did exceed the maximum allowable velocity for gear down, he then had to enter a steep climb to bleed speed and reach the 240- knot figure.

“To say that the wing was ‘thin’ was an understatement. It had a maximum thickness of 4.2in (10.7cm) and its leading-edge was so sharp that protective strips had to be fitted to avoid injury to the ground crew. The wings offered no room for storage, so the fuselage had to contain the retracted undercarriage and all the fuel tanks,” recalls AVM Amjad Hussain (Retd). Starfighters’ thin wing aerofoil and high wing loading left little room for mistakes at low speed. It had to be landed at a minimum of 150 knots IAS (with engine RPM at 88-90%). Other impressive features included the powerful M61 Vulcan cannon. It fired 20mm shells at the rate of 66 per second, totally a monster.


Going Super Sonic

The aircraft’s sheer power and, if one could ascribe it a personality, was best illustrated by the mission profile for going to Mach 2. “The first requirement for such a mission was to find out where the tropopause was on a particular day. This was important as the aircraft acceleration is quickest at this altitude. Once the tropopause had been determined the sortie could begin,” narrates AVM Amjad Hussain (Retd) while talking to the author. The configuration for going Mach 2 meant a clean aircraft, without external tanks or air-to-air missiles.

A standard subsonic climb at Mach 0.9 to the tropopause (generally around 37, 000 to 40,000 feet in summer) was made. After leveling off and getting into the transonic regime at Mach 0.9 and level flight, a full afterburner was selected and the acceleration to Mach 2 began. The acceleration was quite rapid and going supersonic took only a few seconds. It was hardly noticeable except for a quick flick of the Machmeter from 0.98 to 2. Upon attaining Mach 2 the procedure for slowing down had to commence immediately or the airplane could accelerate well beyond Mach 2!!!.


The First Test-1965 War

As tensions between the two regional rivals worsened into armed conflict over the Rann-of-Kutch dispute in April 1965, a detachment of two F-104s was immediately sent to PAF Station Mauripur (now PAF Base Masroor) to reinforce the existing F-86F and B-57 squadrons. This was the first time PAF’s F-104s saw operational duties during a conflict situation. Full-scale hostilities broke on 6th September 1965, with F-104s tasked for air defense duties.

The honor of achieving the first kill with the outbreak of declared war also belongs to a Star Fighter. It was on an early morning CAP on that day when Flt Lt Aftab Alam (later retired as Wg Cdr), four IAF Mystere aircraft, which was attacking a passenger train near Rahwali. Vectored to the location by Flt Lt Farooq Haider from Sakesar radar, Aftab Alam dashed head-on through the center of Mystere formation at supersonic speed, leaving the enemy in disarray. In the ensuing combat at treetop level, Aftab outmaneuvered the opponents to claim an IAF Mystere with an AIM-9B Sidewinder and damaging the other with his lethal Vulcan Gatling gun. The remaining two managed to run away to safety, only to tell the tale of “dreaded F-104 and its deadly Sidewinder”. Apart from being the first encounter to commence the war in earnest, the engagement was also significant in other respects. It marked a new era of dogfighting at almost treetop level. Not only was it the first combat kill by any Mach-2 aircraft in the world but was also the first missile kill for the PAF. The result was obvious, IAF was devastated. It wanted to revenge the next day. However, the dream of taking revenge turned out to be a nightmare for them.

The first IAF air strikes on PAF bases took place on the morning of 7th September 1965. It was at 0530 hrs that the first IAF strike on PAF’s Sargodha airbase was detected when the formation of 6 IAF Mysteres was already pulling-up to attack the airfield. Airborne Flt Lt Amjad Hussain Khan (later retired as AVM) in an F-104A was vectored by ground control to intercept the raid. Flying at supersonic speeds, Amjad claimed one Mystere with his deadly AIM-9B and the other one with his cannons. In the melee, Amjad’s aircraft went through the debris of exploding enemy aircraft. He ejected safely and made it back to Sargodha airbase on a bicycle, a horse, and was picked up in a helicopter!!!


End of Night Intruders


Star Fighter’s rate of climb was exceptional. It was designed to catch up with enemy aircraft before they could release their weapons – a role known as ‘interceptor’ – which meant it needed to reach its targets quickly. A Starfighter pilot could reach 48,000ft (15 kilometers) in one minute, a feat still impressive. The Starfighter would fly fast and straight, firing its missiles from many miles away, and turning back to base before its target had time to respond. This capability was put to good use by PAF during the 1965 war while intercepting the IAF Canberras. PAF’s tactics during the war included single or pairs of Starfighters providing top-cover to CAPS of F-86s. In addition, F-104’s radar-based fire control system meant that it was the only fighter in PAF’s inventory that could take up the role of a night interceptor against IAF Canberra.

The first positive contact between an F-104 and a Canberra took place on the night of 13th September, when Sqn Ldr Middlecoat (later attained Shahadat during 1971 war with an award of SJ with bar) fired a Sidewinder on a Canberra in a blind intercept. An explosion was seen at a range of 4,000 ft but no confirmation was possible as the encounter took place over Indian territory. Later, reports revealed that the aircraft was destroyed. However, a confirmed kill was obtained on the night of 21st September, when Sqn Ldr Jamal A Khan (later became CAS PAF) made radar intercept of an egressing Canberra and shot it down with an AIM-9B Sidewinder. In this particular case, the IAF Canberra climbed earlier than usual due to fuel considerations and failed to switch on its tail warning radar on an ascent. Sqn Ldr Jamal saw an opportunity and shot the night intruder down with his lethal sidewinder missile. The pilot ejected and was captured by Pakistani forces.


Catch Me if You Can!


Perhaps the most interesting event of the war were the ‘supersonic boom’ missions carried out by the ‘Speedster’ over Amritsar airfield. AM Nur Khan, being the visionary C-in-C asked Flt Lt Farooq Umer (later retired as AVM) to perform a low-level supersonic boom at Amritsar. The idea was to harass the enemy in the opening round of the war and also to prove the lethality of F-104 aircraft. He succeeded in both. On that fateful day, Flt Lt Farooq Umer flew two supersonic passes over Amritsar. Immediately after the first pass, he was asked to repeat the heroics one more time. However, this time the Indian guns were ready and they had provided an umbrella of ack ack fire but they were of no match to the supersonic flight of the Star Fighter. Faroor Umer remembers, “The sky was red and there was no way, it appeared, that any aircraft could get through, yet I was not deterred and went through the mountain of the ack ack fire for the second time.

By the time I landed back, All India Radio came up with interesting stories. It narrated that eight F-86 aircraft attacked and had rocketed/ bombed the Amritsar airfield.” The mission thus succeeded in achieving psyops by creating confusion among the enemy ranks.


Reconnaissance Role


PAF’s reconnaissance fleet consisted of RT-33 aircraft, which were ill-suited for any recce missions in a high-threat area. Therefore F-104s were used to escort any such recce missions and a pair of F-104s had to criss-cross the slower RT-33 to maintain formation. On at least one such mission the PAF formation came across an IAF Hunter formation, which appeared to be returning to base. The IAF Hunter formation promptly scattered, and the PAF F-104s being deep into Indian Territory with an RT-33 to escort, decided not to pursue. An innovative solution to the recce problem was found when two-seater F-104Bs were used as recce birds with the pilot in the back seat holding a handheld camera. The F-104B would fly extremely low, pulling up slightly near the targeted airbase and going inverted, allowing the pilot in the back seat to get a better view for recce photos.


Nick Named ‘Badmash’
IAF had nicknamed the Starfighters as “Badmash” (meaning scoundrel) out of respect and dread it had for the aircraft. “During the 1965 war, the F-104 pilots noted that whenever they got airborne, the IAF grounded all its aircraft. It frustrated us,” remembers Wg Cdr Aftab Alam (Retd) during an interview with the author. “My brother Flt Lt Mushtaq, flying an F-104 in the same squadron with me made contact with the enemy, only to note the IAF Hunters disengaged well in time. Flt Lt “Micky” Abbas in an F-104 had a similar episode. This experience would be repeated for the F-104 pilots for all daytime interceptions. I personally patrolled in alone F-104, at 30,000ft, deep inside Indian territory, over the two Indian fighter airfields of Adampur and Halwara for one hour. The Indians did not respond. This was total air superiority for PAF, and it displayed the supremacy of the Starfighter as well,” reminisces Wg Cdr Aftab Alam (Retd). The starfighter became a nightmare for IAF pilots. The following episode would adequately summarise this claim.

On 3rd September 1965, a CAP of two PAF Sabres was bounced by six IAF Gnats with PAF air defense controller scrambling an F-104 flown by Flg Off Abbas Mirza to the aid of the Sabres. The IAF Gnats scattered on sighting the charging Starfighter, “Pajh Oye … 104 ayaeeee” is how Sqn Ldr Brij Pal Singh announced the arrival of the
Starfighter. Roughly translated in English it means ‘run…it’s a 104’. But as translations go it misses the point and only a Punjabi speaker can understand the sheer panic and loss of composure of this call.

In the meantime, another F-104 was vectored to aid the fight. By the time, Flt Lt Hakimullah (later retired as ACM) arrived, the Gnats had already split. Perhaps mixing this Starfighter with the first one or realizing that there are now two F-104s, Sqn Ldr Brij Pal Singh concluded that safely egressing to India was not possible against the supersonic Starfighter. Ultimately, he lowered his gears as a sign of surrender and landed at a nearby disused airfield at Pasrur in Pakistan. The surrendered Gnat continues to serve as a war trophy at the PAF Museum in Karachi. At medium and high altitudes the F-104 ruled the sky. The IAF refused to challenge the Starfighter. However, below 5,000ft a fierce battle raged between the F-86 and the IAF fighters, mainly the Hunters and Gnats.

The F-86 was the workhorse of the PAF, it was underpowered, outnumbered, and out-gunned. Nevertheless, the F-86 pilots showed courage, fearlessly engaging their opponents, and displayed an unusual skill for air combat, achieving an excellent kill ratio. The important thing was the F-104 controlling the sky at medium and high altitudes, had reduced the workload for the F-86’s to the extent that the numbers were manageable. The F-86’s could now hold their own against the enemy at low altitude.

The F-104/F-86 lethal duo had won the air battle for the country. From day one of war, PAF had fully established air superiority, thanks to the scare created by the handful of starfighters. “The job had been done; later the numbers did not matter much. The will of the enemy to fight the F-104 had been broken. The Starfighter reigned supreme. lt had played a vital role for the defense of Pakistan and the supremacy of the PAF”,concludes Wg Cdr Aftab Alam (Retd).





Modifications
Resultantly, during 1968-69, at least one of the two F-104Bs was modified to carry Swedish-made reconnaissance cameras (TA7M) in the rear seat. There were three cameras in one set of equipment, two oblique cameras, and one vertical.

The vertical camera was installed in the center and oblique cameras fixed on either side of the vertical camera for a total photo coverage angle of 170 degrees. This gave the F-104B the capability to look deep inside the enemy territory from a safe distance with coverage area depending on the height at which the aircraft would be flying. This modification flew quite a few trial missions before the 1971 war and the results were encouraging. Another important modification was the installation of a radar homing device on a single F-104A aircraft. This device called SLARD (Short-range Low Altitude Radar Detection) and alternately Radar Locator (RALOR) was sourced through an American source and initial trials were carried on a twin-engine communication plane. Based on the results of such trials it was decided to fit an F-104A aircraft with this equipment.


Assistance to Royal Jordanian Air Force
In 1968 Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) had inducted F-104 A&B Starfighter aircraft and a request was made to Pakistan Air Force to convert RJAF pilots on the aircraft along with leading some pilots to Instructor Pilot status. This started PAF’s association with Jordanian F-104s. As the RJAF Starfighters started arriving at Prince Hassan Air Base (H-5) in USAF cargo airplanes and were being assembled and test flown by test pilots from Lockheed Martin, PAF aviators deputed to RJAF started the pilot conversion program. Standard operating procedures, Flight Orders, checklists, flying syllabus, boards, and charts, and all other operational aspects that were required for the establishment of a fighter squadron, were produced. Initially, 15 pilots were converted, including Major Ihsan Shurdom who later rose to command the RJAF. King Hussain of Jordan, himself a keen aviator, was a regular visitor to the F-104 squadron. This association with RJAF turned out to be useful during testing times for the country later, during the 1971 war.


The Second Test-1971 War


As India-Pakistan tensions mounted around mid-1971, a number of pilots with previous F-104 experience were sent to Jordan for regaining currency on the aircraft. Pilots returning from Jordan were reposted to PAF’s No 9 squadron. In Jordan, PAF pilots could also undertake Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) with Jordanian Hunters (given the significant presence of the type with IAF). When war broke out in the first week of December, some pilots were still in Jordan and had to hurry back. Wg Cdr Middlecoat was one of the notables who rushed home and joined No 9 Sqn stationed at Masroor. Later, he embraced Shahadat while attacking an IAF airfield and was awarded Bar to SJ after the war. With the outbreak of hostilities on 3rd December,

PAF carried out pre-emptive strikes on forwarding Indian air force bases and radar units. As part of these preemptive strikes, No 9 Squadron was tasked to attack Amritsar, Faridkot, and Bernala radar stations. Wg Cdr Arif Iqbal (OC No 9 Sqn), Sqn Ldr Amanullah, Sqn Ldr Amjad Hussain along Sqn Ldr Bhatti played a key role in neutralizing Indian radar stations in the opening round of the war. During one of these missions on 5th December, Sqn Ldr Amjad’s aircraft (Tail No 56-804) was hit by anti-aircraft guns deployed around the radar station. He turned towards Pakistan, hoping to recover when his wingman gave an ejection call, confirming that fire was spreading. Amjad ejected and was taken POW.

Friends Join In
On the 6th of December No 9 squadron was ordered to move to PAF Base Masroor, Karachi. For the rest of the war, the squadron performed day and night Air Defence and Counter Air Operations from this base. It was at PAF base Masroor that the squadron received F-104s provided by the Kingdom of Jordan in support of Pakistan during the 1971 war.

On 13th December, when the Jordanian No 9 Squadron pilots were about 200 miles out from Karachi, a PAF Starfighter formation led by Sqn Ldr Amanullah got airborne to escort them to Masroor as they were unarmed. Sqn Ldr Amanullah was in formation with Major Ihsan Shurdom and Awni Bilal to guide them for landing at Masroor while orbiting overhead providing top cover.

The Final Salute


F-104s life in PAF was cut short by the US government’s so-called ‘even-handed’ arms embargo on both Pakistan and India after the two wars. The sanctions did not bother Indians much as they were hardly using any US military equipment. However, the embargo had a devastating impact on the PAF operations. In the face of growing difficulties in procuring spares for the US equipment, especially F-104s,

PAF leadership ultimately decided to phase out theStar Fighters’ in mid-1972. A pair of F-104s lifts off from PAF Base Masroor on a humid afternoon of 21 June 1972, for a farewell flight, after serving the PAF for more than eleven eventful years including startling performance during two wars. Many heavy-hearted pilots, technicians, families, and enthusiasts witnessed the last flight. The honor of flying the last mission went to Sqn Ldr M Amanullah and Flt Lt Abbass H Mirza from No 9 Sqn. This ended the memorable story of PAF and its love with an engineering marvel, remembered by many as a “missile with a man in it”. “Yes, it was demanding to fly with a wingspan of just 21 ft 9 in. It had the engine-out glide ratio of the proverbial ‘flying brick’ – and nobody ever accused it of being maneuverable. But the Starfighter went fast, climbed like a homesick angel, and introduced pilots of many nations to the joys of Mach 2 flight. Fighter pilots around the world loved the Star fighters’ out-and-out performance and the type enjoyed mystique unmatched by any other ‘Century Series’ fighter”, concludes one of the pilots of this amazing machine- ‘The Speedster’.



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ghazi52

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Wing Commander Jamal Ahmed Khan next to an F-104. He would later rise in ranks and become ACM, commanding PAF from 1985-1988.



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