Jessi Combs attempts land speed record in her Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

By: Andy Enright

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Ready, fire, aim with the woman with the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, looking to become the Land Speed Record holder.


Jessi Combs' Lockheed F-104 Starfighter land speed record attempt

ON THE FACE OF IT, building a car out of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter doesn’t seem the brightest idea. The USAF called these things The Widowmaker, the Italians called it bara volante (Flying Coffin) but the Germans best encapsulated this aircraft’s dynamics with Der Erdnagel (the ground nail, military slang for a tent peg). Nevertheless, a Starfighter was the basis for Jessi Combs’ North American Eagle jet car with which she hoped to snatch the women’s land speed record on October 10th.

We’re guessing by now that you’ve used your powers of deduction given the evidence of the above photograph to establish that things didn’t quite go to plan. The mark the television personality and part-time Erdnagel operator was aiming for was 824km/h, set by Kitty O’Neil in 1976 at the same Alvord, Oregon venue in SMI Motivator, a tricycling terrestrial version of a Sidewinder missile.

Lockheed -F-104-Starfighter -land -speedThe attempt seemed plagued from the beginning. Shakedown tests of the car showed some problems with the steering system and when replacement parts were flown in, the pilot crashed. Okay, so it wasn’t entirely his fault, having to wing in at night to drop the spares off and mistaking a well-lit cattle truck for the flares of the actual landing strip. The plane touched down in a field and tore off the landing gear before it ripped out 200 feet of fencing and destroyed itself. Fortunately the pilot walked away unharmed.

Parts fitted to the vehicle, Combs’s run didn’t exactly go according to script either. Without realising, she had veered off course with 768km/h showing on the speedo. "While our speed run was faster than anything I have ever driven, it was a little off course," Jessi admitted. "By the time I realised I was closer to the timing van than in between the timing lights where I should have been, I aborted mission and attempted to steer back onto course. With all the speed and a few systems not doing their job properly, I unfortunately ended up in the ‘pucker’ bushes... with the 2 rear wheels still on the lakebed. I swear, not 40 feet before that shrubbery, I was still moving 100+ mph... whether it was God putting his hand on the car and literally stopping me dead in my tracks, and/or our amazing electromagnetic brakes kicking in to high efficiency at low RPM, the North American Eagle is ok, as am I. We are all a bit shaken up from the potentials of what could have happened, tho it wasn't worse, and we go back to the drawing board."

After that, the team called it quits for this year’s session.


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