On the morning of 10 December 1963, ARPS commandant Col. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager made two flights in preparation for an altitude record attempt. In the morning he flew NF-104A (56-0760) up to 108,000 feet. After lunch, he took 56-0762 up for another zoom flight. Yeager climbed to 35,000 feet about 100 miles from Edwards near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and headed for the base in afterburner. Yeager ignited the rocket as he was climbing at a steep angle, passing through 60,000 feet with the jet engine flamed out from oxygen starvation.
The NF-104A went over the top of its ballistic arc at 104,000 feet. Yeager had planned to re-ignite his jet engine at about 40,000 feet in a dive, but as the angle of attack reached 28 degrees the nose pitched up. The RCS thrusters had no effect, and the aircraft soon entered a flat spin. Without airflow into the jet intakes, Yeager could not restart the engine. He attempted to drop the nose by deploying the drag chute at an altitude of 17,000 feet, but after the chute was released the nose pitched up again. The aircraft continued to spin towards the desert floor.
After a total of 13 revolutions, Yeager ejected at 7,000 feet. A rocket charge blasted Yeager out of the aircraft and an automatic device separated him from his seat. The seat tumbled with him and became entangled in the parachute lines. As the chute deployed it dislodged the ejection seat, which then struck Yeager's faceplate. It smashed the Plexiglas and burning fuel from the ejector charge ignited the rubber helmet seal as the pure oxygen poured out.
The aircraft impacted after the fourteenth revolution. Its smashed airframe blasted a hole in the desert several miles north of Mojave. Maj. Robert W. Smith and Phil Neale soon arrived in an H-21 helicopter. They found Yeager standing near the wreck, holding his helmet. He sustained severe burns, but survived to continue a distinguished flying career.
The accident investigation found no sign of aircraft failure or systems malfunction.
THE REAR QUARTER OF THE NF-104A WITH THE ROCKET ENGINE STILL ATTACHED, SITS IN THE DESERT, A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY FROM THE MAIN IMPACT AREA.