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  Astronauts who flew the NF-104 Starfighters

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Author Topic:   Astronauts who flew the NF-104 Starfighters
alanh_7
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posted 08-31-2009 01:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have always loved the F-104 Starfighter. It always seemed to me to be going fast while it was sitting on the runway, and the NF-104 must have been something to fly.

Does anyone know where I might find a list of pilots who went on to become astronauts who may have flown the NF-104?

mjanovec
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posted 08-31-2009 02:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Many of the early astronauts flew the F-104. You could probably assume many of the astronauts who came from the Air Force in the 60s might have flown the F-104.

With regards to who flew the NF-104, that's a much more limited field of guys. Robert Smith, the chief test pilot of the program, has a website that lists the four pilots who primarily flew the NF-104. Of the four listed, only Robert Rushworth earned his astronaut wings by flying above 50 miles (while in the X-15).

It's possible that others may have flown the NF-104 that weren't project pilots, but I don't recall hearing of any NASA astronauts who flew the NF-104 on zoom flights... though I could be mistaken. Neil Armstrong test flew an F-104 with a reaction control system, but I don't believe he ever flew a rocket-powered NF-104 flight since he was already in the astronaut program by the time the first NF-104 flew.

alanh_7
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posted 08-31-2009 03:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I know many of the airforce guys flew the F-104. And many of the NASA guys too, as NASA used the F=104 as a chase aircraft for many years. I read Armstrong flew an F-104 on zoom climbs, and in the book "First Man" it states the aircraft had a reaction control system and I just assumed it was the NF-104.

Was there another type F-104 with a reaction system?

I know the NF-104 was used in the as a tool in ARPS training. I was wondering if any of the Air Force guys like Tom Stafford and Dave Scott who went through ARPS used the NF-104?

Delta7
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posted 08-31-2009 03:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by alanh_7:
I know the NF-104 was used in the as a tool in ARPS training. I was wondering if any of the Air Force guys like Tom Stafford and Dave Scott who went through ARPS used the NF-104?
I think that's what Scott was flying when he and Mike Adams crashed at Edwards shortly before Scott joined NASA. Scott talks about it in his book Two Sides Of The Moon (co-authored with Alexei Leonov).

alanh_7
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posted 08-31-2009 03:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The NF-104 was a single seat aircraft. To my knowledge there was never two seat version. I may be wrong.

I think when Dave Scott and Mike Adams crashed they were flying an F-104B two seater and they were practicing high angle of attack landings when the aircraft stalled and they hit their afterburner on the runway.

spaced out
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posted 08-31-2009 04:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaced out   Click Here to Email spaced out     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Collins describes flying the F-104 on zoom climbs in "Carrying the Fire". Re-reading this short section now has reminded me just why this book is the best astronaut-written book I've ever read, and indeed one of the best books of any category I've read.

alanh_7
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posted 08-31-2009 06:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree. I recently read "Carrying the Fire" (unfortunalty not autographed) for the first time in many years and forgot how good a book it is.

Spacefest
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posted 08-31-2009 06:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Spacefest   Click Here to Email Spacefest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
McDivitt flew one.

alanh_7
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posted 08-31-2009 07:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I never thought of McDivitt but it would make sense.

The Air Force I think flew them from 1963 to 1971. One was lost, another was damaged and the only survivor is a gate guard at the Test Pilot School at Edwards.

I know Armstrong flew a JF-104 which had a reaction system but no rocket engine.

Lou Chinal
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posted 08-31-2009 10:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wasn't Robert Lawrence killed flying an F-104? He was a MOL astronaut in about 1967.

alanh_7
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posted 09-01-2009 07:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes I think Robert Lawrence was killed in an F-104B while serving as an instructor pilot. To my understanding they were running steep decent profiles when sadly the aircraft hit the ground hard and the gear collapsed.

Michael Cassutt
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posted 09-01-2009 09:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lawrence was the instructee, not the instructor... Maj. Harvey Royer was the instructor.

alanh_7
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posted 09-01-2009 01:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I stand corrected.

mjanovec
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posted 09-01-2009 02:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's pretty safe to assume most early astronauts who came from the Air Force flew the F-104 at one time or another. It was one of the premier fighters of the Air Force in the late 50s and early 60s... and remains one of the fastest fighters in the USAF inventory (and is even faster than some of the fighters flown today).

The NF-104 is a different beast, with only three airframes being built in that configuration. Two crashed (including the famous Yeager crash). The other one still survives in a highly modified form and was in the process of being used to break the land speed record (which I haven't really followed the efforts of).

alanh_7
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posted 09-01-2009 03:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I may be wrong but I think the F-104 used for the land speed record was an F-104A serial 560763 and was used at the a chase aircraft by the Air Force at Edwards before being sent to Davis Monthan bone yard where it was sold to American Eagle for their WLS attempt.

NF-104 560760 I think is still a gate guard at Edwards Test Pilot School. The nose cone and other original parts were loaned to Daryl Greenamyer on his RB104 for and closed course speed record attempt. The parts were lost when he crashed the aircraft. The gate guard has substitute parts.

560762 was the aircraft Yeager crashed
560756 Was scrapped after an engine explosion.

I know NASA also had JF-104 aircraft which had an RCS system but no rocket engine. Armstrong used it for X-15 training though I am not sure he ever flew the NF-104.

Kevmac
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posted 09-01-2009 08:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kevmac   Click Here to Email Kevmac     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Frank Borman's book COUNTDOWN describes his "hundreds of hours" in the F-104 at Test Pilot School. He also goes into detail about his lead role in designing the concept of the rocket powered F-104 and Yeager's crash in the aircraft.

alanh_7
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posted 09-01-2009 09:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is highly likely most of the Air Force guys flew the F-104 for sure. I need to read Frank Borman's book "Countdown", but it seems unlikely many of the ARPS grads in The New Nine flew the NF-104 since it arrived at Edwards in October 1963 and Group 2 was selected by NASA in Sept 1962.

I think it highly likely Joe Engle flew the NF-104 while training for his X-15 flights.
From my understanding JF-104s that NASA owned were also used in zoom climb flights because they had an RCS system and the Air Force grads of ARPS like Stafford, McDivitt, Borman, etc. might have flown the JF-104. It came in service in 1959.

I am just speculating about who flew the NF-104 and have not seen anything in writing other than the test pilots assigned the program and Yeager of course.

mjanovec
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posted 09-02-2009 12:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by alanh_7:
NF-104 560760 I think is still a gate guard at Edwards Test Pilot School. The nose cone and other original parts were loaned to Daryl Greenamyer on his RB104 for and closed course speed record attempt.

You're right. I got my F-104s confused there...

albatron
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posted 09-02-2009 09:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is my understanding from talking with Bob Smith, the pilots he list are the only ones who flew the NF-104. After yeagers crash in it, the further usage of it was scrapped.

Others flew the JF-104 - for the zoom climbs, Charlie Duke included.

alanh_7
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posted 09-02-2009 10:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think you are right. Looking into it further, after Yeager’s crash it does not look like anyone else other than the assigned pilots were allowed to fly the NF-104.

The last NF-104 flew until 1971 I think, whether anyone other than the test pilots assigned to the program ever flew it I am not sure.

It looks like the JF-104 was routinely used by NASA and Air Force pilots for zoom climbs to around 80,000 feet. From what I understand the JF-104 was very similar to the NF104. It had a longer wing span, an instrument probe in the nose and the RCS system. But the obvious difference was the absence of the rocket engine.

There were two JF-104s. One of them was destroyed. The other was originally numbered 2961 but changed to NASA 818 which is now in the Smithsonian.

Which astronauts flew the JF-104 I have no idea other than Armstrong and Duke. It sounds like Mike Collins may have as well. But I am not sure.

kr4mula
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posted 09-02-2009 11:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In Borman's book, he takes some credit for designing the thing, or at least the concept. He also got very bitter about Yeager's flight/crash and how it tarnished the reputation of the aircraft and all but killed its use.

albatron
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posted 09-02-2009 02:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lotta folks were bitter about that and the Yeager crash as a whole, especially the accident board afterwards.

The NF104 website is pretty outspoken about that.

alanh_7
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posted 09-13-2009 05:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have heard the JF-104 was a more versatile aircraft. It did not have the rocket engine but had the RCS system and flying zoom climb profiles the aircraft was able to reach above 90,000 feet.

Starfighter1
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posted 09-13-2009 06:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Starfighter1   Click Here to Email Starfighter1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by alanh_7:
The NF-104 was a single seat aircraft. To my knowledge there was never two seat version. I may be wrong.
I believe the CF-104 was made as a 2 seater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the RAF. Any aircraft that goes faster than Mach 2 has to be respected...

alanh_7
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posted 09-13-2009 08:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I meant no disrespect with regards to the F-104. In fact I love the F-104 and always have.

During the later part of his career just before he retired, my father was maintenance officer stationed at CFB Cold Lake Alberta with 417 Squadron which flew the CF-104B. He would take us down the flight line from time to time and I loved looking at the F-104s.

As I said in a previous e-mail, the F-104 was an airplane that just looked like it was going like a bat sitting on the runway.

When I stated to my knowledge there was never a two seat version I meant that there was never a two seat NF-104. But I did not mean to put down the other versions of the F-104 which served many countries with distinction including my own country, for many years.

dractr
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posted 11-23-2010 06:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dractr   Click Here to Email dractr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by alanh_7:
560756 Was scrapped after an engine explosion.
I was the last crew chief for NF-104A 756 and I was the crew chief the day that the rocket engine exploded during a test flight.

albatron
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posted 11-23-2010 10:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dractr:
I was the last crew chief for NF-104A 756 and I was the crew chief the day that the rocket engine exploded during a test flight.
Welcome! Hopefully you can help clear the confusion as to who all flew it, since Bob Smith sadly isn't around to anymore.

I miss Bob tremendously, and like some others got a seriously bad rap.

GACspaceguy
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posted 11-23-2010 11:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for GACspaceguy   Click Here to Email GACspaceguy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Starfighter1:
I believe the CF-104 was made as a 2 seater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the RAF. Any aircraft that goes faster than Mach 2 has to be respected...
The aircraft was built, under license, by Canadair in Montreal. I actually started my Aerospace Engineering career at that company which, in 1979, was still doing repair and overhaul on CF-104 aircraft. I supported that shop for Engineering issues and worked on the “chicken tail”, the vertical and horizontal stabilizers as well as the wings and other small parts. It was great to hear stories on how those aircraft were produced by some of the folks that had been around during that time.

onesmallstep
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posted 11-23-2010 04:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Starfighter1:
I believe the CF-104 was made as a 2 seater in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the RAF...
I think you meant the RCAF (later CF/Air Command). Not that it would have looked great flying next to an EE Lightning at full speed!

Having seen the F-104s flown by the Starfighters demo team (sadly, no longer going to airshows but still under contract to NASA at KSC), I've always admired its sleek lines and rate of climb. Which brings me to a question: how much fuel was necessary to execute a 'zoom climb' in an F-104 (which was also done by an RCAF pilot to qualify as a record), as opposed to an NF-104? And the different time-to-climb records?

As I saw during the Starfighters airshow demos, they guzzled expensive fuel rather quickly for their brief time in the air, despite having drop tanks.

dractr
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posted 11-24-2010 04:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dractr   Click Here to Email dractr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
i had just talked with a nice gentleman today on the phone and he is doing a book on the pilots and ground crew personnel and he has gotten a few pilots and ground crews to sign his book. He wants to contact anyone who has worked on or flew the planes. His email is rtepak6@aol.com.

Also I have talked and shook hands Ed Shadel who is the pilot for the North American Eagle project and got to sit in the highly modified cockpit of the F-104a 763 as it is now a dry lakes race car. Ed has also flown everything that the USAF and Navy has ever flown. Go check out the web for them and go to the classroom area and there is a lot of pretty accurate information on the four planes 763 756 762 760.

I have a few pictures of me and my plane that I was crew chief on posted under the NF-104 756 page.

These people that have taken the 763 and done what they have with the history and research to make this record happen is beyond commendable. They are doing it right and have provided all the available information you will need, but one thing we need to do is find all the pilots that have had the experience of the test pilots school during that time of the NF program or AST program and give them the credit they didn't get after completing such a dangerous assignment.

A few must serve so others my live.

dractr
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posted 11-24-2010 04:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dractr   Click Here to Email dractr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Scott Crossfield Foundation is another site for some info and comments about the X-15 and the NF-104 AST program.

And the NF-104 was a combination of a F-104a and the tail was the F-104g two seat version.

The reason that they put the g tail section was so they would have a stronger and larger tail mass because of the added weight of the rocket and so they could put a GE J-79-15 jet engine and also it gave more room for the hydrogen peroxide tank above the weapons bay where the mini gun used to be and that's where the nitrogen tank was put for cockpit pressurization. And the RCS reserve tank was located there also.

albatron
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posted 02-01-2012 08:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I thought I would resurrect this as I've been doing some more research on the NF-104 and who flew it.

Bob Smith's website is a very nice one but I'm learning there are some inaccuracies in it. Most notably he reports that only four flew it.

Not true. But before I continue, let me say Bob was the writer, and someone else translated it to the site itself. I do believe some things got lost in the translation.

Apparently quite a few flew it, and under rocket power. John Blaha, possibly Roy Bridges and so forth.

I've been corresponding with General Michael Loh who has flown it, and am working on getting together with BGEN James Rhodes who was the along with Col. Jim Rider, were instrumental in getting this back in service for students of the ARPS.

Stay tuned. I do believe only four flew it initially.

Jay Chladek
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posted 02-04-2012 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ginter Publications as a decent book about the NF-104. Its original concept was for the most advanced pilots at ARPS to use it to get stick time for hands on experience of how to operate in the upper atmosphere of over 100,000 feet.

All the MOL astronauts went to ARPS and many of the astronauts that came though later went to it as well before the Air Force had the aerospace portion pruned, making it a single tier test pilot program again in 1971. The career of the NF-104 at ARPS was rather short though and the number of ARPS students to fly it was not great (one or two pilots per ARPS class at most), but, some did indeed get to fly it before the engine explosion lead to the program being cancelled.

Philip
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posted 02-07-2012 09:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The F-104 "flying pencil" was a dangerous plane to fly!

FFrench
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posted 02-10-2012 10:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As this thread diverged into other uses of the F-104 and its variants, not just the NF-104, I should mention that one of my absolute favorite parts of working with Al Worden on his book "Falling To Earth" was his description of zoom maneuvers in this aircraft when he was at Edwards. For those of you who have the book, it is P.53-4. His view of earth from the top of the arc sounded breathtaking.

albatron
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posted 02-10-2012 02:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think that he was flying the JF-104 for the zooms Francis, which was a stock F-104 with the RCS system. Charlie flew them also.

Okay, this is a partial list of those who flew the NF-104 that I've been able to find (starting after Bob Smith, Woodman, Rushworth and Yeager):

  • Lockheed Test Pilot Eddie W. Brown

  • Major Warren J. Kerson
  • Maj. DF Vikan
  • Maj. Warwick H. Glasgow
  • Maj. Fredrick R. Dent
  • Maj. Ronald W. Yates
  • Maj. Ralph H. Graham (last to fly it)
  • Fred Dante
  • Chuck Stone
  • Hardy Shogan
  • Capt. Henry D. Hoffman III
  • Maj. Mike Loh
  • BGEN James Rhodes
  • Col. Jim Rider
  • Robert H. "Bob" Lilac
  • Fred Watts
  • John Blaha
  • BGEN Roy Bridges
  • Harry Blot (USMC)
  • Alton "Bud" Slay
  • Bob Gilliland

alanh_7
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posted 01-07-2014 07:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was reading about the career of Captain Ronald "Mugs" McKeown UNS (Ret) who shot down two MiG-17s while flying with VF 161 USS Midway and went on to be the first CO of the US Navy Fighter Weapons School "Top Gun."

I was surprised to also find out according to the article that Mugs McKeown was also assigned the US Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School and flew the NF-104.

I have the greatest respect for Mugs (and his Guy in Back Jack Ensch) for his achievements flying from the USS Midway but when I read this article I was more than a little surprised.

Can anyone shed any further light on this? I have looked into it further but have not found much other than this article.

albatron
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posted 09-24-2014 04:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Years ago I got to meet "Mugs the Mig Killer", who was close to my brother in law. I just read that article (thanks for that).

I've been trying to track him down, does anyone know how to contact him?

All times are CT (US)

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