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F-104 Starfighter Lockheed
F-104 Starfighter
Multi-Role Fighter

Experience in the Korean War showed that the US Air Force was in need of a new interceptor capable of high speeds and climb rates to engage Russian MiG-15s and bombers. The solution adopted by Lockheed was a small, lightweight design with a powerful engine called the F-104 Starfighter. Though capable of speeds exceeding Mach 2 and of reaching altitudes exceeding 90,000 ft, the Starfighter suffered from limited range, poor turn radius, limited payload capacity, and unforgiving flight characteristics. The F-104 was used for a time by both the Strategic Air Command as an interceptor and the Tactical Air Command as a fighter bomber. Due to its limitations, however, production was stopped in 1959 and the aircraft withdrawn from front-line service in 1960.

Nevertheless, the Starfighter was given a new lease on life when West Germany accepted the updated F-104G as its primary fighter. Compared with the earlier USAF models, the F-104G featured much improved avionics and better low-level strike capabilities. The significantly more capable F-104G model soon attracted customers throughout Europe and Asia as well as Canada. Though only 296 examples had been built for the USAF, an additional 2,282 F-104 fighters were built for US allies. These exceptional aircraft served for many years but were finally withdrawn from service by the mid-1990s.

The final variant to see service was the F-104S built under license by Alenia in Italy. Sold to both the Italian and Turkish air forces, the F-104S proved to be cost-effective, reliable, and popular among pilots. These aircraft were continually updated through the 1980s and 1990s under the ASA program, but Italy's F-104 fleet was finally retired and replaced by the F-16 in October 2004.

Data below for F-104G
Last modified 13 September 2009

First Flight (XF-104) 7 February 1954
Service Entry January 1958
Retirement (F-104S) 27 October 2004

CREW: one: pilot


Wing Root Biconvex 3.36%
Wing Tip

Biconvex 3.36%

Length 54.75 ft (16.69 m)
Wingspan 21.92 ft (6.68 m)
Height 13.50 ft (4.11 m)
Wing Area 196.1 ft² (18.22 m²)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty 14,082 lb (6,387 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff 28,779 lb (13,054 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal: 5,822 lb (2,641 kg)
external: 5,538 lb (2,512 kg)
Max Payload

4,310 lb (1,995 kg)

Powerplant one General Electric J79-19 turbojet
Thrust 10,000 lb (44.5 kN)
15,800 lb (70.28 kN) with afterburner

Max Level Speed at altitude: 1,450 mph (2,335 km/h) at 36,000 ft (10,975 m), Mach 2.2
at sea level: Mach 1.2
Initial Climb Rate 50,000 ft (15,239 m) / min
Service Ceiling 58,000 ft (17,680 m)
90,000 ft (27,430 m) zoom ceiling
Range typical: 260 nm (480 km) with max payload
ferry: 1,576 nm (2,920 km)
g-Limits +7.33 (clean) or +5.5 (with wing tanks) / -2.8

Gun one 20-mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon (750 rds)
Stations seven external hardpoints and two wingtip rails
Air-to-Air Missile AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-7 Sparrow, Apside
Air-to-Surface Missile AGM-65 Maverick, Kormoran, Penguin
Bomb nuclear bombs, Mk 82/83 GP, cluster bombs
Other rocket pods, ECM pods

XF-104 Prototype
YF-104 Pre-production aircraft used to test different engines; 17 built
F-104A Production model for the USAF with blown flaps to reduce landing speeds; 153 built
NF-104A F-104A airframes used for astronaut training; 3 converted
QF-104A YF-104 and F-104A aircraft used as radio-controlled target drones
F-104B Two-seat trainer based on the F-104A but with a new fuel system and armament layout; 26 built
F-104C Upgraded one-seat tactical fighter bomber used by the USAF with a new engine and armed with Sidewinder missiles, bombs, or rocket pods; 77 built
F-104D Two-seat trainer based on the F-104C model; 21 built
CF-104D Canadian two-seat trainer built under license; 38 built
F-104DJ Two-seat trainer for Japan; 20 built
F-104F Improved attack fighter based on the F-104D model and sold to Germany; 30 built
F-104G German multi-role fighter with ground attack capability, aerodynamic refinements, a stronger airframe, more advanced avionics, and a new engine; 1,127 built for European countries
TF-104G German two-seat trainer; 220 built
RF-104G German reconnaissance model with a camera pod in place of the Vulcan cannon; 189 built
RTF-104G Two-seat trainer that could be equipped for reconnaissance duties
CF-104 Canadian multi-role fighter based on the F-104G and built under license; 200 built
F-104J Japanese multi-role fighter based on the F-104G and built under license; 210 built
F-104N F-104G aircraft built for NASA as supersonic chase planes
F-104S Multi-role fighter based on the F-104G and built by Aeritalia for Italy and Turkey, last operational version; 245 built
F-104S ASA Italian F-104S models upgraded by Aeritalia/Alenia under the Aggiornamento Sistemi d'Arma program with new radar, avionics, and weapon systems; 150 converted
F-104S ASA M Final modernization program to keep the Italian F-104S ASA fleet in service into the 21st century by replacing outdated power systems and navigation avionics to improve maintainability; approximately 100 converted

KNOWN COMBAT RECORD: Vietnam War (USAF, 1965-1968)
Bangladesh War (Pakistan, 1971)

KNOWN OPERATORS: Belgium, Belgishe Luchtmacht/Force Aérienne Belge (Belgian Air Force)
Canada (Royal Canadian Air Force)
Denmark, Kongelige Danske Flyvevåbnet (Royal Danish Air Force)
Germany, Deutsche Luftwaffe (German Air Force)
Germany, Deutsche Marineflieger (German Naval Air Arm)
Greece, Elliniki Polimiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force)
Italy, Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force)
Japan, Nihon Koku-Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defence Force)
Netherlands, Koninklijke Luchmacht (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
Norway, Kongelige Norske Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Air Force)
Pakistan, Pakistan Fiza'ya (Pakistani Air Force)
Spain, Ejército del Aire Española (Spanish Air Force)
Taiwan, Chung-Kuo Kung Chuan (Republic of China Air Force)
Turkey, Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force)
United States (US Air Force)
United States (NASA)


F-104 Starfighter

  • Bishop, Chris, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Weapons: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Weapon Systems from 1945 to the Present Day. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1999, p. 261, 297.
  • Donald, David, ed. Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. Norwalk, CT: AIRtime Publishing, 2004, p. 132-191, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 578, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
  • Donald, David and Lake, Jon, ed. The Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 2000, p. 27-28, 244-245, Alenia (Aeritalia/Lockheed) F-104ASA, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Lockheed TF-104 Starfighter.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995, p. 12-13, Aeritalia (Lockheed) F-104S ASA Starfighter, Aeritalia (Lockheed) F-104S Starfighter.
  • Gunston, Bill and Spick, Mike. Modern Air Combat: The Aircraft, Tactics and Weapons Employed in Aerial Combat Today. NY: Crescent Books, 1983, p. 116-117.
  • Isby, David C. Jane's Fighter Combat in the Jet Age. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997, p. 185.
  • Munro, Bob and Chant, Christopher. Jane's Combat Aircraft. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995, p. 136-137.
  • Paul Nann's Military Aviation Photo Gallery
  • Spohrer, Jennifer. Jane's Combat Simulations: USNF '97 Users Manual. San Mateo, CA: Electronic Arts, 1996, p. 8.29-8.31.
  • Starfighters F-104 Demo Team
  • Taylor, Michael. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1996/1997. London: Brassey's, 1996, p. 54, Alenia F-104ASA M.
  • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1999/2000. London: Brassey's, 1999, p. 39, Alenia F-104ASA M.

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