by: Bill Cross [ ]
Originally published on:
Lockheed Martin's F-104 Starfighter was the first operational supersonic interceptor produced by the United States, and is the inspiration for at least two dozen plastic models in all three common scales. Over 2,500 were built, and 14 countries flew exported or licensed versions from 1958 until the last aircraft was retired from Italian service in 2004.
Capable of hitting Mach 2, the Starfighter was immensely fast (it was later adapted to build the U2 spy plane). But it was also tricky to fly, and had an unfortunate tendency to crash. The German air force had the worst experience with the F-104, losing 116 pilots in 269 accidents. Nasty nicknames began attaching themselves to the plane like tin cans tied to a stray dog's tail by cruel boys: Witwemacher ("widow-maker") and Fliegender Sarg ("flying coffin") or even "tent peg." The German postwar Luftwaffe ended up fighting an internal civil war over the plane's adoption and continued service that eventually forced their greatest fighter ace of WW2, Erich Hartmann, into leaving the service in 1970 over his opposition to the F-104.
The cause of the high rate of crashes is still debated. Was it the lousy weather over much of Germany (pilots were initially trained to fly in the clear, dry air of Texas)? Human error by inexperienced pilots and/or conscript maintenance personnel? Whatever the reason, Germany flew 36% of all Starfighters from 1961-1987, so it's no wonder modelers have been drawn to the German F-104 G and TF-104 G (the two-seat trainer version).
To help those of us who love the F-104 G, Danny Coremans has created a website with all sorts of decals to help recreate the Starfighter in both Belgian and German configurations. He has also collaborated on one of the best reference works I have ever seen for modelers, one that provides a wealth of details and (unlike many military gear reference works) is conceived and laid out with the modeler in mind.
Uncovering the Lockheed (T)F-104G Starfighter is now in its second edition, and can be purchased from Danny's website in both German and English variants (I purchased my copy from Sprue Bros.). Both the English and German editions have 160 pages crammed with 875 high-rez color photos covering almost every square inch of several surviving aircraft. Its size is 21 x 24 cm (5,33 x 9.5 inches) and contains two 1 meter/40 inch foldouts in 1/72nd & 1/48th scale for re-scribing panel lines, etc.
Unlike most modeling reference works, the photos here are not only arranged according to the geography of the aircraft (wings, fuselage, cockpit, etc.), but also include a small avatar of the plane atop each page with the portion being highlighted shown in red. It makes it easy to navigate between sections when working on detailing a build, something I have appreciated while building two F-104 Gs simultaneously.
The quality of the photos is outstanding, and there are ample views of all the areas modelers would want to see, including wheel wells, cockpit, instrument panel, electronics bay, engine (both the original GE J79 and a later German-manufactured upgrade). There are also photos of the radar array, Vulcan gun, air brakes, and other cavities you might choose to show exposed. Detailed views of the landing gear make adding hoses and hydraulics much easier.
The Starfighter had two variants of ejection seat, so the book shows both the C2 it was shipped with and the later Martin-Baker GQ-7A replacement. And since Germany flew 136 two-seater TF-104 G trainer versions, first in NMF and USA markings, and later repainted to Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine camouflage, there is a large section showing the front and back "offices" of the (T)F-104 F and G.
Even though these planes haven't flown in almost two decades, there are maintenance shots of planes being serviced for those who want to know the routine or build a service diorama. And since the F-104 G was used by the Luftwaffe as a fighter-bomber rather than an interceptor, the authors have generously documented in photos the wide array of missiles, bombs and wing tanks carried.
I can't imagine building an F-104 G (and perhaps any F-104) without this book. No part of the air frame is overlooked, and the maintenance photos show how the beast was kept flying. Coupled with Danny's excellent decal sets, this book gives any F-104 G build its best chance for accuracy.