The iconic F-104 Starfighter was officially retired from Italian Air Force service in October 2004.
Designed by Lockheed’s ace engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson to surpass the MiG-15 fighters that had stunned the aeronautical world in Korea, the F-104 Starfighter was something completely different: an inexpensive lightweight fighter with thin seven-foot wings, sharp as the blade of a dagger. It was not only capable of reaching Mach 2 speeds but was sturdy enough to weather any storm that loomed before it. In short, it was the perfect NATO warplane.
Development of the F-104 began in 1952, and the first XF-104 made its initial flight in 1954. On May 18, 1958, an F-104A set a world speed record of 1,404.19 mph, and on Dec. 14, 1959, an F-104C set a world altitude record of 103,395 feet. The Starfighter was the first aircraft to hold simultaneous official world records for speed, altitude and time-to-climb.
Today Starfighter Aerospace operates the world’s only fleet of flight-ready F-104 supersonic aircraft.
Based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and operating under authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, these aircraft are available to government and commercial customers for a variety of missions.
Starfighters Aerospace’s F-104s are used for a variety of tasks: captive carry of payloads and test articles, microgravity experiments, supersonic and hypersonic RDT&E, spaceflight hardware testing/qualification, suborbital spaceflight simulation, air-launch of microsatellites, human factors and flight physiology research, jet warbird type training and familiarization for pilots, avionics testing/qualification, flight suit testing and qualification, sponsored video production, and adversary air training support.
According to Scramble Magazine, “the good news is that Starfighter Aerospace has accepted an invitation to join the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) this year. The centenary of Italian military aviation will be celebrated during the weekend of 16 to 18 June 2023 with an air show at Pratica di Mare. They have plans to send TWO Lockheed F-104 Starfighters to Italy! This is without any doubt the result of the warm contacts between the Italians and Starfighter Aerospace, which operates four former Italian F-104s.”
Starfighters Aerospace operates a fleet of former Canadian and Italian F-104s (both one- and two-seat versions) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Specifically, the Starfighters obtained by the Italian Air Force are the Italian-made F-104S aircraft, the most capable model of the legendary Zipper, able to achieve sustained speeds of Mach 2.2 in both level and climbing flight profiles, and altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet.
The Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter was a licensed production Italian version of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, which served in the Italian Air Force, and was its mainstay from the late 1960s until the beginning of the 21st century. The F-104S also served in the Turkish Air Force until the mid-1990s. The F-104S was the final development of the Starfighter line.
Derived from Lockheed’s design studies on a “Super Starfighter”, the F-104S was not only the most capable of the F-104 series, but was also destined to be the last in service worldwide. The F-104S (upgraded to ASA/M standard) was retired from service with the Italian Air Force in October 2004.
Photo credit: Rob Shenk from USA, Starfighters via Wikipedia