by: Bill Cross [ ]
Originally published on:
Lockheed Martin's F-104 Starfighter was possibly the most-famous US jet fighter model prior to the F-4 Phantom. 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. The Starfighter was immensely fast, but also was difficult to fly with an unfortunate tendency to crash. One hundred sixteen fatalities from 269 accidents in German service earned the Starfighter the nasty nickname Witwemacher ("widow-maker"), and cost Lockheed millions in lawsuits by grieving families. The controversy over the plane reached a pinnacle when Germany's greatest fighter ace of WW2, Erich Hartmann, was forced into early retirement over his opposition to the plane's adoption into the postwar Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine.
Some of the crashes resulted from the Germans switching the Starfighter from supersonic interceptor to ground attack support. That change of mission increased stresses on the airframe and wings, and a degradation in performance from slower flight patterns. There is also a school of thought that blames the training regimen: German pilots were schooled in a short amount of time, and in Texas where the skies are blue, etc. German foul weather meant that flying the balky F-104 was more dangerous.
Nevertheless, the F-104 is an iconic design, and its service in many air forces makes it popular with modelers around the world (in addition to most NATO countries, it served in the Taiwanese and Japanese air forces). Italeri has previously released four versions of the F-104 in 1/32nd scale: the original F-104 A/C, the German F-104 G, F-104 G/S and RF-104 G/S reconnaissance variant. Germany flew the lion's share of the F-104s, and a light industry of books and after-market additions for German or Belgian F-104s has grown up.
Now Italeri has added a two-seat trainer version that gives modelers a very different airframe and painting palette. Because of the dangers from flying the Fliegender Sarg ("Flying Coffin") or Erdnagel ("tent peg"), a two-seat trainer version was considered essential, and the new kit has eight versions across seven air forces. The new Italeri kit has the dual "office" option of a second cockpit, as well as some very distinct markings like the white wings on several models included in the markings booklet.
Inside a huge box are 390 parts & accessories:
7 sprues of gray plastic
1 sprue of clear parts
1 fret of photo etch
2 huge pages of decals
32-page instruction manual
12-page decal placement guide with 8 different schemes from 7 countries
I must confess to a love-hate relationship with Italeri aircraft kits. The company seems to be able to read my mind by offering kits in two planes that have always interested me: the Dassault Mirage III and now the F-104 in foreign service. Yet the problems I have encountered actually building their kits make me want to repress my longings and build something else.
The issues include the quality of the production: the Italeri plastic is pretty uniformly soft. This degrades detailing right out of the molds, and some righteous seams make clean-up occasionally risky: if you attack those mold seams too aggressively, you may find smaller parts like the canopy frames, support struts or antenna disintegrating in your hands.
Another issue is fit: the Mirage IIIC kit required quite a bit of puttying and sanding. Rivet and panel line details were inevitably lost and required painful re-scribing. After hours of clean-up on the Mirage III, I was ready to swear off Italeri kits-- until colleagues suggested the 104 was a less-demanding undertaking. I picked up an F-104 G while in Hong Kong from Luckymodel on a business trip, and have been wrestling it to the ground since I returned.
The fit is less problematical, though there will still be some putty needed. The TF-104 G kit is very similar in most respects to the F-104 G, and so the experience I have gained from that kit will help when I build up the trainer into a feature for Aeroscale.
One of the "signature" features of the kits is Italeri's attempt in both the Mirage and Starfighter to stiffen the rear fuselage with PE "ribs." In theory these will add detailing and allow modelers to display the aircraft with the tail section removed and the engine on its cart for viewing. While I like the J-79 General Electric included with both Starfighter kits, I can't imagine displaying them outside the aircraft without some extensive scratchbuilding. And the support PE just hasn't worked for me in either the Mirage or F-104 G. The fit is awkward, and the ribs are meant to "mesh" when the tail is attached to the body. The ribs tend to come loose unless carefully attached with CA glue, and I'm not convinced they are worth the effort.
The kit also suffers from some simplifications, especially in the cockpit. The photo at right shows the kit's Martin Baker ejection seat next to an Aires resin version. The Italeri part seems under-scale, as well as lacking in detail (PE seat belts are included on the single PE fret but not shown in my photo). Cockpit details are mixed: some good additional parts coupled with low-detail instrument facings. After-market PE is definitely recommended.
While I would not display the J-79 General Electric engine outside the aircraft as suggested by the instructions, it's still an above-average rendering of this workhorse power plant. It's well-detailed enough for most of us, yet will leave super-detailers with enough areas they can improve on. The exhaust nozzle, however, is under-sized and I recommend a resin upgrade. The performance issues and crashes described in the introduction prompted an upgraded engine (the more-powerful J-79-MTU-J1K). Its exhaust nozzle was somewhat simplified (see part 2E in the kit), but the majority of the 220 TF-104 Gs produced were manufactured in the US and had the original J-79 GE engines. Forty-eight were built by "multinational" companies and may have had the simplified nozzle. The kit does not account for that possibility, so modelers with photographic references showing the smoother nozzle blades can swap out that part.
Landing gear and wheels are good for styrene, and again, superdetailers will find areas they can improve, while those wishing to build OOB will not be disappointed.
Ordnance might seem like a non-issue in a trainer, yet Germany considered its two-seater Starfighter as combat-ready and capable of carrying Sidewinders or bombs (the Vulcan cannon was swapped out, however, for extra internal fuel tanks). Four external fuel tanks are included in the ordnance sprues (two pylon and two wing-mounted), along with the missiles from earlier releases. The details of the tanks are very good, though beware when gluing the two halves together as any excess adhesive can spoil the lines and rivets of the filler caps which are meant to drop into holes on the tank sides.
decals & painting
The F-104 G is famous for its service with the German Luftwaffe and Marineflieger, but the trainer version was actually mostly built in the US. Because of the Starfighter's wide acceptance by NATO air forces and the Japan Self Defense Force, trainer versions flew in a wide range of national colors. This is reflected in the 12-page painting and decal guide. It has two pages of instructions for the placement of generic stencils, as well as painting and decals for eight different versions:
1.) Italian Air Force 20. Gruppo, 4. Stormo, Grosseto, Italy - 1985 (Italy was the last nation to retire their Starfighters)
2.) Italian Air Force, 20. Gruppo, 4. Stormo, Grosseto, Italy - 1986
3.) Luftwaffe F-104 F, 4th Training Squadron, O.T.U., Nörvenich AB, Germany - 1964
4.) Royal Canadian Air Force CF-104 D, 1st Wing, Lahr, Germany - 1966
5.) USAF TF-104 G, 69th TFTS, 58th TFTW, Luke AFB - 1976
6.) Spanish AF TF-104 G, Torrejon - 1968
7.) Belgian AF TF-104 G. 10th Wing, Kleine-Brogel A.B. - 1981
8.) Netherlands AF TF-104 G, Volkel A.B. - 1977-1978
The paint colors are all given with Federal Standard numbers instead of paint brand names, some of which may or may not be readily-available to you.
The model has some shortcomings, but for those of us who like big jets, Italeri is clearly tapping into interest in non-US brands like Dassault's Mirage and now the NATO F-104G. The trainer version kit builds up nicely out-of-the-box, though it will take some skill and effort to deal with the mold seams and sometimes soft details of Italeri's plastic.
Thanks to Italeri for providing this review copy. Please mention you saw it reviewed on Aeroscale when ordering yours.