+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, vice president of engineering and research at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, visited USAF air bases across South Korea in November 1951 to speak with fighter pilots about what they wanted and needed in a fighter aircraft. At the time, the American pilots were confronting the MiG-15 with North American F-86 Sabres, and many felt that the MiGs were superior to the larger and more complex American design. The pilots requested a small and simple aircraft with excellent performance, especially high speed and altitude capabilities. Armed with this information, Johnson immediately started the design of such an aircraft on his return to the United States.
Work started in March 1952. In order to achieve the desired performance, Lockheed chose a small and simple aircraft, weighing in at 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) with a single powerful engine. The engine chosen was the new General Electric J79 turbojet, an engine of dramatically improved performance in comparison with contemporary designs. The small L-246 design remained essentially identical to the Model 083 Starfighter as eventually delivered.
Johnson presented the design to the Air Force on 5 November 1952, and work progressed quickly, with a mock-up ready for inspection at the end of April, and work starting on two prototypes that summer. The first prototype was completed by early 1954 and first flew on 4 March at Edwards AFB. The total time from contract to first flight was less than one year.
The first YF-104A flew on 17 February 1956 and, with the other 16 trial aircraft, were soon carrying out equipment evaluation and flight tests. Lockheed made several improvements to the aircraft throughout the testing period, including strengthening the airframe, adding a ventral fin to improve directional stability at supersonic speed, and installing a boundary layer control system (BLCS) to reduce landing speed. Problems were encountered with the J79 afterburner; further delays were caused by the need to add AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. On 28 January 1958, the first production F-104A to enter service was delivered.
Even though the F-104 saw only limited use by the USAF, later versions, tailored to a fighter bomber role and intended for overseas sales, were more prolific. This was in particular the F-104G, which became the Starfighter’s main version, a total of 1,127 F-104Gs were produced under license by Canadair and a consortium of European companies that included Messerschmitt/MBB, Fiat, Fokker, and SABCA.
The F-104G differed considerably from earlier versions. It featured strengthened fuselage, wing, and empennage structures; a larger vertical fin with fully powered rudder as used on the earlier two-seat versions; fully powered brakes, new anti-skid system, and larger tires; revised flaps for improved combat maneuvering; a larger braking chute. Upgraded avionics included an Autonetics NASARR F15A-41B multi-mode radar with air-to-air, ground-mapping, contour-mapping, and terrain-avoidance modes, as well as the Litton LN-3 Inertial Navigation System, the first on a production fighter.
Germany was among the first foreign operators of the F-104G variant. As a side note, a widespread misconception was and still is that the "G" explicitly stood for "Germany". But that was not the case and pure incidence, it was just the next free letter, even though Germany had a major influence on the aircraft’s concept and equipment. The German Air Force and Navy used a large number of F-104G aircraft for interception, reconnaissance and fighter bomber roles. In total, Germany operated 916 Starfighters, becoming the type’s biggest operator in the world. Beyond the single seat fighter bombers, Germany also bought and initially 30 F-104F two-seat aircraft and then 137 TF-104G trainers. Most went to the Luftwaffe and a total of 151 Starfighters was allocated to the Marineflieger units.
The introduction of this highly technical aircraft type to a newly reformed German air force was fraught with problems. Many were of technical nature, but there were other sources of problems, too. For instance, after WWII, many pilots and ground crews had settled into civilian jobs and had not kept pace with military and technological developments. Newly recruited/re-activated pilots were just being sent on short "refresher" courses in slow and benign-handling first-generation jet aircraft or trained on piston-driven types. Ground crews were similarly employed with minimal training and experience, which was one consequence of a conscripted military with high turnover of service personnel. Operating in poor northwest European weather conditions (vastly unlike the fair-weather training conditions at Luke AFB in Arizona) and flying low at high speed over hilly terrain, a great many Starfighter accidents were attributed to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). German Air Force and Navy losses with the type totaled 110 pilots, around half of them naval officers.
One general contributing factor to the high attrition rate was the operational assignment of the F-104 in German service: it was mainly used as a (nuclear strike) fighter-bomber, flying at low altitude underneath enemy radar and using landscape clutter as passive radar defense, as opposed to the original design of a high-speed, high-altitude fighter/interceptor. In addition to the different and demanding mission profiles, the installation of additional avionic equipment in the F-104G version, such as the inertial navigation system, added distraction to the pilot and additional weight that further hampered the flying abilities of the plane. In contemporary German magazine articles highlighting the Starfighter safety problems, the aircraft was portrayed as "overburdened" with technology, which was considered a latent overstrain on the aircrews. Furthermore, many losses in naval service were attributed to the Starfighter’s lack of safety margin through a twin-engine design like the contemporary Blackburn Buccaneer, which had been the German navy air arm’s favored type. But due to political reasons (primarily the outlook to produce the Starfighter in Southern Germany in license), the Marine had to accept and make do with the Starfighter, even if it was totally unsuited for the air arm’s mission profile.
Erich Hartmann, the world’s top-scoring fighter ace from WWII, commanded one of Germany’s first (post-war) jet fighter-equipped squadrons and deemed the F-104 to be an unsafe aircraft with poor handling characteristics for aerial combat. To the dismay of his superiors, Hartmann judged the fighter unfit for Luftwaffe use even before its introduction.
In 1966 Johannes Steinhoff took over command of the Luftwaffe and grounded the entire Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine F-104 fleet until he was satisfied that the persistent problems had been resolved or at least reduced to an acceptable level. One measure to improve the situation was that some Starfighters were modified to carry a flight data recorder or "black box" which could give an indication of the probable cause of an accident. In later years, the German Starfighters’ safety record improved, although a new problem of structural failure of the wings emerged: original fatigue calculations had not taken into account the high number of g-force loading cycles that the German F-104 fleet was experiencing through their mission profiles, and many airframes were returned to the depot for wing replacement or outright retirement.
The German F-104Gs served primarily in the strike role as part of the Western nuclear deterrent strategy, some of these dedicated nuclear strike Starfighters even had their M61 gun replaced by an additional fuel tank for deeper penetration missions. However, some units close to the German borders, e.g. Jagdgeschwader (JG) 71 in Wittmundhafen (East Frisia) as well as JG 74 in Neuburg (Bavaria), operated the Starfighter as a true interceptor on QRA duty. From 1980 onwards, these dedicated F-104Gs received a new air superiority camouflage, consisting of three shades of grey in an integral wraparound scheme, together with smaller, subdued national markings. This livery was officially called “Norm 82” and unofficially “Alberich”, after the secretive guardian of the Nibelung’s treasure. A similar wraparound paint scheme, tailored to low-level operations and consisting of two greens and black (called Norm 83), was soon applied to the fighter bombers and the RF-104 fleet, too, as well as to the Luftwaffe’s young Tornado IDS fleet.
However, the Luftwaffe’s F-104Gs were at that time already about to be gradually replaced, esp. in the interceptor role, by the more capable and reliable F-4F Phantom II, a process that lasted well into the mid-Eighties due to a lagging modernization program for the Phantoms. The Luftwaffe’s fighter bombers and recce Starfighters were replaced by the MRCA Tornado and RF-4E Phantoms. In naval service the Starfighters soldiered on for a little longer until they were also replaced by the MRCA Tornado – eventually, the Marineflieger units received a two engine aircraft type that was suitable for their kind of missions.
In the course of the ongoing withdrawal, a lot of German aircraft with sufficiently enough flying hours left were transferred to other NATO partners like Norway, Greece, Turkey and Italy, and two were sold to the NASA. One specific Starfighter was furthermore modified into a CCV (Control-Configured Vehicle) experimental aircraft under control of the German Industry, paving the way to aerodynamically unstable aircraft like the Eurofighter/Typhoon. The last operational German F-104 made its farewell flight on 22. Mai 1991, and the type’s final flight worldwide was in Italy in October 2004.
Length: 54 ft 8 in (16.66 m)
Wingspan: 21 ft 9 in (6.63 m)
Height: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)
Wing area: 196.1 ft² (18.22 m²)
Airfoil: Biconvex 3.36 % root and tip
Empty weight: 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 29,027 lb (13,166 kg)
1× General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet,
10,000 lbf (44 kN) thrust dry, 15,600 lbf (69 kN) with afterburner
Maximum speed: 1,528 mph (2,459 km/h, 1,328 kn)
Maximum speed: Mach 2
Combat range: 420 mi (680 km, 360 nmi)
Ferry range: 1,630 mi (2,620 km, 1,420 nmi)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
Rate of climb: 48,000 ft/min (240 m/s) initially
Wing loading: 105 lb/ft² (510 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.54 with max. takeoff weight (0.76 loaded)
1× 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling cannon, 725 rounds
7× hardpoints with a capacity of 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), including up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder, (nuclear)
bombs, guided and unguided missiles, or other stores like drop tanks or recce pods
The kit and its assembly:
A relatively simple what-if project – based on the question how a German F-104 interceptor might have looked like, had it been operated for a longer time to see the Luftwaffe’s low-viz era from 1981 onwards. In service, the Luftwaffe F-104Gs started in NMF and then carried the Norm 64 scheme, the well-known splinter scheme in grey and olive drab. Towards the end of their career the fighter bombers and recce planes received the Norm 83 wraparound scheme in green and black, but by that time no dedicated interceptors were operational anymore, so I stretched the background story a little.
The model is the very nice Italeri F-104G/S model, which is based on the ESCI molds from the Eighties, but it comes with recessed engravings and an extra sprue that contains additional drop tanks and an Orpheus camera pod. The kit also includes a pair of Sidewinders with launch rails for the wing tips as well as the ventral “catamaran” twin rail, which was frequently used by German Starfighters because the wing tips were almost constantly occupied with tanks.
Fit and detail is good – the kit is IMHO very good value for the money. There are just some light sinkholes on the fuselage behind the locator pins, the fit of the separate tail section is mediocre and calls for PSR, and the thin and very clear canopy is just a single piece – for open display, you have to cut it by yourself.
Since the model would become a standard Luftwaffe F-104G, just with a fictional livery, the kit was built OOB. The only change I made are drooped flaps, and the air brakes were mounted in open position.
The ordnance (wing tip tanks plus the ventral missiles) was taken from the kit, reflecting the typical German interceptor configuration: the wing tips were frequently occupied with tanks, sometimes even together with another pair of drop tanks under the wings, so that any missile had to go under the fuselage. The instructions for the ventral catamaran launch rails are BTW wrong – they tell the builder to mount the launch rails onto the twin carrier upside down! Correctly, the carrier’s curvature should lie flush on the fuselage, with no distance at all. When mounted as proposed, the Sidewinders come very close to the ground and the whole installation looks pretty goofy! I slightly modified the catamaran launch rail with some thin styrene profile strips as spacers, and the missiles themselves, AIM-9Bs, were replaced with more modern and delicate AIM-9Js from a Hasegawa air-to-air weapons set. Around the hull, some small blade antennae, a dorsal rotating warning light and an angle-of-attack sensor were added.
Painting and markings:
The exotic livery is what defined this what-if build, and the paint scheme was actually inspired by a real world benchmark: some Dornier Do-28D Skyservants of the German Marineflieger received, late in their career, a wraparound scheme in three shades of grey, namely RAL 7030 (Steingrau), 7000 (Fehgrau) and 7012 (Basaltgrau). I thought that this would work pretty well for an F-104G interceptor that operates at medium to high altitudes, certainly better than the relatively dark Norm 64 splinter scheme or the Norm 83 low-altitude pattern.
The camouflage pattern was simply adopted from the Starfighter’s Norm 83 scheme, just the colors were exchanged. The kit was painted with acrylic paints from Revell, since the authentic tones were readily available, namely 75, 57 and 77. As a disrupting detail I gave the wing tip tanks the old Norm 64 colors: uniform Gelboliv from above (RAL 6014, Revell 42), Silbergrau underneath (RAL 7001, Humbrol’s 127 comes pretty close), and bright RAL 2005 dayglo orange markings, the latter created with TL Modellbau decal sheet material for clean edges and an even finish.
The cockpit interior was painted in standard medium grey (Humbrol 140, Dark Gull Grey), the landing gear including the wells became aluminum (Humbrol 56), the interior of the air intakes was painted with bright matt aluminum metallizer (Humbrol 27001) with black anti-icing devices in the edges and the shock cones. The radome was painted with very light grey (Humbrol 196, RAL 7035), the dark green anti-glare panel is a decal from the OOB sheet.
The model received a standard black ink washing and some panel post-shading (with Testors 2133 Russian Fulcrum Grey, Humbrol 128 FS 36320 and Humbrol 156 FS 36173) in an attempt to even out the very different shades of grey. The result does not look bad, pretty worn and weathered (like many German Starfighters), even though the paint scheme reminds a lot of the Hellenic "Ghost" scheme from the late F-4Es and the current F-16s?
The decals for the subdued Luftwaffe markings were puzzled together from various sources. The stencils were mostly taken from the kit’s exhaustive and sharply printed sheet. Tactical codes (“26+40” is in the real Starfighter range, but this specific code was AFAIK never allocated), iron crosses and the small JG 71 emblems come from TL Modellbau aftermarket sheets. Finally, after some light soot stains around the gun port, the afterburner and some air outlets along the fuselage with graphite, the model was sealed with matt acrylic varnish.
A simple affair, since the (nice) kit was built OOB and the only really fictional aspect of this model is its livery. But the resulting aircraft looks good, the all-grey wraparound scheme suits the slender F-104 well and makes an interceptor role quite believable. Would probably also look good on a German Eurofighter? Certainly more interesting than the real world all-blue-grey scheme.
In the beauty pics the scheme also appears to be quite effective over open water, too, so that the application to the Marineflieger Do-28Ds made sense. However, for the real-world Starfighter, this idea came a couple of years too late.
, 1:72 , italeri , esci , f-104 , starfighter , luftwaffe , germany , wittmund , jagdgeschwader , 71 , richthofen , jg , grey , alberich , norm , 82 , wraparound , aim-9 , sidewinder , interceptor , cold , war , ral , 7000 , 7038 , 7012 , fictional , aviation , modellbau , whif , what-if #Lockheed #F104G #Starfighter #Jagdgeschwader #Richthofen #Wittmundhafen #WhifItaleri #kit
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