Canadair CF-104 Starfighter

Last revised October 6, 2003

In the late 1950s, the Canadian government had a clear need for a supersonic replacement for the Sabre Mk.6 in RCAF service. Several aircraft were considered in the competition, including the McDonnell F4H Phantom II, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, and the Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger. The RCAF clearly preferred the Phantom as the Sabre replacement, but this was rejected fairly early on, probably due to its high cost. As the alternative, the RCAF preferred the Super Tiger (even though it had not been purchased by the US Navy), but on July 2, 1959, it was announced that Canada had chosen the F-104 Starfighter as the replacement for the Sabre Mk.6 in service with the RCAF's European Air Division. The choice was probably made because of a better deal (in terms of economics) being struck between the manufacturer and the Canadian government.

However, since the Canadian government wanted equipment to be fitted that was specific to RCAF requirements, it opted to manufacture the aircraft under license in a Canadian factory rather than to buy the aircraft outright from Lockheed. On August 14, it was announced that Canadair of Montreal had been selected to manufacture 200 aircraft for the RCAF under license from Lockheed. In addition, Canadair was to manufacture wings, tail assemblies, and rear fuselage sections for 66 Lockheed-built Starfighters that were destined for the West German Luftwaffe. The license production contract was signed on September 17, 1959.

The Canadian-built Starfighter was initially designated CF-111 by the RCAF, but this was later changed to CF-104. They were designated CL-90 by the Canadair factory.

The CF-104 was basically similar to the F-104G, but was fitted with equipment specialized for RCAF requirements. It differed from the F-104G in being optimized for the nuclear strike role rather than being a multi-mission aircraft. The F-104G was fitted with NASARR F15A-41B equipment which was optimized for both air-to-air and air-to-ground modes, but the CF-104 was fitted with R-24A NASARR equipment which was dedicated to the air-to-ground mode only. The main undercarriage members were fitted with longer-stroke liquid springs and carried larger tires. The CF-104 also differed from the F-104G in retaining the removable refuelling probe that was fitted to the F-104Cs and F-104Ds of the USAF. Another difference from the F-104G was the ability of the CF-104 to carry a ventral reconnaissance pod equipped with four Vinten cameras. The 20-mm M61A1 cannon and its associated ammunition were initially omitted from the CF-104, and an additional fuel cell was fitted in their place.

In parallel with the production of the Starfighter by Canadair, Orenda Engines, Ltd. acquired a license to build the J-79 engine which was to power it. The CF-104 was powered by a Canadian-built J79-OEL-7 rated at 10,000 lb.s.t. dry and 15,800 lb.s.t. with afterburning.

Lockheed sent F-104A-15-LO serial number 56-0770 to Canada to act as a pattern aircraft for CF-104 manufacture. It was later fitted with CF-104 fire control systems and flight control equipment (but not the strengthened airframe of the true F-104G) and turned over to the RCAF, where it was assigned the serial number of 12700. The first Canadair-constructed CF-104 (RCAF serial number 12701) was airlifted to Palmdale, California in the spring of 1961, where it made its first flight on May 26. The second CF-104 (12702) also made its first flight at Palmdale. The first two CF-104s to fly at Montreal were Nos. 12703 and 12704, which both took to the air on August 14, 1961.

CF-104s were initially assigned Canadian serials 12701 through 12900. On May 18, 1970, they were reserialed as 104701 through 104900. The Lockheed-built F-104A pattern aircraft was reserialed from 12700 to 104700.

The 200th and last CF-104 (No. 12900) was completed on September 4, 1963 and delivered to the RCAF on January 10, 1964. Many early production aircraft were modified to the standard of the last production machines. Following the delivery of the last CF-104, Canadair switched over to the manufacture of F-104Gs for delivery to NATO allies under the provisions of MAP.

Beginning in December of 1962, the RCAF used its CF-104s to equip eight European-based squadrons of its No. 1 Air Division. Other CF-104s were assigned to the No. 6 OTU based at Cold Lake, Alberta. Apart from the operational conversion unit established at Cold Lake, Alberta in late 1961 (eventually redesignated No 417 Squadron), RCAF CF-104s were all committed to the support of NATO's nuclear deterrent mission in Europe. No. 427 Squadron was the first to form, with initial deliveries to Zweibrucken in December of 1962. In February of 1964, even before France withdrew from NATO in 1966, 2 Wing at Grostonquin was disbanded, and its two CF-104 squadrons were transferred elsewhere, No 421 moving to 4 Wing at Baden-Soellingen and No. 430 moving to Zweibrucken. The RCAF's other French base at Marville was closed by March of 1967, and its two CF-104 reconnaissance squadrons (439 and 441) moved to Lahr in Germany. Nos 434 and 444 Squadrons were disbanded in 1967-68, reducing CF-104 strength to four nuclear strike squadrons and two tactical reconnaissance squadrons.

In May of 1969, 3 Wing at Zweibrucken was closed, and No 427 Squadron was relocated to Baden and No 430 to Lahr. Air operations at Lahr ceased in 1970, when it became a Canadian Army base, but 1 Canadian Army Group remained at Lahr, co-located with the Canadian Forces Europe headquarters. The airfield at Lahr remained opeational for air transport operations as well as being a deployment base for the CF-104s from Baden-Soellingen.

In 1970, the Canadian government decided to reduce the strength of the Air Division to only three squadrons and to relinquish its nuclear strike role in favor of conventional attack by 1972. By January of 1972, the CF-104s had been converted from their nuclear role to that of conventional ground attack. A 20-mm Vulcan cannon was installed, and the fairing was removed from the cannon port. Twin bomb ejector rack carriers and multi-tube rocket launchers were installed.

In 1972, 1 AirDiv was redesignated 1 Canadian Air Group with headquarters remaining at Lahr. Squadron Nos. 422, 427, and 430 Squadrons were disbanded. Nos. 439 and 441 replaced all but 421 Squadron in No 4 Wing at Baden. Of the remaining three squadrons, 421 was committed to converting to ground attack roles, together with No. 431 Squadron, leaving only No. 441 Squadron to continue tactical reconnaissance missions with the Vinten VICON underfuselage camera pod. However, I don't think that No. 441 Squadron remained a reconnaissance unit for all the time until the final phaseout in 1986.

A number of former Canadian Forces single-seat CF-104 fighter-bombers and CF-104D two-seat trainers were transferred to Denmark and Norway after having been brought up to F-104G/TF-104G standards. By the end of 1980, these transfers along with attrition had brought European-based RCAF strength down to only three Starfighter squadrons. These were Nos. 421, 439, and 441, all based at Baden-Soellingen in West Germany. At that time, No. 417 Squadron at Cold Lake was still functioning as a CF-104 Operational Conversion Unit.

By 1983, all single-seat CF-104s had been modified with the Litton LW-33 digital intertial navigation/attack system, which replaced the original LN-3 analog inertial navigation system. The LW-33 was much more accurate and less expensive to maintain than was the earlier LN-3. In addition, the LW-33 had an attack function.

Beginning in 1983, the CF-104 Starfighters were replaced in Canadian Armed Forces service by McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornets. The last CF-104 was phased out by No. 441 Squadron on March 1, 1986. Canada then offered Turkey an initial batch of 20 CF-104s, later increased to 52, including six CF-104Ds. Twenty of these were sent to MBB at Manching in Germany in March of 1986 for inspection before being transferred to Turkey. The remainder were broken down for spares.

About 110 CF-104/CF-104Ds were lost in accidents, out of 239 delivered--a loss rate of no less than 46 percent. However, it is only fair to point out that the Canadian CF-104s probably had the highest flying time of any country operating the Starfighter. At the time of retirement, average airframe times were of the order of 6000 hours as compared to 2000 hours for the Luftwaffe.

At the time of retirement, some Canadian-based CF-104s were made available for museums in Canada. Anyone have a list of museums which have examples?

The following Canadian Armed Forces units operated the CF-104:

  1. Central Experimental and Proving Establishment/Aerospace Engineering and Test Establishment, Cold Lake, Alberta (1962).
  2. 6 Strike-Recce OTU, reformed as No. 417 Operational Training Squadron (1962-1983).
  3. No 421 (Red Indian) Squadron, 2 Wing, Grostonquin/Baden-Soellingen Dec 1963 to Dec 1985
  4. No 422 (Tomahawk) Squadron, 4 Wing, Baden-Soellingen, July 1963 to 1972.
  5. No 427 (Lion) Squadron, 3 Wing, Zweibrucken/Baden-Soellingen, Oct 1962 to 1972.
  6. No 430 (Silver Falcon) Squadron, 2 Wing, Grostonquin/Lahr, September 1963 to 1972.
  7. No 434 (Bluenose) Squadron, 3 Wing, Zweibrucken, April 1963 to March 1967.
  8. No 439 (Sabre-Toothed Tiger) Squadron, 1 Wing, Marville/Baden- Soellingen, March 1964 to March 1986.
  9. No 441 (Silver Fox) Squadron, 1 Wing, Marville/Baden-Soellingen, September 1963 to Feb 1986.
  10. No 444 (Cobra) Squadron, 4 Wing, Baden-Soellingen, May 1963 to 1967.

RCAF serials of CF-104 Starfighter:

12701/12900	Canadair CF-104
			c/n 1001/1200
			Reserialed 104701/104900 in 1970.
			12703 to Denmark as R-704 1971-73
			104711 to Turkey in 1986
			104713 to Turkey in 1986
			104716 to Turkey in 1986
			12717 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Jan 1983.  Stored at Sola and given to
				educational purposes
			12730 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Mar 1983.  Now on display at Sola Aviation Museum.
			104733 to Turkey in 1986
			104735 to Turkey in 1986
			104737 to Turkey in 1986
			104739 to Turkey in 1986
			104743 to Turkey in 1986
			104747 to Turkey in 1986
			104751 to Turkey in 1986
			104753 to Turkey in 1986
			104755 to Norway in Apr 1974.  WFU Jan 1983.  Given to educational purposes at Skedsmo
			104756 to Turkey in 1986
			104757 to Denmark as R-757 1971-73
			104758 to Denmark as R-758 1971-73
			104759 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Nov 1982.  On display at Aeroplane Collection at Gardermoen.
			104760 to Turkey in 1986
			104761 to Turkey in 1986
			104766 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Nov 1982.  displayed on pedestal at LFK, Jkeller
			104770 to Turkey in 1986
			104771 to Denmark as R-771 1971-73
			104773 to Turkey in 1986
			104776 to Turkey in 1986
			104780 to Turkey in 1986
			104786 to Turkey in 1986
			104787 to Turkey in 1986
			104788 to Turkey in 1986
			104795 to Turkey in 1986
			104796 to Turkey in 1986
			104797 to Norway in 1973.  Crashed Jul 29, 1975 at Revtind.  Pilot killed
			104800 to Norway in 1973.  WFU May 1983.  given to educational purposes at Asphaugen School
				in 1985
			104801 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Jul 1982.  Now on display at the Aeroplane Collection,
			104804 crashed 7/23/1971.
			104806 to Turkey in 1986
			104808 to Turkey in 1986
			104810 to Turkey in 1986
			104812 to Denmark as R-812 1971-73
			104814 to Denmark as R-814 1971-73
			104815 to Turkey in 1986
			104818 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Dec 1982. Used for ABDR training at LSK, Kjevik
			104819 to Denmark as R-819 1971-73
			104824 to Turkey in 1986
			104825 to Denmark as R-825 1971-73
			104826 to Turkey in 1986
			104832 to Denmark as R-832 1971-73
			104833 to Norway in 1973.  Crashed Jun 10, 1978, 17 mi N of Andoya while trying to
				identify three unknown vessels.  Pilot killed.
			12834 crashed 4/27/1970.
			104836 to Norway in 1974.  WFU Nov 1982.  given to educational purposes at Bardufoss
			104837 to Turkey in 1986
			104839 to Turkey in 1986
			104841 to Turkey in 1986
			104842 to Turkey in 1986
			104845 to Turkey in 1986
			104846 to Denmark as R-846 1971-73
			104847 to Turkey in 1986
			104848 to Turkey in 1986
			104850 to Norway in 1973.  WFU Dec 1982.  To USA in 1994 as trading object.
			104851 to Denmark as R-851 1971-73
			104855 to Denmark as R-855 1971-73
			104860 to Norway Feb 1974.  Crshed near island of Spildra in Kvaenagen Jun 8, 1979
				due to engine failure.  Pilot ejected safely.
			104862 to Turkey in 1986
			104865 to Turkey in 1986
			104866 to Turkey in 1986
			104869 to Turkey in 1986
			104870 to Norway in Jan 1974.  WFU Dec 1982.
			104873 to Turkey in 1986
			104882 to Norway in Dec 1974.  WFU Dec 1982.  Now a gate guard at Volvo Aereo Norway,
			104883 to Turkey in 1986
			104886 to Norway in Aug 1974.  WFU Dec 1982.  On display at Rudshogda Hamar, Norway
			104887 to Denmark as R-887 1971-73
			104888 to Denmark as R-896 1971-73
			104889 to Norway in May 1974.  WFU Nov 1982.  On display at Torp Airport
			104890 to Norway in Oct 1974.  WFU Jan 1983.  Used for ABDR training at Bodo airbase
			104891 to Turkey in 1986
			104893 to Turkey in 1986
			12897 crashed 7/15/1968.
			104899 to Turkey in 1986
			104900 to Norway in May 1974.  Crashed into sea Jan 18, 1983 near Bodo.  Pilot
				ejected safely.

Specification of the CF-104:

Engine: One Orenda Engines-built J79-OEL-7 rated at 10,000 lb.s.t. dry and 15,800 lb.s.t. with afterburning. Performance: Maximum speed (dash): 1550 mph (Mach 2.35) at 40,000 feet, 915 mph (Mach 1.2) at sea level. Climb to 30,000 feet in 1.5 minutes. Weights were 13,909 pounds empty, 21,005 pounds loaded (clean), 28,891 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions were wingspan 21 feet 11 inches, length 54 feet 9 inches, height 13 feet 6 inches, wing area 196.1 square feet. Armament: External stores could be carried on five hardpoints (one underneath the fuselage, one underneath each wing, and one at each wingtip).


  1. The Lockheed F-104G/CF-104, Gerhard Joos, Aircraft in Profile No. 131, Doubleday, 1969.

  2. The World's Great Interceptor Aircraft, Gallery Books, 1989.

  3. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Steve Pace, Motorbooks International, 1992.

  4. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987.

  5. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  6. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion Books, 1988.

  7. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday 1968.

  8. The Aircraft of the World, William Green and Gerald Pollinger, Doubleday, 1965.

  9. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner, Third Enlarged Edition, Doubleday, 1982.

  10. Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, John Fricker, Wings of Fame, Vol 2, Aerospace Publishing Ltd, 1996.

  11. E-mail from Ross Gunn,

  12. E-mail from Jeff Rankin-Lowe on losses of CF-104s.

  13. Norwegian Starfighter losses at

  14. E-mail from Martin Keenan on choice of F-104 for RCAF.