Lockheed F-104S Starfighter

Last revised October 6, 2015

The F-104S (S for "Sparrow") was the most potent version of the Starfighter to be built. It was an upgraded and improved version of the F-104G that was built by Fiat. The aircraft was initially built to meet a requirement issued by the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI). However, it has also been exported to Turkey.

The F-104S was the winner of the AWX (All-Weather Interceptor) design competition held in 1965 by the Italian air force for a new all-weather interceptor. The Lockheed CL-980 design (ultimately to be named F-104S) was selected for this requirement after extensive evaluation of other designs such as the Dassault Mirage III, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, Northrop F-5, and North American F-100.

The F-104S is fitted with the more powerful J79-GE-19, rated at 11,870 lb.s.t. dry and 17,900 lb.s.t. with afterburner. This engine provides 13 percent more power than the engine of the F-104G, and requires auxiliary inlet doors on the intake sides to provide additional air during takeoff.

The F-104S differs from the F-104G in being equipped with an NASARR R-21G/H radar which has moving-target indication and tracking capability that acts in association with with a medium-range radar-guided missile fit. All previous Starfighters could fire only infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. The R21G/H also has contour/ground mapping and terrain avoidance modes, so that it can also act as a fighter-bomber.

The F-104S had more underwing and fuselage stores attachments, including two extra fuselage pylons underneath the air intakes, increasing the total number of strongpoint provisions to nine (two on the wingtips, four underneath the wings, two underneath the forward fuselage, and one on the fuselage centerline). Two hard points under each wing are for fuel/bombs (inner) and BVR missiles (outer). The wingtips usually carry fuel tanks, as does the centerline. The underfuselage pylons usually carried AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. In order to accommodate extra fuel and avionics, the F-104S had to dispense with the internal 20-mm M61A1 cannon, the port being faired over.

Extra keel area was added by fitting a slightly larger ventral fin, with two extra ventral fins on either side of the original. As an interceptor, the F-104S could carry two underwing AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing and/or two AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared homing missiles. As a fighter-bomber it could carry up to 7500 pounds of bombs, napalm tanks, or rocket pods on nine external attachment points

The improvements which led to the F-104S were first flight-tested by Lockheed on a modified RF-104G (USAF serial number 64-2624). Lockheed then received an Italian contract to modify two Fiat-built F-104Gs (MM6658 and MM6660) as prototypes for an advanced all-purpose aircraft with improved capabilities. The first Lockheed-modified F-104S flew in December 1966, and the first Fiat-built F-104S flew on December 30, 1968.

Most of the Italian aerospace industry participated in the F-104S program. 65 percent of the F-104S production was handled by Italian firms. Fiat (later to be retitled Aeritalia) headed up a group including Alfa Romeo and Macchi which manufactured the airframes. The J1Q engines were built by Fiat and GE International, whereas Selenia undertook license production of the Sparrrow III AAM. FIAR of Milan co produced the NASAAR R21-G radar in collaboration with NAA's Autonetics Division.

The initial AMI order was for 165 F-104S aircraft. Deliveries started in the spring of 1969. The first AMI F-104S entered service in June of 1969 with 22o (Interceptor) Gruppo. The F-104S went on to equip eight multi-role squadrons, although the first 40 aircraft were completed as fighter-bombers, apparently because their full air defense systems were not yet ready. In the early 1970s, AMI orders were increased by an other 40 planes to 206. In addition, in October of 1974 Turkey ordered 40 F-104Ss.

The Fiat group produced a total of 246 F-104Ss, 206 of them for the AMI and 40 for Turkey. AMI serials were MM6701/6850, MM6869/MM6881, MM6886/MM6887, MM6890, and MM6907/MM6494, a total of 206 being delivered. A further 20 were laid down for a subsequently-cancelled Turkish order. Only one of these--MM6946--was completed as a replacement for MM6766 which crashed before delivery. Turkey's forty F-104Ss were interspersed through the production run. The forty Turkish F-104Ss were serialled 6851/6868, 6888/6889, and 6891/6906.

F-104S deliveries were completed by March of 1979. The delivery of the last F-104S marked the end of Starfighter production throughout the world, with a total of 2579 being built in the US, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands.

The more powerful J79-GE-19 engine of the F-104S provided vastly improved acceleration, rate of climb, and maneuverability at all speeds and altitudes. In addition, the lower specific fuel consumption of this engine allowed for increased range. The F-104S was the most potent version of the Starfighter to be built.

The F-104S was supplied to the following AMI units:

Flight tests of a modernized demonstrator, the F-104S ASA (Aggiornamento Sistema d'Arma, or Updated Weapons System) began in December of 1984. The ASA upgrade was designed to extend the operating lives of the surviving AMI F-104S interceptors to the end of the century and beyond. It had a Fiat R21G/M1 radar with automatic frequency-hopping and a moving target indicator that conferred true look-down/shoot-down capability. New avionics included a four-digit NATO IFF, an improved weapons delivery computer, and the addition of an automatic pitch control computer. The ASA F-104S had provision for the use of the all-aspect AIM-9L Sidewinder in place of the original rear-attack AIM-9Bs. It had the ability to carry the Selenia Apside 1A medium- to long-range radar-guided air-to-air missile in place of the AIM-7E Sparrow III. The Apside 1 is a developed version of the AIM-7E Sparrow with a new CW monopulse seeker head with home-on-jam capability, improved ECCM, active radar fuse, longer range (22 miles) and new wing control actuators. In order to accommodate the extra avionics required for BVR missile capability, the F-104S initially had to dispense with the internal cannon. However, the effect of progress in electronics miniaturization efforts eventually allowed the ASA program to reinstate the gun. Most Italian F-104Ss were brought up to this standard.

The Apside missile entered service with the F-104S/ASA in 1988. For air intercept missions, the F-104S ASA typically carries an AIM-9L Sidewinder under the port wing, an Alenia Aspide 1A missile underneath the starboard wing, and two wingtip tanks. In the fully-loaded (but seldom used) configuration, the F-104S ASA carries four Sidewinders (two underneath the fuselage and two on the wingtips), two Aspides, and two drop tanks.

Although the last AMI single-seat F-104Gs were withdrawn from service in 1983, substantial numbers of F-104S fighters remained in service with the AMI throughout the early years of the 21st century. But the F-104S was long overdue for retirement and replacement, and it was planned that the F-104S would be replaced by the Eurofighter 2000.

Just in case the EFA program was delayed or even cancelled, the ASA-M program was introduced in 1994 to build on the ASA upgrade and provide further enhanced air defense capability. In early 1996, ninety F-104S/ASA aircraft were slated for ASA-M upgrade. The modifications involved the replacement of some of the more severely-stressed airframe components such as the main landing gear legs and the horizontal stabilizer. Electrical and avionic components that were becoming hard to find on the spare parts market were replaced. A new TACAN and a new UHF radio were provided. A GPS was installed. A new LN-30A2 Inertial Navigation System was installed, and a new cockpit layout was provided to imporove the pilot's situational awareness. The AN/ALQ-70 self-defense system, the M61 Vulcan cannon, and all equipment related to the strike role were removed, making the ASA-M a pure interceptor.

Pending availability of the Eurofighter 2000, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana planned to lease 24 Tornado F Mk.3 interceptors from the Royal Air Force. The first of these aircraft replaced F-104S ASAs of the 12o Grouppo at Gioia del Colle. At Cameria, Starfighters of the 21o Gruppo remained in service for at least two more years.

By mid 2002, five AMI squadrons were still operating the F-104S, but the eventual retirement of the type was not far away. The last AMI F-104S was withdrawn from service in December of 2004. This marked the end of Starfighter service with any air force in the world.

AMI Serials of F-104S:

	MM6736 (4o Stormo) crashed Apr 23, 1991.
	MM6748 (37o Stormo) lost Aug 7, 1990.
	MM6775 lost Oct 5, 2000.
	MM6778 lost May 2, 2002
	MM6818 (18o Gruppo, 37o Stormo) crashed Apr 15, 1997.
	MM6835 (12o Gruppo, 36o Stormo) lost in accident July 1994.
	MM6839 (4o Stormo, 9o Gruppo) craqshed Jan 16, 1992.
	MM6878 was written off Feb 15, 1995 at Cuneo, Italy.
	MM6886 (5o Stormo, 102o Gruppo) flew into mountain Dec 27, 1989
	MM6919 (5o Stormo, 102o Gruppo) flew into mountain Dec 27, 1989
	MM6929 (4o Stormo, 9o Gruppo) crashed shortly after takeoff from Grosseto Mar 4, 2002.  Pilot ejected safely.
	MM6938 lost Jan 18, 1999
	MM6944 (18o Gruppo, 37o Stormo) crashed in to Sicilian Channel 3 mi from Trapani Nov 4, 1998.  Pilot ejected safely.
	MM6945 reserialled MMX611
	MM6496 was replacement for MM6766 which crashed before delivery

THK Serials of F-104S:

	6851 crashed Aug 12, 1975
	6852 crashed Apr 28, 1986.  Pilot killed
	6853 crashed  Jun 3, 1986
	6854 crashed Sep 11, 1975.  Pilot killed
	6855 crashed Oct 29, 1981.  Pilot killed
	6856 crashed Jul 13, 1977
	6857 crashed Jun 21, 1984
	6858 crashed Feb 22, 1988
	6860 crashed Jun 16, 1977.  Pilot killed
	6861 crashed Jan 22, 1987.  Pilot killed
	6863   Crashed   Apr   2, 1981
	6866   Crashed   Jun  13, 1985  Capt. Gultekin BASARGAN(31) killed
	6867   Crashed   Jan  22, 1992
	6883   Crashed   Jun  21, 1984  Maj. Muammer SEZER(35) killed.
	6884   Crashed   Apr  29, 1983  Lt. Umit BEKEM(28) killed
	6888   Crashed   Oct  22, 1992  Lt. Muammer CAPOGLU(24) killed
	6892   Crashed   May   6, 1980
	6894   Crashed   Aug  22, 1979
	6896   Crashed   Jul  22, 1985  Lt. Tamer POLAT(25) killed
	6898   Crashed   Aug   9, 1988  Lt. Sabri AKSU(26) killed
	6899   Crashed   Sep  17, 1992  Lt. Sinan ERKAN(29) killed
	6902   Crashed   Oct   3, 1983
	6903   Crashed   Mar  27, 1984
	6904   Crashed   Oct   6, 1991  Lt. Bahadir DEMIREL(26) killed
	6905   Crashed   Jul  12, 1979  Capt. Ismail SALCI(25) killed

Specification of the F-104S ASA:

Engine: One General Electric J79-GE-19 turbojet, 11,870 lb.s.t. dry and 17,900 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 1450 mph at 36,000 feet, 913 mph (Mach 1.2) at sea level. Stalling speed 196 mph. Takeoff run with two AIM-7 Sparrows was 2700 feet. Initial climb rate was 55,000 feet per minute. Service ceiling was 58,000 feet. Normal range was 1550 miles, and maximum range with four drop tanks was 1815 miles. Dimensions: wingspan 21 feet 11 inches, length 54 feet 9 inches, height 13 feet 6 inches, wing area 196.1 square feet. Weights: 14,900 pounds empty, 21,690 pounds combat, 31,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: One 20mm M61A1 rotary cannon with 750 rounds plus two AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing air-to-air missiles and two AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared homing air-to-air missiles. In place of the Sparrows, a pair of Selenia Apside radar homing air-to-air missiles can be carried. Up to 7500 pounds of bombs, rockets, napalm tanks, and fuel tanks could be carried on nine hardpoints (four underneath the wing, two at wingtips, one centerline, and one at each fuselage side). Fuel: Standard internal fuel capacity 896 US gallons, which can be supplemented by two 195-US gallon underwing tanks and two 170-US gallon wingtip tanks. In addition, 121 US gallons could be carried in an auxiliary tank in the ammunition bay.


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  11. Air Forces Monthly Apr 2003 on loss of MM6818

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  13. E-mail from Michel on THK F-104S losses.

  14. Starfighter Swan Song, David Cenciotti, Air Forces Monthly, Dec 2003.