Updated: January 27, 2007
One of the most interesting combat aircraft ever built is definitely the missile-shaped, Century-era F-104 Starfighter. Why? Well, not many planes earned the nickname of 'Widowmaker' in their career - and F-104 is one of those few that did.
The aircraft was designed and built during the fever days of the Cold War, before Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) became popular. Accordingly, its mission was to intercept Soviet bombers en route to US mainland. It had a very good climb rate and was the first jet capable of sustained Mach 2 flight. On the other hand, it had a poor maneuverability at low speed, very short mission radius and needed quite a lengthy runway to take off. It has all the bad qualities of the Soviet MiG-19 and Su-11 fighters.
Very quickly, the aircraft proved extremely dangerous, not only to its adversaries but friendlies too. The accident rates were huge, especially in Germany, where F-104 soon became known as the 'Widowmaker.' Its stubby wings were armed with flaps so sharp that ground crew personnel had to wear gloves to keep their fingers from getting cut. And a rumor tells that a Starfighter pilot managed to suicide himself by firing the M61 Vulcan cannon then speeding up in full afterburner, eventually catching up with his own bullets and destroying the plane. All in all, Germans lost more than 30% of their F-104s, without a single intervention by the Soviets. An F-104 was also involved in the crash of the second XB-70 Valkyrie prototype.
Whatever the story is, F-104 is a lovely plane, full of interesting curves. To make things even more daunting, I have purchased an extremely cheap 1/72 Academy model that had only about 20 parts or so.
If I were to follow the instructions closely, my model would not even have landing gear wells and would have suffered from the simple green-gray scheme of the German Navy (Bundeswehr Marine). Instead, I opted for a wild paint job I have seen in an Air Forces Monthly magazine issue, from an aircraft paintwork competition.
Here's my artistic impression of the Starfighter.
Paint is one of the most powerful weapons when building a detail-impoverished model. The eye is drawn to the lively swirls of color rather than plain, dull, monotone slabs of glued plastic. Thus, F-104 becomes the Tiger. For enhanced effect, I applied the striped camouflage pattern to the underwing drop tanks as well, but kept the wingtip tanks in unadorned dark red.
The 20-piece model did definitely NOT have the air brakes parts or any instructions for the tail hook paintwork. Working with scalpel and a file, I carefully cut the covers and glued them in the open position. And then, applied the typical black-and-white zebra scheme to the arrestor hook. Sexy, ain't it?
Here's a bit of zoom on the tail section:
Looking through the cockpit glass, you may notice the yellow stain on top of the ejection seat. That's another freelancing addition. The stain is actually a pattern of alternating yellow and black lines, supposed to mimic the placement of jettison handles for the ejection seats. Notice the air brakes, too.
The lack of details compelled me to try to make the model look as interesting as possible. I even sheared a bit of plastic off the landing gear and nose wheels to make it look as if they sagged under the weight of a real plane.
The engine intakes are also quite appealing.
I have decided not to arm my Starfighter, because the drop tanks, especially the underwing tiger-striped pair, look much more appealing than a dull pair of Sidewinders. One of the reasons why F-104 can carry so many drop tanks is the meager internal fuel capacity, which, combined with a very thirsty engine, allows for a short combat radius.
The model was fun to make, despite its spartan severity. I enjoyed improvising, especially with the paint. It was an exquisite feeling to gloss the fuselage with the bright, jarring orange and then erratically apply the stripes. If I had to grade myself, it would be around 7.5 overall, with a round 10 for painting. Good job me. Jolly humble.
That's it for this gallery. Cheers.