Lockheed F-104S Starfighter

Last revised December 13, 1999






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-104G 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. They went 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 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 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 had to dispense with the internal cannon. The effect of miniaturization allowed the ASA program to reinstate the gun. Most Italian F-104Ss were brought up to this standard.

The Apside 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 remain in service with the AMi today. The F-104S is expected to remain in service with the Aeronautica Militare Italiana until at least the late 1990s.

The F-104S is now overdue for retirement and replacement. It is planned that the F-104S will be replaced by the Eurofighter 2000. Pending availability of that aircraft, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana plans to lease 24 Tornado F Mk.3 interceptors from the Royal Air Force. The first of these aircraft will replace F-104S ASAs of the 12o Grouppo at Gioia del Colle. At Cameria, Starfighters of the 21o Gruppo will remain in service for at least two more years.

Just in case the EFA program gets delayed or even cancelled, the ASAM program was introduced in 1992 to build on the ASA upgrade with further enhanced air defense capability. This would entail the replacement of radio and navigation systems with those from the AMX. In early 1996, ninety F-104S/ASA aircraft were slated for ASAM upgrade. It is probable that Italy will still be maintaining its F-104S fleet in first-line survive more than 50 years after the first flight of the XF-104 prototype, which must be some sort of record for a combat aircraft.

AMI Serials of F-104S:

MM6701/MM6850 
MM6869/MM6881, 
	MM6878 was written off Feb 15, 1995 at Cuneo, Italy.
MM6886/MM6887
MM6890
MM6907/MM6494
MM6496 was replacement for MM6766 which crashed before delivery

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.

Sources:


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

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

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

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

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

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