Lockheed RF-104G Starfighter

Luftwaffe RF-104G

Designed by Kelly Johnson's Skunk Works team in the early 1950's as a day fighter, the original design of the F-104 Starfighter drew heavily on the experiences of American fighter pilots in Korea. Eventually some 2,221 examples were built in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.

Straight-line performance was the over-riding criteria, consequently, the fighter that evolved was small in overall size, with very short, stubby wings and was eventually powered by a large J79 turbojet engine. The F-104 entered service with the USAF in 1958 and proved capable of Mach 2.2. However, it was always an unforgiving aircraft and, following a high attrition rate the USAF, it was decided to transfer the surviving aircraft to the Air National Guard in 1968 after only 10 years front-line service.

Italian Navy RF-104G

Amazingly, considering the aircraft's somewhat chequered career with the USAF, in 1959 Lockheed managed to sell a re-designed 'multi-role version of the aircraft, the F104G, to various European countries in what was termed the 'Sale of the Century'. Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands agreed terms for a joint production programme. Germany eventually acquired 750 aircraft and as these were retired from service they were acquired by Greece, Norway, Taiwan and Turkey. Italy built 246 F-104S for themselves and Turkey. Only Italy, Turkey and Taiwan continue to operate the F-104 in front line service.

Dutch RF-104G

Germany operated the RF-104 for both the Luftwaffe and Bundesmarine in the reconnaissance role carrying an internal reconnaissance package in the lower fuselage, ahead of the air intakes. The Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Italian Air Force also operated the RF-104G in the reconnaissance role carrying the 'Red Baron' recce pod.