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F-104S.ASA Starfighter

by Dave Williams


Lockheed F-104S Starfighter


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In the early 1960’s, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) began reviewing replacements for its existing F-104G Starfighter force. After evaluating candidates such as the McDonnell Douglas F-4C and Dassault Mirage III, it was decided to procure an upgraded Starfighter variant designated F-104S (“S” for “Sparrow”).

Compared to the F-104G, the F-104S had an upgraded fire control system and radar in the form of the NASAAR R-21G radar and the installation of a continuous-wave illuminator to guide the AIM-7E Sparrow missile. Four additional weapons pylons were added to the new version, two under the fuselage and two more under the wings, giving a total of nine stores stations, including the wingtip stations. All four of the additional pylons were wired for missiles, although only the new underwing pylons could carry Sparrows. In lieu of air-to-air missiles, the new pylons could carry bombs or rocket pods, giving the F-104S a formidable air-to-ground capability.

To compensate for the extra load carrying ability, the F-104S received the J79-GE-19 engine which developed 13% more thrust (17,900 lb) than the engine previously installed in the F-104G. Contrary to some published information, the rear fuselage was not larger or bulkier to accommodate the more powerful engine. Although the intakes were slightly enlarged, the engine fit in the same fuselage space in the same way that more powerful J79s were fitted in later F-4 Phantoms without requiring an increase the size of the fuselage. Auxiliary air intake doors were installed in the sides of the intakes to accommodate the higher airflow requirement at low airspeeds, and two additional ventral fins were added under the rear fuselage for stability. Finally, the 20mm Vulcan cannon was deleted to provide space for the new fire control components.


The first two F-104S prototypes were converted from a pair of AMI F-104Gs with the first flight occurring in December 1966. The F-104S began operational service with the AMI in 1969 with 22o Gruppo, 51o Stormo. Eventually, Aeritalia built 205 F-104S aircraft for the AMI and an additional 40 for the Turkish Air Force with production lasting until 1979. The F-104S eventually equipped seven interception and three AMI fighter-bomber squadrons.

In 1983, approval was given for a major weapons system upgrade (Aggiornamento Sistema d’Arma / ASA) to approximately 150 of the surviving F-104S aircraft in order to extend their service life to the end of the century. The F-104S.ASA modified the radar to the R-21G/M1 Setter system with moving target indicator and look down/shoot down capability. The missile armament was upgraded with provision for the AIM-9L version of the Sidewinder (replacing the AIM-9B used in the F-104S) and the replacement of the Sparrow with the Selina Aspide 1A radar-guided missile. The Aspide was an Italian development of the Sparrow which had a monopulse seeker, improved ECCM, and a longer range than the original AIM-7E. Miniaturization of the electronics allowed the Vulcan cannon to be reinstalled, however photos seem to show that few, if any, F-104S.ASAs actually had the cannon reinstalled.

Due to delays in the Eurofighter 2000 program, the AMI was forced to embark on yet another upgrade program to keep the Starfighter force viable until the its replacement became available in quantity. Designated F-104S.ASA-M for Modificato, approximately 50 F-104S.ASA aircraft were scheduled for conversion by upgrading the radio and navigation systems. No new weapons capabilities were added, however the equipment for the fighter-bomber mission, including the 20mm cannon, was deleted as the F-104S.ASA-M was designed to be a pure interceptor. The upgrade is designed to extend the life of the Starfighter to 2008, which would result in the F-104 being in front-line service for more than 50 years from the first flight of the XF-104, a stunning achievement.





One of the best new kits of recent years is the new-tool Hasegawa 1/48 F-104 series. Initially released in C, J, and G boxings, I was hoping that Hasegawa would soon release my favorite Starfighter, F-104S.



Fortunately, Cutting Edge (CE) came to the rescue with their F-104S conversion soon after the Hasegawa kit was released. The CE set is quite comprehensive and contains all of the external parts needed to convert either the J or G kits to the F-104S. Besides the “essentials”, namely: new intakes, a new exhaust, and the extra ventral fins, the set also includes all of the underfuselage and underwing pylons, missile rails for early and late AIM-9s, and a pair of rails for the Sparrow/Aspide missiles, allowing you to fully arm your kit with weapons you provide. A set of bulged mainwheel doors is also included for those who use the F-104J as a base kit. Note that those planning to use the J kit will have to come up with a Martin Baker ejection seat from another source as all Italian F-104S aircraft were fitted with the IQ7A seat.

Construction began with the cockpit, which was replaced with the fine CE F-104G cockpit which came with a beautiful MB seat. The CE cockpit almost completely replaces the kit parts and no fit problems were experienced placing the tub inside the kit fuselage.

Prior to joining the fuselage halves, the round navigation lights were drilled out and the CE colored clear resin lights were installed from the inside. Also, the opening for the drogue chute underneath the rear fuselage was drilled out at this early stage. Prior to permanently joining the fuselage halves, I would recommend that builders assemble the main wheel well with the front and rear bulkheads and dryfit this into the fuselage to check the alignment of the wings. My abortive experience with a previous kit was that one of the wings wanted to hang lower than the other and it was necessary to open one of the wing alignment slots in the rear bulkhead in order to give one of the wings more “play” to ensure the correct alignment.

The fuselage halves were joined, but the kit exhaust pipe parts were omitted as I was using the Aires replacement (except for the exhaust nozzle, for which the CE part was used). The advantages of using the Aires pipe instead of the kit parts were that there was no internal seam to worry about, and the Aires pipe is of constant diameter, allowing it to be inserted after fuselage assembly. This permitted me to insert a wooden dowel up the tail to hold the assembled kit for painting and clearcoating.

Moving on to the wings, holes were drilled into the underside for mounting the underwing pylons. These pylons are “handled” and have a slanted top to allow them to hang vertically when attached to the underside of the anahedral wing. To their credit, CE has etched the words “right” and “left” on the top of the pylons allowing the modeler to tell them apart after they have been removed from their casting sprue. Continuing with the wing, part of the wingtip was removed as per the CE instructions in order to fit the wingtip Sidewinder rails.


Assembly was fairly straightforward with the new ventral fins being added to the underside and faired in with Mr. Surfacer. More Mr. S was used to fair in the cannon port plug. I choose not to use the teardrop antennas that CE provided for the rear fuselage sides as they appeared to be too large. Instead, I used a pair of smaller teardrops from a CE navigation light set. One item omitted in the instructions is the need to change the angle of the leading edge of the centerline ventral fin. The front of the “S” fin was swept back at about a 45 degree angle and was not almost vertical like the ventral fin on other F-104 versions. Although I was using the F-104G kit which came with the bulged gear doors, I elected to use the CE items as the kit bulges seem too pronounced and too “square”.

Open speed brakes seem to be very popular with manufacturers of F-104 kits, but the reality is that the speed brakes were almost never seen open on parked Starfighters unless maintenance was in progress. Consequently, I choose to close the speed brakes on the model. Also, more often than not, the aircraft were parked with the flaps in the up position; however I dropped them for visual effect.

Standard F-104S interception loadout consisted of an asymmetric loadout of one AIM-9L under the port wing and one Aspide under the starboard wing, in addition to wingtip tanks. I choose a heavier loadout of two Sidewinders on the wingtips and two Aspides under the wings. The missiles were taken from the spares box.



Painting and Markings


The “official” color for overall grey Italian F-104S models was FS 36280. I used some of my ever dwindling supply of Aeromaster enamel FS 36270, which I figured was “close enough”. Floquil Extra Dark Sea Grey, from the discontinued “Military Colors” line, was used for the nose anti-glare panel and the turbine stripe around the rear fuselage. A dirty yellow color was mixed up for the spine antenna panel and the rear part of the ventral fin.

For decals, I used the excellent Sky Models sheet 48-031 for Italian F/RF/TF F-104 G and S models. The sheet is most impressive and contains squadron badges and generic numbers to do almost any Italian F-104G. National insignia and stenciling are included for both the overall grey scheme and the earlier grey/green camo scheme. I choose an F-104S.ASA of 23o Gruppo, 5o Stormo based at Cervia with the squadron’s unique “Diana the Huntress” insignia.



The decals were opaque and in perfect register, but some care is needed in cutting them away from the sheet as the sheet is quite crowded. Supersol had almost no affect on the decals, but fortunately they were robust enough to stand up to Solvaset. One note on the markings, the placement instructions for the small national insignia on the wings of the all grey aircraft is incorrect. The instructions show the insignia on the tops and bottoms of both wings. In reality, the insignia was only on the upper port and lower starboard wings.

Photos show that the finish on the all grey aircraft could vary considerably from factory fresh to quite dirty. I weathered the aircraft by highlighting the panel lines with dark grey pastel chalk applied using a superfine Microbrush. The missiles were not weathered as they were marked to represent live rounds, which would not have been loaded except for operational missions and would therefore have not been exposed to the elements on a daily basis.





This project combined a great kit with a great conversion.

For those who can’t wait until Hasegawa releases their F-104S kit later in 2001, the conversion is a must-have. The fact that the CE conversion contains all the weapons pylons and missile rails might make getting the set worthwhile even after the Hasegawa kit is released, if these items are not included.

Dave Williams
IPMS/USA 19050



Additional Images


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Model, Images and Article Copyright © 2001 by Dave Williams
Page Created 15 November 2001
Last updated 04 June 2007

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