Minicraft 1/144 F-104G Starfighter

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $9.95 SRP
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Bill Abbott
NOTES: The price has gone up in the last year or so

HISTORY


In the origin myth of the F-104, Korean war fighter pilots complained that fighters had become too complex. (Can they have been describing the F-86? The F2H Banshee?) Pilots said they wanted simple fighters with bubble gum stuck on the windscreen for a gunsight... (How can you bore-sight a single piece of gum stuck to the the windscreen?) Maybe the combination of gyro gunsight and radar ranging in the F-86 was unreliable and irritating. The MiG-15 DID have an altitude advantage over all other fighters in Korea.

The myth continues that Clarence "Kelly" Johnson listened to these complaints and produced the F-104 as an uncompromised high-performance solution that nothing could out-run or get above. It was WAY fast and WAY pointy. Fairings were put over the YF-104A's production J-79 engine intakes at first, because the automatic, variable area, double shock intakes with moving "mice" were secret. The wings were essentially solid and really did require padded protectors over the leading edges, to prevent ground crew injury. Compressor "bleed" air was ducted to the flaps, entraining low-speed airflow and reducing take off and landing speeds to merely spectacular.

Lockheed called the F-104 a "StarFighter" but it was also called "The missile with a man in it", for obvious reasons.

Lockheed got to build 153 "A" and 77 "C" model daylight interceptors, and 47 "B" and "D" two seat trainers, but the story would have ended there without a remarkable transformation- Lockheed's daylight hotrod interceptor was restressed and redesigned to be an all-weather nuclear strike fighter. Same tiny wing, same big engine, more radar modes, lots more hard-points to hang air-to-ground weapons on...

Astonishingly, when the F-104G won NATO's competition for nuclear strike fighters, 9 NATO members (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Turkey) actually bought them. Lockheed in the USA and 6 licensed prime contractors in 5 NATO nations (Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and Belgium) built F-104Gs. Lockheed's biggest single model production run was 172 TF-104G, all for European operators. Total F-104 production was therefore:

Lockheed: 741 including prototypes
Multi-national:48 - all TF-104Gs
Canadair:340
Aeritalia/Fiat:444
Fokker:350
MBB:50
Messerschmitt:210
Mitsubishi:207
SABCA:188
Grand total, 2578


As the last hurrah, Lockheed and Aeritalia/Fiat developed the F-104S all weather interceptor, uniquely armed with semi-active radar homing Sparrow/Skyflash missiles. The 245 "S" models used a larger and higher power J-79 engine, common to F-4 Phantom IIs.

THE KIT


The F-104C daylight interceptor was also built in Japan as the F-104J, which is why someone (Crown?) made this very nice 1/144 kit many years ago.

The kit has a conventional parts breakdown and comes as two trees of silver plastic snd one tree of clear. The left and right fuselage halves are full length and the wing is one piece. Fine, light, raised lines indicate panels and control surfaces. A one-piece ejection seat, somewhat like the original, Lockheed, downward ejection seat, is the sole cockpit part. Four external fuel tanks are included, two for the wing tips and two for underwing pylons. Four Sidewinder missiles are also supplied, and two under-fuselage pylons for a pair of them- the other pair are alternatives to the tip tanks on the wings, or possibly the wing pylons. No second set of Sidewinder launch rail/adaptors is included, however.

Minicraft's current release of this kit is as-if a G, with Norweigan markings. A real "G" might have had a centerline pylon and additional wing stations but this J has the same broad chord rudder as the G. At the level of detail provided, the two are indistinguishable.

CONSTRUCTION


The seat can be installed any time before the canopy, so construction begins with the fuselage. I should have followed the instruction sheet and put in the engine exhaust before joining the fuselage halves. After the fuselage is joined, the exhaust won't fit in place without modifications, and/or cracking the aft fuselage joint.
of the bottle but the metalics in particular are too thick to really look good. So I thin a brushfull with a few drops of water and then lay it down very gently. If I get it right, it needs a second coat to cover, but no more,

I painted the cockpit interior and ejection seat an overall Dark Gull Gray, with a black instrument panel, black for the lower seat structure and a red head-rest on the seat. The seat pad/parachute/emergency kit is grayish green. Four skinny strips of tan masking tape mad
The kit's engine air intakes need a little help if you want them to blend undetectably. I accepted slightly detectable- they blended well enough with Testors' blue label, non-toxic, liquid cement. After the glue dried, I used wet-dry sanding sticks to smooth the fuselage and intake seams. Then I painted everything except the wing and drop tanks with rattle can Metalizer (Buffing) Aluminum Plate. A day to dry, a polish with a facial tissue and light coat of Future to seal it took care of all the plain aluminum surfaces.

All F-104s in natural metal had their wings painted white, so several coats of Polly Scale white went over the wing part, with two coats of Future floor wax for gloss. A few light passes with a sanding stick exposed bare plastic at the joints so I could glue the wing and fuselage together. A center underside piece encloses the wing joint. There were gaps too big for cement to solve, so after it dried, I filled them with Elmer's White Glue. When *that* dried, I dry-brushed Polly Scale's now discontinued Bright Silver acrylic to match the polished Metalizer aluminum.

I was trying to keep Advanced Modeler Syndrome (AMS) at bay and get this present from my son done, so I added only three pieces: A tombstone shaped piece of 0.04" (1mm) styrene, curved end forward, raised the top of the cockpit glare shield. Two 0.02" (0.5mm) sheet extensions to the inboard fins on the wing-tip tanks made them look much more like the real thing- a couple of mm, long, 3/32", maybe a bit more, and slightly tapered. Any picture or plan of the F-104's tip tanks will show these fins. The four fins on the tip-tanks are all different and the completed tanks are handed, left and right. The underwing auxillary tanks were a third design. The supply folks must have just loved it!

The only major trimming needed was narrowing the upper half of the ejection seat-back and head-rest. The canopy needed a little flash removed. Other than that, mold parting lines were light and easily removed.

Landing gear legs and doors install easily. The instructions are ambigious about where the notched edge of the main gear door goes. I concluded that the cutout should go aft, but I now suspect that may be wrong. I also got the nose gear doors exchanged, left and right- the tapered ends go foreward, and the outline of the well should taper up forward as well.

I glued the horizontal stabilizer in place before spraying Metalizer, then knocked it off while trying to mask and paint the titanium skin on the rudder (see below) I didn't re-attach the stabilizer until the rest of the rudder painting and decals were done, and I'd advise leaving it until last, along with the drop tanks, missiles, etc. It was convenient to use the rudder, slipped between the top and bottom of a kit box, or between two books, to hold the kit upside down or vertically, while the glue dried for landing gear, gear doors, etc.

The tip tanks were the last pieces to attach, after painting both the wing and the tanks. They probably should go on before the national marking decals on the wings, another lesson learned. Some long, thin, strips of masking tape from the tanks to the center of the fuselage held the tanks in the right position while the glue dried. I only damaged one decal taking the tape off... The 'horizontal' tail fins on the tip tanks should line up with the wing anhedral.


COLORS & MARKINGS



Unless otherwise noted, all paints used were Polly Scale acrylics, brushed in several coats.

The intake lips and moving 'mice" should be finished as a black anti-icing treatment. A white radome and antenna panel behind the cockpit, and a black anti-glare panel ahead of the windshield, are correct and look very elegant. As long as the white paint is out, the gear wells and the inside of the gear doors should be white, but legs and hubs are aluminum paint. I painted the tires black and the engine exhaust Tamiya XF-56 Metalic Gray, thinned gently with water. I find the Tamiya acrylic paints brush well out e seat and shoulder belts for the ejection seat.

As far as I can tell, the forward fuselage metal skin of an F-104 was all aluminum except for antennae covers and canopy, But the aft fuselage over the afterburner and the rudder were something else. I concluded that there was a titanium skin on the most aft part of the fuselage, and in a band below the leading edge of the rudder. The skin in between these two titanium sections looks like stainless steel. The rudder skin *between* the titanium bands on the fuselage appears to be titanium as well,

So I painted the titanium bands and pannels of the rudder skin with Tamiya Metalic Gray. Working with the raised lines on the model and a long, firm, square brush, I free-hand painted the front edge of the front titanium band, filled in the front band and repeated for the aft band. The rudder titanium skin was masked with 3M long release (blue) masking tape and brush painted at the same time. It took 2 coats, just like it should. Then I sprayed a piece of old Guillows' decal- (thick, easy to apply, and strong), with Metalizer Stainless Steel. When dry, I polished it and then sealed it with Future. It took a bit of work to cut a shape that would drape over the curved and tapered tube of the F-104 aft fuselage. It was too wide when applied (off the thick decal paper), but a brand new X-acto blade cut the too-wide ends off, neatly, where they overlapped the base of the fin. The crisp edge of the decal made a nice boundary between the titanium and the stainless steel. The resulting three-tone natural metal finish looked really nice, to me.

The tip tanks got a white undercoat before I brushed Testors Acryl II gloss red in several, light, coats. The Sidewinders are white overall, with Metalic Gray for the guidance section and a ring marking just aft of the guidance section.

I gave the canopy the usual brush-coat of Future floor wax (AKA Kleer). Four narrow strips of left-over "stainless steel" decal made crisp and simple canopy frames- two longer bits, hoops, one of which had to basicly be glued on with Future, and two short bits for the frame supporting the flat, center panel of the windscreen.

Using water and Micro-Set, the kit decals went on easily and dried tight and smooth. Registration wasn't that great between the blue and red on the Norweiagan national markings. As long as I had to repair the damage I did with the tape that held the drop-tanks, I touched-up the registration problem of the national markings too.

The various small markings on the forward fuselage were combined into two decals, one for each side, that went on easily, fit correctly and look great. Ejection seat and canopy warnings and emergency operation, fueling point and other items are sufficiently complete for this scale.


CONCLUSIONS


It looks great, all done, on the shelf, after 2 months real time. Overall shape seems right compared to the plans in the Verlinden "Lock-on F-104 J/G" book. The hinge arms on the nose gear doors are nice.

Reflecting the kit's age, the AIM 9 Sidewinder missile fins are probably too narrow, and the forward fuselage missile rails are too deep. Stick and cockpit consoles, various antennae, the radome Pitot tube, landing gear door actuators/struts and the landing and navigation lights are not included but could be invented readily enough.

REFERENCES


Lock-On No.1 - F-104 G/J Starfighter - Hans Wilms (C) 1983, Verlinden Publications Belgium ISBN 90-70932-01-6
Fighters of the Fifties - Bill Gunston (C) 1981 Specialty Press, Osceola, WI, ISBN 0-933424-32-9
The World's Military Aircraft - Bill Gunston (C) 1983 Octopus/Crescent London/New York ISBN 0-517-40477X
Modern Military Aircraft - Bill Gunston (C) 1977 Salamander/Crescent London/New York ISBN 0-517-22477-1

Thanks to my son Benjamin and my wife Jean's wallet for this tidy little kit!

Bill Abbott

April 2009

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