Pen & Sword's Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

Author/Artists: Martin Bowman


Pen & Sword


$39.95 from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 256 pages, hardcover, 6.5 x 9.5 inches, 200 color illustrations.
ISBN: 978-1-473863262

The missile with a man in it. That was how Lockheed described its then new F-104. It certainly looked the part with its sleek fuselage that came to a point, its seemingly tiny wings and its tall horizontal stabilizer. Indeed, the purpose behind the F-104 was to put the biggest available engine into the smallest airframe possible. The Starfighter was designed to be an interceptor and not a dog-fighter. This meant it had to be fast and fast it was. However, like most interceptors of the time, it was fairly short ranged even with additional wing tip fuel tanks. But those tanks meant there was no room for the missiles.

As you can guess, the aircraft was modified to take care of some of its short comings. Such as the downward firing ejection seat (who thought that one up?). As the type was entering service, the USAF realized it really did not need this plane so not all that many were built for the USAF. They were sent to war in Vietnam where it was thought an interceptor would be a good idea, but these planes basically performed ground attack missions.

Where the F-104 really made inroads was with foreign sales. Additional modifications made it into a passable fighter-bomber. It was also license built in Italy, Japan and with a European consortium. For most NATO air forces the type was a lot more than they expected. Transitioning from a 'country club' air force with F-84s and F-86s to the F-104 resulted in a fairly large number of crashes and deaths. The 104 was a plane where the pilot had to pay attention 100% of the time while flying it. Distractions could be deadly and were. Eventually proper training eliminated the large number of deaths, but the plane still crashed with some regularity. Canada, for instance, lost over half its fleet during the operational life of the plane and some other nations were close, while yet others had no issues at all.

In the US, the type was quickly removed from USAF service and handed over to the ANG where some units flew it for decades. It was also modified to drones and was used fairly extensively by NASA, which had three planes especially built for it.

In this book, the author presents the full story of the aircraft. There are a fairly large number of pilot stories, which help to illustrate the issues of operating what was a fairly advanced aircraft. The book is also jammed full of photos, some of them two pages in size so you'll have to deal with the 'ditch' in these cases. The author also injects information into many of the photos by providing the fate of the aircraft shown.

It is a book that is highly readable and the anecdotes add to the interest of the title. You will be very pleased with this one and it is one I can highly recommend to you. 

November 2019

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Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy at this link

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