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NF-104A:
The rocket powered Starfighter

A Conversion of Hasegawaís F-104J/G in 1/32 scale

By Menelaos Skourtopoulos

HISTORY

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is one of the hottest and most enigmatic airplanes ever built. With its performance and flying characteristics it wrote many stories of glamour and ...death.

C. L. ĄKelly" Johnsonís product was also used by the USAF Test Pilot School for high altitude work. Under the designation NF-104A and fitted with a 6,000lb LR-121/AR-2 rocket motor, the NF-104A was given the means to zoom climb to 120,000 ft - literally to the edge of space. Three F-104As (56-756, 56-760 and 56-762) were converted to the NF version.

The difference between the standard F-104A and the NF-104A was the tail mounted rocket motor, the increased chord fin and rudder assembly (as on the F-104B and later G), longer span, revised intake shock cones for higher mach numbers, and small reactive rockets on the nose and on the wings.

Typical flight procedure was starting the rocket at 35,000 ft for two minutes, reaching mach 1.9 and burning out at 100,000ft. The jet engine was shut down at 80,000 feet and restarted on the way down below 60,000 ft. Famous test pilot Chuck Yeager almost killed after the 56-762 went out of control (he couldnít put the nose down) and bailed out at 8,000 ft. Unfortunately the C2 seat rocket hit him on the face and burned him badly.

THE MODEL

There are many Model Kits of the Starfighter in all scales available but only two interesting kits in the big 1:32 scale: the Hasegawa F-104 J/G and C and the Revell F-104G. While the Revell kit is not bad at all (nice price!!) the Hasegawa F-104 J/G kit was chosen, because it has more details in the cockpit and canopy, speed brakes, the big tail and a J-79 engine. The Revell kit includes a detailed main gear well and rubber tires, but almost nothing can be seen because the doors are closed.

Both kits have their problems with Hasegawa (Revell too) having the "G" wheels and a better engine exhaust than the Revell kit (just look at a photo of the real exhaust nozzle and youíll see what I mean!). Otherwise the big G-Tail is included and this is a must if you want to build the NF-104A. Surface detailing is very good but with mixed raised/recessed panel lines.

THE CONVERSION

Well there is a lot of work to do if you want to make a proper NF-104. I started with the cockpit.

The main instrument panel is different compared with the G-panel. I use the drawings from the Detail & Scale issue of the F-104. I began with covering the radarscope with putty. After it was dried I put some "instruments" on that region to simulate the knobs and switches. I just found them in the spare parts box. The upper half of the instrument panel is also different with a huge horizon in the middle. I didnít change it so I left the G-configuration (I couldnít find such a big instrument).

I also left the side panels of the G-version unchanged. The NF had a little different ones but this is not absolutely necessary for change. There was no optical sight in the NF. I just closed the hole of the projector of the sight with putty. The sidewalls have no details. I put some plastic strips (from evergreen) to simulate the inside structure. The upper surface of the fuselage at the cockpit region walls has some details, so I made them from plastic to simulate the locking mechanism for the canopy. The canopy rails are included in the kit, but some detailing will be nice there. I put the handle that the pilot use to close the canopy and some...."gitsmology" around there to simulate the canopy locking mechanism. I also made two mirrors from plastic sheet and put them on the front of the canopy rail.

The C-2 seat is included and it is O.K. for the NF-104. The Martin Baker Q7 seat is not in the kit, so if you want to make the German version you must either build it from scratch or buy it from TAC-scale. The seat is not good enough and some details must be added. I made the seat belts from toothpaste tube using drawings from the seat. I didnít use any extra super detail kits, but if you want to do so, the Kendall sets will be just fine. Before you close the two halves of the aircraft frame donít forget to put some weight in the nose! The fit is quite good and requires little filling and sanding.

To make the rocket engine looks at the beginning very difficult, but in 1/32 scale it is easy enough. I built it from an old drop tank from the Monogram A-7A/B in 1:48 scale. I just cut it in the middle and on the nose to fit it between the vertical tail. Some filling was needed to close the gap. The rocket was flat and not round at the end, so with some hot water took the appropriate shape. I closed the hole with some putty and after it was dried, drilled a hole to represent the rocket nozzle. A piece of heated plastic with a string at the end simulates the fuel pump.

A complete J79 engine is supplied but it isnít very well detailed, however the primary exhaust nozzle flaps are nice and this will be very helpful to make an accurate exhaust nozzle. The divergent flaps are really not thick enough, so I made them from scratch. I cut pieces (triangles) of plastic sheet and glued them inside the outer nozzle. If you have the Revell kit you must make almost everything from scratch.

The NF-104A had a longer span with 24-inch wing tip extensions. I made them from an old Esci F-104 in 1:48 scale. Just cut the outer wings and you have a perfect NF-104 wing tip extension! With some filling and sanding there will be no gap between the two parts. I put the speed brakes in the closed position, because I want to have the real shape of the 104 "untouched"!

The landing gear is one of the most detailed parts of the kit, however there is another problem there. The wheels are of the spoked type that was used on the German G-variant. The holed wheels must be made from scratch or use the wheels from kit and cover them with putty, then drill the holes in the right position.

There is a complete Vulcan 20mm cannon in the kit, but the NF-104 had no armament, so the Vulcan cannon can be used by other kits (e.g. F-4E). The gun port was covered aerodynamically with a fairing. I made it with putty and finished it smoothly as you can see on the photos. The air intakes had revised shock cones in front of them. These are easy to make from plastic sheet.

There is a YAPS boom in front of the nose that has some antennas on it. The boom was originally a little bit thicker than the pitot boom, but I left the original tube and put only the antennas on it (you can hardly see the difference).

Last but not least the NF-104A had small RCS controls on the nose (in four positions; left, right, up and down) and on the outer wings; on both sides. These are made easily by drilling small 1.5-mm holes. If you want a boarding ladder (not shown on the pics) you can find it in the Hasegawa F-16 in 1:32 scale.

Painting

The cockpit was painted with the standard USAF muster: medium gray surfaces with black instrument and panels. Details were "raised" with drybrushing some silver and white, and some different colors (red, yellow etc.) gave some "life" to the warning panels inside the cockpit. The C2 seat was painted gray with a red headrest and olive seatbelts with buckles from reheat painted silver. A REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT from Verlinden productions added some realism in that region.

I used the metal cote aluminum from Humbrol for spraying the whole aircraft except the wings, they are white in the F-104. The metal cote series is a rub and buff paint that looks very like the real unpainted metal surface. The NF-104 had a metal nose so you must paint everything. The upper region of the nose had a black antiglare paint as far as the windshield.

The region around the afterburner and the vertical tail had a darker metal tone as the rest of the airplane. I mixed the metal cote aluminum with some gloss black to match the right tone.

The outer region of the jet nozzle was painted in mixture of black with a drop of silver, but the surface inside the nozzle has brownish tone, so I put some rust to the black/silver mixture.

Decals

The decals came from a variety of different sources. The big USAF on the wings, the US AIR FORCE on the side of the fuselage and the stars are from Monogram's F-102 in 1:48. The buzz numbers NF-756 and the serial number on the fin are from Verlinden Productions USAF letters in 1:48. The badges of USAF test center and Air Force systems command are handmade. I first drew the badge with a pencil directly on the surface, then painted it white and put the colors on it with a 000 brush. The rest of the warning decals came from the kit. I put "Remove Before Flight" on several different places to add some more realism.

Summary

When the whole job is done, you will feel a little bit like a test pilot, but unfortunately the model is too small to climb inside and put the engine on! With a conversion like this I had the opportunity to have something different beside the other "usual" models. Its really easy to make and the satisfaction is guaranteed.

Bibliography

F-104 Starfighter in detail and scale (Vol 38)

F-104 Starfighter in action (Squandron Signal Publ. 27 & 135)

Century Fighters (Squandron Signal Publ.)

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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
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