Kelly Johnson and his team that made up the 'Skunk Works' produced innovation
and beauty in everything that rolled off of their drafting tables. Near
the end of World War 2, while Bell was secretly building and testing the
P-59 Airacomet, Johnson approached the War Department with an idea for
a practical jet-powered fighter. While he was initially stifled to keep
the P-59 project secret, it was becoming obvious that the Bell design
was a dead end. Johnson was given the go-ahead and the Skunk Works was
established to solve the problem. The result was the now-famous F-80 Shooting
Star, the USAF's first operational jet fighter.
After the sound barrier was broken, and the speed boundaries were pushed
beyond Mach 2, the USAF wanted a Mach 2 fighter. Once again, Johnson and
the Skunk Works tackled the problem, and off the drawing boards came the
F-104 Starfighter - the "Missile with a Man in it".
The cheapest way to get the most speed out of the thrust available was
to reduce drag to a minimum. The frontal area of the F-104 was radically
low, and the leading edge of the wings were so sharp that covers had to
be developed to keep the ground crews from serious injuries. The airframe
was literally designed around the new General Electric J79 engine (that
went on to power the B-58 Hustler, F-4 Phantom II, Kfir, and others).
The F-104 experienced some teething problems as it entered service with
each country that acquired it. The take-off and landing speeds were significantly
'hotter' than anything anyone had flown before. The F-104A soon gave way
to the F-104C that served in all theaters of the world. One further improvement
was incorporated into the aircraft prior to being exported around the
world - the vertical stabilizer was enlarged for additional yaw stability.
This was the only major external difference between the USAF Starfighters
and the export versions.
The F-104G, exported throughout Europe, and the F-104J, exported to
Japan, were externally identical. The only significant difference between
the two was the ejection seat. While all of the F-104Js retained the Lockheed
C-2 ejection seat used in the earlier USAF models, some (not all) of the
F-104Gs were retrofitted with the Martin-Baker Q-7. The C-2 was a downward
firing seat that the engineers came up with to minimize duress on the
pilot during ejection (remember that razor-sharp T-tail that an upward-firing
seat would have to clear). The downside was that during low-level emergencies,
the pilot had to remember to invert the aircraft before ejecting.
Rumors had been rumbling for some time that Hasegawa was going
to release an F-104 in 1/48 scale. And why not! Their 1/72 and 1/32
F-104 kits were the best in their scales. So it came as no great
surprise when news of the F-104J was finally announced. What came
as somewhat of a surprise was that an F-104C would be released about
the same time! Indeed they have.
The F-104C and F-104J kits are identical with the exception of
the fuselage trees. The trees in each of the respective kits feature
the appropriate chord vertical stabilizer. The plastic is molded
in the usual Hasegawa light grey plastic, features exquisitely scribed
detailing and do not appear to have any nasty surprises in store.
While there are a few ejector pin marks in some visible places,
mostly on the inside of a few panel doors, my examples were light
and easily remedied. Don't sweat the ones in the afterburner chamber
or inside the intake trunks. The ones inside the chamber will be
hidden by all of the great engine exhaust and afterburner details.
The pin marks inside the intakes would only be visible if you peered
down the intake at a certain angle, and you'd poke your eye out
on the pitot boom trying to do so. Contest judges, be warned…
The detailing in this kit is exquisite! Unlike other recent Hasegawa
offerings, the cockpit in this kit is detailed! The Lockheed C-2
ejection seat is a 13-piece model of its own. The cockpit tub features
nice detailing, with nicely detailed sidepanels, and not only includes
a control stick, but also a throttle! The instrument panel is also
The wheel wells will also catch your attention. The main gear
bay and gear assemblies are very detailed, right down to the landing
lights inside the main gear doors. Rubber tires mount onto detailed
wheel hubs to round out the affair.
Another attention grabber are the wings. Where a single sharp
part would do nicely, Hasegawa has provided the wing in halves (top
and bottom) along with separate leading edge flaps, trailing flaps
and ailerons. Five parts for each wing. Inside the lower half of
the wing is a clue to the future. While this kit only provides wingtip
fuel tanks and fuselage-mounted Sidewinder missile rails, there
are flashed-over holes on the lower wing where the F-104C or F-104G
would have an underwing pylon for fuel tanks and additional flashed
over holes outboard of those for an F-104S missile pylon.
This is the first kit I can recall seeing that has actually represented
accurate AIM-9 Sidewinder rails, and I do mean the rail that the
Sidewinder slides along during its initial launch. While these missile
rails were molded to adapt to the fuselage launcher frame, these
could be easily modified to mount on the wingtips.
The decals in both kits are colorful with extensive stenciling
provided. The F-104C provides two examples from the 479th TFW from
George AFB, CA. The F-104J sheet provides markings to represent
just about any F-104J ever flown in the JASDF! An impressive array
If you are allergic to bare metal paint jobs, fear not! The F-104C received
the standard Southeast Asia camouflage scheme during its service over
there. Initially, the F-104C was assigned to protect the airspace around
'friendly' territory against hostile air attacks. When these attacks never
materialized, the F-104C was tasked to do what most older tactical aircraft
are tasked to do - drop bombs.
Don't laugh - if you wander past the better video stores, you'll see
an old movie entitled 'Starfighter'. This was a thin plot around a ton
of live-action video sequences, all filmed at George AFB. One of the most
impressive things on that film were shots of the F-104 doing skip-bombing
across the desert floor and into their targets. Given the aircraft's versatility,
it wasn't unreasonable to relegate the F-104 to bombing. The usual loadout
was a pair of Mk.117 bombs.
If you are a NATO fighter builder, the F-104J is also an F-104G. Many
of NATO's air forces camouflaged their Starfighters, so you have an easy
out here too. Again, make sure that the aircraft you're modeling didn't
have the Martin-Baker seat installed. The easiest way to tell is look
for the (F-4 Phantom II-styled) overhead ejection handles on the top of
the headrest. No handles - Lockheed C-2 seat. If you need the Martin Baker
seat, your Monogram kit may have one.
If you want to build the CF-104, take the F-104J with the new Belcher
Bits CF-104 conversion and CF-104 decal sheet, and you'll be set!
This is a very welcome kit! And its release comes on the heels of Tamiya's
recent announcement of releasing other members of the Century Series,
starting with the F-100 Super Sabre. This Hasegawa offering of the F-104,
like the earlier release of the T-4 trainer, shows that the engineers
and staff of the company have a love for the aircraft and it shows. This
one gets my top recommendations!