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 well-executed.
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 of options.
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-104conversion 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!