The Story of the 104

The Canadian 
Starfighter
Association

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Canadair CF-104 Starfighter

During the Korean War Kelly Johnson, chief designer of Lockheed, traveled to American Air Bases in South Korea and interviewed many American "F-86 Sabre" pilots, asking them what they desired most in their "ideal" fighter jets. The answer was the same from everyone: speed and altitude. Thus the concept for the F-104 "Starfighter" was born. Returning to the US, Kelly Johnson "Borrowed" some 460 Five inch rockets from the US army, modified them with different wing designs, remote control equipment and cameras to test and observe the effects. This type of testing was necessary since Kelly Johnson was determined to build the first Mach 2 jet fighter, but in the 1950s there was no air tunnel in the US that was capable of that speed.

The first flight of an F-104 took place in 1954 under the control of Lockheed test pilot Tony Le Vier. The USAF purchased 676 copies of the new fighter plane. Only approximately 300 flew with the USAF with the rest being supplied to other countries.

On July 2, 1959, after the cancellation of the Avro Arrow program, and after considering eight other aircraft including British, French, Italian and American, the CF-104 was selected by the Royal Canadian Air Force to replace the Sabre Mk.6 for use with the Air Division in Europe. Its role would be Nuclear Strike and Photo Reconnaissance. Several years later  the role was changed to conventional attack.

 However, since the Canadian government wanted equipment to be fitted that was specific to RCAF requirements, it opted to manufacture the aircraft under license in a Canadian factory rather than buy the aircraft outright from Lockheed. On August 14, it was announced that Canadair of Montreal had been selected to manufacture 200 aircraft for the RCAF under license from Lockheed. In addition, Canadair was to manufacture wings, tail assemblies, and rear fuselage sections for 66 Lockheed-built Starfighters that were destined for the West German Luftwaffe. The license production contract was signed on September 17, 1959. Lockheed sent F-104A-15-LO serial number 56-0770 to Canada to act as a pattern aircraft for CF-104 manufacture. It was later fitted with CF-104 fire control systems and flight control equipment and turned over to the RCAF, where it was assigned the serial number of 12700.

Canadair rolled it's first CF-104 (12701) out of the Cartierville plant on March 18, 1961 it was the first of 200 built for the RCAF. The first Canadair-constructed CF-104 (RCAF serial number 12701) was airlifted to Palmdale, California in the spring of 1961, where it made its first flight on May 26. The second CF-104 (12702) also made its first flight at Palmdale. The first two CF-104s to fly at Montreal were Nos. 12703 and 12704, which both took to the air on August 14, 1961.

Canadair built an additional 140 Starfighters for other NATO Nations. Enheat in Amherst, Nova Scotia built some components for the CF-104 program.

Between January 1962 and September 1963, twenty-two dual seat CF-104Ds built by Lockheed in Palmdale California, were accepted by Canada. Initially, most went to RCAF Station Cold Lake for use at 6 Strike/Reconnaissance Operational Training Unit to train instructors first and then squadron pilots. A further sixteen CF104Ds were accepted in November 1964.

The Canadian-built Starfighter was initially designated CF-111 by the RCAF and later changed to CF-104. They were designated CL-90 by the Canadair factory. This was changed to Canadian serial numbers 12701 through 12900. On May 18, 1970, they were reserialed as 104701 through 104900. The Lockheed-built F-104A pattern aircraft was reserialed from 12700 to 104700.

In parallel with the production of the Starfighter by Canadair, Orenda Engines, Ltd. acquired a license to build the General Electric J-79 engine that was to power it. The Canadian-built J79-OEL-7 rated at 10,000 lbs. static thrust (s.t.) dry and 15,800 lbs. s.t. with afterburning powered the CF-104

In Canadian service the CF-104 performed very well, it was loved by its pilots and was a powerful aircraft to fly. In the ground attack role the 104 could outrun any of its opponents; however, it was not a forgiving aircraft to fly at low level. During the CF-104 era 37 pilots lost their lives flying this aircraft. Unfortunately the CF-104, the fastest aircraft to serve in the RCAF, was not as manoeuvrable as many other types of aircraft. At low level, this lack of manoeuvrability could be dangerous if a pilot was not paying close attention. Canadian pilots excelled with the Starfighter, some being considered among the best pilots in NATO.

The CF-104 was fitted with equipment specialized for RCAF requirements. It was optimized for the nuclear strike role rather than being a multi-mission aircraft. The CF-104 was fitted with R-24A NASARR (North American Search and Range Radar) equipment that was "peaked" for the air-to-ground mode only. The main undercarriage members were fitted with longer-stroke liquid springs and carried larger tires than the F-10G of the U.S.A.F. The CF-104 had the ability to carry a ventral reconnaissance pod equipped with four Vinten Vicom cameras. The 20-mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon and its associated ammunition were initially omitted from the CF-104, and an additional fuel cell was fitted in their place.

The 200th and last CF-104 (No. 12900) was completed on September 4, 1963 and delivered to the RCAF on January 10, 1964. Many early production aircraft were modified to the standard of the last production machines. Following the delivery of the last CF-104, Canadair switched over to the manufacture of F-104Gs for delivery to NATO allies under the provisions of MAP.

Beginning in early 1962, the RCAF commenced training on the CF-104 at No. 6 Strike/Reconnaissance OTU  established at Cold Lake, Alberta in late 1961 and eventually redesignated No 417 Squadron). In the same year they were also delivered to the squadrons in Europe. One hundred and thirty nine were partially disassembled and flown in C130 Hercules transport aircraft, to form eight squadrons -  six nuclear strike in Germany and two photo-reconnaissance in France.

No. 427 Squadron was the first to form, with initial deliveries to 3 Wing at Zweibrucken, Germany in December of 1962. 434 Squadron joined 427 in April of 1963. 444 and 422 Squadrons were formed at 4 Wing in Baden-Soellingen, Germany in May and July, respectively, of 1963. 430 and 421 Squadrons initially proceeded to 2 Wing at Grostonquin, France in September and December, respectively, of 1963; however in February of 1964, even before France withdrew from NATO in 1966, 2 Wing was disbanded, and its two CF-104 squadrons were transferred elsewhere with No 421 moving to 4 Wing and No. 430 moving to 3 Wing. The two photo-reconnaissance Squadrons, 441 and 439 were formed at 1 Wing in Marville, France in January and March, respectively, of 1964. Marville was closed by March of 1967 and its two CF-104 squadrons moved to Lahr, Germany. No's 434 and 444 Squadrons were disbanded in 1967-68, reducing CF-104 strength to four nuclear strike squadrons and two tactical reconnaissance squadrons.

In May of 1969, 3 Wing at Zweibrucken was closed, and No 427 Squadron was relocated to Baden and No 430 to Lahr.

In 1970, the Canadian government decided to reduce the strength of the Air Division to only three squadrons and to relinquish its nuclear strike role in favour of conventional attack. 1 Air Division was redesignated 1 Canadian Air Group. 422, 427, and 430 Squadrons were disbanded. 439 and 441 Squadrons replaced all but 421 Squadron in 4 Wing at Baden. Of the remaining three squadrons, 421 and 441 were committed to converting to ground attack roles, leaving 439 Squadron to continue tactical reconnaissance missions. 417 Squadron at Cold Lake continued as a CF-104 Operational Training Unit.

CF-104 Air operations at Lahr ceased in 1970, when it became a Canadian Army base, but 1 Canadian Air Group Headquarters remained there, co-located with the Canadian Forces Europe Headquarters. The airfield at Lahr remained operational for air transport operations as well as being a deployment base for the CF-104s from Baden-Soellingen.

By January of 1972, the CF-104s had all been converted from their nuclear and reconnaissance roles to that of conventional ground attack. A 20-mm Vulcan cannon was installed, and the fairing was removed from the cannon port. Twin bomb ejector rack carriers and multi-tube rocket launchers were installed.

A number of former Canadian Forces single-seat CF-104 fighter-bombers and CF-104D two-seat trainers were transferred to Denmark and Norway after having been brought up to F-104G/TF-104G standards.

By 1983, all single-seat CF-104s had been modified with the Litton LW-33 digital intertial navigation/attack system, which replaced the original LN-3 analog inertial navigation system. The LW-33 was much more accurate and less expensive to maintain than was the earlier LN-3. In addition, the LW-33 had an attack function.

Beginning in 1983, the CF-104 Starfighters were replaced in Canadian Armed Forces service by McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornets. No. 441 Squadron phased out the last CF-104 on March 1, 1986. Canada then offered Turkey an initial batch of 20 CF-104s; later increased to 52, including six CF-104Ds. Twenty of these were sent to MBB at Manching in Germany in March of 1986 for inspection before being transferred to Turkey. The remainder were broken down for spares.

About 110 CF-104/CF-104Ds were lost in accidents, out of 239 delivered - a loss rate of no less than 46 percent. However, it is only fair to point out that the Canadian CF-104s probably had the highest-flying time of any country operating the Starfighter. At the time of retirement, average airframe times were in the order of 6000 hours as compared to 2000 hours for the Luftwaffe.