Tuesday, July 5, 2011

F-104G Starfighter

Hey Everyone

After some warhammer action, we'll be moving ahead with a military themed post...this time featuring Witty Wing's 1/72 Die-cast model of the F-104G Starfighter, which served in the JBG36 (JBG = Jagdbombergeschwader or "fighter bomber wing") stationed in Rheine-Hopstein during the 1970s. For this particular unit, they received F-4 Phantoms as replacements during 1976.

Top and bottom views of Witty Wing's 1/72 F-104G.

Originally built as an interceptor, the F-104 was literally designed as a "rocket with a man in it", by putting a very powerful engine (GE J79) into a very light airframe. The F-104G is the fighter-bomber variant, given improvements such as newer avionics and stronger landing gear and it was produced under license. Companies contracted to build F-104Gs for Germany included Lockheed-Martin, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

A close-up of JBG36's emblem, notice the macro lens is pretty unforgiving and picks up small dust particles unseen by the eye.

The F-104G came with an internal 20mm Gatling cannon and it was equipped with 7 hardpoints, with each capable of bearing 4,000lb of weight. Typical armament consisted of Lepus flare bombs, CBU-33 cluster bombs and LAU-3A unguided rocket packs. In addition, the F-104G can carry a 1-Mt B-43 nuclear store in its centerline. At the height of the Cold War, the Luftwaffe committed about 250 F-104Gs to the NATO nuclear force, with each wing maintaining 6 nuclear-equipped F-104Gs fueled and ready to fly within 17 minutes of authorization. Interestingly, orders to use nuclear warheads can only come through a chain of command originating from the President of the US.

Close-ups of the decals placed around the cockpit on both sides. The bottom picture has the gatling gun nozzle on the bottom right.

Unfortunately, the F-104G had a poor safety record during its service in the Luftwaffe. With an attrition rate of 30%, it was considered too high for peace-time operations (although its predecessor the F-84 had a 36% attrition rate). Moreover, Germany's top ace Erich Hartmann commented that the F-104G was plagued with poor handling and deemed it unfit for Luftwaffe use. A running joke was that the cheapest way to obtain a F-104G was to just buy a field and wait for one to crash into it! Nicknames such as "tent peg" and "widowmaker" became the mainstay in the Starfighter's service. Eventually, changes in training doctrine and safety standards helped to decrease the F-104G's attrition rate.

Imagine if you had a 30% chance of crashing in this. Would you fly?

Looking at this particular model, its weight feels rather substantial and appears to be well put together. The decal placements are very clean and precise, and in all the model is definitely a looker to me (I love the German color scheme). It seems to be a very minimalist model, as it does not come with any armaments or fuel tanks. The model is also a strictly display piece as the landing gear is fixed and cannot be retracted.

A close-up of the F-104G's undercarriage, simple and bare but otherwise well put-together.

Considering its cost (~USD 30), it seems that Witty Wings is able to produce good quality models at very competitive prices. Of course, if you're a real nit-pick about construction quality and accuracy of the smallest details, these planes might not be your fit (Corgi and Franklin Mint make pretty awesome minis at much higher prices). Some gaps can be seen between fixtures and cockpit details are minimal. However, if viewed from a normal range...this F-104G looks quite good and relatively well-constructed.

Overall view of the whole F-104G model.

Once, JQ and I talked about model enthusiasts who really go to great lengths to make their models as accurate as possible...and lo and behold, I found a website of a Greek enthusiast who modified an existing F-104G model with painstaking detail. He literally took it apart...checked it against existing plans to confirm its accuracy, and even made a highly detailed cockpit full of dials! I have a ton of respect for these guys, and if you're interested...you can look through his work here.

This is what I call real dedication! Dr. Menelaos Skourtopoulos remade the entire cockpit interior of a Century Toys 1/18 F-104G. (largescaleplanes.com) Check out the link in the paragraph above.

With the internet, I have to say that there's a lot of info to get on military equipment or vehicles that you're interested in. A variety of websites exist for the enthusiast modeller, which include military forums, databases pictures of actual aircraft, and modeling websites. A considerable amount of my info came from Joe Baugher's website, a military enthusiast who wrote a lot on US warplanes and offers a wealth of detailed info on any US aircraft you're researching on.

All I can say is: Hat's off to the hard-core military enthusiasts!


  1. Cool model diecast. In terms of 1/72 detailed planes, Isn't Force of Valour way more detailed? Another question is, in the Witty Wing F-104, Is there a pilot in the cockpit?

    Overall, Great Article Josh! :)

  2. @Killers

    I have to admit I haven't tried Forces of Valor 1/72 for planes, so unfortunately I can't comment on that...but I'll keep a look out for them!

    Yeah, there's a pilot in the cockpit but he appears to be a bit small in scale (his head is not even above the side barrier of the cockpit!)

  3. It's crisp and a cool model. But yeah I gotta admit.

    The Die hard modellers really can come up with the most insane detailed stuff I have ever seen.

  4. Just kind of occurred to me that the wingspan for the F-104 is really really small..

    Great pics..

  5. Nice to see some really cool models from you Josh!