Last of the F-104 Starfighters
27 Oct 2004
On Wednesday 27 October 2004, one of the last operational F-104 Starfighters from the Aeronautica Militaire Italiano (AMI - Italian Air Force) visited Kleine Brogel AB, Belgium. The visit will be the last to an air base outside Italy.
The few remaining F-104 will be retired from operational service this month, the AMI being the last military operator of the aircraft. Just one aircraft will remain in service with the AMI until next year, namely with the test unit RSV of the AMI and there still remains one two-seat version in the United States.
The reason for the visit was an unofficial F-104 ceremony to commemorate the history of the F-104 and the air base. Soon, one of the former Belgian Air Force F-104s (long replaced by the F-16) will be positioned on a pole, centered on a local round-about near the Kleine Brogel AB.
Although two F-104s were scheduled to come to Kleine Brogel, one aircraft had to return to base because of an emergency. The F-104 that did visit Belgium was 'MM6930' F-104 ASA-M from Grazzanise AB wearing a colorful red paint job to celebrate the introduction of the new motorcycle '999' by Ducati and on the tail the emblem of Italian World War One ace Francesco Baracca.
The F-104 was developed in the 1950s, first flow in 1954. Although the USAF was disappointed with its range, one wing saw action in the Vietnam war before being retired from service in 1975. The F-104 had more success abroad in the form of the F-104G, which entered service in many NATO countries and Japan. Later also Jordan, Pakistan and Taiwan became 104 operators. Most operators replaced it with the F-16, but Italy selected the Eurofighter Typhoon (the last F-104 was just delivered in 1979). But because of the delays of the Eurofighter program, the AMI was forced to upgrade the aircraft twice and lease 24 Tornado ADV in the 1990s followed by 34 F-16s in 2003.
The F-104 was renowned for its speed and acceleration. In the hands of capable pilots, the F-104 was able to use this to its advantage when fighting modern F-4, F-16 and Tornado fighters. These properties also made the F-104 the preferred aircraft for the quick action alert role, where the aircraft would scramble to intercept unknown contacts. During NATO operations over Kosovo, AMI F-104 were on stand-by for a last line of defense.