Italian F-104 versions explained

Following the requests I received from aircraft enthusiasts and modelers, I’ve decided to prepare a specific post to describe differences and peculiarities of the various F-104 versions that equipped the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) until Jul. 27, 2005 (date of the last flight of a TF-104G-M from Pratica di Mare). In order to prepare this brief analysis, I’ve asked my friend Riccardo Vestuto, one of the most competent Starfighter experts in the world, to help me by providing, among other things, scans of the cockpit layouts taken directly from the aircraft handbooks.

The F-104G (where G stands for Germany, the leading European nation that produced the aircraft under license) was the first version equipping the ItAF in both air defence and fighter bomber roles. Used as a multi-role aircraft despite being concepted as an interceptor, the aircraft, compared to the American C version, featured a strengthened structure, a larger tail surface, upgraded avionics (including the a NASARR F15A-41B radar and the Litton LN-3 Inertial Navigation System), an infra-red sight, and was equipped with a General Electric J79-GE-11A turbojet. Interestingly, the G models had the Lockheed C-2 upward ejection seats.

F-104G cockpit layout:

The F-104S was sensibly different from its predecessor and can be distingued by several identifying features such as:

  • two trapezium-shaped strakes on the lower aft fuselage (with leading edge angled by 45°) to increase directional stability at speed above Mach 2.0
  • the air intake has the same dimensions of those of the G version even if reared by 2,5 cm
  • the air intake access panel assumes a rectangular shape and can be opened capsizing downward during take-off to increase the amount of air entering the engine
  • there are two bulges on both sides of the exhaust cone hosting the antenna of the AIM-7 Sparrow launch system
  • the cockpit layout is changed
  • the Martin Baker IQ 7A ejection seat replaces the C-2
  • the aircraft has 9 external attach points (1 fuselage centerline, 2 at fuselage, 4 wing pylons stations, and 2 at wingtips)
  • the aircraft is equipped with a more powerfull engine (the J79-GE-19) that increased thrust by 900 lbs and with a F-15A NASARR radar upgraded to the R-21G configuration

F-104S cockpit layout:

The F-104S  ASA (Aggiornamento Sistema d’Arma) had the following peculiarities:

  • 2 conical antenna appear on the upper fuselage, just behind the canopy, and below, just aft of the radome (actually, these two antennas equipped also some F-104Gs from the end of the ’70s) next to a blade antenna. The aircraft has also a sensors container aft of the parachute vain. Both are part of the ALQ-70/72 ECM system. Even if the antennas equip all the fleet, they are active only on those aircraft destined to the FB (Fighter Bomber) Squadrons
  • the aircraft carries the AIM-9L air-to-air missile that replaces the B version of the Sidewinder
  • the aircraft can carry the Alenia Aspide in place of the AIM-7 Sparrow.
  • a new Radar version (the FIAR R-21G/M1 Setter) with look-down/shoot-down capability is introduced
  • the cockpit and consoles’ layout are rearranged. A new weapons management panel appears.

F-104S ASA cockpit layout:

The F-104S ASA-M had the following characteristics:

  • the 3 underfuselage pylon disappers and the corresponding cabling is removed
  • the ALQ 70/72 ECM system is removed
  • the avionics is improved: a GPS antenna is located in the third section of the canopy
  • all the aircraft gradually get the new grey colour scheme (FS 36280)
  • the aircraft receives the Have Quick radio for secure communication on the UHF band and a new TACAN
  • the cockpit is rearranged once again to include the new radio panel and the new navigation system
  • the aircraft can carry only air-to-air missiles (AIM-9L, Aspide/Sparrow)

F-104S ASA-M cockpit layout:

The TF 104 G-M was the first and only new version since the TF-104G.

TF-104G cockpit layout (Front & Back seat)

The “M” version of the 20° Gruppo has the same cockpit layout of the ASA-M, gets the same colour scheme (even if the first aircraft of the series MM 54254  “4-36” sports the typical camouflaged livery for a short period of time). Furthermore, the Radar lose the FB and missile functions (the Optical Sight is removed too), can carry only tanks (tip and pylon) as external stores.

TF-104G-M cockpit layout (Front & Back seat)

© David Cenciotti & Riccardo Vestuto

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.