Starfighter Pilot Narrates Full ‘Black Beauty’ Test Flight Out Of KSC In This Must Watch Video

F-104 Starfighters
A screenshot from the video of the TF-104G-M of Starfighters Aerospace during the July 2022 maintenance flight from KSC.

This is probably the most interesting and detailed cockpit video with audio ever shot in an F-104 Starfighter: from start-up to landing and shut down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Piercarlo “Capone” Ciacchi is a quite famous pilot among the F-104 Starfighter lovers. Currently the Director of Flight Operations at Starfighters Aerospace, he is a former Italian Air Force F-104 pilot who, among many other things, achieved a notable record flying the 9-99, the last F-104 in special color scheme, as  “Picca 21” for 2 hours and 50 minutes in a Tip + Pylon configuration during his “finiflight” (last flight on the type) on Mar. 26, 2004.

During his career in the Air Force, Ciacchi (who later joined the Frecce Tricolori display team) authored some of the most popular footage of the world’s last Starfighters in service with the Aeronautica Militare in the early 2000s, before the iconic missile-with-a-man-in-it was eventually retired.

His passion for shooting cool videos from the cockpit of the F-104 is still strong today, as he flies the F-104s owned by Starfighters Aerospace out of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for research and development flights as well as pilot/test pilot training.

Last year we published a great workaround video of the “Black Beauty”, one of the five former Italian Air Force F-104s that were purchased by the U.S. company after the Italians retired it in 2004. “Black Beauty” is a heavily modified TF-104G-M which now sports the civilian registration N991SF (previously MM54258) and can be used to support a wide variety of tests, including captive carry of payloads and test articles; microgravity experiments; pre-launch space payload testing/qualification; suborbital spaceflight simulation; air-launch of microsatellites; human factors and flight physiology research and many others.

Now Ciacchi has just released a brand new video showing a maintenance flight carried out aboard “Black Beauty” that covers, with audio (including radio comms and intercom) the full flight, from start-up, to landing, and shut down (along with a couple of low approaches at Space Coast Regional Airport).

This Author has seen many F-104 videos and has been lucky enough to even fly in a TF-104G-M more than 20 years ago, but the clip below is probably the best you’ll ever find of a Starfighter flight, because of all the details Ciacchi explains AJ, lead crew chief and backseater in this sortie, throughout the +30-minute clip.

Two final remarks: first, as pointed out already, the nickname “Black Beauty” was actually given to another F-104 based at Grosseto, the F-104S ASA-M (Aggiornamento Sistemi d’Arma – Modificato / Weapon System Upgrade – Modified) MM6873/4-9 of the 9th Gruppo Caccia (Squadron). The latter, which is now a gate guardian, was of the latest and most upgraded Starfighters operated by an Air Force and received a stunning black paintjob to celebrate 40 years of service of the F-104 with the 9° Gruppo in 2003.

Second remark, before the usual comments start to appear: enough with some nicknames that denotate a lack of knowledge about this jet. No one within the Italian Air Force (that has operated the aircraft longer than any other service) has ever called or considered the F-104 the “widow maker” or the “flying coffin”. Those nicknames were used in Germany, when the aircraft gained a bad reputation because of the number of accidents the German Air Force suffered with the type but the high accident rate was mainly due to flaws in pilot training program, use of the aircraft in particularly demanding conditions (low altitude, bad weather, heavy configurations), and outside its primary design role (high speed interceptor), etc. The aircraft required significant pilot effort and did not forgive some pilot errors, but it was not deadly by itself and, on the other side, especially later in its career, it was considered extremely reliable.

Besides the media sensationalism that contributed to the bad reputation and the “widow maker” legend, if properly analysed and put in context, the aircraft had a safety record for flight hour comparable and in many cases even better than many other fighters it replaced or that operated across the world in the same period.

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.