Brand: Hasegawa 09385
Markings: TwoBobs 48-051 ‘F-104J Komatsu Starfighters’
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is a single-engine, supersonic interceptor aircraft developed for the USAF, but would serve the air forces of more than a dozen countries. It set many world speed records and a total of 2,578 Starfighters would be built. However, its reputation is somewhat marred by the Lockheed bribery scandals and a poor safety record.
Developed in the 1950s, the first YF-104A flew in February 1956 with the first production F-104A delivered to the USAF by January 1958. The F-104 was all-metal with a fuselage that was 2.5 times longer than its wingspan. It featured a radical wing design: small, straight, mid-mounted, trapezoidal in shape and was so thin that the leading edges were a cut hazard for ground crew. The Starfighter is an especially difficult plane to fly. For example, the newly reformed Luftwaffe (West German Air Force) would have 4 F-104 crashes in a single day in 1962. By the 1970s, the F-104’s international service began to wind down. The last operational F-104s served with the Italian Air Force, which retired them in October 2004.
The JASDF (Japan Air Self Defense Force) nicknamed their licence-built Starfighter the ‘Eiko’ (Glory). Mitsubishi would build 210 single-seated F-104Js and 20 twin-seated F-104DJ purchased wholesale from Lockheed.. The F-104J is a specialized interceptor version of the F-104G that was built for air superiority. Despite the bad reputation of the F-104, the JASDF did not have the same problems as the European Air Forces, mainly because it was used as an interceptor and not an attack aircraft. The JASDF would operate the F-104 from 1966 and retire its last F-104J in 1986.
The model depicted here is of 46-8621, an F-104J with special markings that flew in the 1979 Air Combat Meet at Komatsu Air Base. I don’t have anecdotal evidence of whether the F-104Js flew as ‘red air’ but they all sported unique bright colored schemes like typical aggressor aircraft.
The boxing I have is a 2001 markings variant of the original F-104J released in 2000. The kit comprises 117 light gray styrene parts in 13 sprues along with a sprue of clear parts and 4 polycaps. Surface texture is nice with very crisp fine panel lines and a ton of recessed pin holes representing flush rivets. However, the flaps, ailerons and slats all suffer from ejector pin marks, with many of them nestled among the rivets.
Other details are great: cockpit, wheel well, speed brake bays are all nicely rendered. The canopy is 3-piece but is not able to be modeled open. A very nice touch is that the slats, flaps and speed brakes can all be positioned. The undercarriage is attached to the fuselage via polycaps and Hasegawa includes different style wheel hubs in the kit.
Some of the parts breakdown is complicated: the ejection seat is 14 parts, the fuel tank is 9 parts and each sidewinder rail is made up of 2 halves. I’m not sure why Hasegawa over-engineered these parts and yet leave so many ejector pin marks on other parts.
The kit comes with 3 marking options for 207th Squadron, 83rd Air Wing F-104Js that flew in custom schemes at the 1984 Air Combat Meet. I got my kit 2nd hand and the decal sheet has already dried and yellowed so I can’t talk about the quality.
Hasegawa is known to put in a bit more effort designing kits of Japanese armed forces equipment: this one is no different. It’s lovely out of the box. Parts breakdown (except for the fuel tanks) are logical. Assembly of the main body was quick although hampered by the many ejector pin marks on the slats, flaps, ailerons and undercarriage. The most annoying part is fixing the pin marks without destroying the beautifully done rivet details.
A major hiccup for me were the wingtip fuel tanks. Each one was made up of 9 parts and they didn’t fit particularly well. Each tank has 4 circular disks that need to be clamped in between the 2 halves. These turn out to require specific orientations to fit flush. After messing up some of them I decided to simply sand them smooth and live without the fine details on them. As it turns out, there would be decals for most of these and would hide the details anyway.
I really like the idea of the undercarriage using polycaps to fit and have always wondered why this method isn’t standard on all kits. It makes for a stronger overall fit and is easier for final assembly.
I realized too late that the clear parts (formation lights?) are supposed to be attached from the INSIDE of the fuselage and fuel tanks and I have left all these off. It turns out though that they would all be covered by decals in the end. All in all, a straightforward build although as usual with Hasegawa, some finicky fit in minor areas. I also managed to drop the whole kit on its nose so I had to go back to fix the shape. There’s always 1 disaster with every build I do so the record is intact.
Colors & Markings
This F-104J will be part of my Aggressor-themed collection of kits: normally plain colored aircraft that are dressed up in special color schemes for adversary training purposes. I’m modeling the blue and white color schemed 46-8621 that flew in the 1979 Air Combat Meet. Decals will be from the TwoBobs 48-051 ‘F-104J Komatsu Starfighters’ sheet.
As this aircraft has a partial full metal finish, I only did the marble coating for the colored areas. These areas required some masking work but were straightforward. I added glaze medium to reduce their opacity so the marble coat still shows through.
The metal finish was simply done over a flat black surface. As usual with metal finishes, I made sure to give the paints a bit more time to cure between masking and painting the different shades. So far, I’ve had very good luck with Vallejo Metal Colors and this time was no different. The colors went on easily with slight thinning.
Once the main colors were done, it was time for decals. As usual, the TwoBobs decals performed very well: they were easy to handle, robust and reacted well to Mark Softer. I did mess up a few stencil markings but the sheet had enough markings for 2 complete F-104Js so I have spare stencils. I’m also glad that the carrier film almost disappeared once cured.
While doing the decals, I realized that I missed out on painting a section on the spine pale yellow so I went back in to mask the area with tape and paper. I used paper for the decals that were already on as masking tape will definitely lift them. This section was quickly painted up with not much problem. 10 minutes masking, 10 seconds of painting. As usual.
I was initially a bit stuck on how I would weather this kit but looking at photos of JASDF F-104Js, they were all kept in very clean conditions so I decided to keep the weathering light. I decided to use Vallejo Model Wash again this time and I like the results. It’s subtler than the usual Raw Umber oil paint wash I use and I think it looks appropriate here with the cleaner look I’m going for. The exhaust was given the same wash and then highlighted with silver pencil. I went heavier with the wash on the metal areas near the exhaust to show some wear in the area.
Last on as usual were the pitot tube, various antenna and the AOA indicator (which I pinged 1 away and decided not to do the other one). And of course, just as everything was done, I dropped one of the wings and the tip of one of the winglets on the port fuel tank broke off. I used 0.25mm plastic card for the last minute repair. It looks OK so long as you don’t look closely.
To finish off the kit, the colored areas were given a spray of flat coat while I sprayed more gloss on the metal areas to seal everything in.
When I drew jet aircraft as a kid, the result always looked like an F-104 even though I didn’t know what an F-104 was then. I guess a rocket tube with wings will always imply a fast flying jet aircraft. And now I have the real thing in my collection!
This build has been relatively painless and the result is a very colorful and striking jet. It’s not without its problems (especially the wing tanks) but Hasegawa has a winner here. Details are great right out of the box and fit was generally good.