F-104 Starfighter

Marc J. Frattasio

the F-104 was a supersonic American interceptor jet developed and built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. It was designed to be a high-speed point-defense interceptor which would be directed by ground radar to destroy large Soviet bomber formations approaching the United States from over the north pole. Production Starfighters came into service with the U. S. Air Force's North American Air Defense Command during 1958. Although in many respects an outstanding aircraft, the Starfighter proved to have insufficient internal fuel capacity for its intended intercept mission. Although it was replaced in front-line service by other aircraft during the early 1960s, the USAF continued to use the Starfighter in various secondary roles. A few Starfighters actually saw combat in a tactical role during the Vietnam conflict. Many Starfighters remained in service with Air National Guard units through the late 1980s. A few examples are still used by NASA for experimental purposes and astronaut training. Several other nations including Japan, Germany, Spain, and Norway purchased Starfighters or built them locally under license. Many of these foreign aircraft remain in service today.

The F-104 was one of the most dramatic looking aircraft of its day. It was often called 'the missile with a man in it' because of its needle-like fuselage and high speed. The F-104 went into service amidst a flood of publicity and it achieved many speed and altitude records. Consequently, the F-104 Starfighter was a very popular plastic model kit subject during the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the time Thunderbirds went into production in 1964, many different plastic model kits of the Starfighter were on the market in a variety of 'fit the box' sizes.

The F-104's 'futuristic' lines made it one of the most frequently used commercial plastic model kit types utilized by Derek Meddings' team of modelmakers during the production of Thunderbirds. It looks as if at least two or possibly three different F-104 kits were used by the Thunderbirds effects team. Most likely, these were the kits produced by Monogram, Revell, and Airfix. However, Hawk, Comet, and Aurora also had F-104 kits available around this time which may have been put to use on Thunderbirds.

Generally, the Thunderbirds model makers used the Starfighter's fuselage in conjunction with wings, stabilizers, and other parts robbed from other kits. Occasionally, minor parts from F-104 kits were used to detail larger miniatures. The following is as complete an accounting as I can come up with of all the miniature vehicles seen in Thunderbirds and other Anderson productions that used F-104 Starfighter model kit parts.

World Navy/United Nations fighter jet

Air sea rescue jet

Enemy attack jet

Enemy fighter jet

Zombite fighter jet

World Air Force parasite fighter jet

Arabajan (Eastern Alliance?) fighter jet

Two of these jets can be seen in the Joe 90 episode King for a Day. The actual studio miniatures were constructed as follows:
F-104 fuselage with stabilizer fins removed and nosecone modified.
New outboard wing panels made from the kit's horizontal stabilizer fin split in half lengthwise.
New underwing fuel tanks made from the kit's parts.
New vertical stabilizer adapted from a Saab J-35 Draken kit's vertical stabilizer.
New horizontal stabilizers (new fabrication or adapted J-35 Draken outer wing panels).
Of course, these are two of the flight configured models from the Thunderbirds episode, The Cham-Cham reused and repainted into a Soviet inspired scheme for Joe 90!

Spare parts!

This page published originally at the Supermarionation sfx WebSite
text ©1996 Marc J. Frattasio; not for reproduction for profit without his express permission