Starfighters Inc TF-104G airborne at Grosseto in advance of Italian Air Force 100th anniversary spectacular
On 12 June, Lockheed TF-104G-M Starfighter N991SF of Starfighters Inc took to the air from Grosseto air base, thus making the type’s first flight in Italy since the Aeronautica Militare’s last examples were retired by the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (flight test centre) at Pratica di Mare during July 2005. At the controls was Piercarlo Ciacchi, Starfighters Inc’s director of flight operations, who flew the F-104 during his service with the Italian air arm as well as being a former member of its Frecce Tricolori aerobatic team.
The two-seat Starfighter has been transported from the USA to Italy aboard an Aeronautica Militare C-130J-30 Hercules for participation in the Italian Air Force centenary airshow at Pratica di Mare on Saturday 17-Sunday 18 June. Painted all-black, N991SF served with the Aeronautica Militare as serial MM54258 from 1964 until 2004. Following acquisition by Starfighters Inc, it made its maiden flight in civilian hands from the company’s base at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 26 January 2021. It is one of eight F-104s owned by the firm, which now largely uses the type on government and defence contract work. Having started off with ex-Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Norwegian Air Force CF-104s, four former Italian examples were added to the inventory. A single-seat F-104S-ASA-M model, N993SF (formerly MM6734), became the latest to fly after restoration on 28 April this year.
N991SF was delivered to Grosseto for reassembly and flight-testing prior to the Pratica di Mare show. The base is home to the F-2000 Typhoons of the Aeronautica Militare’s 4° Stormo, which operated the Starfighter until 2004 — this airframe was among those stationed there. The 9° Stormo at Grazzanise was the last operational wing to retire the F-104, later that year.
No Starfighter has flown in Europe since ex-Royal Norwegian Air Force CF-104D serial 637/LN-STF, operated by the Friends of the Starfighter group, was active on the European airshow circuit in 2018. It has since been grounded due to ejection seat issues, but the aircraft has continued to be preserved in active condition, conducting regular engine runs and taxi trials, awaiting its return to flight in due course.