The F-104 Starfighter was the pointy end of the stick on the front lines of the Cold War, and hundreds of them flew in defense of NATO and NORAD in the 1960s and 70s. Flying examples of the Widowmaker are now rare but hitch a ride on a recent launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I saw one owned by these people fly at the Joint Base Andrews Airshow a few years back. The sound they make is unusual to say the least. Cool plane.

  2. This is one of the most beautiful aircraft of all time. in my opinion. so it was a pleasure seeing this. Obviously, I’m a sucker for F-104 material and have casually followed this company for years now, but Russ, it would be nice to have some details about what this was all about, huh? Details on the testing, people involved, etc – you know, the classic journalistic story guidelines.

  3. In the late 1970s I was on Temporary Duty as a JAG officer at the Canadian Forces Base at Baden-Soellingen. With a new HAI (High Altitude Indoctrination) ticket in my pocket, I started chatting up pilots, and soon found myself in the back seat of a dual CF-104 for a jaunt over towards the Czech border. At that time the CF-104 role involved unspeakable low-level stuff for which this aircraft was not exactly optimized.
    Holy Mackerel!
    In a simulated attack on a hill-top radar installation, we went up the hill at tree-top level, clicking off 450 knots, then rolled inverted perhaps 100 feet over the target. Sure got my attention.
    On the way back I got a demonstration of the turning ability based on those stubby little wings. We could not stay in the Rhine Valley.
    At other times in a longish career I was lucky enough to ride in the old CF-101 Voodoo, the Tutor (as flown by the Snowbirds), the old T-33 Silver Star, and a couple of times in the CF-18. But the trip that sticks in memory was in the 104.

  4. During the late ’70s and early 80s I enjoyed the airshows around Idaho Falls (KIDA) when the Red Barron Air Racing team were flying their RB104 around the area testing it before their speed record runs for low altitude. Loved the show of the 104 taking off with the RB-51 and a P-51 following as chase planes for its many touch and goes. My home was very near the end of RWY 20 (in those days). What a sight and sound of the 104 and then the 51’s. It made my heart sing.

  5. The F-104 has been given various nicknames, but no F-104 pilot would call it the widowmaker; in fact most consider the term disrespectful. The airplane was in most respects wonderful. As with most airplanes, it had its limitations and most of the time was very forgiving. However the mission and the environment in which it was flown were not so forgiving. Any airplane flown in the same mission in the same environment would have similar losses.