CF-104 Starfighter
An RCAF CF-104 in flight
Role Interceptor aircraft, Fighter-bomber
Manufacturer Canadair
Design group Lockheed Corporation
First flight 26 May 1961
Introduction March 1962
Retired 1995 (Turkish Air Force)[1]
Status Retired
Primary users Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Danish Air Force
Royal Norwegian Air Force
Turkish Air Force
Number built 200
Developed from Lockheed F-104 Starfighter

The Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (CF-111, CL-90) is a modified version of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter supersonic fighter aircraft built in Canada by Canadair under licence. It was primarily used as a ground attack aircraft, despite being designed as an interceptor. It served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and later the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) until it was replaced by the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet in 1987.

Design and development

In the late 1950s, Canada redefined its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with a commitment to a nuclear strike mission.[2][3] At the same time, the RCAF began to consider a replacement for the Canadair F-86 Sabre series that had been utilized as a NATO day fighter.[4] An international fighter competition involved current types in service as well as development, including the Blackburn Buccaneer, Dassault Mirage IIIC, Fiat G.91, Grumman Super Tiger, Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, Northrop N-156 and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.[4] Although the RCAF had preferred the F-105 Thunderchief equipped with an Avro Canada Orenda Iroquois engine, eventually the choice for a strike-reconnaissance aircraft revolved around cost as well as capability.[5] [N 1]

A Canadian government requirement for an aircraft that could be manufactured in Canada under licence also favoured the Lockheed proposal, due to a collaboration with Canadair based in Montreal. On 14 August 1959, Canadair was selected to manufacture 200 aircraft for the RCAF under licence from Lockheed. In addition, Canadair was contracted to manufacture wingsets, tail assemblies and rear fuselage sections for 66 Lockheed-built F-104Gs destined for the West German Air Force.[6][N 2]

Canadair's internal designation was CL-90 while the RCAF's version was initially designated CF-111, then changed to CF-104. Although basically similar to the F-104G, the CF-104 was optimized for the nuclear strike/reconnaissance role, fitted with R-24A NASARR equipment dedicated to the air-to-ground mode only as well as having provision for a ventral reconnaissance pod equipped with four Vinten cameras. Other differences included retaining the removable refuelling probe, initial deletion of the fuselage-mounted 20 mm (.79 in) M61A1 cannon (replaced by an additional fuel cell) and the main undercarriage members being fitted with longer-stroke liquid springs and larger tires. The first flight of a Canadian-built CF-104 (s/n 12701) occurred on 26 May 1961.[8] The Canadair CF-104 production was 200 aircraft with an additional 140 F-104Gs produced for Lockheed.[7]

Operational history

A 417 Sqn CF-104 at CFB Moose Jaw in 1982

The CF-104 entered Canadian service in March 1962. Originally designed as a supersonic interceptor aircraft, it was used primarily for low-level strike and reconnaissance by the RCAF. Eight CF-104 squadrons were originally stationed in Europe as part of Canada's NATO commitment. This was reduced to six in 1967, with a further reduction to three squadrons in 1970.[9] Up to 1971, this included a nuclear strike role that would see Canadian aircraft armed with US-supplied nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with Warsaw Pact forces. During its service life the CF-104 carried the B28, B43 and B57 nuclear weapons.[10]

When the CAF later discontinued the strike/reconnaissance role for conventional attack, the M61A1 was refitted, along with U.S. Mk. 82 Snakeye "iron" bombs, British BL755 cluster bombs and Canadian-designed CRV-7 rocket pods. Although Canadian pilots practised air combat tactics, the AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles were never carried operationally by Canadian Starfighters (however, examples provided to other air forces, such as Norway and Denmark, did carry Sidewinders on a twin-rail centreline station and the wingtip rails). The CF-104D two-seater did not normally carry any armament except for a centreline practice-bomb dispenser.

There were 110 class A accidents in the 25 years that Canada operated the CF-104 resulting in 37 pilot fatalities. Most of these were in the early part of the program centring on teething problems. Of the 110 class A accidents, 21 were attributed to foreign object damage (14 of which were bird strikes), 14 were due to in-flight engine failures, six were as a result of faulty maintenance and nine involved mid-air collisions. Thirty-two aircraft struck the ground flying at low level in poor weather conditions. Of the 37 fatalities, four were clearly attributable to systems failures; all of the others were attributable to some form of pilot inattention.[11]

The accident rate of the CF-104 compares favourably to its predecessor, the F-86 Sabre. In only 12 years of operation the F-86 had 282 class A accidents with a loss of 112 pilots. The Sabre was also a simpler aircraft and was normally flown at higher altitude.[12]

A CF-104 wins the Silver Tiger Trophy at the 1977 Greenham Tiger meet. This exact aircraft crashed a year later due to a compressor stall.

The CF-104 was nicknamed the "Widowmaker" by the press but not by the pilots and crews of the aircraft. David Bashow states on page 92 of his book "I never heard a pilot call it the Widowmaker". Sam Firth is quoted on page 93 in Bashow's book "I have never heard a single person who flew, maintained, controlled, or guarded that aircraft of any force (and that includes the Luftwaffe) call it the Widowmaker". The pilots did refer to it, in jest, as the "Aluminium Death Tube", "The Lawn Dart" and "The Flying Phallus" but generally called it the 104 (one oh four) or the Starfighter.[11]

Low level attack runs in the CF-104 were done visually at 100 feet AGL and at speeds up to 600 km. Low level evasive maneuvers could increase speeds to supersonic.[13]

The aircraft was very difficult to attack owing to its small size, speed, and low altitude capability. Dave Jurkowski, former CF-104 and CF-18 pilot is quoted "Because of our speed, size and lower level operations, no Canadian Zipper driver was ever 'shot down' by either air or ground threats in the three Red Flag Exercises in which we participated."[14]

The CF-104 was very successful in operational exercises held by NATO. The Canadians first took part in the AFCENT Tactical Weapons meet in 1964 and did so every year after that. This meet was a competition between squadrons from Belgium, France, Germany, the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands. Scores were based on several factors. Bomb accuracy, time on target, navigation, mission planning and aircraft serviceability. Pilots were chosen at random from the various squadrons to accurately represent operational capabilities.[15]

AFCENT Tactical Weapons Meet (strike era)

AFCENT Tactical Weapons Meet (attack era)

biennial schedule.

Royal Flush

A competition for Recce squadrons. The Canadians first took part in 1966 and managed the following awards:[24]

Tiger Meet

A competition between NATO squadrons with cat mascots.[25]

In the late 1970s, the New Fighter Aircraft program was launched to find a suitable replacement for the CF-104, as well as the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo and the Canadair CF-5. The winner of the competition was the CF-18 Hornet, which began to replace the CF-104 in 1982. All of the CF-104s were retired from service by the Canadian Forces by 1987, with most of the remaining aircraft given to Turkey.


Main article: List of Lockheed F-104 Starfighter variants

Single-seat fighter-bomber version for the RCAF.
Two-seat training version for the RCAF.


Main article: List of F-104 Starfighter operators


Accidents and incidents

Aircraft on display

CF-104 displayed at CFB Borden
CF-104D Starfighter 104646 at the National Air Force Museum of Canada, CFB Trenton


CF-104 on display at the Air Force Museum of Alberta, located within The Military Museums, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.





Surviving aircraft


United States


Specifications (CF-104)

CF-104D in front of Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

General characteristics




See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists



  1. ^ The McDonnell F-4 was never considered although many sources have listed it as a contender and the RCAF's preferred choice.
  2. ^ Canadair eventually built a total of 600 wing, tail and fuselage sections.[7]


  1. ^ "Historical Listings: Turkey, (TUR) Archived 2013-11-05 at the Wayback Machine."] World Air Forces. Retrieved: 10 June 2011.
  2. ^ Canadian Wings (2012). "Canadair CF-104 Starfighter". Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  3. ^ Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (2014). "Lockheed CF-104D Starfighter". Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b Bashow 1990, p. 8.
  5. ^ McIntyre 1985, p. 6.
  6. ^ Baugher, Joe. "Canadair CF-104 Starfighter." American Military Aircraft, 6 October 2003. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
  7. ^ a b Pickler and Milberry 1990, p. 186.
  8. ^ Stachiw 2007, p. 30.
  9. ^ Greenhous and Halliday 1999, p. 152.
  10. ^ John Clearwater (1998). Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal. Dundurn Press. pp. 91–116. ISBN 1-55002-299-7. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b Bashow 1990, p. 92–93.
  12. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 96.
  13. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 119.
  14. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 138.
  15. ^ a b Bashow 1990, p. 47.
  16. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 33.
  17. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 37.
  18. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 38.
  19. ^ a b c d Bashow 1990, p. 52.
  20. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 58.
  21. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 78.
  22. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 79.
  23. ^ a b c Bashow 1990, p. 81.
  24. ^ Bashow 1990, p. 51.
  25. ^ a b c d "Nato Tiger Meets". Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  26. ^ Richardson, W. John and Tim West. "The Canadair CF-104." Archived 2015-05-09 at the Wayback Machine, 2010. Retrieved: 21 March 2011.
  27. ^ "Lockheed F-104A Starfighter." (Canada Aviation and Space Museum), 4 March 1954. Retrieved: 6 January 2013.
  28. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  29. ^ "Canadian Starfighter Museum". Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  30. ^ "Trails Starfighter Moves to Montreal". Aeoplane. June 2021. p. 8. ((cite magazine)): Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  31. ^ "CF-104 Starfighter - Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum".
  32. ^ "CF-104 "Starfighter" - Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec". Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  33. ^ National Air Force Museum of Canada. "Starfighter". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  34. ^ "VIDEO: Fastest aircraft to serve Canadian Forces on route to North Saanich - Vancouver Island Free Daily". 6 July 2023. Retrieved 6 July 2023.
  35. ^ "Canadair CF-104 Starfighter." (Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum). Retrieved: 6 January 2013.
  36. ^ "Preserved in Canada". International F-104 Society. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  37. ^ "Lockheed CF-104D Starfighter". Archived from the original on 10 January 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  38. ^ "Lockheed CF-104 Starfighter." The Canadian Museum of Flight via, 20 June 2008. Retrieved: 5 August 2013.
  39. ^ "Aviation". Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  40. ^ "CF-104 104785" Formerly the pedestal mount at CFB Baden-Soellingen.
  41. ^ "F-104G (CF-104G), gift of the Turkish Air Force." Retrieved: 17 February 2008.
  42. ^ a b "CF-104." (Norwegian language). Archived 2008-11-02 at the Wayback Machine Sola Museum. Retrieved: 22 October 2008.
  43. ^ a b c d e f Oppdrag utført - Norges luftmilitære kulturarv (Glenne, Roar. 2012)
  44. ^ NRK (28 September 2016). "Her flyr Eskil "The Widowmaker" for første gang på 33 år". Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  45. ^ "N-Number Inquiry Results Registration N104RB Serial number 104632." Federal Aviation Administration, Retrieved: 27 July 2021.
  46. ^ "N-Number Inquiry Results Registration N104RN Serial number 104759." Federal Aviation Administration, Retrieved: 27 July 2021.
  47. ^ "N-Number Inquiry Results Registration N104RD Serial number 104780." Federal Aviation Administration, Retrieved: 27 July 2021.


  • Bashow, David L. Starfighter: A Loving Retrospective of the CF-104 Era in Canadian Fighter Aviation, 1961-1986. Stoney Creek, Ontario: Fortress Publications Inc., 1990. ISBN 0-919195-12-1.
  • Francillon, R. J. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-370-30329-6.
  • Greenhous, Brereton and Hugh A. Halliday. Canada's Air Forces, 1914–1999. Montreal: Editions Art Global and the Department of National Defence, 1999. ISBN 978-2-92071-872-2.
  • McIntyre, Robert. CF-104 Starfighter (Canadian Profile: Aircraft No. 1). Ottawa, Ontario: Sabre Model Supplies Ltd., 1985. ISBN 0-920375-00-6.
  • Pickler, Ron and Larry Milberry. Canadair: The First 50 Years. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1995. ISBN 0-921022-07-7.
  • Stachiw, Anthony L. CF-104 Starfighter (Aircraft in Canadian Service). St. Catharine's, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2007. ISBN 1-55125-114-0.
Canadian Armed Forces post-1968 unified aircraft designations