Roughly a dozen Lockheed F-104 Starfighters have served with NASA, and the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, California is lucky enough to have one of them on loan for display. Their Starfighter is TF-104G 61-3064. She was one of several German two-seaters in US markings which were based at Luke AFB in Phoenix, Arizona to train Luftwaffe pilots on the type. In 1975, as the Luftwaffe began reducing their Starfighter fleet, three of their Luke-based TF-104Gs transferred to NASA, with 61-3064 being amongst them. NASA operated about a dozen Starfighters over the years, with the ex-Luftwaffe TF-104Gs being the last to join. They served many roles from research flights to high performance proficiency training. They also performed as camera ships and chase planes, flying alongside other NASA aircraft on test flights. 61-3064 was based with NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountainview, California. Here, the legendary Chuck Yeager reportedly flew her on occasion as a contract pilot following his regular service career. This Starfighter had logged 1,127 flights by the time she retired in 1985. NASA loaned her to California Polytechnic College in 1995, and then to the Estrella Warbirds Museum in 2000.
In their own words… Estrella Warbirds Museum is a local, home grown, 501(c)(3) non-profit based on the idea of two guys with two aircraft wanting to start a military oriented aviation museum in Paso Robles, CA without government funding. The city offered to lease several acres of land to us on the municipal airport proper inexpensively as they also saw the potential. Since day one, we’ve been able to raise our operational and acquisition funds through membership fees, fund raising ‘adventures’ and some generous local benefactors. Nothing was ever constructed until all funds were raised. That’s held true for the past 25 years. All aircraft restoration has been done by an all-volunteer staff. It was only 5 years ago, we hired our first “employee.” Over the years, GSA qualified us for accepting static display aircraft on loan from multiple military organizations, but it has always been under the condition, the aircraft is never capable of flight and we are responsible for specific display requirements, all restoration and maintenance costs plus, at times, transport to the museum. A few acres grew to 13. A 3000 sf simple hangar (formerly an almond warehouse) which had been relocated to our site has transformed to about 60,000 sf of display building, restoration shops and hangars packed full of military aviation history. Ten years ago, we decided to have a car show as part of an open house following completion of a new 5000 sf building to house restored military vehicles. As president at the time, I had a really tough fight with some of our board members to allow any private vehicles to park anywhere close to our restored aircraft. It was one of the greatest photo-ops for any car show lover parked next to his favorite military flying machine! An overwhelming success. How would anyone think an free open house would generate any money for the museum? A year later we had our second Warbirds, Wings & Wheels. In my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be a recurring event, and have Parnelli Jones as special guest and be showing off the first 5,000 sf Woodland Auto Display building stocked with an incredible automotive display from a private collection. It’s been interesting to see how people with the need for speed love both fast cars and fast military planes! Just last month, the city of Paso Robles amended our initial lease to include an adjacent 10 acres as we have run out of space for future expansion. Somehow, we’ve managed to survive without any government funding, whether city, state or federal. Today it’s still a nearly all volunteer organization less than 5 paid critical staff positions. Somehow, it’s continued to be a growing organization. We didn’t know how to do it, so we did it right anyway.
Interestingly, NASA recently decided to dispose of some of their “on loan” inventory, and the Starfighter was one of these airframes. Excess NASA inventory is either sold to the loanee or put up for sale by the Government Services Administration (GSA). The GSA fee (to NASA) for covering the sale of an aircraft like the Starfighter is $5,000, so that is the amount Estrealla Warbirds Museum bid for the aircraft, and NASA accepted their offer. So now the Estrella Warbirds Museum has the chance to own their historic aircraft outright… and our readers can help them raise the funds to do so! As with most museums, the Estrella Warbirds Museum operates on a shoestring budget, but what they lack in funds, they make up for with the ardor or their many volunteers. We are sure that some of our readers will want to help them reach their achievable goal to secure the purchase and preservation of this important aircraft. As they say themselves… Every dollar donated adds up and as a 501(c)(3) all donations may be eligible for deduction on your federal and state income tax returns. Donations can be done via our Facebook page or go directly to our TF-104G page and click on the picture. (https://www.ewarbirds.org/aircraft/f104g.shtml).