Jet Black Starfighter in the Air Again!

Photo by Matt Haskell via Starfighters Aerospace

With a veritable squadron of supersonic Lockheed F-104s in their hangar, Starfighters Aerospace is a serious business which offers its unique aircraft as a platform for a variety of aerospace flight testing services varying from basic research to systems evaluation and beyond. The company serves both the public and private sectors, and has generated enough success with their efforts to justify expanding their fleet of Starfighters to include nine airframes.

Photo by Matt Haskell via Starfighters Aerospace

On January 26th and 27th, the company performed a routine post-maintenance flight with one of their two-seater Starfighters, former Italian Air Force TF-104G MM54258. Starfighters Aerospace’s founder, Rick “Boss” Svetkoff, made the first flight, while Director of Flight Operations and former Italian Air Force Starfighter pilot, Piercarlo “Capone” Ciacchi, made his sortie on the following day. Their organization’s most recently flown Starfighter sports a dramatic, jet black livery, and she looks fantastic in operation, as you will see from the accompanying images…

Photo by Matt Haskell via Starfighters Aerospace

Florida-based Starfighters Aerospace, the world’s only commercial F-104 operator, re-painted TF-104G MM54258 (construction number 583H-5209, model 583-10-20) in 2016, as we reported HERE. The fighter wears the logo for KANON Loading Equipment, one of the company’s sponsors, on its tail. While this particular aircraft has not flown in some time prior to the most recent flights, Ciacchi noted that the old thoroughbred performed flawlessly, stating: “I was extremely surprised how well the airplane performed after quite some time on time ground. She was very reactive, precise in its controls and still incredibly fast. The Starfighter still is an amazing airplane after so many years!” 

Crew Chief Sean Freitag helping Rick Svetkoff and Piercarlo Ciacchi getting ready for their flight.Photo by Matt Haskell via Starfighters Aerospace

The Italians flew many examples of the Starfighter, building the type under license domestically until 1979! TF-104G MM54258 first entered service with the Italian Air Force on January 22nd, 1970, and she served for several decades before Italy retired their frontline F-104s in 2004. A handful of others lingered on in flight test roles for another year. Interestingly, Piercarlo Ciacchi flew MM54258 during his service days with 4° Stormo (4th Wing), the unit primarily responsible for training all Italian Air Force Starfighter pilots. Ciacchi flew numerous jet fighter types with the Italian Air Force, including the Lockheed F104S-ASAM (about 600hrs), General Dynamics F-16ADF, and Aermacchi MB-339A/PAN. He also served as the Training Supervisor and Aerobatic Instructor with the famed Frecce Tricolori, the Italian National Aerobatic Team, where he flew all right-side positions in the 10 aircraft formation for more than seven years.

Adding to Ciacchi’s comments about MM54258 flying again, Rick Svetloff said, “We are extremely happy with how the airplane performed. At the moment, we operate four airworthy airplanes, out of a planned-for seven. We plan to continue with the Functional Check Flight (CFC) program all this week and the following.”

Here is a photo of the “Black Starfighter” when the aircraft was serving with 4° Stormo at Grosseto Air Base. (Photo by Aldo Bidini)
Since 1995 the Italian Air Force Starfighters sported a uniform light gray livery. This image shows MM54258 at Grosseto Air Base in 2002. (Photo by Daniele Mattiuzzo)
Between December 1990 and August 1991, MM54258 received a special paint scheme to celebrate the 75,000 flight hours of 20°Gruppo (20th Group) on the Starfighter. Photo by Daniele Mattiuzzo.

As we have noted before, licensed pilots with both the means and the urge to fulfill a test pilot’s dream now have direct access to flight training in the magnificent Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. This follows Starfighters Aerospace’s FAA authorization which opens the skies above NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for pilot training in the legendary supersonic aircraft. An FAA Letter of Deviation Authority, or LODA, allows licensed pilots to receive type-specific training in the same ‘right-stuff’ jets that NASA has used for decades to prepare their astronauts for spaceflight and to conduct aeronautical research.

Licensed pilots interested in reserving F-104 flight training can apply by visiting Starfighters Aerospace at www.starfighterstore.com.

Aircorps Art Dec 2019