On October 10th and 11th, pilots from Starfighters Aerospace performed a series of training flights with a pair of their Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, launching from their base at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. On this occasion, both former Italian Air Force TF-104s took the skies together, performing a series of spectacular two-ship formation passes. Matt Haskell and Crew Chief, Sean Freitag shared some marvelous images and video clips with us.
Remarking on the recent flights, company principal, Rick Svetkoff, told us: “It was exciting to have both airplanes in the sky together. The last time we flew a two-ship formation was in 2011!”
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 ranging from basic research to systems evaluation and beyond. The company serves both the public and private sectors and has generated enough success with its efforts to justify expanding its fleet of Starfighters to include nine airframes.
A former US Navy pilot who flew the A-4 Skyhawk during his time in the service, Rick Svetkoff is the President and CEO of Starfighters Aerospace. After leaving the Navy, he served as a Captain at Continental Airlines, where he flew the Boeing 727, 757, 767 and the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80. Shortly after starting with Continental, Svetkoff purchased an F-104 and began flying it at air shows. He then acquired a small fleet of these fighters to form the three-ship Starfighters Demonstration Team. Ultimately, he envisioned this F-104 fleet as the core asset of a small, fast reacting aerospace company for a wide range of missions. Moving beyond air show operations, NASA invited Svetkoff to establish Kennedy Space Center as the base of operations for his Starfighter fleet to support the center’s growth as a commercial spaceport.
“We are ramping up the training in anticipation of a lot of future flight operations,” noted Svetkoff in a recent conversation. “We are excited about what’s ahead for our company. By the end of the year, our “S” model will be operational and the other “TF” should be flying early in 2023,” he continued. The company is also working on an F-104S-ASA/M, the ultimate variant of the breed, which should be ready to fly sometime in 2023.
In light of these recent flights, our very own Moreno Aguiari took the opportunity to catch up with Piercarlo Ciacchi, chief pilot for Starfighters Aerospace. Ciacchi noted, “Every time I get to fly again in the Starfighter is an immense pleasure – I am a lucky guy! This year we flew quite a bit. We have several exciting projects ahead, and I certainly look forward of flying the mighty Starfighter even more!”
As we have mentioned in a previous article, 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 2018 authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration that 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. For more information about the company, visit www.starfighters.net