Starfighter returns to Italy after almost 20 years!


The Italian Air Force prepares for the celebrations of its first 100 years, with an exceptional guest for the Airshow in June in Pratica di Mare AFB: The Starfighter.

28 March 1923, in the then Kingdom of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III “By the Grace of God and by the will of the Nation: King of Italy” constituted the Regia Aeronautica, on 28 March 2023 Italy will begin the celebrations of the 100 years of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana/Italian Air Force (AMI).

In 2023, in Italy, AMI with its staff and with the famous Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori will celebrate its hundred years together with the Italians throughout the year with many events, airshows and exhibitions concerning the history of the prestigious Italian air force.

The key events of this year will be 28 March 2023, the day in which many Italian air bases will have Open Day and events to celebrate the anniversary, and from 16th to 18th June in which there will be an important airshow in Pratica di Mare organized and completely dedicated to AMI and its first 100 years.

Special Guest

In these first 100 years there have been many aircraft that have made up the AMI flight groups and patrols, but among these one in particular has remained in the memories of pilots and enthusiasts: the Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter or Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.


The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was born in the mid-1950s at the request of the USAF from the hand of the famous and appreciated American engineer Clarence “Kelly” Leonard Johnson, who at the time was head of the design group and who had been asked to design an aircraft capable to compete with Russian aircraft of the time in speed, climb angle and ceiling altitude, but that it was also light and simplified for the pilots.

The Starfighter (which in the prototype stage was called Lockheed L-246) flew for the first time in 1954 and for the following 50 years it crossed the skies of many world nations. Not easy to fly, it exalted the pilots’ skills, with a speed of over 2400kmh and a high rate of climb it broke many records.


For Italian Air Force, a version built in Italy by Aeritalia (an aerospace company that was absorbed by Alenia Aeronautica, the current Leonardo) derived from the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was precisely: the Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter, this model it was the last development of the F104. Aeritalia also supplied this model to Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force) which used them until the 1990s.

The F104, equipped with the famous General Electric J79 engine and recognizable by its unique hiss, flew in many world air forces as well as those of the USA, Italy and Turkey, in all its versions.

Starfighter Versions:
  • XF-104 prototype
  • YF-104A test and pre-series versions
  • QF-104A version converted into an experimental drone
  • F-104A first production version
  • F-104B two-seat dual-control trainer
  • F-104C fighter-bomber version for USAF Tactical Air Command
  • F-104D two-seat version of the F-104C with dual controls – F-104DJ same version for Japan
  • F-104F two-seat trainer for the Luftwaffe
  • F-104G main configuration, multi-role fighter-bomber
  • RF-104G reconnaissance version
  • TF-104G Two-seat trainer
  • F-104J version for Japan
  • NF-104A equipped with a Rocketdyne LR121/AR-2-NA-1 rocket engine used by NASA to train pilots
  • F-104S Version made by Aeritalia – F-104S/ASA (ASA: Weapon Systems Update)

There was also an F-104H version, designed for export with simplified equipment and optical sight but never built.

Starfighter Nicknames

During his long career of over 50 years, he has also acquired many nicknames, some also due to the particular shape of the aircraft. Among these we want to remember the most indicative ones, such as: “missile with a man inside”, “Zipper” or “Zip-104” for the high speed of which it was capable, “Eiko” (Gloria in Japanese), “Erdnagel ” or “Spillone” (Spin in italian) like the tent peg, Badmash (Hooligan); and finally of course because of the unique “howling” of the J79 also: Howling Howland (“Howland the howler”).

The Starfighter “howled” in Italy until 2004, when it was withdrawn from service and never flew with AMI over the Mediterranean peninsula again. In Italy it has accepted unique challenges such as against the Ferrari of Villeneuve or Schumacher and also against a Ducati 999, noble and legendary challenges for a unique aircraft of its kind.

The Comeback of Starfighter

After two decades, the day seems to have come when the “Spillone” will fly over the Italian skies again, and two aircraft will be present to celebrate the AMI in Pratica di Mare (Rome – IT).

In fact, on March 6th, 2023, Rick Svetkoff’s Starfighter Aerospace announced that it will cross the Atlantic to reach Italy with two of its Starfighters (which were Italian-built). Flying or via special transport from Cape Canaveral to Pratica di Mare we will thus see the “missile with a man inside” and its J79 flying over the italian skies. It’s not yet clear whether there will be participation in other events, but already hearing the howl for the 100th anniversary of AMI will still be a real pleasure for the many enthusiasts.

Starfighter Aerospace

Starfighter Aerospace with its 7 single and two-seat Starfighters uses its aircraft for research and experimentation (also in collaboration with space agencies such as NASA), for pilot training or for satellite launches. Former US Navy pilot, the President and CEO of Starfighters Space Rick Svetkoff, has at his side as Director of Flight Operations Piercarlo “Capone” Ciacchi, former Italian Air Force Pilot and former Frecce Tricolori Pilot from 2006 to 2012 (of which he is was also responsible for aerobatic training).

Among the F104s of Cape Canaveral, Florida (USA) Company there is also the TF-104 Starfighter N991SF “Black Beauty” an aircraft built by Fiat Aviazione in 1969 and acquired by Starfighters Space in 2011, in 2015 it acquired the matt black color and the sponsor logo “KANON” and at the end of January 2021 it had its “maiden flight” with Rick Svetkoff and Piercarlo Ciacchi at the controls. When the N991SF was still in force at AMI, it wore the livery of the 75,000 flight hours of the Spillone with the flight group to which it belonged.

Italian Air Force celebrates its first 100 years by remembering the personnel, the equipment and everything that has made its glorious history, with the participation of the Starfighter Aerospace with its two Italian-built aircraft (although based on an American project) you can admire the technology and professionalism of the Italian industry.

Appointment then on March 28th 2023 for the start of the celebrations and then from June 16th  to 18th 2023 for the Centenary Airshow at the Pratica di Mare air base near Rome.

From Zurich (CH): Daniele Maiolo

 Starfighters Aerospace Fleet

Current registration               Type                                      In service serial(s)

  • N990SF                                TF-104G                             AM MM54251
  • N991SF                                TF-104G                             AM MM54258
  • N992SF                                TF-104G                             AM MM54261
  • N993SF                                 F-104S ASA-M                 AM MM6734
  • N104RB                               CF-104D                             RNoAF 632, RCAF 104632
  • N104RD                               CF-104G                             RNoAF 850, RCAF 104850
  • N104RN                               CF-104G                             RNoAF 759, RCAF 104759

Starfighters Aerospace links and Docs:


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