Sometimes in life, it’s the little things that matter most. Of course, when it comes to modelling, the little things are all that matter.
In recent weeks, we were very excited to open a new shipment from Italeri and find a stunning 1:32 scale F-104 G/S Starfighter. The design of this supersonic interceptor is eye-catching enough on its own. The needle-thin fuselage and trapezoidal wings make it look like someone mounted a cockpit atop a mid-century rocket destined for the moon. The craft’s very name only reinforces its undeniable retro-sci-fi flare. There is no question that the Starfighter was born during the hottest years of the Cold War and Space Race. But, for us, it’s one of the little things that has us most excited.
The seemingly space-bound duo on the front of the box bear the Starfighter’s Italian colouring and roundels, which is only natural for a company headquartered in Bologna. Take a close look in the bottom corner, though, and you’ll see that the kit includes decals for a host of variants, from the Greek Polemikí Aeroporíta, the Belgian Air Force, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the German Marineflieger, and...wait for it...the Royal Canadian Air Force! This is the little thing that makes the kit special, transferring a unique history to what is already a striking model.
The F-104 Starfighter was a staple of NATO air forces for more than 40 years, so it stands to reason that Italeri’s kit would reflect the aircraft’s international service. It is pretty rare, however, to find Canadian insignia on any of the models we carry. For one thing, the companies that produce our kits aren’t Canadian. Revell is based in Illinois, Airfix is British, Tamiya is Japanese, Zveda is Russian, and Italeri (as I noted earlier) is Italian. For another thing, the bulk of Canada’s military vehicles are not, and have not been, manufactured at home. Our country simply lacks the wealth (and, at least in the past half century, the political necessity) to build our own hardware. So we tend to purchase from the U.S. and Europe, then modify our vehicles according to our particular defence mandates.
The RCAF’s Starfighter, the Canadair CF-104, was a bit of a different beast. In service from 1962 until 1987, the CF-104 was in fact manufactured on Canadian soil by Montreal-based Canadair under licence from Lockheed. The Canadian government chose the Starfighter in July 1959—only a few months after the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project—in order to fulfill a new role with NATO, which included participation in nuclear deterrence. Throughout the 1960s, the RCAF used the CF-104 for low-level strike and reconnaissance, and stationed several throughout Europe as part of Canada’s NATO agreement. Until 1971, the Starfighter’s role included the ability to carry nuclear weapons, supplied by the U.S., in case of open war with Warsaw-Pact nations. When the Trudeau government redefined Canada’s foreign policy in 1970 to take on a less aggressive role as a “helpful fixer,” it followed up in 1971 with a White Paper on Defence that drastically reduced military spending and outlined the withdrawal of most of Canada’s nuclear weapons systems. The Starfighter was then refitted for conventional ground attack. View a comprehensive history of the CF-104 by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Despite nearly twenty-five years of active service, the CF-104 had a rather troubled flight record, with over one-hundred aircraft lost to accidents, which claimed the lives of 37 aircrew. Nevertheless, the Starfighter remains an icon of Cold-War military strategy. Moreover, Canada’s own CF-104 symbolizes our country’s history of commitment to international security and peacekeeping—so much so that there is one prominently displayed on the grounds at CFB Borden, the largest training facility for the Canadian Forces and the birthplace of the RCAF. You can also find examples of the Starfighter on display at several museums across the country, including the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, and the Warplane Heritage Museum in our own backyard in Hamilton.
So back to little things. If there is a reason that something so small, like the simple inclusion of a RCAF decal set on a model kit, can catch the attention of the staff at Hobby and Toy, it is because, in this case at least, it invites us to pay attention to something remarkable about Canada’s history and heritage.