F-104 Starfighter to Fly at Italian Air Force Centenary Airshow

Photo by Matt Haskell via Starfighters Aerospace

A rumor has been floating around Italian aviation enthusiast circles for quite some time, but now we can confirm it. At the 100th Aniversary Italian Air Force Airshow, on June 16 – 18, 2023, the mighty roar of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter will once again thunder across Italian skies as it once did for nearly half a century. Cape Canaveral-based Starfighters Aerospace will provide one of its four former Italian Air Force F-104s for the event!

Photo by Matt Haskell

In 2023, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) will celebrate its centenary with events and celebrations across Italy, recognizing the founding of the original Aeronautica Militare on March 28, 1923. As a result, this year will be a special one for Italian aviation enthusiasts. The Spillone, Italian for ‘Big Needle’, will fly again!

While the Starfighter is not of Italian design, the F-104 is perhaps the most popular aircraft which ever flew with the Italian Air Force. The Aeronautica Militare operated several hundred Starfighters; Aeritalia built the type (as the F-104S) under license domestically until 1979. The Starfighter was was a mainstay of the Italian Air Force from the late 1960s until the beginning of the 21st century! The F-104S was the final development of the Starfighter line, derived from Lockheed’s design studies for a “Super Starfighter”. The F-104S (upgraded to ASA/M standard) retired from Italian service in October 2004. The F-104S also served in the Turkish Air Force until the mid-1990s.

A ‘Spillone’ of 18 Gruppo/37 Stormo (Trapani, Sicilia) is arriving at Gilze Rijen for the Open Day in July 2002. This is F-104S-ASA-M MM6914.

This special event will be made possible by the cooperation between the Italian Air Force and Starfighters Aeropace, the company founded by former U.S. Navy and Continental Airlines pilot, Rick Svetkoff. The company maintains a fleet of Lockheed F-104 Starfighters from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and operates under authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration. The aircraft are available to government and commercial customers for a variety of missions.

Furthermore, Starfighters Space Inc. is the only commercial company in the world with fixed wing aircraft that can fly at sustained MACH 2 airspeeds and launch payloads into space. Starfighters Space is an established organization committed to participating in high-demand commercial space activities. Located at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Company operates a fleet of seven supersonic F-104 jet aircraft operationally configurable to act as the first-stage lifting vehicle to carry payloads up to 45,000 feet for air launch to space. Additional activities include support research, pilot training, space flight training, and advanced scientific efforts including hypersonic testing as part of air launch partner development programs. Starfighters Space is market-ready with minimal R&D effort and is working to position its capability to become the most cost-effective launch provider in the sector. For more information visit: https://starfightersspace.com/.

Starfighters Aerospace’s TF-104G-M N991SA with CNR’s prototype rocket mounted on a pylon under the left wing. This test evaluated the test article’s mechanical and aeronautical properties to ensure that it is suitable for launch from the F-104 platform. (image via Starfighters Aerospace)

As we have noted before, licensed pilots with both the means and the urge to fulfill a test pilot’s dream can 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.starfightersspace.com


  1. Fantastic effort! What an impressive feat to get them here in Europe. After having flown 2000 hrs in the F-104G in the Dutch Air Force I can’t wait to see this magnificent aircraft again and hear its absolutely unique howling sound. Please keep us posted!

    • Many thanks for writing in Dick… having seen and heard these beasts in person, I can imagine your enthusiasm for reliving, vicariously perhaps, your time at the helm of a Starfighter. We’d love to hear more about your experiences flying them with the Dutch Air Force should you wish to describe them.


  2. Yes, it’ll be great to see the 104 in flight again, but if those craft are equipped with a M1K, (GAF )engine, or the – 19 engine, the howling sound will be missed.

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