23 October 1987

The last Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was withdrawn from the active service in Luftwaffe (West German Air Force)

The Jagdbombergeschwader 34 ´Allgäu´, based at Memmingen in Bayern, was the last Luftwaffe combat squadron to withdraw the F-104 Starfighter jets and switch to the new Panavia Tornado fighter-bomber. The end of Starfighter-era was officially marked on 23rd October 1987, during the fly-out event – at the same time, the fly-in of the first Tornado was celebrated.

JaboG 34 operated F-104s from July 1964. Since that time, the squadron Starfighters clocked 242,785 flight hours, being two times awarded the Prince Heinrich Prize for outstanding performance: in 1982 and 1983. Also in 1982, the unit took over the tradition of former Jagdgeschwader 54 ´Grünherz´ – the commander of the first flight was entitled to use the ´Green Heart´ coat of arms. In 1972, JaboG 34 received also the Aviation Safety Award for accident-free flying operations in 1971, an exceptional award for the squadron flying the infamous ´Widow Maker´.

After the withdrawal of Starfighters from the combat units, Wehrtechnische Dienststelle 61 (Technical and Airworthiness Centre) in Manching and Luftwaffenversorgungsregiment 1 (Air Force Supply Regiment) in Erding were the only Luftwaffe units still operating some F-104s. The LVR 1 decommissioned their Starfighters within a year, in September 1988, while WTD 61 still was flying them until 1991. And it was exactly the Wehrtechnische Dienststelle 61 that celebrated the last operational flight of F-104 Starfighter in the German Air Force, when the ´98+04´ aircraft took-off for its final mission on 22nd May 1991.

The first F-104 Starfighters for Luftwaffe were delivered in 1960. The purchase of Starfighters was done under a cloud of bribery scandal (the so-called ´Deal of the Century´), but the charge was not proven. Modernized from the initial interceptor role, the Starfighters were offered for Luftwaffe as a multi-role combat aircraft. Shortly, the German Air Force became one of the primary Starfighter operators, receiving 916 aircraft in total – more than 35% of all F-104s built.

And it was Germany where the F-104 got its bad reputation and launched ´the Starfighter crisis´ in 1966, due to disastrous operational record – 292 of German Starfighters were lost in accidents, killing 116 pilots (32% of the F-104 fleet). Only in 1965, 27 German F-104s crashed and caused 17 casualties.

The F-104 quickly came to be nicknamed ´Witwenmacher´ (widow-maker) or ´Fallfighter´ and the morbid joke circulated the country, that if you wait long enough at any random place in Germany, once the Starfighter would crash there. Although the German accident rate seems incredible, it wasn´t the highest one ever – it was exceeded by Italy, Belgium and Canada.

The reasons behind such high accident rate are still a subject of many discussions, however the main reason could be caused in changing the initial good-weather interceptor role into the multi-role aircraft – used for ground-attack missions and low-level flying in different weather conditions.

Today, many F-104s could be found preserved in German aviation museums and air bases. One of the best-preserved ones can be found at Luftfahrtmuseum Wernigerode, where this photo of F-104G ´22+45´ was taken in 2018.