25 May 2007

Book review of Anthony L. Stachiw and Andrew Tattersall's CF104 Starfighter (In Canadian Service: Aircraft #4)

In this, my third review of a recent Vanwell Publishing Limited release, the subject matter and book format are a little different than in my first two reviews. This time around, the book is Anthony L. Stachiw and Andrew Tattersall's CF104 Starfighter (In Canadian Service: Aircraft #4) (Vanwell, 2007).

From the very beginning of this 150-page, extremely well-illustrated book, it is clear that this project was a labour of love for the author, Anthony Stachiw, as well as the illustrator, Andrew Tattersall. Stachiw in an aviation industry veteran and former commercial pilot whose has had an active interest in military and civil aviation his entire life. Tattersall is a technical designer, also with a lifelong interest in aviation. The amazing colour aircraft profile drawings were created by freelance artist Stephen Otvos.

This book is a reference tool, with a substantial amount of historical context thrown in to round out the story of the CF104. It covers, to my mind, every conceivable aspect of the history, design, general operational use and technical details of the aircraft - everything from paint schemes to the original "downward firing ejector seat system" of the American-built F-104s.

The first chapter deals with the American background, specifically the design, production and use of the Lockheed F-104 from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. The numerous variants and changes in operational usage and status are clearly set within the context of what could only be described as a troubled and perhaps disappointing career in the United States Air Force. Nevertheless, Stachiw is able to justify that the nearly 2,600 Starfighters produced made it "one of the most important Western postwar military aircraft" (p.22).

The CF104 Starfighter is introduced in the second chapter as part of the overall ability of the Americans to expand the production of the F-104 to allied markets. By the late 1950s the Canadian government was forced to look for a replacement aircraft for the F-86 Sabres and CF100 Canucks serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons on North Atlantic Treaty Organization duties in western Europe. Stachiw's coverage of the type of aircraft produced in Canada, the impact on the Canadian aviation industry, testing, training of pilots, deployment and operations in Europe until the 1980s make this a very interesting discussion. He also discusses the aircraft's perhaps unenviable safety record (the "Widowmaker" moniker), given that more than 100 Starfighters were in major accidents in the air and on the ground, with nearly forty fatalities suffered. Finally, he provides serial number, acquisition and "destiny" data on the overall CF104 fleet.

The third chapter, titled "Aircraft Description and Drawings", is, not surprisingly, where the book gets really technically-minded. This portion provides great detail on the specifications of CF104s, combining data, images and drawings.

The fourth chapter takes the structural or organizational look, and provides brief lineages and operational histories on the divisions, wings, squadrons, training units, and establishments involved in operational flying, training of pilots, or testing the CF104 during its time in the Royal Canadian Air Force / Air Command. This chapter also provides illustrations of the badges of these units and formations, some of them rarely seen outside of unpublished documentation.

A different sort of technical matter is the subject of the fifth chapter, specifically colour schemes and markings for the CF104. Likely of particular interest to the aircraft modeller, this information is also well placed in the context of the CF104's operations within the Canadian military. Of special note is the explanation of some of the unique or eccentric paint schemes ("Tiger", "Checkerboard", etc.) used on the aircraft at various times.

The sixth chapter deals with the armament and weapons configurations used for the CF104 while in Canadian service. This information and historical context leads directly into the seventh, and final, chapter, dealing briefly with the CF104 in the context of aircraft modelling.

All in all, this is a very interesting and extremely detailed examination of the CF104 Starfighter. It would seem that this type of book is intended primarily either for the aircraft modeller or the specific aircraft buff, but it certainly does not fail to uphold the historical side of the aircraft's career as well. In a format where historical context could easily slip beneath the wings of technical detail, Stachiw and Tattersall deliver a very useful story of this part of Canada's material heritage.

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