CF-104 Starfighter

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CF104 Starfighter at home in the Silver Dart Gallery

The following text is quoted from David L. Bashow’s book Starfighter by Fortress Publications Copyright 1990. The quote describes how ACAM came to acquire its CF-104 (104783). Most of the quote was originally written by Museum member John Christie. Since this article was written for the book, several other Museums have also acquired CF-104s. As a note of interest, Bashow’s book is an excellent read and has been really enjoyed by many of the Museum’s members.

The Atlantic Aviation Museum (ACAM) in Halifax is dedicated to the preservation of Canada’s aviation heritage, and they are very proud of the Starfighter they have on display. John Christie, Vice President of the Museum, explains how the museum came to acquire ‘783…

At present, the only genuine Canadair CF-104 on display in any Canadian Museum is 104783.[This aircraft is believed to be the only CF-104 built East of Hamilton Ontario] A 417 Squadron bird, she spent her entire career at Cold Lake. The acquisition of this aircraft goes back to a visit which our recovery chairman (Mike Whitehead) and I made to CFB Mountainveiw in the spring of 1987. Among the aircraft stored there were a number of single and dual ‘104s – some in warpaint, others in natural metal. All were in various stages of disassembly, but two stood out – 104646 and 104783. They were potential museum material. Most of these aircraft were assigned to the Aircraft Battle Damage Repair (ABDR) program, but reflecting on the sad remnants of 104701 (the first Canadair built Starfighter) when it was scrapped out, I resolved to try and save one of these unique machines.

It was a lengthy process to convince the various powers that be that ACAM should have a ‘104. Many¬† letters, phone calls, and meetings – and not a little scheming- paid off when staff from the Hon. Paul Dick’s office called to say we could have one on the condition that ACAM assumed all preparation and costs. The deal was struck, shortly afterwards 104783 was selected

In April 1988, thanks to the generous support of Brigadier General Colin Curleigh, I was flown to Mountainview in a VU-32 T-33 to inspect ‘783 and to commence the planning of her delivery to Halifax. My pilot was Craig Furlong, appropriately a ‘104 driver earlier in his career. Craig’s reaction was similar to many other ‘104 people who have since visited ‘783. He quietly walked around her, inspecting closely here and there, behaving like someone meeting an old and respected friend again. My reaction was more euphoric, coloured by the stark realization that, while small as fighters go, ‘783 was still a lot of aircraft. We took our time noting dimensions, general condition, and what was missing. At that time she was without wings, engine, radome, seat, several instruments and control boxes, but otherwise in excellent shape, and obviously the pick of the litter! I was shown some of the missing parts and assured that everyone would do their best to make her as complete as possible.

Back home again, the delivery planning began in earnest. Eventually it was agreed that the best method was by flatbed, the aircraft on its landing gear, engine installed. Everything else could be trucked around it. Negotiations with Canadair  had resulted in a commitment to underwrite delivery costs. They were as excited as ourselves to be involved in the recovery of this part of their heritage.

CF-104 Restoration

By June 1989, everything was ready. The trip to the museum took three full days. The driver ex-air force himself, took his time to minimize wear and tear. He was periodically called on his C.B. by people inquiring about the nature of his load. His response became “I’ve quite the Air Force, and I’m taking me plane with me!”

Late in the afternoon of the third day, the Owen-Davis Trucking vehicle pulled onto the apron at IMP Aerospace, and what a sight! The last few miles were in a light rain, and ‘783 was gleaming. She had suffered nary a scratch in transit. Offloading the next day was media event. Not wanting to damage her, the ACAM crew exercised great care. Once we figured out how the specialized slings worked, the aircraft was quickly on terra firma again.

Now began the initial reassembly process. ‘783 was the ultimate model kit. The AMDU / Field Aviation people had done a tremendous job, carefully packing parts and associated bolts and washers into specific sets. Study of the CFTOs and the neat packing made assembly both simple and self-evident. Nevertheless, reassembly went much smoother thanks to the assistance of some IMP employees who hd worked on ‘104s during their service time.

Two weeks later, essentially complete except for wings, ‘783 made the quarter mile tow to the museum. Shortly afterwards, AMDU sent down a quantity of missing parts which were duly installed. Litton System found an LN-3INS, CFB Summerside send over a pair of rocket pods, and the folks in Trenton rounded up a dozen CRV-7s. As she now sits, ‘783 looks ready for action.

In October 1989, the Museum hosted a turnover party to celebrate the ‘104s arrival, and to honor the people associated with her. A crowd of 150, including representatives of government, business, military and ex-104 people, enjoyed the customary speeches and presentations. Highlighted by the “flying” arrival of ‘783, piloted by LCol. Hank Morris dressed in 421 garb and ‘104 spurs, the event was a great success. Many of the ‘104 people gave press interviews and acted as “tour” guides for those less familiar with the aircraft. Cadets present enjoyed sitting in ‘783 and having her secrets revealed by men who had flown her.

Acquisition of ‘783 had been a long and taxing process. However, as I watch the ex-‘104 people’s delight and quietly emotional reaction, I know it has all been worth it. Where else could Cecil Hume place his young son in the cockpit of a ‘104 he had flown, or Eric Thurston carry out a last pre-flight walk around? Ralph Annis sat in the cockpit for a long time and never said a word – he just looked around, touching a switch here and a control there – remembering.

That is now ‘783’s purpose – to educate the young, wow others with her sleek lines and stubby wings, dispel myths, highlight the achievements of the CF-104s and those associated with them. But perhaps best of all, ‘783 enables the Hank Morris’, Fred Beliveaus, and Dave Trasks, if only for a moment, to touch their pasts.

Visit our Aviation Blog for more on the history of this aircraft

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