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ROCAF F-104 Retirement

Line-up of F-104 at the ceremony.

After serving with the ROCAF for thirty-eight years, the F-104 was officially withdrawn from service in the decommissioning ceremony held at Ching Chuang Kang (CCK) Air Base (AB) on May 22, 1998. The base is home to the 8th TFS, the first ROCAF squadron to operate the F-104. Now equipped with the F-CK-1 Ching Kuo (a.k.a. IDF), the 8th TFS took delivery of its first F-104s (A and B models) on May 17, 1960. It was for this reason that the ceremony was held at CCK, rather than Hsinchu AB, where the last operational F-104s had been based.

The ROCAF's F-104 program was run under the code name "Alishan" (Mountain Ali), from Alishan 1 to Alishan 11. According to the news release, the ROCAF had acquired 247 F-104s through the Alishan Program. These F-104s were mostly second-handed, their sources including USA, Canada, Germany, Japan, Denmark, and Belgium. The versions ranged from F-104A, B, D, G, J, DJ, RF-104G, to TF-104G. Some of these aircraft obtained were not even flyable and were cannibalized for spare parts only. In its heyday, the F-104 equipped the 7th, 8th, 28th TFS of the 427th TFW at CCK AB, the 41st, 42nd, 48th TFS of the 499th TFW at Hsinchu AB, and the 12th TRS at Taoyuan AB.

The climax of ROCAF F-104's service came on January 13, 1967, when Maj Shih-Lin Hu and Capt Bei-Puo Shih each shot down one People's Liberation Army Air Force MiG-19. This marked the first F-104 combat victory in the world. However, the F-104's service history with the ROCAF was marred by its highly publicized and sometimes exaggerated accident record, although in reality, ROCAF F-104's crash rate is probably no worse than those of the F-100 and the F-86, whose crashes were less known to the public due to tighter media control at the time when they were flying. Indeed, as F-104s aged, they became more and more difficult to maintain and most F-104s had been gradually removed from service in recent years. First gone were F-104s of the 427th TFW, which started to convert to F-CK-1s in 1993. Then, in May 1997, the 499th TFW at Hsinchu AB started to replace its Starfighters with Mirage 2000-5s for the interceptor role. Before F-104s' retirement, the 12th TRS was the sole F-104 operator, and the unit was relocated from Taoyuan AB to Hsinchu AB. The last two operational ROCAF Starfighters, TF-104G 4186 and 4196, departed Hsinchu for CCK on May 8 for the ceremony.

F-104A 4253 F-104A 4253 TF-104G 4147
TF-104G 4147
F-104G 4378
F-104G 4378

As the ROCAF is more conservative compared with other air forces in the free world, those lavish overall special paint schemes seen at special occasions in foreign countries were a rarity in Taiwan and the F-104 retirement ceremony is no exception. Nonetheless, seven F-104s were painted with fin markings corresponding to the seven former Starfighter squadrons to mark this event. The first F-104G of the ROCAF, 4301 (62-12250), featured the "Wolf" squadron badge of the 7th TFS. F-104A 4253 (56-0833) came out of the "Alishan 6" project and sported the "Flying Dragon" marking of the 8th TFS. Although now with its engine stripped, 4253 used to be equipped with the J79-GE-19, the most powerful engine ever used by the F-104A. TF-104G 4147 (61-12236), which had accumulated 6000 flying hours before it retired, was painted with the "Baby Dragon" badge of the 28th TFS on its fin. However, its serial number was wrong and should be 61-03030. The three aircraft just mentioned were gate guards of CCK AB. So it is likely that 4147 got the wrong serial number when it was refurbished for this event. Joining the display during the ceremony (see below), TF-104G 4186 (63-08458) retained its "Peeping Yellow Lion" of the 12 TRS and had the distinction of being one of the two last flying ROCAF Starfighters. F-104G 4378 is another "problematic" aircraft because its serial number should be 63-13260, rather than 65-13260 shown. Its fin was painted with the 41st TFS marking for this occasion, although it was converted to RF-104G after its had been delivered to the ROCAF and served with the 12th TRS. TF-104G 4193 (63-08467) wore the "Eagle" badge of the 48th TFS. Also converted to RF-104G, F-104G 4400 (67-22517) was applied with the "Snake and Maple Leaves" marking of the 42nd TFS.

TF-104G 4193 TF-104G 4193 RF-104G 4400
RF-104G 4400
Then ROCAF CinC, Gen Hsien-Jung Huang, and the veterans
Then ROCAF CinC, Gen Hsien-Jung Huang, and the veterans

The retirement ceremony was presided by the ROCAF Command-in-Chief, Gen Hsien-Jung Huang. At the beginning of the ceremony, a four-ship formation consisting of one F-CK-1B, one RF-5E, one F-16B, and one Mirage 2000-5Di, made a low-level flypast salute. But for safety concerns, none of the F-104s performed aerial demonstrations. The highlight of the show was provided by TF-104G 4186, with the 499th TFW Commander Maj Gen Kuang-Yueh Geh in the back seat, which fired up its J79 engine for the last time and slowly taxied to the apron where the ceremony was held. Maj Gen Geh then presented an F-104 model to the ROCAF CinC, signifying that ROCAF Starfighters have finally come into history after accumulating 380,000 flying hours in total. After the ceremony, the ROCAF hosted a reception in a hanger, where F-104G 4371 (63-13249) was displayed.

TF-104G 4186 taxied to its final destination TF-104G 4186 taxied to its final destination

Four "second-generation" fighters, including F-CK-1A 1448 (85-8069), RF-5E 5503 (73-0087), F-16A 6613 (93-0714), and Mirage 2000-5Ei 2024, were on display surrounding the seven F-104s to symbolize that the F-104 had passed the torch to them. The F-16 from the 455th TFW at Chiayi AB and the Mirage from the 499th TFW obviously drew more attention from the spectators because they had received more publicity from the news media recently. Interestingly, none of the two aircraft displayed any unit markings. The F-CK-1A was from the local 7th TFS. It had a low-viz "Wolf" squadron badge on the nose section and a full-color 3rd TFG emblem on the tail fin. In addition to the AIM-9P-4 missiles on both wingtips, it also carried a live TC-2 active radar-homing medium-range AAM in a semi-submerged style under the fuselage. RF-5E 5503 was assigned to the 12th TRS and was formerly F-5E 5317. It is one of the seven (eight?) low-hour F-5Es sent to Singapore Technologies Aerospace for conversion as RF-5Es to replace the RF-104G. Its nose houses one KA-95, one KA-87, one RS-710, and one Type 900 cameras. To accommodate these cameras, the nose section was extended by 8 in (20.3 cm) and one M 39 cannon was deleted. The ROCAF began to take delivery of its RF-5Es in the summer of 1997.

Parked on the ramp not far away but not as part of the static display, were C-130H 1304 and 1313, Beech 1900 1908 and 1909, S-70C 7004 and 7009, and Fokker 50 5001 to 5003. These aircraft were used to transport high-ranking officers and VIPs to CCK for this occasion. Among them, Fokker 50 5001 displayed a four-star plaque by its door, indicating that it carried the ROCAF CinC. It is worth noting that the three Fokkers represent the whole Fokker 50 fleet in the ROCAF.

 Last update: 08/24/05 TaiwanAirPower > History > Top