By the early 1990s, N104JR had been transferred to the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, flying demonstrations before being sold again, to Fuel Fresh Inc., in 1996. The plane made the move to the fighter jet mecca of Mesa, Arizona, where it remains to this day, now registered as just N104.
Despite its technical credentials, the practicalities of actually flying a potent jet like this are not straightforward. However, N104 currently enjoys FAA registration in the Experimental Exhibition category, meaning it can be operated in the United States under an ‘on condition’ maintenance regime. Essentially, this means parts only have to be replaced when they are deemed no longer airworthy, instead of at predetermined intervals of operation. That is a major bonus for a vintage machine like this and, as Platinum Fighter Sales, points out, this kind of permission “is impossible to obtain today.”
An F-104 could hardly be further removed from a general aviation runaround and even compared to a World War II fighter, its maintenance and fuel demands are extravagant. That helps explain why this particular example has only been in the air for around 200 hours in the last 22 years. Based on today’s fuel prices, it costs roughly just over $4,000 to filler her up, and that’s without drop tanks. That entire fuel quantity can be burned by its J79 engine at full power in a matter of minutes.
However, if you can afford to run the jet on a regular basis, Fuel Fresh Inc. will supply a comprehensive spares package that includes all you need for some pretty extensive use, including “approximately 150 main gear tires” and “a couple dozen nose gear tires.” You’ll also get spare drag chutes, various control surfaces, canopy and windscreen glass, brakes, tip tanks, and even valves for the boundary layer control system.
Clearly, operating a plane in the class of the Starfighter is not for the faint-hearted — or those without deep pockets. Here’s hoping that the jet finds a new home soon and that we might get to see its iconic shape back in the air again before too long.
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