Lockheed's G. L. "Kelly" Johnson has designed some really exciting aircraft, but the company's Model 83 (which originated in late 1952) must qualify as outstanding when the state of the art at that time is taken into account. Lockheed were aware that USAF experience in Korea had shown the need for an air-superiority fighter able to operate from forward airfields and climb rapidly from the ground to engage in high-level combat. The Model 83 was designed to fulfill these roles, and in formulating his design "Kelly" Johnson attempted to keep it as cheap, small and readily maintainable as possible. Tendered to the USAF as an unsolicited proposal, it was necessary for competitive bids to be received and the USAF notified a formal requirement for such an aircraft in late 1952.
Submissions were received from North American and Republic; but as both of these companies were already heavily involved in fighter development and production, Lockheed's proposal was selected cautiously: two XF-104 prototypes being ordered for development and testing. The first of these flew on 28 February 1954, followed by test and evaluation aircraft. It was not until 26 January 1958 that the first production F-104A began to enter service - as interceptors - with Air Defense Command's 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron. These production aircraft appeared quite revolutionary to those seeing them for the first time: with but a token monoplane wing mid-set on the fuselage - this latter assembly wrapped tightly round a powerful turbojet engine - needle-nosed and T-tailed. Able to demonstrate a level speed of around 2,250km/h and to climb to a height of 25km in about 4.5 minutes, it is not surprising that the Press dubbed the Starfighter the "missile with a man in it". F-104A (170) and multi-mission F-104G (77) served with the USAF, as well as F-104B (26) and F-104D (21) two-seat operational-trainer counterparts of the A and C respectively. Major construction, however, was in Europe: following development by Lockheed of the multi-mission F-104G, more than 1,000 came from production lines in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy to equip the air forces of those nations. Similar versions were built under license in Canada and Japan. Lockheed also built 179 F-104G for export or for supply to friendly nations through the Military Assistance Program.
Final production line was that of Aeritalia SpA in Turin, Italy which built 205 Starfighters for the Italian Air Force and 40 for Turkey. These multi-role combat aircraft have the designation F-104S and have extended production of this out-standing (and sometimes controversial) aircraft for a period of 20 years.