AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Package Review

Captain Sim Legendary F-104


Rating Guide
Captain Sim
Fs2004 Aircraft Addon

Download Size:


Downloadable Zip File

Although officially named the “Starfighter” the F-104 was popularly known as the “Zipper” for its sleek rocket like body.  This is the 2 seat TF-104 version in USAF livery.

Reviewed by: Bill Dailey   Managing Editor

The F-104 was flown by air forces around the world.  This Royal Norwegian Air Force model carries 4 fuel tanks and is one of the 15 liveries that come with the product.

Possible Commercial Rating Score: 1 to 5 stars with
5 stars being exceptional.
Please see details of our review rating policy here




Over the past several years Alex Pogensky (aka “Captain Sim”) and the crew at Captain Sim (CS) simulations have established a reputation for producing high fidelity aircraft addons for the MSFS and CFS series of sims.


Previous releases have included the L-39 jet trainer (for FS2002 & CFS2), MiG-21 fighter (for FS2002/2004 and CFS2), and Boeing 727 civil transport (for FS2002/2004).  Without exception these products have been generally very well received in the sim community.  So it was with high expectations that I received my review copy of Captain Sim’s latest release, the “Legendary F-104,” for MS FS2004.  I was not disappointed.


Before looking at the sim aircraft a few words about this classic early jet era and Cold War fighter aircraft are in order.  The Lockheed F-104 made its flying debut in 1954 as the XF-104.  Like many other U.S. developed fighters the first XF-104 flight was from Edwards AFB in California.  After an extended period of testing and some modifications of the original design the first F-104A models entered operational service with the USAF in 1958.


Officially named the “Starfighter” the F-104 was more commonly known as “the Zipper” for its high speed and rocket like appearance.  Originally designed as a single seat daylight interceptor and air superiority aircraft the F-104 evolved over the years to many different missions and configurations including two seat, strike, all weather, and recon versions.  In addition to the U.S. it served with distinction in the air forces of countries worldwide including Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Canada, and Japan among others.  The F-104 was also used by NASA for astronaut training, flight testing, and chase plane duties.


The Zipper was the first operational fighter capable of sustained speeds in excess of Mach 2.  It also distinguished itself as the first aircraft to simultaneously hold the World Altitude and Speed records.


So Captain Sim’s “Legendary” label is certainly appropriate.

Installation and documentation

The CS Legendary F-104 is available in download and CD versions.  I received my review copy as the download version which is an approximately 50 MB file.  Having had a fair amount of trouble with my activation of the CS 727 download version back when it was first released I was a little bit leery of the process but am happy to report that the download, installation, and activation of the product was smooth as silk.  I was up and flying within minutes.  Two updates to the download version have been released since my initial installation in mid November 03.  V1.1 and 1.2 can be accessed and downloaded via the included TCE “Check for Updates” utility and will bring your version to the current level. 


Documentation consists of a User Manual in 2 parts.  Part I is the Systems Manual and Part II is the Operations Manual.  There are also sections on how to use the Texture and Configuration Editor (TCE) and the Instructor Pilot feature.  The Systems Manual contains a description of the aircraft systems and detailed pictures of the instrument panels and various knobs and switches in the cockpit.  The Operations Manual contains aircraft operating limits, checklists, performance charts, and take off and landing procedures charts.  The look and feel of these documents was very much like the real world flight manuals I’ve seen and used for military aircraft.  There’s not a lot of “how to” explanation in the Systems Manual so I had a fair amount of “trial and error” learning with some of the instruments when I first started flying.  You’re dealing with 100% 50’s and 60’s era “steam gauges” here so expect some “retro” learning if you’re a modern EFIS simmer.


That said, it’s important to read the documentation before flying if you want to get the most out of the sim. “RTFM” as the saying goes.  An important note is to always select the aircraft model you want to fly from the included TCE utility and NOT the default MSFS aircraft selection.  Doing otherwise will result in the aircraft having the wrong weight, fuel load out, contact points, lights, and VC eye point.  Not a good start in a high performance aircraft like the F-104!


This page from the Systems Manual shows the gauge layout in the 2D cockpit.  The black and white layout is reminiscent of real world 60’s era flight manuals.

This is a close up of the ADI instrument section of the Systems Manual showing a typical 60’s era attitude instrument.

Visual Aircraft

The sim package includes 5 variations of the F-104G model (single seat) and 3 variations of the TF-104 (dual seat) model.  The variants have to do with whether the aircraft is configured with wing tip tanks, pylon fuel tanks, and different weapons load outsOverall there’s a very good representation of the different models and roles of the aircraft as it evolved over the years.


Included with the base package are 15 different aircraft liveries representing the major air forces of the world which flew the F-104 including 1 Soviet version.   Doubtless this represents a test and evaluation model obtained from a third party country since the F-104 never saw actual Soviet or Eastern Bloc service.  Additionally, there are plenty of freeware repaints available that you can add to your base livery stable.  Installation of additional liveries is a snap with the included TCE utility.


As you can see from the screenshots the visual detail on the aircraft is excellent. I got almost as much enjoyment from doing an aircraft external visual walk around as I did from flying!  In this regard it helps to have an enhanced viewing program like Active Camera 2004 to be able to see the detail from a real world point of view.


Rivets, maintenance access panels, oil streaks and weathering effects all combine to create a convincing visual picture of a real aircraft on your screen.  In addition, the aircraft features the usual assortment of moving control surfaces, rolling wheels, smoke, and other visual effects we have all come to expect with FS2004 era sim aircraft.  Included in this category for the CS F104 are an afterburner effect, an opening canopy, and drag chute deployment. This level of detail did not seem to impose any particular frame rate hit on my low end AMD 1.4 GHz test system.  But then again I’m happy with frame rates in the high teens (I’ve got them locked at 20FPS) and that might not suit some simmers.  What constitutes an acceptable FPS is a highly individual preference so you’ll have to make your own judgment there but I was happy and there were no noticeable pauses, slowdowns, or other negative impacts from the CS F104 high quality visuals.


Bottom line:  I found the aircraft visuals to be outstanding.  The screenshots illustrate this probably better than my words can do.  Check ‘em out.



This close-up of the cockpit area of a German Navy F-104 shows the high level of detail of the aircraft visual models

Another shot of the Greek Air Force aircraft showing the aircraft weathering and paint wear and tear on the tip tanks


A Greek Air Force F-104 in cammo paint scheme hits the burner for takeoff


This head-on shot shows the landing gear detail and the landing lights deployed

The rival Turkish Air Force also flew the F-104 in a slightly different paint scheme


For my money instrument panels are the area where Captain Sim’s aircraft show best.  The F-104 comes with both a 2D and fully working Virtual Cockpit (VC).  Both are excellent although I spent most of my time in the VC. 

Test System

Except for the CS 727 I’d rate the F-104 VC as one of the best – if not the best – FS VC currently on the market.  The gauges are photo real and very crisp and clear. There are an abundance of rocker switches and guarded covers.  If you’re a “switch flipper” type simmer you will like these panels. The panel rendition provides a good sense of depth and the overall feeling is one of being in a real aircraft.  This extends from the main panel to the side panels and associated systems.  An example of the detail is the idle detent on the throttle quadrant located on the left side panel.  Advancing or retarding the throttle takes the throttle lever visually around the detent.  Very cool – and very real!


Another unique feature of the panel is the working air intercept radar.  You can track MSFS AI aircraft as targets on the scope and fly to a visual intercept.  This takes some practice as the target must be within the range gates and antenna look angles to acquire and track it.  Having the FS AI labels turned on helps when you are first starting in getting a visual ID on the radar target.


While every switch and knob you would expect to find in the real aircraft is depicted I found that not every switch is active although all of the key aircraft flight and nav systems are enabled. One apparent minor glitch on the 2D cockpit is that the rear left and right views always showed wing tip tanks even when flying a clean aircraft configuration.


But this is a nit.  Overall the panels are some of the best around.  Again, let the pictures do the talking!

AMD 1.4Ghz processor


Nvidia Ti4200 128MB video card

80GB Hard drive

21" NEC Monitor

Windows XP Professional

Sound Blaster Pro Sound Card

CH USB Flight Sim Yoke and Rudder Pedals


Flying Time:

10 hours total to date


This shot of the Virtual Cockpit gives a good view of how sharp and crisp the virtual instruments are and the 3d effect of knobs and switches

This close up of the ADI, PHI, and engine instruments shows the photo realistic detail in the CS F-104 VC

The detail is carried over to all parts of the VC as shown in this shot of the right side console


The VC realism includes the Idle detent on the throttle quadrant.  The power lever must be brought around the detent to move it either out of or into Idle thrust

The on board radar allows you to run radar intercepts on MSFS AI traffic.  In this shot you can see the target “pip” on the lower part of the radar screen and the visual AI label out the cockpit window ahead showing the target’s visual location




As you would expect from a high performance aircraft with the advanced aerodynamic design features of the F104, the short wings, and the rocket like cross section of the fuselage flying is a little different than the run of the mill FS civil jet aircraft.  For example landing and takeoff speeds are a quite a bit higher than civil jets – in the 180-200 KIAS range for takeoff and 155-185 KIAS for landing.  Things happen real fast at those speeds and there’s not a whole lot of time to correct mistakes.


In the real world the F104 carried a reputation as being a demanding aircraft to fly.  Aircraft in service with the Luftwaffe suffered a particularly high accident rate although there is debate as to whether this was a function of the F104s demanding flying characteristics or the nature of the Luftwaffe missions which frequently involved a combination of high speed, low level, and bad weather.


My test flights were from the FS2004 default Edwards Air Force Base, California (KEDW) scenery together with PC Aviator’s Mega Scenery for Southern California.  In addition to its historical connection as the scene of the first XF-104 test flights Edwards is a place with sufficiently long runways to allow for rookie F104 piloting screw ups.


In addition to zoom climbs, some high altitude IFR cruising around Southern California, touch and goes at Edwards and the nearby China Lake Naval Air Weapons test facility (KNID), and similar flying my testing included some Flight Manual “Prohibited Maneuvers” including “Pitchup and Spins.” 


As I said earlier if you “RTFM” before taking the active runway for your first flight it will pay you big dividends.  I would particularly recommend reading the Flight Manual sections on landing technique before you go flying.  Otherwise you just might find yourself on short final reducing thrust to idle like I tried my first time out.  Wrong!!!  Landing the F104 involves carrying power all the way to touchdown – at the relatively high 80-93% level. 


According to the Manual “An abrupt thrust reduction results in abrupt roll off tendency and a rapid increase in sink rate.”  That is exactly what happened to me resulting in wing rocking oscillations and a high sink rate leading to a broken aircraft on the NAWS China Lake runway on my first landing attempt. A look at the performance envelope chart in the Flight Manual is also very instructive when you aspire to repeat the F104’s world altitude and speed records and push the airplane to the envelope limits.  Note that the Performance Envelope Chart is for a clean minimum weight aircraft.


It’s always dangerous to talk about the accuracy of MSFS flight models.  It’s about the quickest way I know to start a “knock down drag out” argument among simmers.  Any discussion in this area must start with the realization that there are limitations within the MSFS code structure that limit how true to the “real world” an FS model behaves in flight no matter how well intentioned the developers are and what claims are made about realism. 


Within those constraints (and without ever having any real flight time in an F-104)  it’s my opinion that the CS F104 does a very credible job of simulating the flying characteristics of a high performance jet fighter such as the F-104 and giving the simmer a sense of the relative performance of that particular aircraft.  I said “relative” mind you, not exact.  That said the takeoff and landing numbers in my test were close to the Flight Manual charts as were the minimum operating speeds for the configurations I tested.  So I think the basic flight characteristics are accurate.  Whether the Mach speed performance is accurate at various altitudes seems to be a question on the support forums.  I found the aircraft to fly pretty close to the chart numbers for the clean configuration shown on the Flight Manual performance envelope chart.  So I’m satisfied with the flight model.


This page from the Flight Manual shows the proper landing technique.  On the F-104 you carry power on all the way to touchdown. 
This shot shows me turning onto final for a touch and go at NAWS China Lake.  Unfortunately I had not read the Flight Manual about the need to maintain power all the way to touchdown.  I reduced thrust to idle on short final, rolled off on one wing and could not recover before impacting terrain.  Moral of this story:  RTFM!
This is a page from the Flight Manual showing the aircraft performance envelope.  Note that it is for a clean, minimum weight aircraft.


Special Features


The CS F104 incorporates 2 special features in addition to the basic aircraft.  These are the Texture and Configuration Editor (TCE) and the Instructor Pilot (IP).


Users of other Captain Sim products, such as the 727, will be familiar with the TCE utility.  It permits you to easily add liveries, check for updates, and select and configure your aircraft with fuel and weapons loads prior to flying.  You can also select graphic and cold engine start options on the TCE.  Interestingly the documentation on the TCE in the F104 package shows examples using the CS 727. This is most likely a proof reading error in the documentation.  Anyway,  I found the TCE to be a very useful feature.


The other special feature incorporates an “Instructor Pilot” (IP) using the voice of real world F104 pilot Andy Bush.  The IP will make voice callouts at various stages of flight, usually when you exceed a flight limitation or are putting the aircraft in an unsafe configuration.  In this regard Andy is more like a “Bitchin Betty” than an instructor.  To be honest after the novelty wore off I found this feature to be more of an annoyance than a help.  You have the option to turn the feature on or off.  I fly with it off and I suspect most experienced simmers will also do so.  This feature could be helpful to novice simmers.

The TCE utility is where you select your aircraft and configure it.  Don’t try this from the MSFS default aircraft selection menu.

This shot shows how to import new liveries using the TCE. The documentation shows the CS 727 but it works fine for the F-104.



Overall I found the CS F104 to be equal to the current leading FS2004 add on  products in terms of quality and functionality and among the best available add on aircraft currently on the market for FS2004.  The VC alone is worth the price in my mind.


Military jets may not be every simmers cup of tea but if you would like to push the envelope a little this bird will help you do it.


Overall I rated this product at 4 out of 5 stars.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the Avsim methodology of rating payware packages to achieve a 4-Star rating is quite difficult. To achieve a 5-Star rating is not only difficult, it requires that a product incorporate ground breaking technology and advance the frontiers of simming. The CS F104 is not groundbreaking in its technology but it certainly ranks with the best available current technology products.  I can recommend it to any serious simmer without hesitation.


For more information and to  purchase this add-on, go to Captain Sim’s website at: http://www.captainsim.com/.



What I Like About the Captain Sim Legendary F-104

  • Excellent visual aircraft mode s with low frame rate impact

  •   Accurate flight performance fee and model flew to the manual numbers

  • Immersive virtual cockpit (VC) - gives the feeling of real flight

  • Easy to use configuration utility

  • Realistic documentation – reminiscent of real world flight manuals

  • Realistic sound


What I Don't Like About the Captain Sim Legendary F-104

  • The IP feature was more of an annoyance than a help

  • 2D cockpit rear views did not match the aircraft configuration


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