F-8 Crusader

The F-8 Crusader (originally F8U) was a single-engine aircraft carrier-based fighter aircraft built by Vought. It replaced the Vought F-7 Cutlass. The first F-8 prototype was ready for flight in February 1955, and was the last American fighter with guns as the primary weapon. The RF-8 Crusader was a photo-reconnaissance development and operated longer in U.S. service than any of the fighter versions. RF-8s played a crucial role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, providing essential low-level photographs impossible to acquire by other means. Naval Reserve units continued to operate the RF-8 until 1987.

Design and development

In September 1952, United States Navy announced a requirement for a new fighter. It was to have a top speed of Mach 1.2 at 30,000 ft (9,150 m) with a climb rate of 25,000 ft/min (127 m/s), and a landing speed of no more than 100 mph (160 km/h). Korean War experience had demonstrated that 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns were no longer sufficient and as the result the new fighter was to carry a 20 mm (0.8 in) cannon. In response, the Vought team led by John Russell Clark created the V-383. Unusual for a fighter, the aircraft had a high-mounted wing which allowed for short and light landing gear.

The most innovative aspect of the design was the variable-incidence wing which pivoted by 7° out of the fuselage on takeoff and landing. This afforded increased lift due to a greater angle of attack without compromising forward visibility because the fuselage stayed level. Simultaneously, the lift was augmented by leading-edge slats drooping by 25° and inboard flaps extending to 30°. The rest of the aircraft took advantage of contemporary aerodynamic innovations with area ruled fuselage, all-moving stabilators, dog-tooth notching at the wing folds for improved yaw stability, and liberal use of titanium in the airframe. Power came from the Pratt & Whitney J57 afterburning turbojet and the armament, as specified by the Navy, consisted of four 20 mm cannon, a retractable tray with 32 unguided Mighty Mouse FFARs, and cheek pylons for two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Vought also presented a tactical reconnaissance version of the aircraft called the V-382. The F-8 Crusader would be the last U.S. fighter designed with guns as its primary weapon.

Major competition came from Grumman with the F-11 Tiger, McDonnell with upgraded twin-engine F3H Demon (which would eventually become the F-4 Phantom II), and North American with their F-100 Super Sabre adopted for carrier use and dubbed the Super Fury.

In May 1953, the Vought design was declared a winner and in June, Vought received an order for three XF8U-1 prototypes (after adoption of the unified designation system in September 1962, the F8U became the F-8). The first prototype flew on 25 March 1955 with John Konrad at the controls. The aircraft exceeded the speed of sound during its maiden flight. The development was so trouble-free that the second prototype, along with the first production F8U-1, flew on the same day, 30 September 1955. On 4 April 1956, the F8U-1 performed its first catapult launch from USS Forrestal.

Crusader III

In parallel with the F8U-1s and -2s, the Crusader design team was also working on a larger aircraft with ever greater performance, internally designated as the V-401. Although the XF8U-3 Crusader III was externally similar to the Crusader and sharing with it such design elements as the variable incidence wing, the new fighter was significantly larger and shared few components.

Operational history

Prototype XF8U-1s were evaluated by VX-3 beginning in late 1956, with few problems noted. Weapons development was conducted at NAF China Lake and a China Lake F8U-1 set a U.S. National speed record in August 1956. CDR "Duke" Windsor set, broke, and set a new Level Flight Speed Record of on 21 August 1956 beating the previous record of set by a USAF F-100, however, the world speed record of , set by the British Fairey Delta 2, on 10 March 1956, was not broken.

An early F8U-1 was modified as a photo-reconnaissance aircraft, becoming the first F8U-1P, subsequently the RF-8A equipped with cameras rather than guns and missiles.

First fleet operators

The first fleet squadron to fly the Crusader was VF-32 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, in 1957, deploying to the Mediterranean late that year on USS Saratoga. VF-32 renamed the squadron the "Swordsmen" in keeping with the Crusader theme. The Pacific Fleet received the first Crusaders at NAS Moffett Field in Northern California and the VF-154 "Grandslammers" (named in honor of the new 1,000 mph jets & subsequently renamed the "Black Knights") began their F-8 operations. Later in 1957 in San Diego VMF-122 accepted the first Marine Corps Crusaders.

In 1962 the Defense Department standardized military aircraft designations generally along Air Force lines. Consequently, the F8U became the F-8, with the original F8U-1 redesignated F-8A.

Fleet service

The Crusader became the ultimate "day fighter" operating off the aircraft carriers. At the time, U.S. Navy carrier air wings had gone through a series of day and night fighter aircraft due to rapid advances in engine and avionics. Some squadrons operated aircraft for very short periods before being equipped with a newer higher performance aircraft. The Crusader was the first post-Korean War aircraft to have a relatively long tenure with the fleet and like the USAF F-105, a contemporary design, might have stayed in service longer if not for the Vietnam war and resulting attrition from combat and operational losses.

The unarmed photo Crusader was operated aboard carriers as a detachment (Det) from either VFP-62 or VFP-63 to provide photo reconnaissance capability. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, RF-8s flew extremely hazardous low-level photo reconnaissance missions over Cuba.

Mishap rate

The Crusader was not an easy aircraft to fly, and often unforgiving in carrier landings where it suffered from yaw instability and the castoring nose wheel. Not surprisingly, the mishap rate was relatively high compared to its contemporaries, the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-4 Phantom II. However, the aircraft did possess some amazing capabilities, as proven when several hapless Crusader pilots took off from Da Nang with the wings folded. The Crusader was capable of flying in this state, though the pilot would be required to lose weight by ejecting stores and fuel, and then return to the carrier.

Vietnam service

When conflict erupted in the skies over North Vietnam, it was U.S. Navy Crusaders that first tangled with VPAF MiGs in April 1965. Although the MiGs claimed the downing of a Crusader, all aircraft returned safely. At the time, the Crusader was the best dogfighter the United States had against the nimble North Vietnamese MiGs. The Navy had evolved its "night fighter" role in the air wing to an all-weather interceptor, the F-4 Phantom II, equipped to engage incoming bombers at long range with missiles such as Sparrow as their sole air-to-air weapons, and maneuverability was not emphasized in their design. Some experts believed that the era of the dogfight was over as air-to-air missiles would knock down adversaries well before they could get close enough to engage in dogfighting. As aerial combat ensued over North Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, it became apparent that the dogfight was not over and the F-8 Crusader and a community trained to prevail in air-to-air combat was a key ingredient to success.

Despite the "last gunfighter" moniker, the F-8s achieved only four victories with their cannon — the remainder were accomplished with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, partly due to the propensity of the Colt Mark 12 cannons' feeding mechanism to jam under G-loading during high-speed dogfighting maneuvers. Nonetheless, the Crusader would be credited with the best kill ratio of any American type in the Vietnam War, 19:3. Of the 19 aircraft shot down, 16 were MiG-17s and three were MiG-21s.

USMC Crusaders flew only in the South, and U.S. Navy Crusaders flew only from the small Essex class carriers; there weren't many F-8s. USMC Crusaders also operated in CAS missions.

F-8 pilots credited with shooting down North Vietnamese aircraft
name Squadron Aircraft Date
CDR Harold L. Marr VF-211 MiG-17 12 June 1966
LT Eugene J. Chancy VF-211 MiG-17 21 June 1966
LTJG Philip V. Vampatella VF-211 MiG-17 21 June 1966
CDR Richard M. Bellinger VF-162 MiG-21 9 October 1966
CDR Marshall O. Wright VF-211 MiG-17 1 May 1967
CDR Paul H. Speer VF-211 MiG-17 19 May 1967
LTJG Joseph M. Shea VF-211 MiG-17 19 May 1967
LCDR Bobby C. Lee VF-24 MiG-17 19 May 1967
LT Phillip R. Wood VF-24 MiG-17 19 May 1967
LCDR Marion H. Isaacks VF-24 MiG-17 21 July 1967
LCDR Robert L. Kirkwood VF-24 MiG-17 21 July 1967
LCDR Ray G. Hubbard, Jr. VF-211 MiG-17 21 July 1967
LT Richard E. Wyman VF-162 MiG-17 14 December 1967
CDR Lowell R. Myers VF-51 MiG-21 26 June 1968
LCDR John B. Nichols VF-191 MiG-17 9 July 1968
CDR Guy Cane VF-53 MiG-17 29 July 1968
LT Norman K. McCoy, Jr. VF-51 MiG-21 1 August 1968
LT Anthony J. Nargi VF-111 MiG-17 19 September 1968
LT Gerald D. Tucker VF-211 MiG-17 22 April 1972

Twilight service with U.S. Navy

LTV built and delivered the 1,219th (and last) U. S. Navy Crusader to VF-124 at NAS Miramar on 3 September 1964.

The last active duty Navy Crusader fighter variants were retired from VF-191 and VF-194 aboard USS Oriskany in 1976 after almost two decades of service, setting a first for a Navy fighter. The photo reconnaissance variant continued to serve for yet another 11 years with VFP-63 flying RF-8Gs up to 1982 and the Naval Reserve flying their RF-8s in two squadrons [VFP-206 and VFP-306] until disestablishment of VFP-306 in 1984 and VFP-206 on 29 March 1987 when the last operational Crusader was turned over to the National Air and Space Museum.

The F-8 Crusader is the only aircraft to have used the AIM-9C which is a radar guided Sidewinder. When the Crusader retired, these missiles where converted to the AGM-122 Sidearm anti-radiation missiles used by United States attack helicopters to knock out enemy radars.


Several modified F-8s were used by NASA in the early 1970s, proving the viability of both digital fly-by-wire and supercritical wings.

French Navy

The F-8E(FN) was the last Crusader produced and 42 were ordered by the French Navy (Aéronavale) for use aboard new carriers Clemenceau and Foch. The Phantom II turned out to be too large for the small French carriers, and the Crusader was chosen. An evaluation campaign was then performed aboard the Clemenceau on 16 March 1962 by two VF-32 F-8s from the carrier USS Saratoga.

The French Crusaders had the same weapons configuration as the U.S. Navy F-8E, but had an improved system of flaps and were modified to carry two French Matra R.530 or four Matra R550 Magic heat-seeking missiles in place of Sidewinders. 12.F squadron was reactivated on 15 October 1964 with 12 fighters. On 1 March 1965, 14.F squadron received its Crusaders, to replace the old Corsairs.

In October 1974 (on the Clemenceau) and June 1977 (on the Foch), Crusaders from 14.F squadron participated in the Saphir missions over Djibouti. On 7 May 1977, two Crusaders went separately on patrol against supposedly French Air Force (4/11 Jura squadron) F-100 Super Sabres stationed at Djibouti. The leader intercepted two fighters and engaged a dogfight (supposed to be a training exercise) but quickly called his wingman for help as he had actually engaged two Yemeni MiG-21 Fishbeds. The two French fighters switched their master armament to "on" but, ultimately, everyone returned to their bases. This was the only combat interception by French Crusaders.

The Aéronavale Crusaders flew combat missions over Lebanon in 1983 escorting Super Etendard strike aircraft. In October 1984, France sent the Foch for operation Mirmillon off the coast of Libya, intended to calm colonel Ghaddafi down, with 12.F squadron. The escalation of the situation in the Persian Gulf, due to the Iran-Iraq conflict, triggered the deployment of the Clemenceau task force and its air wing, including 12.F squadron. 1993 saw the beginning of the missions over ex-Yugoslavia. Crusaders were launched from both carriers cruising in the Adriatic Sea. These missions ceased in June 1999 with operation Trident over Kosovo.

Crusaders were renovated (but not modernized) beginning in 1991, the 17 remaining aircraft received a limited service life extension program involving avionics upgrades that included a radar-warning receiver and redesignated as F-8P (P used for "Prolonge" and not to be confused with Philippine F-8P). Although the French Navy participated in combat operations in 1991 in the First Gulf War and over Kosovo in 1999, the Crusaders stayed behind and were eventually replaced by the Rafale M in 2000 as the last of the breed in military service.

Philippine Air Force

In late 1977, the Philippine government purchased 35 ex-U.S. Navy F-8Hs that were stored at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. Twenty-five of them were refurbished by Vought and the remaining 10 were used for spare parts. As part of the deal, the U.S. would train Philippine pilots in using the TF-8A. The F-8s were grounded in 1988 and were finally withdrawn from service in 1991 after they were badly damaged by the Mount Pinatubo eruption and have since been offered for sale as scrap.


  • XF8U-1 (XF-8A) - the two original unarmed prototypes - V-383.
  • F8U-1 (F-8A) - first production version, J57-P-12 engine replaced with more powerful J57-P-4A starting with 31st production aircraft, 318 built.
  • YF8U-1 (YF-8A) - one F8U-1 fighter used for development testing.
  • YF8U-1E (YF-8B) - one F8U-1 converted to serve as an F8U-1E prototype.
  • F8U-1E (F-8B) - added a limited all-weather capability thanks to the AN/APS-67 radar, the unguided rocket tray was sealed shut because it was never used operationally, first flight 3 September 1958, 130 built.
  • YF8U-2 (YF-8C) - two F8U-1s used for flight testing the J57-P-16 turbojet engine.
  • F8U-2 (F-8C) - J57-P-16 engine with 16,900 lbf (75 kN) of afterburning thrust, ventral fins added under the rear fuselage in an attempt to rectify yaw instability, Y-shaped chin pylons allowing two Sidewinder missiles on each side of the fuselage, first flight 20 August 1957, 187 built. This variant was sometimes referred to as Crusader II.
  • F8U-2N (F-8D) - all-weather version, unguided rocket pack replaced with an additional fuel tank, J57-P-20 engine with 18,000 lbf (80 kN) of afterburning thrust, landing system which automatically maintained present airspeed during approach, first flight 16 February 1960, 152 built.
  • YF8U-2N (YF-8D) - one aircraft used in the development of the F8U-2N.
  • YF8U-NE - one F8U-1 converted to serve as an F8U-2NE prototype.
  • F8U-2NE (F-8E) - J57-P-20A engine, AN/APQ-94 radar in a larger nose cone, dorsal hump between the wings containing electronics for the AGM-12 Bullpup missile, payload increased to 5,000 lb (2,270 kg), Martin-Baker ejection seat, first flight 30 June 1961, 286 built.
  • F-8E(FN) - air superiority fighter version for the French Navy, significantly increased wing lift due to greater slat and flap deflection and the addition of a boundary layer control system, enlarged stabilators, 42 built.
  • F-8H - upgraded F-8D with strengthened airframe and landing gear, 89 rebuilt.
  • F-8J - upgraded F-8E, similar to F-8D but with wing modifications and BLC like on F-8E(FN), "wet" pylons for external fuel tanks, J57-P-20A engine, 136 rebuilt.
  • F-8K - upgraded F-8C with Bullpup capability and J57-P-20A engines, 87 rebuilt.
  • F-8L - F-8B upgraded with underwing hardpoints, 61 rebuilt.
  • F-8P - 17 F-8E(FN) of the Aéronavale underwent a significant overhaul at the end of the 1980s to stretch their service life another ten years. They were retired in 1999.
  • F8U-1D (DF-8A) - several retired F-8A modified to controller aircraft for testing of the SSM-N-8 Regulus cruise missile. DF-8A was also modified as drone (F-9 Cougar) control which were used extensively by VC-8, NS Roosevelt Rds, PR; Atlantic Fleet Missile Range.
  • DF-8F - retired F-8A modified for target tug duty.
  • F8U-1KU (QF-8A) - retired F-8A modified into remote-controlled target drones
  • YF8U-1P (YRF-8A) - prototypes used in the development of the F8U-1P photo-reconnaissance aircraft - V-392.
  • F8U-1P (RF-8A) - unarmed photo-reconnaissance version of F8U-1E, 144 built.
  • RF-8G - modernized RF-8As
  • XF8U-1T - one XF8U-2NE used for evaluation as a two-seat trainer.
  • F8U-1T (TF-8A) - two-seat trainer version based on F8U-2NE, fuselage stretched 2 ft (0.61 m), internal armament reduced to two cannon, J57-P-20 engine, first flight 6 February 1962. The Royal Navy was initially interested in the Rolls-Royce Spey-powered version of TF-8A but chose the Phantom II instead. Only one TF-8A was built, although several retired F-8As were converted to similar two-seat trainers - V-408.
  • XF8U-3 Crusader III - new design loosely based on the earlier F-8 variants, created to compete against the F-4 Phantom II; J75-P-5A engine with 29,500 lbf (131 kN) of afterburning thrust, first flight 2 June 1958, attained Mach 2.6 in test flights, canceled after five aircraft were constructed because the Phantom II won the Navy contract - V-401.



Specifications (F-8E)

See also




  • Goebel, Greg. "Crusader in Development". The Vought F-8 Crusader. Retrieved: 7 March 2006.
  • Grant, Zalin. Over the Beach: The Air War in Vietnam. Pocket Books, 1988.
  • Grossnick, Roy A. and Armstrong William J. United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1995. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Historical Center, 1997. ISBN 0-16049-124-X.
  • Tillman, Barrett. MiG Master: Story of the F-8 Crusader (second edition). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990. ISBN 0-87021-585-X.

External links

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