Vought F-8 Crusader Video - John Glenn's Transcontinental Supersonic Flight
Picture - An F-8E from VMF(AW)-212 in 1965
Role: Fighter aircraft
First flight: 25 March 1955
Introduced: March 1957
Retired: 19 December 1999
Primary users: United States Navy United States Marine Corps French Navy Philippine Air Force
Number built: 1,261
Developed into: XF8U-3 Crusader III A-7 Corsair II
The F-8 Crusader (originally F8U) was a single-engine aircraft carrier-based air superiority 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, principally serving in the Vietnam War. 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. US Naval Reserve units continued to operate the RF-8 until 1987.
Design and development
Picture - F-8 pilots insignia
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 .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns were no longer sufficient and as the result the new fighter was to carry a 20 mm (0.79 in) cannon. In response, the Vought team led by John Russell Clark created the V-383. Unusually 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 (.79 in) 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.
Picture - NASA's F-8C digital fly-by-wire testbed
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.
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.
Picture - F8U-1 Crusader BuNo 141435 and Commander "Duke" Windsor depart China Lake for a successful speed record attempt, 21 August 1956.
Prototype XF8U-1s were evaluated by VX-3 beginning in late 1956, with few problems noted. Weapons development was conducted at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and a China Lake F8U-1 set a U.S. National speed record in August 1956. Commander "Duke" Windsor set, broke, and set a new Level Flight Speed Record of 1,015.428 mph (1,634.173 km/h) on 21 August 1956 beating the previous record of 822 mph (1,323 km/h) set by a USAF F-100, however, the world speed record of 1,132 mph (1,822 km/h), 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 and 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.
Picture - An F-8 of USS Oriskany intercepts a Tu-95 'Bear-B'.
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 engines 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.
Picture - Two Crusaders prepare to launch from USS Midway; their variable-incidence wings are in the "up" position.
The Crusader was not an easy aircraft to fly, and often unforgiving in carrier landings where it suffered from yaw instability and the castered nose wheel. It earned a reputation as an "ensign killer" during its early service introduction. The nozzle and air intake were so low on the bridge, that the crews called the plane "the Gator." Not surprisingly, the Crusader's 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 proved when several Crusader pilots took off with the wings folded. One of these episodes took place on 23 August 1960; a Crusader with the wings folded took off from Napoli Capodichino in full afterburner, climbed to 5,000 ft and landed successfully. The pilot, absent minded but evidently a good "stick man," complained that the control forces were higher than normal. The Crusader was capable of flying in this state, though the pilot would be required to reduce aircraft weight by ejecting stores and fuel prior to landing.
When conflict erupted in the skies over North Vietnam, it was U.S. Navy Crusaders that first tangled with VPAF (North Vietnamese Air Force) MiG-17s on 3 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 20 mm (.79 in) Colt Mk 12 cannons' feeding mechanism to jam under G-loading during high-speed dogfighting maneuvers. Between June and July of 1966, during 12 engagements over North Vietnam, Crusaders shot down four MiG-17s for two losses. 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 during aerial combat, 16 were MiG-17s and three were MiG-21s. But the VPAF claimed 11 F-8s were shot down. Approximately 170 F8 Crusaders would be lost to all causes during the war.
The Crusader also became a bomb truck in war, with both ship-based U.S. Navy units and land-based USMC squadrons pounding communist forces in both North and South Vietnam.
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
Picture - Crusader in the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, painted in VF-111 colors
Twilight service with U.S. Navy
Picture - A section of VFP-206 RF-8 Photo Crusaders in late 1986 when they were last F-8 Crusaders in U.S. Naval service
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 were 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.
Picture - French Navy F-8E(FN) aboard an American aircraft carrier
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 American carrier 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. To replace the old Corsairs, 14.F squadron received its Crusaders on 1 March 1965.
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 "Prolongé" -extended- and not to be confused with Philippine F-8P). Although the French Navy participated in combat operations in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm 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
Picture - A former US Navy F-8 static display after Mount Pinatubo eruption
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.
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.
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, AN/APQ-83 radar retrofitted during later upgrades. 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, incorporation of AN/APQ-84 radar. First flight 16 February 1960, 152 built.
YF8U-2N (YF-8D) - one aircraft used in the development of the F8U-2N.
YF8U-2NE - 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, AN/APQ-94 radar replaced AN/APQ-84 radar in earlier F-8D. 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, incorporated AN/APQ-104 radar, an upgraded version of AN/APQ-94. A total of 42 built.
F-8H - upgraded F-8D with strengthened airframe and landing gear, with AN/APQ-124 radar. A total of 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, with AN/APQ-125 radar. A total of 136 rebuilt.
F-8K - upgraded F-8C with Bullpup capability and J57-P-20A engines, with AN/APQ-135 radar. A total of 87 rebuilt.
F-8L - F-8B upgraded with underwing hardpoints, with AN/APQ-149 radar. A total of 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 10 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-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.
Picture - F-8K in markings of VF-111 arrives at the USS Midway museum in San Diego in 2005
Picture - United States Navy F-8 from VF-154 Black Knights on the deck of USS Hornet
French Navy Aviation Navale
Philippine Air Force
United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Data from The Great Book of Fighters and Quest for Performance
Payload: 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) of weapons
Length: 54 ft 3 in (16.53 m)
Wingspan: 35 ft 8 in (10.87 m)
Height: 15 ft 9 in (4.80 m)
Wing area: 375 ft² (34.8 m²)
Airfoil: NACA 65A006 mod root, NACA 65A005 mod tip
Empty weight: 17,541 lb (7,956 kg)
Loaded weight: 29,000 lb (13,000 kg)
Powerplant: 1x— Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A afterburning turbojet
Dry thrust: 10,700 lbf (47.6 kN)
Thrust with afterburner: 18,000 lbf (80.1 kN)
*Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0133
Drag area: 5.0 ft² (0.46 m²)
Aspect ratio: 3.42
Fuel capacity: 1,325 U.S. gal (5,102 l)
Maximum speed: Mach 1.86 (1,225 mph, 1,975 km/h) at 36,000 ft (11,000 m)
Cruise speed: 570 mph (495 kn, 915 km/h)
Combat radius: 450 mi (730 km)
Ferry range: 1,735 mi (2,795 km) with external fuel
Service ceiling: 58,000 ft (17,700 m)
Rate of climb: 31,950 ft/min (162.3 m/s)
Wing loading: 77.3 lb/ft² (377.6 kg/m²)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 12.8
Picture - Side-view of two Sidewinder AAMs mounted on the unique Y-pylon
Picture - Weapons loadout of an F-8 Crusader
Guns: 4x— 20 mm (0.79 in) Colt Mk 12 cannons in lower fuselage, 125 rpg
Hardpoints: 2x— side fuselage mounted Y-pylons (for mounting AIM-9 Sidewinders only) and 2x— underwing pylon stations holding up to 4,000 lb (2,000 kg) of payload:
2x— LAU-10 rocket pods (each with 4x— 5 inch (127mm) Zuni rockets)
4x— AIM-9 Sidewinder or Matra Magic (mounted only on F-8E(FN) of French Navy)
2x— AGM-12 Bullpup
12x— 250 lb (113 kg) Mark 81 bombs or
8x— 500 lb (227 kg) Mark 82 bombs or
4x— 1,000 lb (454 kg) Mark 83 bombs or
2x— 2,000 lb (907 kg) Mark 84 bombs
Magnavox AN/APQ-84 or AN/APQ-94 Fire-control radar
A-7 Corsair II
XF8U-3 Crusader III
F-100 Super Sabre
Aircraft on Display
146939 F-8 Crusader is on display on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) at Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA.
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