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Vought F-8 Crusader

The supersonic Vought Crusader was one of the first supersonic fighters, but earned the nickname  ‘Last of the Gunfighters’, because when it retired it represented the end of an era. It was an accomplished dog-fighter and was equipped with four 20mm cannon and 32 folding-fin aircraft rockets.

A pair of AIM-9 Sidewinders could also be mounted on rails on each side of the fuselage. Later models had four missiles, two on either side. Underwing pylons were fitted early in the production phase, allowing the carriage of air to surface weapons, such as the AGM-12 Bullpup missile.

Original production ran from 1956 until 1965, and it is a tribute to the soundness and utility of the design that surviving airframes were rebuilt and upgraded from 1960 right through until the end of the 70’s. An often-heard slogan in the Vietnam War was ‘When you’re out of Crusaders, you’re out of fighters!’

Background

In 1952, as the Korean War was well under way, the US Navy announced that they needed a new, supersonic, cannon-equipped carrier-based fighter that could reach Mach 1.2 at 30,000′, climb at 25,000 fpm but land at not more than 100mph. The last requirement was difficult to achieve and resulted in some very unusual configurations being put forward.

Eight different manufacturers submitted twenty-two proposals, reflecting the strength of the US aircraft industry at that time. In September 1952 design work began at Chance Vought Aircraft on their contender for the competition – the Crusader.

Design & development

In May 1953 Vought was declared the winner and was awarded a contract for full-scale development, including three prototypes. Many of the competing designs had unusual features, leaving the Crusader relatively conventional but for one feature – it had a variable incidence wing.

The amount of lift a wing generates depends on the speed of the airflow around the wing and the angle of incidence, or attack, of the wing. Therefore the slower that aircraft fly, the higher the angle of attack that is required – all things being equal – to maintain the same amount of lift.

A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4C Skyhawk from Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) "Clansmen" refuels a Vought F-8E Crusader from Fighter Squadron 62 (VF-62) "Boomerangs". Both squadrons were assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 10 (CVW-10) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 1 October 1963 to 23 May 1964. Date circa 1964. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4C Skyhawk from Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) “Clansmen” refuels a Vought F-8E Crusader from Fighter Squadron 62 (VF-62) “Boomerangs”. Both squadrons were assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 10 (CVW-10) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 1 October 1963 to 23 May 1964. Date circa 1964. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.

That is why when aircraft slow down for landing their bodies, and therefore wings, are at a higher than usual angle. At high angles this can make it more difficult to see the runway ahead when landing.

The Vought engineers and designers reasoned that while the wing certainly did need to be at a higher angle of attack at slow speeds, the rest of the plane did not have to be. Another benefit of the plane landing in a flatter attitude was that there was less chance of a tail-strike, and landing gear could therefore be shorter and smaller.

The wing was highly swept and tapered, with a dogtooth two-thirds of the way out from the root, which generated vortexes that discouraged the separation of boundary layer airflow. The wing itself was able to increased it’s incidence to +7 degrees using two hydraulic jacks.

Vought XF-8U Crusader. A technician prepares dynamic models of the Bell X-1E and the Vought XF-8U Crusader for wind tunnel testing in 1957. The Crusader was then the Navy's fastest aircraft (maximum speed Mach 1.75 at 35,000 feet). Date: 19 February 1957. NASA via Wikimedia Commons.
Vought XF-8U Crusader. A technician prepares dynamic models of the Bell X-1E and the Vought XF-8U Crusader for wind tunnel testing in 1957. The Crusader was then the Navy’s fastest aircraft (maximum speed Mach 1.75 at 35,000 feet).
Date: 19 February 1957. NASA via Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the airframe was conventional with low-set rear horizontal stabilisers, and a tall vertical stabiliser at the rear. The single engine Pratt and Whitney J-57 took half of the length of the fuselage. A single inlet was position in the chin position, under the nose.

The wing tips folded to assist storage below the carrier deck. Catapults were not in service when the Crusader was on the drawing board, so it was designed to use the older ‘bridle’ harness/launching system. The air brake was located in an unusual position below the fuselage.

Vought F-8A Crusader marked with its original designation of F8U-1, this Crusader wears VMF-251 markings and is on display at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Vought F-8A Crusader marked with its original designation of F8U-1, this Crusader wears VMF-251 markings and is on display at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The image above shows off many of the Crusader’s  design features, including the chin mounted air intake, two of the four 20mm cannon, side rail-mounted Sidewinders, under-belly airbrake, short landing gear, wing incidence of 7 degrees and folding wing-tips.

The fuselage was designed in accordance with the new ‘Area Rule’ developed by Richard Whitcomb to minimise transonic and supersonic drag. Whitcomb would go on to pioneer supercritical wing designs and the development of drag-reducing winglets.

The first prototype took to the air on the 25th March 1955 and comfortably went supersonic on its first flight. During testing throughout the remainder of 1955 the design firmed up into the initial production standard, which was approved the following year.

Operational history

The initial production version of the Crusader appeared in 1956 and could reach Mach 1.53. The first combat squadron went to sea in late 1957 and the second a few months later. Although it was the faster US Navy fighter it did not to operate from the largest aircraft carriers.

The airframe was found to be quite versatile, and over the course of its life the Crusader grew in weight by around five tons, as avionics and weapons upgrades were regularly applied. These upgrades kept the Crusader competitive for many years longer that might have been originally envisaged.

Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War

Along with the McDonnell RF-101A Voodoo, the Vought RF-8A Crusader featured in the Cuban Missile Crisis in the low level reconnaissance role. The Crusaders confirmed the erection of Soviet missiles and both types later confirmed their dismantling.

The Crusader also served in the Vietnam War, first engaging with MiG-17s in April 1965. Over the next few years, despite the introduction of Phantoms with long range Sparrow missiles, it became apparent that the era of the dog-fighter was not over yet.

The land-based US Marine Corps Crusaders flew mainly in the south and the Carrier-borne Navy aircraft flew mainly in the north. Both were equipped to carry ‘iron’ bombs, and they used them to good effect up and down the country. In air to air combat the Crusader went on to claim nineteen MiGs downed for the loss of three of their own, to MiG-17 cannon fire.

During the Vietnam conflict a total of 170 F-8 Crusaders were lost to all causes. Most of these were to ground fire and accidents.

F-8E VMFAW-235 Da Nang, Vietnam April 1966 - US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons
F-8E VMFAW-235 Da Nang, Vietnam April 1966 – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

The model that had the longest service life was the unarmed photo-reconnaissance model, of which 144 were built, with 73 of those later being re-manufactured and re-designated RF-8G. They were finally replaced in the early 1980s by Grumman Tomcats equipped with an external multi-sensor pallet.

The fastest Crusader

The fastest of all the Crusaders was the F8U-2N, which was an all-weather (and night) interceptor, with a powerful radar, and provision for a special long range version of the Sidewinder missile. The aircraft has the rocket box removed, a revised air-brake and space for additional fuel. It could reach Mach 1.86, due to the more powerful version of the J-57 engine.

This model was also notable in that it was the first that came with a rudimentary autopilot, and an associated revision of the cockpit layout. 152 of this version were produced.

After having produced 1,261 single seat Crusaders, Vought offered the US Navy and UK Navies a two seat design, but there was little interest. More interest was shown by the French however, and a special variant was built for them, with even greater variable camber and a boundary-layer control bleed air system to prevent separation.

Between 1966 and 1970 Vought gave a second lease of life to 551 surviving airframes. They were completely rebuilt and equipped with new avionics and a range of other updates. Each airframe was cleared for a further 4,000 hours of flight time.

A number of refurbished Crusaders saw service with the Philippines Air Force.

A Vought F-8H Crusader of the Philippine Air Force in flight. The Philippine Air Force operated some 25 F-8Hs from 1978. However, the aircraft quickly became too expensive and difficult to maintain. Due to the lack of any immediate "enemy", the Crusaders were permanently grounded in 1988 stored at Basa Air Base. Date circa 1978. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
A Vought F-8H Crusader of the Philippine Air Force in flight. The Philippine Air Force operated some 25 F-8Hs from 1978. However, the aircraft quickly became too expensive and difficult to maintain. Due to the lack of any immediate “enemy”, the Crusaders were permanently grounded in 1988 stored at Basa Air Base. Date circa 1978. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.

Variants

XF8U-1

Two initial prototypes. A third was ordered, but subsequently cancelled.

F8U-1 (later re-designated F-8A)

Initial production fighter version. 318 built.

Two U.S. Navy Vought F8U-1 Crusader of Fighter Squadron 24 (VF-24) "Red Checkertails" in flight over Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines, circa 1960. VF-24 was assigned to Carrier Air Group 2 (CVG-2) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) for two deployments to the Western Pacific between 1959 and 1961 flying the F8U-1. Circa 1960. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
Two U.S. Navy Vought F8U-1 Crusader of Fighter Squadron 24 (VF-24) “Red Checkertails” in flight over Naval Air Station Cubi Point, Philippines, circa 1960. VF-24 was assigned to Carrier Air Group 2 (CVG-2) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) for two deployments to the Western Pacific between 1959 and 1961 flying the F8U-1. Circa 1960. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
F8U-1E (later re-designated F-8B)

All weather fighter with improved radar. 130 built.

F8U-1P (later re-designated RF-8A)

Unarmed photo-reconnaissance version. 144 built.

F8U-2 (later re-designated F-8C)

Upgraded air superiority fighter with more powerful engine, better cooling, ventral fins, carriage for four Sidewinders rather than two. 187 built.

F8U-2N (later re-designated F-8D)

The fastest of all Crusaders, with upgraded, more powerful engine, extra fuel and new radar. 152 built.

F8U-2NE (later re-designated F-8E)

Final US production model. Same engine as the F-8D, upgraded avionics, air to surface weapons on pylons. 286 built.

Two U.S. Navy Vought F-8E Crusader fighters from fighter squadron VF-33 Tarsiers prepare for a launch in afterburner from the waist catapults of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) in 1964. VF-33 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 6 (CVW-6) for the "Operation Sea Orbit" around the world cruise from 8 February to 3 October 1964. Date: 1964 - via Wikimedia Commons.
Two U.S. Navy Vought F-8E Crusader fighters from fighter squadron VF-33 Tarsiers prepare for a launch in afterburner from the waist catapults of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) in 1964. VF-33 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 6 (CVW-6) for the “Operation Sea Orbit” around the world cruise from 8 February to 3 October 1964. Date: 1964 – via Wikimedia Commons.
F-8E(FN)

A version for the French Aeronavale with a high lift BLC wing, different avionics, pylons suitable for Matra missiles and other small changes. 42 built.

A French Marine Nationale Vought F-8E(FN) Crusader aircraft prepares to land aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) during flight operations in 1983. (21 May 1983). US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
A French Marine Nationale Vought F-8E(FN) Crusader aircraft prepares to land aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) during flight operations in 1983. (21 May 1983). US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
RF-8G

A rebuild of the RF-8A with more powerful engine, stronger structure, new equipment and ventral fins. 73 (re)built.

Two U.S. Naval Reserve Vought RF-8G Crusader aircraft from Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron 206 (VFP-206) in formation during “Reconnaissance Air Meet ’86” near Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas (USA), on 1 November 1986. Via Wikimedia Commons
F-8H

A rebuild of the F-8D with stronger structure, high lift BLC wings, and new avionics. 89 (re)built.

F-8J

A rebuild of the F-8E to F-8H standard. 136 (re)built.

A U.S. Navy Vought F-8J Crusader of fighter squadron VF-194 "Red Lightnings" intercepts a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 reconnaissance aircraft near the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34) (steaming below) on 25 May 1974. VF-194 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19) for a deployment to the Western Pacific from 18 October 1973 to 5 June 1974. Date: 25 May 1974. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
A U.S. Navy Vought F-8J Crusader of fighter squadron VF-194 “Red Lightnings” intercepts a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 reconnaissance aircraft near the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34) (steaming below) on 25 May 1974. VF-194 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19) for a deployment to the Western Pacific from 18 October 1973 to 5 June 1974.
Date: 25 May 1974. US Navy via Wikimedia Commons.
F-8K

A rebuild of the F-8C to F-8H standard. 87 (re)built.

F-8L

A rebuild of the F-8B to F-8H standard. 61 (re)built.

F8U-3

A totally different, faster and more powerful aircraft. Three were built and flown. The type lost out to the F-4 Phantom. The US Navy called it “by far the best airplane we ever cancelled.”

The first of two U.S. Navy Vought F8U-3 Crusader III taxiing. This aircraft was transferred to the NASA as "225" in June 1959. US Navy. Wikimedia Commons.
The first of two U.S. Navy Vought F8U-3 Crusader III taxiing. This aircraft was transferred to the NASA as “225” in June 1959. US Navy. Wikimedia Commons.

Videos

Specifications

Make Vought
Model F-8E Crusader
Aircraft Type Single engine, carrier-based, supersonic fighter
Role Fighter
Crew complement Single pilot
First flight 25 March 1955
Last flight French Crusaders operated until 2000
Number produced 1,219
Unit cost Unknown
Maximum weight 34,000 lb (15,000 kg)
Powerplant(s) One J-57 Pratt & Whitney turbojet
Wingspan 35′ 8″
Length 54′ 3″
Height 15′ 9″
Armament 4x20mm cannon, up to 4 Sidewinder missiles, 32 Mk 4/40 folding fin rockets, 2xLAU-10 rocket pods, 2xAGM-12 Bullpup air to surface missiles, 12x250lb bombs, 8×500 lb bombs, 4×1,000 lb bombs or 2×2,000 lb bombs.
Payload Not applicable
Range 1,735 miles
Combat radius  450 miles
Service ceiling 58,000′
Cruise speed 495 knots
Maximum speed Mach 1.86
Claim to fame Had the only variable-incidence wing in operational use.

More Aircraft

Along with the Voodoo, the Crusader flew low level missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If you enjoyed this, head over to our Aircraft page for more more articles like this.

Books about the Crusader

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