The Vought F8U Crusader, enjoyed a very long career. Its 10,000 pounds static thrust (16,200 pounds static thrust with afterburner) Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet gave it a top speed of Mach 1.53 at 35,000 feet and a range of 1,474 miles. It was armed with four 20mm cannon and two Sidewinders. Later versions used uprated engines generating 10,700 pounds static thrust (18,000 pounds with afterburner). They attained Mach 1.72 at 35,000 feet and had a 1,425-mile range. In ad- dition to four 20mm cannon, they could carry four Sidewinders and up to 5,000 pounds of external ordnance. The later versions also had limited all-weather capabilities.
The Vought F-8E was central to the Tonkin Gulf incident, which led to America’s direct intervention in the Southeast Asian crisis, when on August 2, 1964, aircraft defended US Navy units from attack by North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. Four Crusaders of the VF-53 Squadron from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, sunk an enemy vessel with missiles and gunfire, thus initiating a war that did not end until 1973.
From 1964 to 1969, during which time the Crusaders were gradually replaced on US Navy aircraft carriers by F-4B Phantoms, the F-8s, designed as daytime supersonic fighters, were also largely employed in strike missions mostly over North Vietnam, carrying up to 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg) of bombs under the wings. The first encounter between F-8Es and MiG-17s took place on July 12, 1967, and after that date the Crusaders frequently took on the North Vietnamese fighters, emerging from battle with a tally of fifteen MiG-17s and three MiG-21s shot down in dogfights, for the loss of only three planes. However, another 53 F-8Es and F-8Js fell victim to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries, and a further 58 were destroyed while in action as a result of various causes.
An important support role was also played by the RF-8 reconnaissance planes, 38 of them being lost through anti-aircraft fire, SAM missiles or accidents. All US Navy aircraft carriers engaged in the war were equipped with Crusader squadrons, the most successful of these being the VF-121 which chalked up six victories in fights with MiGs. Although there was no cause for regret in their replacement by the McDonnell F-4B Phantoms, the Crusaders ranked third as ‘MiG killers’ in Vietnam, after the Phantoms themselves and the Republic F-105s.
The first daytime supersonic carrier based interceptor, the Crusader was conceived in 1952, built to the order of the US Navy. The prototype flew on March 25, 1955, successfully testing the original solution of a wing of variable incidence, designed to reduce the velocity and improve landing capability. Production started soon afterward and, up to 1965, 1,259 machines of various series were built, increasingly powerful and up-to-date. The principal types were the F-8A interceptor (first flight September 30, 1955, with 318 machines), which went into service in March 1957; the F-8C air-superiority (187 machines, first flight August 20, 1958); and the F-8D all-weather fighter (152 planes, first flight February 16, 1960). The final version was the F-8E (first flight June 26, 1964), also designed as an all-weather fighter, of which 286 were built. The Crusader remained in front line service until the late 1970s, thanks to a massive modernization program starting in 1966, involving 375 planes from all series: 136 F-8Es, in particular, were transformed into F-8Js, the modifications applying mainly to certain structural components, the wings and the electronics.
XF8U-1 (XF-8A) (V-383) – the two original unarmed prototypes.
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) (V-408) – 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.
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 cheek 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-83 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-83 radar in earlier F-8D. IRST sensor blister (round ball) was added in front of the canopy. 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-84 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-124 radar. A total of 136 rebuilt.
F-8K – upgraded F-8C with Bullpup capability and J57-P-20A engines, with AN/APQ-125 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 as controller aircraft for testing of missiles including at the USN facility at China Lake.
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.
LTV V-100 – revised “low-cost” development based on the earlier F-8 variants, created in 1970 to compete against the F-4E Phantom II, Lockheed CL-1200 and F-5-21 in a tender for U.S. Military Assistance Program (MAP) funding. The unsuccessful design was ultimately only a “paper exercise.”
XF8U-3 Crusader III (V-401) – 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 2.39 in test flights, canceled after five aircraft were constructed because the Phantom II won the Navy contract.
Aircraft: Vought F-8E
Manufacturer: Chance Vought Inc.
Engine: Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A
Power: 18,000 lb (8,165 kg)
Wingspan: 35ft 8in (10.87m)
Length: 54ft 3in (16.53m)
Height: 15ft 9in (4.80m)
Wing area: 375sq ft (34.83m²)
Max take-off weight: 34,000 lb (15,422kg)
Max speed: 1,120mph at 40,000ft (1,802km/h at 12,192m)
Service ceiling: 58,000ft (17,678m)
Load-armament: 4x20mm cannon; 5,000 lb (2,267kg)