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Vietnam War: F-8 Crusader

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Vietnam War: F-8 Crusader

A French F-8 Crusader aboard an American aircraft carrier

Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy

Specifications (F-8E):

General

  • Length: 54 ft. 3 in.
  • Wingspan: 35 ft. 8 in.
  • Height: 15 ft. 9 in.
  • Wing Area: 375 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 17,541 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 29,000 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Power Plant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A afterburning turbojet
  • Combat Radius: 450 miles
  • Max Speed: Mach 1.86 (1,225 mph)
  • Ceiling: 58,000 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 4 × 20 mm (0.787 in) Colt Mk 12 cannons
  • Rockets: 8 × Zuni rockets in four twin pods
  • Missiles: 4 × AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 2 x AGM-12 Bullpup air-to-ground guided missiles
  • Bombs: 12 × 250 lb bombs or 4 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or 2× 2,000 lb bombs

Design & Development:

In 1952, the US Navy issued a call for a new fighter to replace its existing aircraft. Requiring a top speed of Mach 1.2, the new fighter was to utilize 20 mm cannons in lieu of the traditional .50 cal. machine guns. Among those to take up the Navy's challenge was Vought. Led by John Russell Clark, the Vought team created a new design which was designated the V-383. Incorporating a variable-incidence wing which rotated 7 degrees during take-off and landing, the V-383 was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney J57 afterburning turbojet.

Responding to the Navy's armament requirements, Clark armed the new fighter with four 20 mm cannons as well as cheek pylons for two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and a retractable tray for 32 Mighty Mouse FFARs (unguided rockets). This initial emphasis on guns made the F-8 the last American fighter to have guns as its principal weapons system. Entering the Navy's competition, Vought faced challenges from the Grumman F-11 Tiger, the McDonnell F3H Demon, and the North American Super Fury. Through the spring of 1953, the Vought design proved its superiority and the V-383 was named the winner in May.

The following month, the Navy placed a contract for three prototypes under the designation XF8U-1 Crusader. First taking to the skies on March 25, 1955, with John Konrad at the controls, the XF8U-1, the new type performed flawlessly and development progressed rapidly. As a result the second prototype and the first production model had their inaugural flights on the same day in September 1955. Continuing the accelerated development process, the XF8U-1 began carrier testing on April 4, 1956. Later that year, the aircraft underwent weapons testing and set several speed records during its final evaluations.

Operational History:

In 1957, the F8U entered fleet service with VF-32 at NAS Cecil Field (Florida) and served with the squadron when it deployed to the Mediterranean aboard USS Saratoga later that year. Quickly becoming the US Navy's top daytime fighter, the F8U proved a difficult aircraft for pilots to master as it suffered from some instability and was unforgiving during landing. Regardless, in a time of rapidly advancing technology, the F8U enjoyed a long career by fighter standards. In September 1962, following the adoption of a unified designation system, the Crusader was re-designated the F-8.

The next month, photo reconnaissance variants of the Crusader (RF-8s) flew several dangerous missions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. On September 3, 1964, the final F-8 fighter was delivered to VF-124 and the Crusader's production run ended. With the US entry into the Vietnam War, the F-8 became the first US Navy aircraft to routinely battle North Vietnamese MiGs.

Entering combat in April 1965, the F-8 established itself as an agile dogfighter, though despite its "last gunfighter" moniker, most of its kills came through the use of air-to-air missiles. This was partly due to the high jam rate of the F-8's Colt Mark 12 cannons. During the conflict, the F-8 achieved a kill ratio of 19:3, as the type downed 16 MiG-17s and 3 MiG-21s. Flying from smaller Essex-class carriers, the F-8 was used in fewer numbers than the larger F-4 Phantom II. The US Marine Corps also operated the Crusader, flying from airfields in South Vietnam.

With the end of the US involvement in Southeast Asia, the F-8 was retained in frontline use by the Navy. In 1976, the last active duty F-8s were retired from VF-191 and VF-194 after nearly two decades of service. The RF-8 photo reconnaissance variant remained in use until 1982, and flew with the Naval Reserve until 1987. In addition to the United States, the F-8 was operated by the French Navy which flew the type from 1964 to 2000, and by the Philippine Air Force from 1977 until 1991.

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