Military


F-8 Crusader

A number of Navy fighters developed during the 1950's were capable of flight at high-subsonic speeds, but only two production types could pass through Mach 1.0: the Grumman FIIF Tiger and the Vought F8U Crusader. Capable of a maximum Mach number of about 1.1, the Tiger was just barely able to enter the supersonic flight regime. With a maximum Mach number of 1.75 at 35 000 feet and a Mach 1.0 capability at sea level, however, the Crusader had much the higher performance of the two aircraft.

The F-8, started as the XF8U-1, has served as a model of what a successful airplane development should be. The requirement was sound, the design competition tough, and the development well managed by both the Navy and the contractor. The design followed the quite unsuccessful F7U at Chance Vought, and proved conclusively that selection decisions can safely be made on the merit of a design, and not on the record of the last development.

The F-8 aircraft was originally built by Chance-Vought [later LTV Aerospace], Dallas, Texas. Powerplant was a Pratt and Whitney J57 turbojet. The F-8 Crusader was the last US fighter designed with guns as its primary weapon. The F8U-1 entered service in March of 1957. The improved F8U-2 version of the Crusader was introducted in the early 1960s, featuring enhanced "all-weather" capabilities. The F8U was redesignated the F-8 in 1962, with the F8U-1 becoming the F-8A and the F8U-lE the F-8B. By the time the last delivery was made in January 1965, 1,264 had been accepted for the Navy, the Marine Corps and foreign military use. The Crusader was last reported in squadron by VFP-206 on 1 April 1987 at NAF Washington, D.C. A single-seat, single-engine daytime fighter, the F8U was distinctive for its high wing with variable incidence to alter landing speed.

The Crusader was the first carrier-based aircraft to reach a speed of 1000 miles per hour. Not quite as high in maximum speed or rate of climb as the later-model Century Series fighters, the F-8H is nevertheless shown by the data in table V to be a high-performance supersonic aircraft. As a fighter, it was usually equipped with four 20-mm cannons and two or four Sidewinder missiles. Initially, a clear-weather air-superiority fighter, the Crusader was later modified to have limited allweather capability.

The Korean War gave the US Navy keen appreciation of the requirements for new fighter aircraft. Out of this experience came two of finest American fighter aircraft developed in midcentury: the F8U-1 (F-8) Crusader and the all-missile McDonnell F4H-1 (F-4) Phantom II. Both were designed to address shortfalls in previous designs revealed in Korea. The F-8 and F-4 represented two approaches to fighter design -- the "old" era of close-in dogfighting and the anticipated "new" era of beyond visual range (BVR) missiles. Indeed, the F8U Crusader was the only US Navy and Marine Corps post-Korea fighter that was an air superiority fighter in the tradition of the Grumman F6F Hellcat of the Second World War.

In September 1952, the Navy solicited proposals from eight aircraft manufacturing companies for a new supersonic daytime carrier-based fighter which would feature easy maintenance, folding wings and a slow landing speed, along with the ability to exceed the speed of sound in routine level flight. Chance Vought was considered the competitor least likely to succeed, having produced three earlier disappointing Navy aircraft (F5U, F6U, and F7U). Nonetheless, Chance-Vought won the bid with the F8U Crusader design, incorporating a 42-degree swept-wing design to achieve the high speed requirement. The Navy awarded Vought the contract on 29 June 1953. The F8U first flew on 25 March 1955, the first delivery was in March 1957.

The F8U Crusader is unique in providing a two-position, variable incidence wing which allowed the pilot to hydraulically raise it 7 degrees to enable the aircraft to land and takeoff at slow speeds while maintaining the fuselage parallel to a carrier deck or runway for excellent visibility by the pilot. Armed with four 20-mm cannons, the F8U was considered a pure air-superiority aircraft by its pilots. It was also capable of carrying an ordnance load of 4,000 lbs including AIM-9 "Sidewinder" heat seeking air-to-air-missiles, Zuni air-to-ground rockets and "Bullpup" air-to-ground missiles. Wingspan is 35 feet 2 inches (350 square feet), and the overall length is 54 feet 6 inches, and height is 15 feet 9 inches.

Configuration features of the F-8 include a variable-incidence, 35 swept wing mounted at the top of the fuselage, an all-moving horizontal tail mounted below the extended chord plane of the wing, and a chin inlet to feed air to the single 16600-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney turbojet engine. Although not evident in the figures, the fuselage was carefully shaped in accordance with the transonic area rule.

The two-position variable incidence wing of the F-8 is a unique feature dictated by aircraft-carrier landing requirements. With the low-aspect-ratio swept wing of the F-8A, a high angle of attack was needed to reach the desired lift coefficient in the carrier approach and landing maneuver. To avoid tail scrape and possible damage at touchdown, the landing-gear configuration of the aircraft severely limited the maximum usable aircraft pitch angle. For this reason, and to provide the pilot with improved visibility during the approach, the required angle of attack was achieved by shifting the wing from the low to the high incidence position while, at the same time, maintaining the aircraft pitch angle within the desired range. Seven degrees was the amount by which the incidence changed as the wing was shifted from the low to the high position.

Other features of the approximately 6-percent-thick wing included a chord extension, sometimes called a snag or dogtooth, beginning at about the midsemispan position and extending to the wingtip. A vortex generated at the beginning of the snag helps alleviate pitch-up in much the same manner as a wing fence (discussed in chapter 10). High-lift devices consisted of inboard and outboard leading-edge flaps and plain trailing-edge flaps. To further increase the maximum lift coefficient, the capability of the trailing-edge flap was augmented by blowing boundary-layer control using bleed air from the engine. Small inboard ailerons were used for lateral control; these surfaces could also be deflected symmetrically to increase lift at low speeds.

The fixed-geometry inlet seems, at first glance, to be somewhat incongruous on an aircraft of such high performance as that of the Crusader. The nose of the aircraft protrudes forward of the chin inlet, however, and probably serves much the same purpose as the fixed conical bodies employed on the inlets of the Lockheed F-104. As compared with a nose-mounted normal-shock inlet, the chin inlet would accordingly be expected to have better pressure recovery at the supersonic speeds achieved by the F-8.

Significant accomplishments by the F8U included a non-stop flight from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to one in the Atlantic, and a non-stop transcontinental flight speed record (723 mph) on 16 July 1957 by a single engine aircraft set by a Major John Glenn, USMC. Dubbed "Operation Bullet," the flight began in Los Angeles, California, and ended over Floyd Bennett Field, New York. It lasted just over 3 hours and 23 minutes and beat the previous official record by 21 minutes. This was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed. Four-and-a-half years later, he would set an even more spectacular record. In 1960, Commander James B. Stockdale became the first aviator to log 1,000 hours in the F-8 Crusader. Crusaders participated in Lebanon patrol operations and photo-intelligence flights during the Cuban missile crisis.

The Seventh Fleet's air units provided early support to the Republic of Vietnam in its struggle with the Communist foe. During the 1961 fall crisis, planes from Ticonderoga (CVA 14) conducted photographic reconnaissance over the Central Highlands. In September and October 1961, Douglas A3D-2P Skywarriors and Vought F8U-IP Crusaders flew random missions over suspected infiltration routes. Beginning in 1963, up to three carrier task groups steamed at the soon-to-be famous Yankee Station, the operational staging area at 16N 110E. Aside from a naval presence, carriers supported US policy with low-level aerial reconnaissance of suspected Communist infiltration routes in eastern and southern Laos. The Navy's participation in this joint Navy-Air Force operation, designated Yankee Team, was inaugurated on 21 May 1963 by two Chance-Vought RF-8A Crusader photo reconnaissance planes from Kitty Hawk (CVA 63). On 06 June 1963, Lieutenant Charles F. Klusmann became the first American aviator taken prisoner in the long Southeast Asian conflict when his Crusader was shot down over eastern Laos. Held captive by the Pathet Lao for 86 days, Klusmann managed to escape and make his way to friendly forces.

After 2 years of postgraduate school at Stanford, Stockdale was given command of VF-51, flying the F-8E, and was sent to the Gulf of Tonkin, in Southeast Asia. On 2 August 1964, while on a training mission, he was directed to support the USS Maddox. Arriving on the scene, he found the Maddox under attack by three North Vietnamese PT boats. Stockdale and his wingmen attacked the PT boats, sinking one and damaging two. Two days later, he was again tasked to support the Maddox in an event known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

On 5 August 1964, while serving as Commander of VF-51, Stockdale led a strike force from the USS Ticonderoga against the Vinh oil storage yards in North Vietnam. President Johnson ordered the attack in retaliation for the North Vietnamese attack against the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. Flying in his F-8E Crusader, Stockdale and his force totally destroyed the oil yards and began the United States' direct involvement in the war in Vietnam. On 9 September 1965, while flying an A-4 Skyhawk, Stockdale, at the age of 41, was shot down over North Vietnam and became a prisoner of war. For the next 7 1/2 years, he served as the senior naval service POW in the central penitentiary. In recognition of an act of heroism he performed in 1969 as a prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam, James B. Stockdale was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

F-8s were on-scene throughout the Vietnam conflict in photographic, strike and fighter roles and took credit for downing 18 MiGs. Eighty three Crusaders were lost in action while 109 sustained major damage.

The RF-8G Crusader aircraft, the "Eyes of the Fleet" operated by Photo Reconnaissance Squadrons (VFP), featured camera ports on the side of the fuselage and a forward firing camera in the blister below the intake. The RF-8's remained in service longer than the fighters, equipping reserve units through late 1986.

Retired from the U.S. Navy in 1987, the French Navy continued to operate them from their aircraft carriers. As of 1994 20 of the carrier-based Crusaders remained from the 42 initially delivered. The F-8E(FN) carrier-based interceptors of the French Navy, the last remaining operational Crusaders, were replaced at the end of 1999 by the new Rafale-M.

The F-8 Crusader was deployed in a number of variants:

  • XF8U-1: Experimental version of the F8U-1.
  • F8U-1 (F-8A): Single place, swept-wing, carrier-based day fighter. Equipped to carry AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
  • F8U-1E (F-8B): F-8A equipped with AN/APS-67 visual assist radar.
  • F8U-1P (RF-8A): Photographic version of F-8A
  • F8U-1T (TF-8A): Two-seat trainer
  • XF8U-2: Experimental version of the F8U-2
  • F8U-2 (F-8C): Improved version of F-8B with improved engine and fixed ventral fins.
  • F8U-2N (F-8D): Similar to F-8C. Limited all-weather aircraft with AN/APQ-83 radar, autopilot, higher thrust engine and additional fuel capacity. Equipped to carry four Sidewinder missiles.
  • F8U-2NE (F-8E): Similar to F-8D except equipped with AN/APQ-94 radar with larger antenna.
  • F8U-3: Improved version of F8U with all-weather capabilities.
  • F8U-1D (DF-8A): Configured as a high-speed control aircraft for Regulus I/II missile.
  • F8U-1KD (QF-8A): Configured as a Regulus I missile high-speed trounce and control aircraft.
  • DF-8F: Configured for remote control of QF-9F and QF-9G aircraft and BQM-34A, AQM-34B and AQM-34C
  • drones.
  • RF-8G: F-8A modernized for increased service life and reconnaissance capabilities.
  • F-8H: F-8D modified to include external wing store capability, increased strength fuselage, lead-launch computer and other improvements.
  • F-8J: F-8E with increased fuselage and wings, and other improvements.
  • F-8K: Similar to F-8C but with structural changes to fuselage, wing and landing gear.
  • F-8L: Similar to F-8B but with structural changes to fuselage, wing and landing gear.
  • F-8M: Similar to F-8A but with structural changes to fuselage, wing and landing gear.



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