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Vought F-8 Crusader Carrier-Borne Naval Fighter Aicraft

The storied Vought F-8 Crusader carrier-based fighter served in an operational role for over 40 years with the United States, the Philippines, and France.

 Updated: 4/21/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

The Vought F-8 "Crusader" was a direct response to a United States Navy requirement for a modern supersonic, carrier-based fighter. Utilizing nearly the identical powerplant of the North American F-100 "Super Sabre", the F-8 Crusader became the world's first carrier-based aircraft to break the speed of sound. The single-seat Crusader featured a long fuselage with a swept-back high-wing assembly and single-engine installation. A single vertical tail fin was fitted over the rear of the fuselage. The engine, exhausting through a large jet pipe at rear, generated upwards of 18,000lb thrust with an afterburn capability. As a naval carrier-based fighter, the aircraft was fitted primarily with 4 x 20mm internal cannons for close-in work and supported early forms of American air-to-surface missiles (no ground attack capability was added) including the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missile. Crusaders were eventually pressed into service over the skies of Vietnam with the growing American commitment in Southeast Asia. There it served with both the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Navy (USN).

As a predominantly cannon-armed fighter, the F-8 has been seen by many as the end of the line for all-cannon-armed fighter jets - making the F-8 the last of the classic "gunfighters".

Of eight initial submissions viewed by USN authorities, the Vought F-8 design was selected for prototyping (as the XF8U - two examples completed). Carrier operations required special qualities in an aircraft, none more so important than the ability to take-off from a short runway, have an integrated tailhook for landing and feature a reinforced undercarriage capable of withstanding the violent force of carrier deck landings. The Vought submission fit the bill with the initial production version designated as F8U-1. The F-8 was also engineered with a special "tilting" wing assembly that could move up 7-degrees from its rest position. This minor movement allowed the aircraft the ability to achieve the short take-off and landings consistent with carrier operations.

The production-quality F8U-1 showcased underwing missile rails which proved a feature not found on the prototypes. The aircraft was capable of supersonic flight and set various speed and endurance records in its early career. In fact, it would be future astronaut and future United States Senator John Glenn that piloted a reconnaissance version of the Crusader from one American coast to the other - a flight taking just over 3 hours. 1962 saw the United States Navy adopt a revised aircraft designation system set down by the United States Air Force (USAF). From this point onwards, all Crusader variants (and other USN aircraft) would inherit all-new designations based on this change. As such, the F8U-1 simply became the F-8A model.

The F-8 stocked the USN and USMC inventories during the Vietnam War (1955-1975. Its first operational combat sorties took place on August 2nd, 1964. After an attack by four North Vietnamese patrol boats on the USS Maddox destroyer, four Crusaders were dispatched from USS Ticonderoga and were able to sink one of the escaping vessels. The U.S. Navy would go on to utilize the Crusader in more of a traditional dogfighting interceptor role whilst the US Marines operated it as a limited strike/attack aircraft.

The Crusader eventually proved its worth through action and resiliency. It found frontline service across four decades including service with the French Navy (Aeronavale). French Crusaders were a specially-produced export breed designated as F-8E(FN) and these aircraft were given blown flaps to assist the aircraft in landing and taking off from the shorter and smaller French-made carriers. The French acquired some 42 Crusaders in this form and these served until replaced by the modern Dassault "Rafale" 4th Generation fighter beginning in 2000. This retirement marked the last official operational F-8 in service anywhere.

The Philippines Air Force was the third and final operator of the F-8 and these were retired in 1991. These were second-hand USN aircraft purchased when more modern products proved fiscally elusive to the Philippines government. 35 aircraft were delivered and were F-8H models. All were scrapped.

The XF8U-3 was a highly modified offshoot of the F-8 Crusader line featuring a revised air intake, nose cone assembly and large, folding ventral strakes under the tail. This version became known as "Crusader III" following the original F-8A ("Crusader I") and F-8C ("Crusader II") models. The prototypes competed unsuccessfully against the McDonnell Douglas offering that would eventually become the fabled F-4 "Phantom II" fighter. Both the F-8 and F-4 served in the skies over Vietnam.

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Vought F-8 Crusader Technical Specifications

Service Year: 1957
Type: Carrier-Borne Naval Fighter Aicraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Vought - USA
Production Total: 1,219

Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 54.49 feet (16.61 meters)
Overall Width: 35.17 feet (10.72 meters)
Overall Height: 15.75 feet (4.80 meters)

Weight (Empty): 19,925 lb (9,038 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 34,000 lb (15,422 kg)

Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

Propulsion: 1 x Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A turbojet engine with afterburning developing 18,000 lb of thrust.

Maximum Speed: 1,118 mph (1,800 kph; 972 knots)
Maximum Range: 600 miles (966 km)
Service Ceiling: 58,704 feet (17,893 meters; 11.12 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 19,000 feet-per-minute (5,791 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

4 x 20mm internal cannons

Mission-specific armament included:
2 OR 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
2 x AGM12 Bullpup air-to-surface missiles

French Naval Variant:
4 x 20mm cannons
2 x Matra R.530 air-to-air missiles
4 x Matra Magic R.550 air-to-air missiles

Global Operators / Customers

France; Philippines; United States

Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

F8U-1 - Initial Production Model
F8U-1P - Reconnaissance Variant
F8U-1E - Limited All-Weather Model with improved radar system.
F8U-2 - Improved radar system; Improved fire control system; Uprated J57-P-16 powerplant generating 16,900lbs of thrust with afterburn.
F8U-2N - Updated avionics systems; Uprated J57-P-20 powerplant increasing thrust to 18,000lbs.
F8U-2NE - Improved all-weather model with updated radar and fire control systems.
F-8A - F8U-1 Model Redesignated
F-8B - F8U-1E Model Redesignated
F-8C - F8U-2 Model Redesignated
F-8D - F8U-2N Model Redesignated
F-8E - F8U-2NE Model Redesignated
RF-8A - F8U-1P Model Redesignated
F-8E(FN) - French Naval Export Version; blown flaps for reduced landing speeds and provision for French-based Matra air-to-air missile systems to replace AIM-9 Sidewinders.
F-8P - Refurbished F-8H models exported to the Philippine Air Force.