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Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III

Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype [ 1958 ]

The Chance Vought XF8U-3 was born from the F-8 Crusader design and competed unsuccessfully against the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II prototype.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 02/21/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The XF8U-3 "Crusader III" was a Chance Vought Mach 2-capable prototype series intended to fulfill the supersonic, all-weather, fleet defense interceptor role eventually undertaken by a design that would become the famous McDonnell Douglas F-4 "Phantom II". The Crusader III attempted to continue the line born with the original F-8 Crusader of 1957 which was eventually adopted by both the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Crusader marked the end of the "gunfighter" jet - the period of American all-cannon fighters - as the Navy looked to missile-minded aircraft for future defense. The Crusader III retained some of the recognizable lines found in the original F-8 design but certainly became its own aircraft with an all-new profile and few commonality of parts between the expected successor and the original offering. However, the United States Navy elected to go a different route than the Crusader III presented and only five prototypes were eventually completed.

The original F-8 Crusader was later known as "Crusader I" with the arrival of F8U-2 (F-8C). F8U-2 then became "Crusader II" with its 2 x cannon armament, J57-P-16 engine of 16,900lb thrust, and lengthened fuselage. The II-model made up 187 of the total 1,219 Crusaders produced. With the arrival of the XF8U-3, the line added the "Crusader III" name - first unofficially, then officially.

Early work on the Crusader III yielded a design that offered improvements over the original Vought product. The resulting design was known by company engineers as model "V-401". The basic Crusader design form was held in check while a pointed nose cone assembly was added. The wings could pivot at different approach angles - known as a variable-incidence wing - as they could on the F-8. Large ventral strakes (fins) were added under the tail and the under-nose intake featured a sharp forward lower lip. The ventral strakes were too lengthy for the aircraft to land or take-off with so they were engineered to fold flat for the necessary clearance when on the ground. The engine of choice became a single Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5A turbojet offering 16,500lbs of thrust on dry and up to 29,500lbs of thrust with afterburner engaged. As with the original F-8, the Crusader III - prototype series name of XF8U-3 - was a conventional inline fighter design with a forward-set, single-seat cockpit and single-engine installation. The tail was capped by a single vertical tail fin and the mainplanes were high-mounted along the fuselage spine.

The XF8U-3 incorporated several technological features to help it fulfill its intended role. This included a radar system and fire control computer assist. The radar allowed for tracking of multiple targets and engagement of at least two of them. Proposed armament was to keep the 4 x 20mm cannon arrangement of the original but introduce broader support for the AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range radar-guided missile as well as the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missile. The aircraft would carry these across its seven hardpoints. There was also proposed thrust assistance envisioned through the installation of a Rocketdyne rocket motor to provide an additional 8,000lbs of thrust for a short burst of extreme speed - useful in reaching a target area in short order - though this was an optimistic measure considering the XF8U-3's conventional airframe design and construction.©MilitaryFactory.com
With that, the XF8U-3 prototype went airborne for the first time on June 2nd, 1958. In a U.S. Navy competition against the McDonnell F-4 prototype, the Crusader showed some key qualities including speed and control. At least three of the completed five XF8U-3 prototypes were flown during testing. The aircraft that would eventually become the Phantom II was selected ahead of the Vought submission as it provided a much larger payload-carrying capability and included a second crewman to handle the radar system. As such, work on the XF8U-3 concluded with the five airframes completed. These were then passed to NASA for high-altitude testing until the airframes were dismantled and destroyed.

During its test phase, the XF8U-3 exhibited a maximum demonstrated speed of Mach 2.39 flying at altitudes of 50,000 feet. Its listed service ceiling was 65,000 feet but testing showed one greater at 76,000 feet - hence NASA's interest in the aircraft. Cruising speeds ranged around 575 miles per hour with a rate-of-climb nearing 32,500 feet per minute. Ferry ranges reached 2,045 miles with a combat range expected around 645 miles. Dimensions included a length of 58 feet, 8 inches, a height of 16 feet, 4 inches, and a wingspan of 40 feet.

In comparison, the F-4E Phantom II model showcased a maximum speed of Mach 2.23 with cruise speeds in the 585mph range. Ferry range became 1,615 miles with a combat radius of 420 miles. Rate-of-climb was 41,300 feet per minute. The E-model also could carry a combat load of 18,650lbs to include air-to-air missiles as well as air-to-surface missiles and conventional drop ordnance. The cannon-and-missile-minded XF8U-3 was only ever truly designed as a fleet defense fighter to which its ordnance-carrying capabilities would have proven extremely limited.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

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United States

Development Ended.


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(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Ability to intercept inbound aerial threats by way of high-performance, typically speed and rate-of-climb.
Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

58.4 ft
(17.80 m)
40.0 ft
(12.20 m)
16.4 ft
(5.00 m)
Empty Wgt
21,859 lb
(9,915 kg)
38,801 lb
(17,600 kg)
Wgt Diff
+16,943 lb
(+7,685 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III production variant)
Installed: 1 x Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5A turbojet engine developing 29,500lbs of thrust with afterburner.
Max Speed
1,131 mph
(1,820 kph | 983 kts)
64,961 ft
(19,800 m | 12 mi)
2,044 mi
(3,290 km | 6,093 nm)
32,500 ft/min
(9,906 m/min)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)
STANDARD (proposed):
4 x 20mm Colt Mk 12 internal cannons

OPTIONAL (proposed):
Seven hardpoints for a 3 x AIM-7 Sparrow and 4 x AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile mix.

Supported Types

Graphical image of an aircraft automatic cannon
Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of a medium-range air-to-air missile

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 7

XF8U-3 "Crusader III" - Base Project Designation; five examples completed.

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Image of the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III
Image courtesy of the Public Domain.


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