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Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III

Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype

United States | 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; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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.

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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.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype.
1 x Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5A turbojet engine developing 29,500lbs of thrust with afterburner.
1,131 mph
1,820 kph | 983 kts
Max Speed
64,961 ft
19,800 m | 12 miles
Service Ceiling
2,044 miles
3,290 km | 1,776 nm
Operational Range
32,500 ft/min
9,906 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype.
58.4 ft
17.80 m
O/A Length
40.0 ft
(12.20 m)
O/A Width
16.4 ft
(5.00 m)
O/A Height
21,859 lb
(9,915 kg)
Empty Weight
38,801 lb
(17,600 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype .
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.
Notable series variants as part of the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III family line.
XF8U-3 "Crusader III" - Base Project Designation; five examples completed.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 5 Units

Contractor(s): Chance Vought - USA
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Image of the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III
Image courtesy of the Public Domain.

Going Further...
The Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III Carrier-based Fighter Aircraft Prototype appears in the following collections:
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