The Vought F8U-1(F-8A) Crusader
In 1953 the F8U-1 Crusader won the Navy competition for the new carrier-based day fighter. It flew supersonic on its maiden flight in 1955. A Crusader set a national speed record in 1956 by flying over 1000 mph (1,609 km/h), for which it won the Thompson Trophy. In 1957 Major John Glenn flew an F8U non-stop from Los Angeles to New York, setting a transcontinental speed record. The average speed for the flight was Mach 1.1 despite three in-flight refuelling at speeds below 300 mph (483 km/h). In 1957 the Crusader won the Collier Trophy for its contributions to the advancement of aviation science. In 1958 Vought received the first Certificate of merit ever awarded an aircraft manufacturer by the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics for the design, development and production of a US Navy aircraft. In the Vietnam conflict the Crusader had the highest kill ratio over communist jets of any Navy aircraft. The F8U series enjoyed a long service life, which was extended in the 1960s by re-manufacturing and updating existing aircraft. Crusaders flew in Navy reserve units until 1987, and the French navy flew its Crusaders well into the 1990’s.
With the rapid pace of the XF8U-1 flight test programme, and the almost non-existent requirement for major modifications to the aircraft as a result of flight test, fabrication of the production version of the Crusader followed that of the prototypes virtually uninterrupted, beginning at a rate of three per month, and soon accelerating to a rate of eight per month. As a result, the first production aircraft, F8U-1Bu.No. 140444 made its first flight on 30 September 1955, six months and five days after the initial flight of XF #1, and the production line continued to roll until 25 November 1963 when the last Crusader, F-8E (FN) Number 42 (Bu.No. 151773) completed final assembly.
On 3 September 1958, BuNo. 145318 flew from NAS Dallas as the prototype model of the F8U-1E with a modified avionics system. This modification replaced the AN/APG-30 gun-ranging radar system with the AN/APS-67 radar scanner in the nose section of the aircraft. The change gave the Crusader a limited all-weather capability, and expanded its mission beyond the pure “day fighter” requirements of the original version. This version of the Crusader was identifiable externally by the new radome configuration - an all-plastic radome in lieu of the combination metal/plastic radome of the F8U-1. The new radome had a small glass window on the lower aft surface, which permitted a gun camera to record the results of gunfire runs. In all other respects, the F8U-1E was identical to the F8U-1. One-hundred-thirty of the F8U-1E models were built.
The Vought F8U Crusader was the first U.S.Navy aircraft capable of sustained supersonic flight and was the first Navy fighter capable of exceeding 1000 mph (1,609 km/h) in level flight. A total of 1,261 Crusaders were built. Forty-five years after the first flight of the prototype, the Crusader still served with the French Navy.
In May of 1953, the Navy selected the Vought V-383 as the winner of the competition. The Navy at that time ordered several mock-ups and wind tunnel test models. The designation XF8U-1 was assigned. At the same time, the reconnaissance version, V-392, was also ordered under the designation F8U-1P.
The Vought Proposal
The Vought proposal was designed around the Pratt & Whitney J57-P-11 axial flow turbojet, which offered 10,900 lb.s.t. (4944.24 kg) dry and 14,500 lb.s.t. (6577.2 kg) with afterburning. The most unusual feature of the Vought design was the use of a high-mounted swept wing whose angle of incidence could be varied in flight. During takeoff or landing, the angle of incidence could be increased by seven degrees, which enabled the wing to retain a high-angle of attack during takeoff and landing, and yet enabled the fuselage to remain fairly level for better forward visibility. Positioning and locking handles inside the cockpit operated the variable-incidence wing. When the wing is raised, the centre section protrudes into the airstream, thereby acting as a large speed brake. The ailerons and the entire wing leading edge surfaces were interconnected and were automatically lowered to 25 degrees when the wing was raised to increase the camber and thus the lift. Inboard of the ailerons were a pair of small landing flaps which extended about five degrees more than the ailerons. When the wing was lowered after takeoff, all the surfaces returned to their normal in-flight positions, with the leading edge going to the position selected for the cruise droop. Aerodynamically, it was actually the fuselage that was being raised, since the wing was doing the flying. Landing with the wing down was always possible ashore, but very risky aboard ship, although it was done successfully on several occasions.
The wing had a sweepback of 42 degrees at one-quarter chord and a total area of 350 square feet. The anhedral (where the wings are set an angle such that the tips are lower than the centre. The opposite of dihedral) was five degrees. The outer wing panels folded vertically upward for carrier stowage and carried no control surfaces. However, they still had the drooping leading edge, providing a characteristic "dog-tooth", a chord-wise outer wing extension to decrease instability when approaching the stall and to minimize pitch-up tendency at high speeds.
A ram-air turbine was installed on a hinged panel in the right side of the forward fuselage. When extended into the airstream, it could provide emergency hydraulic and electrical power.
The internal fuel supply included more than 1300 US gallons (4,921.02 litres)
The F8U-1 was the initial production version of the Crusader. The Crusader test flight programme had gone so smoothly that the production F8U-1 was almost identical to the XF8U-1 prototypes. The first production F8U-1 (BuNo 140444) flew for the first time on September 30, 1955, the same day as the maiden flight of the second XF8U-1.
From September of 1955, the Navy required that that all its carrier-based aircraft be equipped with midair refuelling capability. Production F8U-1s were equipped with a retractable refuelling probe enclosed underneath a blister on the left-hand side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit.
Initial carrier qualification tests took place aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) with F8U-1 BuNo 140446 (the fourth pre-production F8U-1) in April of 1956. Patuxent test pilot Cdr R. W. "Duke" Windsor carried out the initial tests. The first catapult launch took place on 4th April.
In order to show off its new fighter, the Navy decided to use the Crusader to capture the World's air speed record, held at that time by the F-100C Super Sabre at 825 mph (1327.4 km/h). The Navy felt that the Crusader could beat that record by a substantial margin, perhaps even giving the Crusader the distinction of being the first aircraft to set a record that exceeded 1000 mph (1,609 km/h). However, on 19th March 1956, the Fairey Delta F.D.2, a British research aircraft, set a speed record of 1,132 mph (1821.4 km/h), 310 mph (498.8 km/h) greater than the previous record. Undaunted, the Navy went ahead with its plans, but since it did not want to reveal the full capabilities of the Crusader, the team was told to hold back, the only instructions being given to exceed 1000 mph. On August 21, 1956, Cdr "Duke" Windsor in F8U-1 BuNo 141345 (the twelfth production machine) hit an average speed of 1015.428 mph (1633.823 km/h) in two speed runs in opposite directions over a 15-kilometer course at an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 m) over China Lake, California. This set a new national speed record, and for this feat the Thompson Trophy was awarded to the Navy and to Vought.
On 6th June, 1957, two F8U-1s, piloted by Capt Robert G. Dose and Lt. Cdr. Paul Miller took off from the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) steaming off the California coast and flew to the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) waiting off the Florida coast. With one mid-air refuelling over Texas, the planes made the trip in 3 hours and 28 minutes. President Dwight Eisenhower was aboard the Saratoga to greet the crew as they landed.
The F-8 Crusader was the last U.S. fighter designed with guns as its primary weapon. When conflict erupted in the skies over North Vietnam , it was U.S. Navy Crusaders that first tangled with Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) MiGs in August 1965. Although the MiGs claimed the downing of a Crusader, all aircraft returned safely. At the time, the Crusader was the best dogfighter the United States had against the nimble North Vietnamese MiGs. The Navy had evolved its "night fighter" role in the air wing to an all-weather interceptor, the F-4 Phantom II, equipped to engage incoming bombers at long range with missiles such as the Sparrow as their sole air-to-air weapons, and manoeuvrability was not emphasized in their design. Some experts believed that the era of the dogfight was over as air-to-air missiles would knock down adversaries well before they could get close enough to engage in dogfighting. As aerial combat ensued over North Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, it became apparent that the dogfight was not over and the F-8 Crusader and a community trained to prevail in air-to-air combat was a key ingredient to success.
Despite the "last gunfighter" moniker, the F-8s achieved only four victories with their cannon — the remainder were accomplished with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, partly due to the propensity of the Colt Mark 12 cannons' feeding mechanism to jam under G-loading during high-speed dogfighting manoeuvres. Nonetheless, the Crusader would be credited with the best kill ratio of any American type including the famed F-4 Phantom in the Vietnam War, 19:3.
USMC Crusaders flew only in the South, some operated in close air support missions. US Navy Crusaders of which there were only a few flew from the small Essex class carriers. The Crusader was used exclusively by the Navy and Marine air wings (although there is one U.S. Air Force pilot reported shot down in an F8) and represented half or more of the carrier fighters in the Gulf of Tonkin during the first four years of the war. The aircraft was credited with nearly 53% of MiG kills in Vietnam.The most frequently used fighter versions of the Crusader in Vietnam were the C, D, and E models although the H and J were also used.
The combat attrition rate of the Crusader was comparable to similar fighters. Between 1964 to 1972, eighty-three Crusaders were either lost or destroyed by enemy fire. Another 109 required major re-building, 145 Crusader pilots were recovered; 57 were not. Twenty of these pilots were captured and released. The other 43 remained missing at the end of the war.