in , , ,

The Crusader: The Last Gunfighter Was One Impressive Engineering Triumph

This Is How Vought Developed Some of the Navy’s Fastest Single-Engine Jet Fighters Ever

Official US Navy photograph

When Vought produced this retrospective film about their F8U-1 and F8U-2 Crusader fighter the days of the Last Gunfighter serving in frontline fleet squadrons were numbered. Their other fighter design of the period, the XF8U-3 Crusader III, was intended not only to compete with the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II but to keep the company in the fighter business for the foreseeable future. We all know that turned out differently, but the film does a great job of describing both aircraft and their capabilities in depth. Uploaded to YouTube by AVhistorybuff, this film should appeal to every fan of the MiG Master.

Official US Navy photograph

Vought’s F8U-1 and F8U-2 Crusaders equipped Navy and Marine Corps fighter squadrons between 1957 and 1976. The photo-recon RF-8 version served even longer. In the film the XF8U-3 gets quite a bit of screen time even though there were only five of them built. It is a bit surprising that the Crusader III was actually developed in parallel with the other Crusaders. The XF8U-3 was first flown in June of 1958 and reached speeds operational speeds of Mach 2.32 soon thereafter with Mach 2 attained in level flight. Powered by a single Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5A engine capable of 29.500 pounds of thrust with afterburner, the Crusader III’s thrust-to-weight ratio was an impressive .97:1.

Official US Navy photograph

Easily identified by its distinctive forward canted scoop intake, prominent retractable ventral strakes, and fatter aft fuselage necessary to accommodate the larger J75 engine, the Crusader III was, in the words of Vought test pilots, fully capable of “flying circles around” the F-4 Phantom. But like the other Crusaders the XF8U-3 was planned to be equipped with four 20 millimeter cannons (though they were not installed)- which at the time were thought to be obsolete. We all know that turned out differently too. Task saturation while operating the radar and fire control systems for the single pilot of the Crusader III was also a problem, but the final straw was the larger payload and fighter-bomber capability of the F-4. The XF8U-3 just wasn’t a multi-role aircraft. And it never would be.

Official US Navy photograph

The F8U-3 program was cancelled. The five airframes built by Vought were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and used for testing. Of course the F-4 went on to become the Phabulous Phantom, famous in song and story. The Crusader went down in history as one of the most memorable jets its pilots ever flew and taglines like, “when you’re out of F-8s you’re out of fighters” became the stuff of legends. And the Crusader III? NASA pilots flying the cast-off XF8U-3s out of Pax River routinely waxed the sixes of Navy pilots flying F-4s over the Chesapeake until the practice was outlawed…by the Navy. Or so the story goes!

Official US Navy photograph

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

Military and Civilian Aircraft Highlight the Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow

Watch as B-52 BUFFs Roar Past Low and Slow at Barksdale AFB