Photo: Black.Dots via Flickr
Navy personnel referred to the F-8 as “Vought’s Last Chance,” since the Vought company’s last iteration, the F-7, was a miserable piece of gear.Vought hit a home run though, producing a fighter jet that stayed in active service longer than all other fighters up till that point. It’s longevity though, put it in some odd situations.
From gunfights in the sky, to fly-by-wire space technology, to, of all things, surveillance, the F-8’s career was a strange journey through the annals of history.
In 1952, fraught with issues with their current fighters, the Navy put in a request for a fighter that could top Mach 1.2.
Lessons learned in the Korean War prompted Naval planners to adjust the specs for flight speed, armament, and landing speed.
Vought took things a step further when it produced the planes with the innovative 'variable-incidence wing.'
The wing, invented by a Frenchman in 1912, allowed pilots to shorten or lengthen take offs and landings.
It also had the nickname 'The Gator' and 'The Ensign Killer' because it was tough to handle on the deck of a ship.
Even so, most pilots loved the bird, which was so powerful it could actually take off with its wings still folded.
A 'day fighter,' the Crusader was one of many jets restricted to flights and dogfights in the day time.
And fight she did eventually, over Vietnam. The Crusader was the last fighter with machine guns as a primary weapon.
The Marines adopted her as well, flying low altitude close air support in South Vietnam to support small-unit operations.
Several pilots took down Vietnamese MiG jets, leading to the Crusader to have the best kill ratio of any jet in the fight — 19:3.
The fighter version of the jet retired in 1976, and the recon versions in '84, making it one of the longest lived in history.
The idea was to test controversial fly-by-wire technology — switching out conventional flight controls with digital interfaces.
NASA also got rid of the wings, preferring instead to outfit the Crusader with 'supercritical wings' — leading to increased efficiency in fuel management.
All told the Crusader had an epic career, spanning NASA flight, machine gun dogfights, and service with three different countries; France, US, and the Philippines.
Now once can find their hulking shapes rusted out in jet graveyards, or, for the lucky few, glistening on the floors of flight museums.
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