Memories of the RF-8A/G Crusader
Photo Courtesy Lee Schalon
Updated October 8, 2017
Webmasters message: It's no surprise to me that the Chance Vought RF-8 Crusader has captured the admiration of aviation fans all over the world. Decades after it's retirement from service, the Crusader continues to generate interest. It was a great pleasure for those of us who flew and maintained this marvelous machine.
The RF-8 & F8 Crusader
A beast of beauty? Is that even correct? My Father [Capt. Phillip Jax Smith] was a F-8 driver, & I hold him in the highest regard for having the reigns on such a powerful machine.---Phillip Jax Smith, jr.
Bob Bergs funeral in Arlington Tx.. The first time I saw the " Missing Man Formation," when one punched out on afterburner and disappeared on high--I saw my best friend's Dad go to heaven.
(VF-703) Dad activated to duty after the Pueblo Seizure:
NAS Dallas stood to attention as 703 left Dallas to Miramar. "Fang" [Capt. Frank Liberato] led the charge. As the Crusaders rolled out, we were washed with the hot breath of J.P..
Miss that Bird.
The last Crusader flight in the US was an RF8G flown by the Air Force at Edwards in 1992---used as a chase plane.
Don't remember the exact date. That bird is now in the air museum at Merced, California.---Scott Ruby, VFP-63 pilot
I actually flew the last Crusader trap, onboard USS America, CV 66. The date was October 18 1986.---Barry Gabler
Pilots Remember Their Experiences in the RF-8 Crusader
---(3/1/13) In late May, 1964 I was flying a RF-8A from the Kitty Hawk off of southern Japan and was asked to give the Brit carrier Hermes, operating with us, a supersonic flyby (a VF-114 F-4 tried but failed). I agreed but thought it might be iffy since this model had no ventral fins and was limited to 700 kts at sea level, which might not be fast enough to be supersonic.
Approaching the Hermes from the stern 10 miles out and at 3,000 ft. I was at 700 kts but .98 mach. All felt good so I continued and at 715 kts all went quiet as I went supersonic. Approaching the stern of the Hermes just above the flight deck I was at 745 kts. and 1.05 mach. I then started getting a rapidly increasing violent oscilating yaw. My first thought was bad yaw damper and I started to turn it off but then realized I was losing directional stability. Coming out of burner and a quick pull up stabilized the plane and made me a firm believer in the posted limits for the aircraft.
The Brits loved it but ruefully mentioned that the pass cracked a window on the bridge.
Two days later we were enroute to "Yankee Station" and Laos where our VFP-63 Det C and VF-111 each left an aircraft in a smoking hole in Laos and my flight lead Chuck Klusman guest of the Pathet Lao, until he got tired of the accommodations and left 6 weeks later.
[Webmaster: For the whole story go to "Vietnam Operations" and look for the link "The Price of Freedom."]
(2/19/13): The F8 wing system was TOUGH in the wing down and locked, droops up condition, otherwise I would be dead in North Vietnam. As a nugget photo pilot on my first cruise and on one of my first flights into heavy defenses I was making a photo run over Haiphong at 3000', lower than I should have been. Sector barrage was the enemy for me over the target, could see/hear the bullets going by though I was doing 700 KIAS in burner. I was afraid to the point of expansion of time, when I got my three frames of photography of the bridge of interest I decided to turn to sea and get away. I put in a good bit of rudder and aileron to get the bird rolling and some backstick to get it turning. I could not see good (tunnel vision) and when I finally saw the G meter it was laid on the stop >10G. Remember the limits were 5.1G rolling and 6.4G max. I was way above that. Lost 200 knots in a 90 degree turn in burner.
I wrote the bird up for gross over stress and they found nothing until later that day I reached out to give the old bird a pat on the folded wing as we went up a ladder in the hangar bay to tour the flight deck. The outer wing panel rattled and moved when I grabbed it. It was completely broken inside, so they changed it (had one in supply). That was the only damage. As I said, the F8 wing was TOUGH when down and locked with the droops up... Otherwise I would have been dead at the ripe old age of 22 instead of my 68 years sitting here in my rocker.
VFP-63 (67-70, 72-75, 79-80)
Ray Dunkin, my OINC, took some small arms fire in the wheel well area. The nose gear comes down, and one main mount. Rather then take him in the barrier, the boat elects to send him to Chu Lai, where the Marines had recently gone ashore, and were using the MOREST and field based catapult while they were pouring concrete. He makes a normal arrested landing, with minor damage to the outer wing panel. He gets out of the cockpit, and talking to the Marines - waiting for the cherry picker to come and get the aircraft out of the gear. He then notices the Marines are putting a cable around the tail of the aircraft - starts to get a little nervous. He then sees what turns out to be the Marine Corps version of the cherry picker disguised as a 20 ton cat. Painted Marine Corps green. He is really getting nervous now. He gets rather excited when they hook the cat up to the cable. Starts to get mad, and is yelling at the Marines. To no avail. The Marines calmly drag the RF8 out of the gear and into the side area. A total loss. Ray was not a happy camper.
Incidentally, I assume you saw the movie, 13 Days. The RF8's flying were digitized copies of actual RF8's in flight, taken from 8 mm film. I was in the lead aircraft, and a gent named Johnson was in the wing RF8. We had gone down to Meridian on a cross country to see his brother. His brother took the pictures during a section go.
[Webmaster's Note: The "gent" was Johnny Johnson and the brother taking the 8mm film was Dave Johnson, Webmaster of the "Gunfighter's site" (see our Links Page).]
I lost all oil pressure over Haiphong in 1966. NATOPS sez if you set the throttle at 86% the engine might run another 15 minutes. That baby ran 40min and got me back aboard. I title that story "How I Came To Love Mr. Pratt & Whitney". -- Len Johnson
Not all were combat losses! Bob White sends:
Shelled out of 146897 on cruise fly-off - JUN 1981. Turbine failure. "Dink"
was on my wing. The bird had been converted to an RF-8G. Thought I'd be
one of the last but another guy shelled out 10 days later - Gary Tritt. I
think we were the last Martin Baker [ejection seat] worshipers.
Gary Tritt adds:
I flew the RF-8G in VFP-63 during 63's last active duty years. Joined 63 in 1978 and did 2 cruises
on the Coral Sea with VFP-63 Det 2. Heck, I was the last guy on active duty to punch out of a
Crusader but I believe Strong from the reserves was the last Crusader ejection when he punched after
takeoff from Miramar.
J.J. Olsen sends some more photo history:
I flew the RF8A (F8U-1P) in VCP-63's Detachment Alfa onboard U.S.S. Midway during what I think was
the first deployment of the RF8A, Aug 58-Feb 59. Our birds were BuNo's 144617, 144623, and 144625. I
carqualed aboard Midway on 2 June, 1958, and deployed with Detachment Alfa in August.
The other pilots in the Det besides myself were:
Lcdr Len Derse (d)
Lt. Don Lytle
Lt Bob Thalman
We had the very first CAX-12 Photo Recon cameras and processing equipment aboard Pac Fleet ships and
we had some of the early operating problems and experiences with that system.
The RF8A was a marvelous machine and a good friend for many years.
J.J. Olsen, Cdr USN (Ret)
Len Johnson may have made the last trap in a US Crusader:
While cruising the web links, I came across the "official and unofficial 'lasts'' site. Am wondering when the last F8 trap was, since I might hold the distinction of making it. The date was February 27, 1983 aboard the Kitty Hawk. I flew a VFP-306 aircraft BUNO 145623.
The event was catapult suitability trials off the southern CA coast. They were verifying the launch
book figures for how much the F8 could be launched off-center, among other things. I remember the
off-center part because I had some wild rides down the cat. I had the pattern to myself and an open
deck. I made seven arrested landings and eight catapults, one after the other. I had come aboard
on the previous evening. It was my first carrier landing since F4/VF-102 days on the Indy in 1973
and my first in an F8 since Shang cruise in 1968.
Airborne time between launch and recovery was probably a minute or less. The whole thing took less than 30 minutes and I was launched off for
Miramar and Andrews, our home base, my carrier aviation days history. It was a fun way to end -
kind of like a July 4 fireworks grand finale.
"May God bless all of you guys who made the Crusader such a wonderful ride!"--Will Gray
The Last (four?) RF-8 Crusaders at the Boneyard (AMARC)
To see Google Earth satellite and on-the-ground photos of RF-8s at Davis Monthan, click on the link: Last RF-8s at Davis Monthan (Bone Yard) --More photos of the Crusaders stored at Davis Monthan.
"This sleek supersonic fighter commanded the respect of all that were fortunate enough to take her screaming
through the skies at the speed of heat." --Ron Knott
The Late RF-8G's with the Improved P-420 Engine
A Hot Bird
I got to fly the J and the late RF-8G's with the P-420: WOW. The photo bird had gotten heavier over the years but with the P-420 [engine] in it all that weight no longer mattered. It would blow through its 700 Knot or 1.55 M[ach] limit with ease, just like the old RF-8A would. The test hop profile was really something. That altimeter would spin like mad up to FL400 [40,000?] and then it would slip through Mach 1 in military while you were writing down all the numbers. Cannot have too much thrust! - Will Gray
"We few, we band of brothers... How fortunate we were to fly the best fighter ever built. --Bill Quinn
Memories of the Two Seat Crusader
The "2 Sader" (TF-8A)
(8/13/14) Only one "Twosader" was ever built. Intended as a Radar-Weapons Trainer, it apparently went the way of other good ideas when the Navy decided to go with the two-crew concept and bought the F4 instead of the F8U-3.
Photos of the two place Crusader were shot in 1962 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, using 9" x 9" color transparency film.---via Rod Rogers website http://faculty.erau.edu/rogersr/avNav/aircraft.html
(2/17/13): Checked my logbook; I first flew the TF-8 (then called the F8U-1T) March 12, 1962. John Pope and I were stationed at Pax River and assigned to perform service test flights on the TF-8. We flew 3 flights taking turns flying in the front and rear cockpit. We found that it had all of the good features of a single seat F8. The biggest advantage was the drag parachute. It really made landing a lot easier and probably would have saved a lot of tail pipes. Also, the rear [cockpit] was set slightly higher than the front, that offered good visibility (very helpful for an instructor pilot). Too bad they built only one.---Ray Stewart
I had three flights in TF-8A BuNo 143710 in 1964.
From the rear seat you had the feeling that you were in a single seat
because you could not see anything in the front seat and your forward
view was totally unobstructed.
The bird was lost due "MOTOR FAILURE" with Ken Fox (now deceased) as
instructor pilot with a Filipino pilot. No serious injuries upon ejection. -- PJ Smith
[Webmaster's Note: See additional comments on the accident below.]
I flew TF-8A BuNo 143710 twice in April 1967, first with D.Z. Skalla,
Assistant Director of TPS and a classmate from Class 25, TPS. Second
flight was with Gary Wheatley, a School instructor. Location was Pax
River; the airplane was attached to TPS at the time. I was a test pilot
at NASA Langley Research Center and had requested a couple of fam
flights because of an upcoming project: Direct Lift Control (DLC) on
Approach and Landing, using an F8C modified to provide direct lift,
jacking the airplane up and down with flap actuation. The pitching
moment resulting from flap action was countered with auto UHT movement.
NASA's interest stemmed from the then-active SST program - the SST
designs had long, dense fuselages which made it awkward to modify the
flight path on approach or to land. If the airplane was rotated upward
with the conventional horizontal tail, analysis showed the CG would
actually sink considerably before starting to climb. Vought had already
modified this F8C for a Navy test program and further changed some
elements for particular NASA requirements. I had flown the F8 at TPS;
shortly before graduation, the students did a 4-flight mock NPE on an
airplane never flown before and I got the F8. But the 2-flight fam in
the TF was very helpful. The NASA Project went well - I flew about 200
ILS-type approaches and landings and the findings were all very
positive. You could plant the airplane just where you wanted using only
the DLC on top of the stick. --Jim Patton
I was the last to fly the 2-seat [Crusader], affectionately
nicknamed "The Football", designated the "NTF8A". As I was the only
"real" F8 driver in the school [NATC PAX River] at the time I got to give the demo
flights for the command and there were a lot of sub-sonic types who
wanted to scream high and fast and that sucker would flat go. And as
mentioned during some of these last discussions, it had the hot P420
engine which generated a lot of thrust because of the high EGT (1100+
degrees?) with ceramic coated turbine blades. From Hotdog Brown
I think most of our Production Test Pilots flew the "Twosader".
As a side note nobody wanted us to do a full scale Accident Investigation-:
- Not NASA-"No need to investigate a one-of-a-kind"
- Not Navy-"It belongs to NASA"
- Not Vought-"Not part of the contract"
- Not the PAF-" We don't care".
So we cleaned up the debris from the farmer's field, salvaged the
ejection seats, wrote the shortest accident report since WW1, and closed
the investigation. As a side-bar that was the ONLY test of the escape
system. See Dick Atkins for details. I was still on active duty when the
Twosader was built. I was the Mgr. of System Safety for Vought when the
accident occurred and I was in charge of the "investigation". [Capt]Frank L. "Fang" Liberato
[Webmaster's Note: There was no photo version and the gun ports were blocked off. See pictures of the TF-8A on "RF8 Photo Gallery" linked from "We Love Crusaders".]
"The Pilots that flew
this supersonic machine loved her with a passion.
To them the reputation
was one of admiration, and respect." --Ron Knott
[Webmaster's Note: This story came in right after the fatal crash of a communter plane near Buffalo, N.Y. (Feb, 2009), killing 50 people. While that plane had de-icing equipment, some early military aircraft did not have it, as this story shows.]
As I recall in the '50s to the '80s our USN/USMC fighter and attack a/c typically didn't have deicing equipment. The idea was to go fast enough to sublimate any ice you picked up or just stay out of icing conditions.
That usually worked. However, in the winter of 1968 I was flying a 451 or perhaps a 333 F8 out of Beaufort, (NBC), when the weather turned to [crap] just about everywhere in the Southeast US. Given my fuel state, which was minimal, the only alternate I had with minimums was Shaw AFB over in Sumter SC. Unfortunately there were a lot of other a/c in the same situation. The GCA pattern was really extended, and I started picking up ice as soon as I got down to pattern altitude. Once I was in
it there was no getting out. I could see and feel the ice building up, but I couldn't accelerate to "burn it off" nor could I climb above the icing level. To do that was to loose my place in the pattern, and consequently run out of JP.
I have no idea how long it took me to land but it seemed an eternity, and by the time I got on the runway the F8 looked like a Christmas ornament and felt like an R4Q on one engine. Very scary.
"Wasn't flying the F8 a blast. !!!
The time was 1959, at MCAS El Toro, Ca. At every happy hour the F4D and F8U pilots would argue for their respective airplanes.
One day we decided to have a contest to see who could climb to 10,000 and then on into the contrails the fastest. I won , but cheated to do so. The F4D had a better T/W [thrust/weight] ratio and should have won! The story. Had ops launch a plane early in the day to determine exact levels of the contrails. Loaded [the] F8 with just enough fuel to make it and then glide back on fumes for landing. Also put enough fuel in the tips to simulate a contrail about 4000 feet below the real level.
Well we lined up on parallel runways at El Toro MCAS. I said I would count to Thousand l, 2,3, GO, for the start. Well I knew that it took about that time for the burner to cut in after selection and knew from also flying a lot in the F4D in test work, that the T/W was so high that one could only bring [it] up to about 90% power-basic engine-or plane would skid with brakes held. As I started my count I selected burner on the F8. At GO(3 sec) the burner cut in, and the F4D released brakes with me, added full power, selected burner, but was quite a bit behind me on the roll.
The pilot, an experienced F4D pilot, made a classic mistake. I held the plane on the deck to best climb speed, but he pulled it off early and with the big planform wing obviously had a lot of drag. I beat him easily to 10,000, and then as he started to catch up I zoomed and dumped fuel about 4000 feet below as we approached 33,000 con level and zoomed and zero g over the top! From the ground it looked like I also beat him into the contrails, but we were really just about even at the real
Well that settled the bar talk. Always felt bad about cheating but "WINNING IS EVERYTHING--ITS THE ONLY THING" Wasn't flying the F8 a blast. !!! --Hal Vincent
Click to see some excerpts from...A great book: "Supersonic Cowboys" Collection of stories of flying the Crusader by Ron Knott
Created on ... January 27, 2007