"If you don't know Crusaders, you're out of fighters".


Genesis of the program and a glorious career within the US Navy and the USMC

In 1952, 22 projects were submitted to the US Navy, which was modernizing its carrier fighter force. From all these projects, the Vought built F-8 Crusader stood out and won the competition. Three XF-8U (XF-8A) prototypes were ordered (but only 2 of them were built), and the first plane flew on March 25th 1955. It was special in that its entire wing's pitch could be modified in flight (up to +7° on US planes), allowing a proper angle of approach at low speeds, for carrier landings for example. The prototypes were powered by a 6 175 kg Pratt & Whitney J57-11 engine; later replaced by a J57-4A with 7 310kg of thrust. The first F-8As were delivered to the Navy in March 1957, and were operated by VF-32 squadron. Eventually 318 F-8As were built. The Crusader had a very impressive combat record with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, and was nicknamed "the Mig killer" because of its numerous victories over these jets. The F-8 indeed shot down 14 Mig-17s and 4 Mig-21s during the war. But all these years of combat in Asia reduced the F-8's remaining life time, and Crusader operations dropped, and finally ceased in 1969 on the east coast with the deactivation of VF-13 Fighting Thirteen and VF-62 Yellow Tails. An upgrading program was launched, and between 1967 and 1969 the F-8B, C D and E became the F-8L, K, H, while the RF-8A became the RF-8G. A new wing, an internal power unit and a new ECM suit were added. The weapon load was also increased, and the gear and hook mounts were strengthened. Two fins were retrofitted under the fuselage of the F-8Ls and Gs that didn't have them. The F-8J received a system of flaps identical to the one installed on the French version. From 1957 to 1982, the USN and the USMC flew a total of 2,360,000 hours, and 385,000 traps with the Crusader.

The RF-8G remained in service until June 30th 1982 with VFP-63. Finally, the last unit to fly the Crusader was VFP-206 Hawkeyes which retired its planes on March 29th 1987.

The different Crusader versions :


The sole French Naval Aviation'fighter for 35 years

Faced with the urgent need to retire the venerable Aquilons, its only fleet air defence fighters, the French Navy issued an invitation to tender. The French manufacturer Dassault was not part of it because its navalized version of the Mirage, still on the drawing board, had a high approach speed. The French Navy then naturally turned towards the USA which was operating the F-8 Crusader and the F-4 Phantom II.

F-8 Crusader belonging to the VF-32 from the USS Saratoga, on the deck of the CV Clemenceau. (MN)

CC Hurel from the BET (Technical Studies Bureau), Mr.Faucheux from the Aeronautical Techniques Service and a engineer were rushed across the Atlantic to decide which one of the two planes would be the most suitable to defend the new Foch and the Clemenceau aircraft-carriers. The Phantom II turned out to be oversized for the small carriers, and the Crusader was chosen. An evaluation campaign was then performed aboard the Clemenceau on March 16th 1962 by two VF-32 F-8s from the carrier USS Saratoga. The Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) manufacturer offered to build an all weather interceptor based on the F-8U-2NE (F-8E), but with an improoved system of flaps and the capability to fire the MATRA R530 air to air missile. This version is dubbed F-8E(FN). The $65 million AM-114-104 contract is for a first batch of 40 single seaters and 6 two seaters, as well as a large supply of spare parts and engines.

Unfortunately Congress cancelled the Twosader (two seat Crusader), and the French Navy changed its order to 42 single seaters (BuAer 151732 to 151773). Four pilots (LV Goupil, LV de la Fournière, EV Robillard and OE Philippe) were sent to the USA and transitioned to the Crusader with VF-174 Hell's Razors at Cecil Field (Fl); the first French pilot soloed May 6th 1963. The F-8U-2NE (BuAer 147036, a transformed F-8D) prototype made its first flight on February 27th 1964. It had a entirely new wing, a special auto throttle for carrier approaches, a stall warning, wiring for the Matra R530, a J57-P-20A engine, and finally special test avionics.

First Crusaders being disloaded from the CV Arromanches at St Nazaire harbor. (ARDHAN)

The YF-8E(FN) crashed on its 21st flight on April 11th with Bob Rostine in the cockpit. Later that month Matra 530 tests were performed at NAS China Lake (CA) with a US Navy F-8E. A new series of tests was held on June 26th 1964 with the first production aircraft, specially fitted with a measuring nose probe.

YF-8E (FN) prototype rolling on february 27th 1964. (US Navy)

The third, fourth and fifth production aircrafts were committed to weapon system tests. The carrier campaign was held in November 1964 aboard USS Shangri-La (CV-38), which is roughly the size of Clemenceau class ships. Planes No.2 and 3 performed these tests, flown by Dick Gralow, Goupil and James H. Flatley. Finally the 13 first aircraft were loaded on the Arromanches at Norfolk on October 6th 1964, and arrived at St-Nazaire on November 4th. The last 29 planes were ferried on the Foch early 1965.

12.F squadron was reactivated on October 15th 1964 with 12 airplanes. On March 1st 1965 14.F squadron received its planes, to replace the old Corsairs. From April 28th to May 6th 1965, 4 planes went on an evaluation cruise on the Clemenceau. A new detachment from the CEPA , DEM 530, was created on January 13th 1965, to adapt the Matra 530 missile onto the Crusader. On July 6th 1965, a Crusader performed the types first in-flight refuelling, taking on fuel from an Etendard IVP. On September 8th both squadrons were grouped together and formed GAN 2 (Carrier Air Wing 2). The Crusader is officially brought to active duty on March 1st 1966. 12.F squadron left its base at NAS Lann-Bihoué and moved to NAS Landivisiau, followed by 14.F squadron a few days later. 14.F squadron eventually switched to Dassault Super-Etendards in 1979. In October 1974 (on the Clemenceau) and June 1977 (on the Foch), several planes from 14.F squadron participated to the Saphir missions (I and II) over Djibouti. On May 7th 1977, two Crusaders went separately on patrol against supposedly French Air Force (4/11 Jura squadron) F-100 Super Sabres stationed at the Djibouti joint forces air base. The leader intercepted two fighters and engaged a dogfight (supposed to be a training exercise) but quickly called his wingman for help….he had actually engaged two Yemenite Mig-21 Fishbed armed with four missiles each. The two French fighters switched their master armament to "on", but in the end everyone returned to his base. This was the only ever combat interception by a French Crusader.

On September 7th 1982, the F-8s embarked on the Foch for mission Olifant IV, in Lebanon. They eventually returned there for missions Olifant XVII (September 2nd 1983) and Olifant XX (January 25th 1984). In October 1984, France sent the Foch for operation Mirmillon off the coast of Libya, intended to calm colonel Ghaddafi down, with 12.F squadron's famous interceptors. The escalation of the situation in the Persian Gulf, due to the Iran-Iraq conflict, triggered the deployment, from July 30th onwards, of the Clemenceau task force and its air wing composed among others of 12.F squadron. The Prométhée mission ended on September 16th 1988.

F-8E Crusader N°33 about to be catapulted. (JM Gall)

1993 saw the beginning of the Balbuzard missions over ex-Yougoslavia. They were launched from both carriers cruising in the Adriatic Sea. These missions really ceased in June 1999 with operation Trident over Kosovo.

After it withdrew from the European study group which eventually give birth to the EF-2000 Typhoon, France decided to continue alone and launched the Rafale program. Unfortunately the Rafale M would not be available before 1996, and the French Navy had to choose between leasing American F/A-18s and thoroughly upgrading the Crusaders.

In December 1989 the French military & industrial complex won: the Navy committed itself to the Rafale M but also had 17 Crusaders renovated (but not modernized) at the Cuers AIA between 1990 and 1997, with one plane rolling out every 18 months. The F-8E became the F-8P (Prolongé/Prolonged) and received the following upgrades :

-Replacement of the entire electric circuit.
-Thorough overhaul of the radar and of the flight controls.
-Installation of an ILS (Instrument Landing System).
-Installation of a Mode 4 IFF.
-New INS (Inertial Navigation System)
-New Martin-Baker Mk.7 (0/0) seat instead of the old Mk.F5A-F (0/120).

F-8P Crusader cockpit. (Air Fan)

The first renovated plane (No.35) performed a tests campaign aboard the Clemenceau in April 1993. In May 1996, the Crouze's fate was sealed: the last airframes were to be retired no later than December 31st 1999. By then, the F-8 was the French Aéronautique Navale's plane that required the most maintenance time. 1 flight hour was indeed followed by 67 hours of maintenance (including major maintenance visits to Cuers)!

From October 4th to 29th 1999, three planes (No.11, 34, 39) were part of the Pean 99 exercise, and operated from the Foch (R99). Other participating forces included the European VSTOL carriers Illoustrious, Principe de Asturias and Garibaldi.

Crusader wearing a special scheme for its retirement and 12F squadron's temporary disbanding. (MN)

The final carrier landing on the Foch took place on October 28th 1999 at 12:45pm, when LV Denis landed F-8P No.34. The final catapulting took place the same day in the evening, when CF Guillot took off in F-8P No.11 with CV Bertrand Aubriot, Foch CO and CA Alain Coldéfy, commander of the Force d'Action Navale in the assistance.

Last Crusader's catapulting from CV Foch's deck ; it is No.11, flown by CF Guillot. (C. Boisselon)

After 140,000 hours of flight time and 25,000 traps/catapultings, the half dozen (No.7, 10, 11, 34, 39) remaining specimen of one of the last "Century Fighters" were retired in this end of the millennium, on December 15th 1999 at NAS Landivisiau. Since May 18th 2001, at NAS Landivisiau in Brittany, 12.F squadron is once again operational with its 5 Rafale M F1s. It should receive its full share of aircraft (12 planes) by the end of 2001 or early 2002. It already participated to the Trident d'Or exercise from May 21st to June 1st 2001 aboard the
Charles de Gaulle nuclear carrier, along E-2C Hawkeyes from 4.F squadron and Super-Etendards from 11.F and 17.F squadrons.



= ejected pilot
= killed pilot






Crashed on June 12th 1987.


Crashed on December 8th 1977.


Crashed on February 4th 1989.


Upgraded in January 1996.


Upgraded in December 1993.


Crashed on November 24th 1970.


Upgraded in January 1994. Retired in June 1997.


Crashed on October 26th 1981.


Upgraded in June 1993. Retired on June 10th 1997.


Crashed on November 2nd 1971.


Crashed on Mars 27th 1992.


Upgraded in February 1994. Crashed on March 30th 1955.


Upgraded in June 1994.


Crashed on September 29th 1965.


Upgraded in September 1996.


Upgraded in April 1994.


Crashed on January 28th 1977.


Crashed on May 9th 1985.


Upgraded in October 1993.


Upgraded in January 1993. Crashed on July 20th 1995.


Upgraded in June 1994.


Upgraded in October 1996.


Crashed on June 9th 1986.


Crashed on May 4th 1990.


Crashed on February 1st 1977.


Upgraded in August 1993.


Crashed on May 9th 1985.


Upgraded into F-8P prototype in 1993.


Crashed on April 14th 1967.


Crashed on October 22nd 1970.


Retired on April 18th 1986. CEAN Rochefort.


Upgraded in January 1994. Crashed on August 20th 1997.


Reformed on February 8th 1989 after a collision with an ATL-1.


Crashed on January 3rd 1978.


Crashed on October 6th 1970.


Upgraded in February 1997.


Upgraded in December 1994. Retired in December 1997.


Crashed on June 18th 1983.


Crashed on June 13th 1983.


Crashed on May 14th 1980.


Crashed on July 24th 1968.


Crashed on January 14th 1988.


54 ft 6 in
16. 61 m
35 ft 8 in
10. 87 m
15 ft 9 in
4. 8 m
19 925 lb (min)/ 34 000 lb (max)
9 038 kg (min)/ 15 420 kg (max)
MAX SPEED AT 12,200 m
Mach 2
Mach 2
484 mph
780 km/h
1042 nm
1 930 km
40 026 ft
12 200 m
18 000 lb
80. 07 kN


-Four Colt-Browning 20mm cannons with 125 rounds each.
20 mm Colt-Browing cannons. (DR)
-Four short range IR Sidewinder 1A missiles. Abandoned in 1986.
Sidewinder 1A short range air-to-air missile. (MN)
-Two Matra 530 air-to-air missiles. After reliability problems (65% failure rate in 1980), are abandoned in 1991.
Matra 530 air-to-air missile. (MN)
-Two short range IR Matra R550 Magic 2 missiles.
Matra R550 Magic 2 short range air-to-air missile. (JM Gall)
-Winch on the starboard side of the fuselage, for DELMAR DF-14 or HAYES TA-7 towed target. Abandoned in 1988.


F-8E/P :
-AN/APQ 104 radar (nav:60NM / interception: 25NM).
-In flight Refuelling probe.
-A Pratt&Whitney J57-P-20A 5,7t engine (afterburner 8,2t).

F-8E :
-Martin-Baker Mk.F5A-F (0/120) ejection seat.
-TRAP 35 antenna.

F-8P :
-Martin-Baker Mk.7 (0/0) ejection seat
-Mode 4 IFF
-VHF/UHF antennas
-SHERLOCK RWR (Radar Warning Receiver)

More about

sources - acknowledgements :
"Les Crusader Français en action" Jean-Marie Gall - LELA Presse - 1997
"Histoire Succincte de l'Aéronautique Navale (1910-1998)" Vice-Amiral Roger Vercken - ARDHAN - 1998