The Crusader was a fighter pilot's dream. Optimized for the air superiority role, it could hold its own or better against any fighter of its day. It was a single-seat, single-engine, after-burning, supersonic fighter armed with sidewinder heat seeking missiles and four twenty mm cannon. Dubbed the "Last of the Gunfighters" and "Mig Master," it had the best kill ratio of the Vietnam War.
During the early phase of the Vietnam war, the primarily role of the Crusader was that of reconnaissance, with fighters going along for escort. The fighters would occasionally deliver Zuni rockets against selected ground targets. VFP-63 detachments, along with Marine Corp RF-8s of VMCJ-1 performed the greatest service. As North Vietnamese anti-aircraft defenses became more intense and effective, fighter F-8s flew frequent flak suppression missions. They would fly in partnership with A-4 Skyhawks. The A-4s would attack SAM sites with AGM-45A Shrike missiles, and the F-8s would follow the Shrikes to the target, wait for missile impact, then open up with Zunis and cannon fire. However, this technique did not always work, since the North Vietnamese soon learned to spoof the Shrike missile by turning off their radar sets.
During the war, 42 Navy F-8s and 20 RF-8s and 12 Marine F-8s were lost to flak and small arms fire over Vietnam. SAMs accounted for 10 Navy Crusaders. All twenty of the reconnaissance Crusaders from VFP-63 and all twelve of the reconnaissance Crusaders from VMCJ-1 lost in action were downed by flak or by SAMs, with none being lost to MiGs. At least three Navy Crusaders were lost to MiGs, all of them being the F-8E fighter version.
It was to be in air-to-air combat against North Vietnamese fighters that the Crusader was to gain its reputation as "MiG Master". The first encounter with North Vietnamese MiGs took place in early April of 1965. On that occasion, the MiGs only damaged one F-8, but they shot down two F-105s the next day. The first confirmed Navy kills came on July 17, 1965, when two F-4Bs from VF-21 shot down a pair of MiG-17s. The Crusader got its first MiG kill on June 12, 1966, when Cmdr Harold L. Marr of VF-211 shot down a MiG-17 while escorting an A-4 strike against targets in the North.
All of the Crusader MiG kills (with the possible exception of two or three) were made by the Sidewinder air-to-air missile. There were only two "guns-only" MiG kills by Crusader pilots. The cannon armament of the Crusader proved to be somewhat troublesome, and the guns would frequently jam. During rapid turns and high accelerations, the ammunition belts would often develop kinks, causing the ammunition feed to be disrupted and the guns to jam. For a time, the Crusader was the leading MiG-killer over Vietnam, accounting for a total of 18 confirmed victories. All of them occurred within a two-year span (1966-1968), and after that all Navy MiG kills were by F-4 Phantoms. The last Crusader MiG kill took place on September 19, 1968, when Lt Anthony Nargi of VF-111's Det II destroyed a MiG-21.
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Length: 54.5 ft
Height : 15.75 ft
Wingspan: 35.6 ft
Weight (empty): 19,925 lb
Weight (max takeoff): 34,000 lb
Four 20mm cannons M39 and up to 4,900 Lbs. of weapons incl. two AIM Matra R530 missiles or eight 5 in (127 mm) rockets.
Engine: One Pratt&Whitney J57-P-20A turbojet
Maximum speed: 1,135 mph
Ceiling: 58,000 ft
Initial climb rate: 351 ft/s
Combat radius: 600 miles
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