The F8U-1 was the initial production version of the Crusader. The Crusader test flight program had gone so smoothly that the production F8U-1 was almost identical to the XF8U-1 prototypes. The first production F8U-1 (BuNo 140444) flew for the first time on September 30, 1955, the same day as the maiden flight of the second XF8U-1.
The engine powering the F8U-1 was the J57-P-12A engine, which, after the delivery of the first few dozen aircraft, was supplanted by the J57-P-4A offering an afterburning thrust of 16,200 pounds. The F8U-1 carried an APG-30 gun-ranging fire control radar.
From September of 1955, the Navy required that that all its carrier- based aircraft be equipped with midair refuelling capability. Production F8U-1s were equipped with a retractable refuelling probe enclosed underneath a blister on the left-hand side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit.
Initial carrier qualification tests took place aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) with F8U-1 BuNo 140446 (the fourth pre-production F8U-1) in April of 1956. Patuxent test pilot Cdr R. W. "Duke" Windsor carried out the initial tests. The first catapult launch took place on April 4.
The first production F8U-1s reached VX-3 in December of 1956. The first operational squadron to re-equip with the Crusader was VF-32 at NAS Cecil Field in March of 1957, followed by West Coast squadrons VF-154 and VF(AW)-3, then by VF-211, VF-143, and VF-143. The first squadron to operate the F8U-1 aboard an aircraft carrier was VF-32, which embarked aboard the USS Saratoga towards the end of 1957. The first Marine Corps squadrons took their Crusaders in December of 1957--VMF-122, followed by VMF-312, VMF-333, and VMF-334.
In order to show off its new fighter, the Navy decided to use the Crusader to capture the World's air speed record, held at that time by the F-100C Super Sabre at 825 mph. The Navy felt that the Crusader could beat that record by a substantial margin, perhaps even giving the Crusader the distinction of being the first aircraft to set a record that exceeded 1000 mph. However, on March 19, 1956, the Fairey Delta F.D.2, a British research aircraft, set a speed record of 1132 mph, 310 mph greater than the previous record. Undaunted, the Navy went ahead with its plans, but since it did not want to reveal the full capabilities of the Crusader, the team was told to hold back, the only instructions being given to exceed 1000 mph. On August 21, 1956, Cdr "Duke" Windsor in F8U-1 BuNo 141345 (the twelfth production machine) hit an average speed of 1015.428 mph in two speed runs in opposite directions over a 15-kilometer course at an altitude of 40,000 feet over China Lake, California. This set a new national speed record, and for this feat the Thompson Trophy was awarded to the Navy and to Vought.
On June 6, 1957, two F8U-1s, piloted by Capt Robert G. Dose and LtCdr Paul Miller took off from the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) steaming off the California coast and flew to the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) waiting off the Florida coast. With one midair refuelling over Texas, the planes made the trip in 3 hours and 28 minutes. President Dwight Eisenhower was aboard the Saratoga to greet the crew as they landed.
A total of 218 F8U-1s were built before production switched in September of 1958 to the F8U-2.
Production aircraft up to and including the F8U-2N were initially fitted with a lightweight high-altitude ejection seat built by Vought. This was replaced in production aircraft by the Martin-Baker Mk F5 from the F8U-2NE onward, and was retrofitted to older aircraft from 1962 onward.
On September 18, 1962, the Crusader was redesignated F-8 under the new unified Tri-Service designation scheme. The F8U-1 became F-8A.
During 1966, Vought instituted a major remanufacturing program in which earlier Crusaders were to be modernized, re-equipped, and remanufactured to bring them up to contemporary standards and increase their service lives. These remanufactured planes were then assigned new series letters. The designation F-8M had been reserved for F-8As that were originally scheduled to be remanufactured to later Crusader standards. However, by the time that the program could get underway, there were very few F-8As still left, and the program was abandoned before any F-8M conversions could be performed.
During 1967 a few F-8As were modified as directors for Regulus I and II drones and designated DF-8A. They were operated by utility squadrons such as VC-7 and VC-8. They were painted in bright colors and retained their cannon armament.
A few other F-8As became QF-8A drones. Sometimes they were known as DQF-8A. Two of these were operated by the Naval Missile Test Center at Moint Mugu, California and were used to guide and track the Regulus II, a submarine-launched cruise missile.
During the late 1950s there was a very real fear that the Soviets would soon have bombers capable of cruising at altitudes of over 60,000 feet. Along with several other companies, Vought sought means by which jet fighters could be able to reach such altitudes and deal with these threats. One technique that was studied was the installation of an auxiliary rocket engine that could help boost the fighter to such high altitudes. In 1957, Vought planned to install a rocket engine in the tail of a couple of F8U-1s (production numbers 16 and 23. The engine originally planned for this installation was the Reaction Motors XLF-40 which provided 8000 pounds of thrust and was fuelled by a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and jet fuel. Unfortunately, this rocket engine exploded during an early ground text, killing two company mechanics. This accident caused Reaction Motors to pull out of the project, but Vought elected to continue the project using a Rocketdyne XLF-54 engine which gave 6000 pounds of thrust. Although the project never reached flight status, dummy engines were installed above the F8U-1's tail cone just behind the rudder.
In 1969, F-8A BuNo 141354 was turned over to NASA as number 666. It served at NASA's Lewis Research Center as a chase plane for the NF-106B. It was lost in a landing accident later that same year.
F-8A BuNo 141353 was turned over to NASA for supercritical wing research. This type of airfoil reversed the shape of the conventional wing by having the top surface flat and the bottom surface curved. Such a wing allows an aircraft to cruise at speeds closer to Mach 1 without buffeting. It was also hoped that the supercritical wing would reduce takeoff and landing distances as well as contributing to improved low speed handling characteristics. Numbered NASA 810, this F-8A was fitted with a new supercritical wing that had a span of 43 feet. The slender long-span wings imparted a graceful, birdlike quality to the plane's appearance. Following the completion of its part in the program, the supercritical wing program was turned over to a converted General Dynamics F-111.
140444/140448 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962 141336/141363 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962 142408/142415 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962 143677/143821 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962 144427/144461 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962 145318/145415 Vought F8U-1 Crusader - redesignated F-8A in 1962
Engine: One Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4A/-12 turbojet, 10,000 lb.s.t. dry, 16,200 lb.s.t. with afterburning. Performance: Maximum speed: 1013 mph (Mach 1.53) at 35,000 feet, 733 mph at sea level. Cruising speed 570 mph Stalling speed 155 mph. Initial climb rate 20,000 feet per minute. Service ceiling 42,300 feet. Combat ceiling 51,500 feet. Combat radius 389 miles, maximum combat range 1474 miles. Internal fuel capacity 1273 US gallons. Dimensions: wingspan 35 feet 8 inches, length 54 feet 3 inches, height 15 feet 9 inches, wing area 375 square feet. Weights: 15,513 pounds empty, 23,659 pounds combat, 26,961 pounds gross, 27,468 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: Armament consisted of four 20-mm Colt-Browning Mk-12 cannon with 144 rounds per gun. Two AIM-9A Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on fuselage cheek rails. A rocket pack carrying 32 2.75-inch folding-fin rockets could be fitted underneath the fuselage which was lowered with the speed brake.