Vought F-8E(FN) Crusader
Last revised January 22, 2000
Written by: Joseph Baugher
In 1962, the French Navy (Marine Nationale) ordered the Vought F-8 Crusader
as a carrier-based air superiority fighter to succeed the Aquilon. It was to
serve aboard the new Aeronautique Navale (Aeronavale) aircraft carriers
Foch and Clemenceau. The French aviation industry was unable to
come up with an acceptable design, so the French Navy somewhat reluctantly opted
for an American aircraft.
The French Crusader was designated F-8E(FN), where the FN stood for ""French
Navy"". The Marine Nationale originally planned to order 40 single seat F-8E(FN)
fighters, plus six TF-8E(FN) two-seaters. However, when plans for the
development of the two-seat Crusader were abandoned, the order was changed to 42
F-8E(FN) single-seaters. The 42 F-8E(FN) aircraft were assigned the Bureau of
Aeronautics serial numbers 151732/151773 for administrative purposes.
The F-8E(FN) had to be modified so that it could operate safely aboard French
aircraft carriers, which were somewhat smaller than their American counterparts.
In order to reduce the approach speed, the maximum angle of incidence of the
variable-incidence wing was increased from five to seven degrees. The drooping
wing leading edges were separated into two sections in order to increase the
amount of camber that could be achieved when they were extended. A boundary
layer control system was added, which blew pressurized air from the engine
compressor through adjustable air vents that exhausted over the trailing edge
wing flaps. The airflow pressure automatically increased with the angle of flap
deflection. The maximum angle of deflection of the trailing-edge flaps was
increased. The surface area of the tailplane was increased.
The quartet of four 20-mm cannon was retained, as well as the ability to
carry four fuselage-mounted AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles. However, provision was
also made to accommodate the French-built Matra R530 air-to-air missile, which
existed in both infrared and semi-active radar homing versions. One R530 was
carried on each side of the fuselage on rail launchers. Often, an
infrared-homing R530 would be carried in one side of the fuselage, with a
radar-homer on the other side. To accommodate the R530 in its radar-homing
version, a Magnavox AN/APQ-104 radar was fitted, together with a modified
AN/AWG-4 fire control system.
F-8D BuNo 147036 was used as the test airframe for the F-8E(FN) and flew for
the first time on February 27, 1964. Unfortunately, it crashed on April 11,
1964. The first production F-8E(FN) flew on June 26, 1964, and it was assigned
the task of completing the test program.
The first French Crusaders arrived at Saint Nazaire on October 5, 1964. The
first Aeronavale squadron to receive the Crusader was Flotille 12F, with
Flotille 14F following six months later. Flotille 14F was re-equipped with the
Super Etendard in 1978, but 14F stood down in 1991, leaving 12F to soldier on
with the Crusader as the only Aeronavale interceptor squadron. Although a
""foreign"" aircraft, the Crusader was nevertheless highly popular with its French
Over the years, the armament of the F-8E(FN) has been through several stages
of upgrading. The French Crusader originally carried the Matra R530 missile,
which existed in both infrared- and semi-active radar-homing versions. The
Sidewinder infrared-homing missile was still compatible with the F-8E(FN), but
it was very rarely carried. The enhanced Matra Super 530 was never adopted for
the Crusader, since the APQ-104 radar was not compatible with it. In late 1989,
the Matra R530 was withdrawn from service. In 1973, the Matra R550 Magic short
range infrared-homing air-to-air missile was added to the Crusader's armament
suite. The all-aspect Magic 2 was made available in 1988, and is now the French
Crusader's primary missile armament.
New F-8J wings were installed on French Crusaders in 1969, and from 1979
onward their Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20A turbojets were fitted with new
Aeronavale Crusaders have never seen any combat, although they have served in
war zones. In 1983, Flotille 12F flew top cover in operations off Lebanon while
Super Etendards attacked gun positions in retaliation for terrorist attacks on
French targets in Beirut. In 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, Crusaders went into
the Persian Gulf aboard the Clemenceau in an international effort to
protect shipping against attacks by Iranian speedboats. Several interceptions of
Iranian aircraft were made, although there was no actual combat.
The Crusader has been serving with the French Navy for nearly thirty years,
and is by now quite long in the tooth. It has become increasingly difficult to
keep the aircraft operational. Since the Crusader has been long out of
production, the French Navy has to rely on the boneyards of AMARC at
Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for spare parts, as well as having to manufacture a
small number of spare parts itself.
The Crusader was replaced by the Dassault Rafale M, which saw it's first operation cruises on the Aircraft Carrier Charles de Guale in 2000.
In order to make the French Crusader a viable interceptor until the end of
the century, the surviving F-8E(FN)s were scheduled to go through an extensive
upgrade to increase their service life. As part of the upgrade, a new zero-zero
capable Martin-Baker ejector seat was to be installed, and the airframe was to
be reinforced and strengthened. The wiring and the hydraulic system were to be
replaced. The cockpit instruments were to be rearranged and and there was to be
a new avionics suite fitted which included a radar altimeter, IFF, ILS, and VOR.
The gyroscopic navigation system of the Mirage F1 was to be adopted. A
Thomson-CSF Sherloc radar warning receiver was to be mounted in a vertical fin
extension. The first upgraded F-8E(FN) was completed in June of 1992, and by
September 1994, 12 aircraft had been modified. The upgrade program should be
completed by the end of 1995.