The last of the US Navy’s “gunfighters” armed primarily with cannon vs. missiles, the F8U was distinctive for using a variable incidence wing to attain a suitably low final approach speed for carrier landings without an exaggerated nose high altitude. The first XF-8A flew on March 25, 1955 at Vought’s Dallas-Grand Prairie plant and the first operational squadron (VF-32) took the “Crusader” to sea for the first time aboard the USS Saratoga late in 1957.
The first of 144 RF-8A specialized reconnaissance versions flew on December 17, 1956, carrying 5 cameras in place of the four 20mm Colt cannons of the fighter variant. With its afterburning J-57 engine, the RF-8A achieved some notable speed records including the first supersonic transcontinental flight by then Marine Major John Glenn on July 16, 1957 (732.5 mph or Mach 1.1 average speed including slowing down to less than 300 mph three times to refuel). The “Crusader” was awarded the Collier Trophy for 1957 “for the concept, design and development of the first operational carrier-based fighter capable of speeds exceeding 1,000 miles per hour” after Navy Commander R.W. “Duke”Windsor’s flight on August 21, 1956. One of the RF-8’s most important contributions was its low altitude photo coverage of Soviet missile emplacements in Cuba which helped to end the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
During 1965-66, 73 of the RF-8As were brought up to this RF-8G standard with strengthened wings, ventral fins, fuselage reinforcement, new navigation system, and improved camera station installations.
This aircraft is on loan from The National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida, and was restored to its present condition by the Vought Aircraft Heritage Volunteers.