When you think of a crusader, you may think of the Christian warriors who tried to 'free' the Holy Land (but are now mostly known for their bad behavior). Or, you could conjure up images of a World War II tank used by the British. But there was one crusader, in particular, that packed four guns and could go very fast. We're talking about the Vought F-8 Crusader, once called "The Last Gunfighter."
In the wake of the Korean War, the United States Navy was trying to stabilize its carrier air wings. The shift from propeller-driven planes to jets was well underway and the Navy had to jettison a few duds as it tried to make that shift. The F6U Pirate, for example, just didn't have the oomph in the engine and the F7U Cutlass was too dangerous… for its pilots.
While it was known as "The Last Gunfighter," most of the kills the F-8 Crusader scored in Vietnam were via the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. (US Navy photo)
Still, the Navy was looking for a fighter. Vought, despite the failures of the Pirate and the Cutlass, managed to win this contract. This time, however, the company came up with a classic in what was called the F8U Crusader at the time. The plane established a reputation for speed — Korean War MiG-killer John Glenn, a future astronaut, took a reconnaissance variant across the country in record time in 1957.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the centerpiece of the Crusader's combat capabilities was a suite of four Mk 12 20mm cannon backed up by four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Crusader served with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, scoring 18 kills for three air-to-air losses. While the fighter retired soon after the Vietnam War ended, the photo-reconnaissance version stuck around with the Navy Reserve until 1987.
Two RF-8G Crusaders in flight shortly before the 1987 retirement of the plane. (USAF photo)
Two countries received the F-8 Crusader on the export market. France operated the F-8E(FN), equipped with R.530 and R.550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles instead of the American Sidewinder. Those served until December 1999. The Philippines flew the F-8H model, operating it until 1991.
Learn more about this four-gun Crusader in the video below: