The Last Gunfighter: The F-8 Crusader

The Vaught F-8 Crusader earned itself quite a reputation during the Vietnam War, gaining many nicknames along the way. She was fast and deadly. The F-8 was no elitist fancy fighter. The pilots and the crews called her the “sports car” of fighters. She might even have been more like a “hot rod” with guns.

In the first section of this video, you will hear some great tidbits about the F-8 Crusader’s reputation and how she got her many nicknames. This fighter was developed after the Korean War and was designed for speed. She was also designed for the Navy’s needs, able to launch and land on aircraft carriers.

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One of the nicknames of the F-8 Crusader came from the fact that she was the last fighter jet to be mounted with 20mm automatic guns for both aerial gunfights and close-in strafing runs. Because of this and her successful use of these weapons in Vietnam, she was given yet another moniker, “The Last Gunfighter.”

As a fighter in the Vietnam War, the F-8 was credited with shooting down 18 Russian MIGs used by the North Vietnamese. Because of the F-8 Crusader’s success in these dogfights with the North Vietnamese MIGs, the MIGs were essentially grounded and would not be a useful weapon for the North. U.S. air superiority over both the North and the South was complete from then on.

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Indeed, the reputation of the F-8 Crusader was so good that they began to say this about her: “When you’re out of F-8s, you’re out of fighters.” Deck crews on the US Navy carriers called her “The Gator” with a lot of respect. You see, her intake valves for her engines were located at her nose and low down. They were so powerful that they could suck an incautious crewman right into her engines.

When the F-8 was first flown in flight tests, she broke the sound barrier. She would eventually start breaking speed records. She was flown on one of these test flights by then Maj. John Glenn on a cross-country flight to test her speed, making the cross-continental journey in just over 3 hours. The F-8 Crusader was the first fighter jet to be able to climb straight up after take-off, and she could reach speeds of over 1,000 miles per hour.

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My experience in Vietnam with jet fighters/bombers was as daily air support, when the weather permitted, at Khe Sanh during the siege during the TET Offensive of 1968. Later, on a couple of occasions, while on Recon patrols, we called in jets to attack NVA or Viet Cong troop movements we had spotted. As Reconners, or as grunts on the ground in general, we never thought about the fact that the F-8s’ success in knocking down the MIGs up north kept us from having to endure such aerial attacks from the air ourselves. We were just glad that we had that kind of support behind us when we got into trouble.

Enjoy this video. The F-8 Crusader may not have been the prettiest or the sleekest-looking fighter ever made, but she was certainly among the best, and the Crusader was the right “gunfighter” for her time in Vietnam.

The Veterans Site thanks all who flew and maintained the F-8 Crusader fighters in Vietnam.

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