COURTESY: CHANCE VOUGHT F8U-2 CRUSADER PROJECT N19TB U.S. NAVY BUREAU NUMBER: 145592 CONTRACT NUMBER: 057187 THUNDERBIRD AVIATION SERIAL NUMBER: A35-17
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The Navy accepted the Crusader on 14 July 1959 at the Vought plant in Dallas, TX. The aircraft passed through Fleet Air Service Squadron (FASRON) 5 Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana for “modernization-conversion” work on the way to assignment to VF-103 “Sluggers” at Oceana on 3 September. The Sluggers had moved to Oceana in June and were in the process of converting to the F8U-2. Interestingly, it was at this time that VF-103 became the first squadron to test the new MK-4 full pressure suit in high altitude flights.
Within months, the Crusader was transferred to VX-3, an Air Development Squadron, at Oceana on 2 November 1959. This squadron had been the first to test Crusaders on a carrier in April 1957 and was involved with testing mirror landing systems, the use of Sidewinder and Zuni missiles, in-flight refueling, and aerial tow targets.
This was a short stay as VX-3 was decommissioned on 1 March 1960 and the Crusader was assigned to VMF-333 “Fighting Shamrocks” at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort on 23 February 1960. The Fighting Shamrocks were the first Marine Corps squadron to fly the F8U-2 starting in November 1959.
It was back to VF-103 at Oceana on 15 December 1960 and then to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota on 15 February 1961 for brief “modernization-conversion” work. Then, the Crusader was assigned temporarily to VF-11 “Red Rippers” at Rota on 1 June. During their April to August posting to Rota, the Red Rippers were the only Atlantic squadron to “qualify 100% of all of its aviators in all aspects of the squadron missions …. 20 thousand foot gunnery, 30 thousand foot gunnery, 45 thousand foot camera gunnery, Dart gunnery, Sidewinder intercepts and Broadcast Control Intercepts.”
On 30 June 1961, the Crusader moved to VF-103 aboard USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59) then in the middle of a February to August cruise. At the end of the cruise, on 11 August, the aircraft returned to NAVSTA Rota for more “modernization-conversion” work from 12 to 31 August.
The Crusader was back at sea with VF-84 “Vagabonds / Jolly Rogers” aboard USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) from 26 November 1961. By 21 February 1962, the aircraft returned to Oceana with VF-84 and underwent “progressive aircraft rework.” It reverted to VF-103 on 28 March at Oceana and was captured in an official Navy photograph flying over FORRESTAL in the Caribbean in May 1962.
James McFarlane, a Lieutenant in VF-103 at the time, flew the Crusader many times over the next 2 years.
McFarlane and the Crusader went aboard FORRESTAL in August 1962 for a cruise through the Mediterranean that lasted until the end of February 1963. According to McFarlane, “all MED flying was normal training, practicing intercepts, instrument approaches, group gaggle escorts and towing targets for the ship based anti a/c defense system.” The Cuban Missile Crisis took place during this deployment, but had minimal impact on operations. The squadron had pilots on alert status at all times during the transit back to Norfolk, VA. It was at the beginning of this cruise that the official designation for the Crusader changed to “F-8C” per the Department of Defense.
Interestingly, VF-103 was awarded the AIRLANT Battle Efficiency Award 3 times during 1961-3 and the CNO Safety Award in 1961 and 1962. McFarlane indicated that the squadron was blessed with “some stellar Chiefs” and that “[o]ur maintenance was the best in the fleet.” This is all the more impressive given that the Crusader was known for a high accident rate, especially in the early 1960s.
The Crusader was back at Oceana by 28 February 1963 and remained there until sent to NAS Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) as part of Detachment 7 on 27 March. McFarlane confirms that this was for gunnery training and involved only a couple of aircraft and
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