The Vought F-8E was central to the Tonkin Gulf incident, which led to America's direct intervention in the Southeast Asian crisis, when on August 2, 1964, aircraft defended US Navy units from attack by North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. Four Crusaders of the VF-53 Squadron from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, sunk an enemy vessel with missiles and gunfire, thus initiating a war that did not end until 1973.
From 1964 to 1969, during which time the Crusaders were gradually replaced on US Navy aircraft carriers by F-4B Phantoms, the F-8s, designed as daytime supersonic fighters, were also largely employed in strike missions mostly over North Vietnam, carrying up to 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg) of bombs under the wings. The first encounter between F-8Es and MiG-17s took place on July 12, 1967, and after that date the Crusaders frequently took on the North Vietnamese fighters, emerging from battle with a tally of fifteen MiG-17s and three MiG-21s shot down in dogfights, for the loss of only three planes. However, another 53 F-8Es and F-8Js fell victim to North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries, and a further 58 were destroyed while in action as a result of various causes.
An important support role was also played by the RF-8 reconnaissance planes, 38 of them being lost through anti-aircraft fire, SAM missiles or accidents. All US Navy aircraft carriers engaged in the war were equipped with Crusader squadrons, the most successful of these being the VF-121 which chalked up six victories in fights with MiGs. Although there was no cause for regret in their replacement by the McDonnell F-4B Phantoms, the Crusaders ranked third as 'MiG killers' in Vietnam, after the Phantoms themselves and the Republic F-105s.
The first daytime supersonic carrier based interceptor, the Crusader was conceived in 1952, built to the order of the US Navy. The prototype flew on March 25, 1955, successfully testing the original solution of a wing of variable incidence, designed to reduce the velocity and improve landing capability. Production started soon afterward and, up to 1965, 1,259 machines of various series were built, increasingly powerful and up-to-date. The principal types were the F-8A interceptor (first flight September 30, 1955, with 318 machines), which went into service in March 1957; the F-8C air-superiority (187 machines, first flight August 20, 1958); and the F-8D all-weather fighter (152 planes, first flight February 16, 1960). The final version was the F-8E (first flight June 26, 1964), also designed as an all-weather fighter, of which 286 were built. The Crusader remained in front line service until the late 1970s, thanks to a massive modernization program starting in 1966, involving 375 planes from all series: 136 F-8Es, in particular, were transformed into F-8Js, the modifications applying mainly to certain structural components, the wings and the electronics.
Aircraft: Vought F-8E