By Tommy H. Thomason

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Missed It by That Much II


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Navy and the Air Force were looking for an air-to-air weapon more effective than guns in bringing down a big jet bomber. Guided missiles were in development but weren't ready for prime time and were going to be expensive in any event. The solution appeared to be unguided missiles, fired as a salvo. Since speed was critical to an intercept, they were housed internally or in pods, with the fins unfolding as they left the tubes. It was demonstrated at NOTS China Lake that a 2.75-inch rocket hit was devastating by firing them, one at a time, at a tied-down B-26. They planned 12 shots and even though four of the first nine missed, they had pretty much run out of B-26 at that point with three rockets left over.

The all-weather guys were to make an intercept on radar, flying a collision course and unleashing the rockets when in range. The F8U-1 Crusader, a day fighter, was also provided with an integral rocket pack with 16 tubes, two rockets to a tube. Unfortunately, the rockets proved to be even more inaccurate when aimed and launched in flight. One study indicated that 128 rockets, four Crusaders' worth, would have to be expended on one bomber for a 97% probability that it would be hit at least once. Given the accident rate of the F8U at the time, ramming would have been almost as effective a tactic. Moreover the rocket pack was somewhat unreliable in operation, with the pilots' enthusiasm for the weapon further diminished when a red light was added to the cockpit to inform them that there was a fire in the pack. As a result, the packs were locked up early on and deleted after F8U-2 production.

The photo of a VFAW-3 F8U-1 is from the files of the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation. The rocket pack, which is located just behind the nose wheel well, is extended (as is the emergency Ram Air Turbine on the side of the fuselage). Click on the photo for a bigger image.

For more on Crusader armament changes, see http://thanlont.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-brief-history-of-f8u-crusader-armament.html

2 comments:

rchurch said...

Thanks for this, I've never seen a pic of the rocket pack open like that, I always assumed it deployed parallel to the fuselage and not hinged like that. Must've added a bit of challenge to any aiming solution...

bigredlancer said...

I have never seen a photo of a Crusader firing rockets from that pack...