By Tommy H. Thomason

Monday, December 15, 2008

The F8U-3: The Best Airplane the Navy Didn't Buy

According to George Spangenberg, which is very meaningful coming from him since he was 1) the long-time director of BuAer's proposal evaluation division and 2) rarely (never?) that effusive about an aircraft. Later he wrote in Wings of Gold, comparing the F8U-3 which lost a fly-off to the F4H (Congess had decreed that there would be only one new Navy fighter): "The F8U-3 was faster, more maneuverable, had better flying qualities, cost 20% less, and had more range on internal fuel that the (F4H) did with a 600-gallon (external) tank."

Unfortunately, the F8U-3 was a single-seat fighter and the Navy had become convinced that a two-man crew would be at least slightly more likely to shoot down a Soviet bomber whose crew was intent on sinking an aircraft carrier. Given the unacceptability of even damage to a carrier, that advantage trumped faster, more maneuverable, etc. Following the cancellation of the program in December 1958 (and Merry Christmas!), Vought unsuccessfully proposed the Crusader III to the Air Force and the Canadians. NASA flew the prototypes for a year or two in a supersonic transport research program and then they were scrapped.

Pictured is the first production airplane and the last of three -3s to fly. A monograph on the F8U-3 is my winter project. I'd appreciate the loan of any unpublished pictures or documentation so it will be as complete and thorough as possible.

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