The Navy accepted the Crusader on 31 October 1957 at the Vought plant in Dallas, TX. VF-143 was the first squadron to which the aircraft was assigned when it arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar on 19 November 1957. This was a Naval Reserve squadron that was based at Miramar for many years.
The Crusader was assigned next to VMF-334 “Falcons” at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro on 31 March 1958. The “Falcons” had just transferred from NAS Atsugi and were the first Marine squadron on the west coast to operate the Crusader.
It was back to the Vought plant in Dallas on 7 August 1959 for a special rework involving “modernization-conversion” that lasted until 30 November 1959. From there, the Crusader was transferred to MCAS El Toro and VMF-323 “Death Rattlers” on 2 December 1959. This was just in time to participate in carrier qualifications on the USS ORISKANY (CVA-34) beginning 21 February 1960. Unfortunately, there was insufficient wind to allow the pilots to accumulate the required take-offs and landings.
This deployment was the last for the Crusader with a combat squadron. For the next 3 years, from March 1961 to June 1964, the aircraft was assigned to VU-7 at several locations in the San Diego area. Utility Squadron 7 was a service squadron that specialized in “towing of aerial targets and launching of self-propelled drone targets for surface-to-air and air-to-air gunnery and missile firing; providing airborne targets for the fleet Anti-aircraft Warfare Training Center; radar calibrations; Electronic Countermeasures exercises; inflight refueling ….”
It appears that the Crusader was initially sent to Brown Field, near the Mexican border, on 30 March 1961 to await rework for utility missions. It is not known what this entailed, but it could have included modifying the aircraft to carry the HAYES and/or DEL MAR towed targets. The rework began on 20 April 1961 at the San Diego naval station and the aircraft went into service with VU-7 on 14 June 1961. The majority of service time with VU-7 was at NAS North Island.
On 28 September 1964, the Crusader went into storage in flyable condition at NAS Litchfield Park in the Phoenix area. It was transferred to the Air Force Military Aircraft Storage & Disposition Center (AFASDG ADMCS) in Tucson on 9 July 1965 where it remained until 20 December 1966. At this point, the aircraft went into “progressive aircraft rework” at Naval Air Rework Facility North Island. After completion, the aircraft was assigned to NAS Willow Grove on 5 May 1967.
Although the Aircraft History Card does not list the squadron assignment at Willow Grove, it is clear from an existing photograph that the Crusader was with VMF-511, a Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment. The aircraft was used for “post student training” until stricken on 2 August 1968. At that point, the aircraft had accumulated 2,971 hours.
The Boeing Company (Boeing) must have negotiated with the Navy for the use of an F-8, because the Crusader was the subject of a “Navy/Boeing Loan Agreement Letter … dated 5 November 1968” and was received by Boeing at Boeing Field on 27 September 1968. It is not clear how the aircraft was used initially, though it appears to have been operated by Product Support Engineering. The loan was for a 5-year period and an annual report to the Navy was required. There is a reference to the fact that such a report was submitted for 1971, but that no research was performed in 1972.
It appears that Boeing Tactical Combat Airplane Programs operated the aircraft in 1973 for “variable camber wing (VCW) research.” Boeing requested an additional 5-year loan period in January 1974 to start from 30 September 1973.
In the December 1972 Boeing document cited here, there is a reference to a request by Harl V. Brackin, Boeing historian, to obtain the Crusader for the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation (PNWAHF). By early 1977, PNWAHF had acquired the manuals and logs for the Crusader and anticipated receiving the aircraft itself. In fact, the Head of the Supply Policy & Programs Branch of the Naval Air Systems Command wrote to Brackin on 19 August 1977 to determine if PNWAHF would accept the aircraft on “indefinite loan.” Brackin responded immediately on 24 August 1977 that PNWAHF would accept an indefinite loan and that the purchase of property for and design of the future Red Barn Aviation Museum should be concluded by the end of that year.
It is not known at what point Boeing ceased using the aircraft. The loan to PNWAHF never materialized for an unknown reason, and the Crusader was loaned to South Seattle Community College (SSCC) for the aviation maintenance program in the early 1980s. The documentation implies that the aircraft became surplus as of 15 October 1980 and was located at the Surplus Property Section in Kent, WA, although that may have been administratively versus physically.
The actual “Combat Type Aircraft Conditional Transfer Document” dated 31 March 1982 authorized SSCC to dismantle the aircraft and take parts need for the aviation program, and then notify the State of Washington Surplus Property Section, as that department would then request that SSCC be released from the requirement to “hold the Property, all singular forever.”
As the aircraft is substantially intact today, it does not appear that SSCC fulfilled the requirements of the transfer document.
[i] Built as F8U-1 and later redesignated F-8A by the Defense Department.