The US Navy selected the Vought design in May 1953 and the first prototype flew in March 1955. Production started in September 1955 and the F8U-1E began production in September 1958 with the J57 P-4A engine, the Vought ejection seat, a new radar scanner, and a larger radome.
The Navy accepted the Crusader on 3 April 1959 at the Vought plant in Dallas, TX. The aircraft passed through Fleet Air Service Squadron (FASRON) 8 in Alameda on the way to assignment to VMF-232 “Red Devils” at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Kaneohe Bay later in 1959. The Red Devils had just returned from a carrier tour and was changing from FJ-4s to the new Crusaders.
By 28 November 1959, the Crusader was taken over by FASRON 117 at NAS Barbers Point and the aircraft was soon on the way to Overhaul & Repair under the Bureau of Naval Weapons Fleet Readiness (O&R BUWEPS FR) at San Diego. A special rework began on 8 January 1960 and then an overhaul on 9 March. The aircraft was ready for test flight by 22 June and was available for assignment by 5 August. The next move was to Alameda on 31 August 1960 before assignment to VMF-251 “Thunderbolts” at Naval Air Station (NAS) Atsugi on 6 October 1960.
A short time later, on 1 January 1961, the Crusader was transferred to VMF-312 “Checkerboards” at NAS Atsugi. This squadron did carrier qualification work on the USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43) in early March 1961. After qualifications and back in Japan, the squadron provided 2 Crusaders for 5-minute ready alert for the defense of local air space with several aircraft scrambled, though no interceptions were made. VMF-312 transferred to the USS MIDWAY (CVA-41) on 28 March for a 3-week tour off Vietnam as part of Carrier Air Group 2 (CAG-2). The squadron flew combat air patrol over the fleet during the Laotian Crisis. No actual combat missions were flown. At the end of April 1961, VMF-312 flew to the CORAL SEA operating in the South China Sea and, again, flew combat air patrol as part of CAG-14. Another round of carrier qualifications took place aboard the USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14) in early October 1961.
On 9 January 1962, the Crusader accompanied VMF-312 as it transferred to MCAS El Toro. The Department of Defense renamed military aircraft later that year and the Crusader became an “F-8B” on 30 November 1962.
A year later, the Crusader rejoined VMF-232 at Kaneohe Bay on 6 November 1963. The next assignment was to VMFAW-122 “Crusaders” at El Toro on 22 May 1965. This squadron was just back from a deployment to Japan where the squadron’s Crusaders had been left. It was in transition to the F-4, but continued to operate some Crusaders.
A short time later, on 27 July 1965, the Crusader was transferred to NAS Olathe for use in post-student training; probably with the Marine Corps Air Reserve. The Crusader could have been with VMF-113 “Whistling Devils” at first and then would have been with VMF-215 “Fighting Corsairs” after 22 October 1965 when the former squadron was deactivated.
The aircraft underwent a special rework and repair starting 4 May 1967 at NAS North Island Coronado. From there, it was assigned to VMFAW-212 “Lancers” at Kaneohe Bay on 24 June 1967.
A little less than a year later, on 22 May 1968 the Crusader was transferred to VMFAW-235 “Death Angels” at MCAS Iwakuni. This squadron had just completed a 2nd tour in Vietnam and swapped F-8Es for F-8Bs, like the Crusader, in Japan. The Death Angels were the last Marine Corps. unit to fly the Crusader. The squadron transferred to Kaneohe Bay on 20 June 1968.
The Crusader was assigned next to VF-194 “Red Lightnings” aboard the USS ORISKANY (CVA-34) off San Francisco on 27 September 1968. The ORISKANY had just completed an overhaul and VF-194 pilots used F-8Bs for training before receiving F-8Js for the squadron’s 5th Vietnam tour and 3rd aboard this carrier.
As the only high performance fighter able to operate from the smaller TICONDEROGA class carriers, many Crusaders underwent an upgrade to extend the life of these aircraft. The F-8B/Cs were the last Crusaders to go through this process and the improvements included: new 4,000 hour wings with hard points for fuel tanks and ordnance, modified cockpit lighting to improve night operation, and attaching points for the ventral fins, though fins were not included. In all, 61 of the 130 F-8Bs were converted to F-8Ls with the Crusader beginning the process at the Vought plant on 28 February 1969.
After conversion, the aircraft was assigned to NAS Willow Grove on 1 October 1969 for post-student training. It is possible that the Crusader was with VMF-511.
The end of the line for the Crusader came on 23 November 1970 with a transfer to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The Crusader was coded as “Service/Retention – Standard Rework Required – Undamaged” with 2,159 flying hours. The Crusader was stricken under a “Category 3 – Administrative” code on 29 July 1974.
The next 12 ½ years of history are difficult to unravel. One authoritative source states that the Crusader was sent to Vought in Dallas on 14 November 1978, possibly for conversion to DF-8L. However, there are no DF-8Ls in the Allowances and Location of Navy Aircraft after March 1977, so it appears that the Crusader was not converted. The aircraft could have been sent to Vought at that time, along with many others, as it coincides with the refurbishment and sale to the Philippines of a large number of Crusaders. Some aircraft were used for spares and it may be that the contract was completed without the need for the Crusader to be taken apart. It is conceivable that the aircraft could have been parked at NAS Dallas rather than returned to Davis-Monthan.
A little over 8 years later, on 21 January 1987, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded a request from Thunderbird Aviation, Inc. (Thunderbird) of Phoenix for NxxTB. Thunderbird included an Affidavit of Ownership for Experimental-Built Aircraft (dated 8 January 1987) and listed their serial number for the Crusader as A35-30, however no authoritative information has been found to determine how Thunderbird acquired this aircraft. The FAA issued N37TB to Thunderbird on 7 April 1987.
“Thunderbird is [was] a private company which specializes in military and commercial aviation RDT&E support. It offers a full spectrum of aircraft and flight services to accommodate the diverse requirements within the aerospace industry including electronics, aircraft and engine development, air-to-air photographic missions, chase duties, on-board evaluations, weapons testing and weather enhancement testing.”
One source states that the Crusader, 1 of 2 at Thunderbird, was never flown. There may be some validity to this, as there are no documents in the FAA airworthiness files for N37TB.
Thunderbird went bankrupt barely 10 years later and the Crusader was sold to Higgins Aviation, Inc. (Higgins) of Glendale, AZ as part of the settlement dated 30 September 1997. The aircraft was said to have been in open storage at Deer Valley Airport until late in 2002.
Higgins obtained a new registration from the FAA on 17 January 1998. It appears that all was not well with Higgins, because the Arizona Department of Transportation obtained 2 security conveyances against unpaid license and registration fees on 11 April 2001.
A short time later, on 26 November 2001, Air Capital Warbird, LLC. (Air Capital) of Newton, KS obtained a judgment against Higgins for breach of contract and was awarded the Crusader. Air Capital obtained a new registration from the FAA on 4 April 2002 and promptly sold the aircraft on 11 September 2002.