CHANCE VOUGHT F8U-2 CRUSADER PROJECT N19TB U.S. NAVY BUREAU NUMBER: 145592 CONTRACT NUMBER: 057187 THUNDERBIRD AVIATION SERIAL NUMBER: A35-17

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The Navy accepted the Crusader on 14 July 1959 at the Vought plant in Dallas, TX.  The aircraft passed through Fleet Air Service Squadron (FASRON) 5 Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana for “modernization-conversion” work on the way to assignment to VF-103 “Sluggers” at Oceana on 3 September.  The Sluggers had moved to Oceana in June and were in the process of converting to the F8U-2.  Interestingly, it was at this time that VF-103 became the first squadron to test the new MK-4 full pressure suit in high altitude flights.

Within months, the Crusader was transferred to VX-3, an Air Development Squadron, at Oceana on 2 November 1959.  This squadron had been the first to test Crusaders on a carrier in April 1957 and was involved with testing mirror landing systems, the use of Sidewinder and Zuni missiles, in-flight refueling, and aerial tow targets.

This was a short stay as VX-3 was decommissioned on 1 March 1960 and the Crusader was assigned to VMF-333 “Fighting Shamrocks” at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort on 23 February 1960.  The Fighting Shamrocks were the first Marine Corps squadron to fly the F8U-2 starting in November 1959.

It was back to VF-103 at Oceana on 15 December 1960 and then to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota on 15 February 1961 for brief “modernization-conversion” work.  Then, the Crusader was assigned temporarily to VF-11 “Red Rippers” at Rota on 1 June.  During their April to August posting to Rota, the Red Rippers were the only Atlantic squadron to “qualify 100% of all of its aviators in all aspects of the squadron missions …. 20 thousand foot gunnery, 30 thousand foot gunnery, 45 thousand foot camera gunnery, Dart gunnery, Sidewinder intercepts and Broadcast Control Intercepts.”

On 30 June 1961, the Crusader moved to VF-103 aboard USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59) then in the middle of a February to August cruise.  At the end of the cruise, on 11 August, the aircraft returned to NAVSTA Rota for more “modernization-conversion” work from 12 to 31 August.

The Crusader was back at sea with VF-84 “Vagabonds / Jolly Rogers” aboard USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) from 26 November 1961.  By 21 February 1962, the aircraft returned to Oceana with VF-84 and underwent “progressive aircraft rework.”  It reverted to VF-103 on 28 March at Oceana and was captured in an official Navy photograph flying over FORRESTAL in the Caribbean in May 1962.

James McFarlane, a Lieutenant in VF-103 at the time, flew the Crusader many times over the next 2 years.

McFarlane and the Crusader went aboard FORRESTAL in August 1962 for a cruise through the Mediterranean that lasted until the end of February 1963.  According to McFarlane, “all MED flying was normal training, practicing intercepts, instrument approaches, group gaggle escorts and towing targets for the ship based anti a/c defense system.”  The Cuban Missile Crisis took place during this deployment, but had minimal impact on operations.  The squadron had pilots on alert status at all times during the transit back to Norfolk, VA.  It was at the beginning of this cruise that the official designation for the Crusader changed to “F-8C” per the Department of Defense.

Interestingly, VF-103 was awarded the AIRLANT Battle Efficiency Award 3 times during 1961-3 and the CNO Safety Award in 1961 and 1962.  McFarlane indicated that the squadron was blessed with “some stellar Chiefs” and that “[o]ur maintenance was the best in the fleet.”  This is all the more impressive given that the Crusader was known for a high accident rate, especially in the early 1960s.

The Crusader was back at Oceana by 28 February 1963 and remained there until sent to NAS Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) as part of Detachment 7 on 27 March.  McFarlane confirms that this was for gunnery training and involved only a couple of aircraft and “skel[e]ton crews of line and maintenance.”

Detachment 14.  Here, McFarlane says, the Crusader stood “alert for the Southern Air Defense Command” in the months right after the Missile Crisis.  A little over a month later, on 30 May, the Crusader returned to Oceana.

Reworks consumed the periods from 10 June to 31 July 1963 and 12 November 1963 to 27 January 1964.  There was a brief visit to FORRESTAL from 4 to 8 May 1964 with assignment to VU-4 “Dragon Flyers,” a Fleet Utility Squadron, at Oceana on the latter date.  VU-4 trained F8 pilots and was in the process of switching from the F-8A to the F-8C in May 1964.  The Crusader was assigned briefly to VU-4 Detachment A at NAS Cecil Field from 23 July to 1 November 1964, and made a very short stop at NAS Roosevelt Roads from 16 to 21 September 1964 for “Progressive Rework.”  Detachment A was tasked with providing “services to the Fleet in the Jacksonville Operating Area.”

It was back to Oceana on 6 April 1963 and then to NAS Key West on 20 April as part of Detachment 14.  Here, McFarlane says, the Crusader stood “alert for the Southern Air Defense Command” in the months right after the Missile Crisis.  A little over a month later, on 30 May, the Crusader returned to Oceana.

Reworks consumed the periods from 10 June to 31 July 1963 and 12 November 1963 to 27 January 1964.  There was a brief visit to FORRESTAL from 4 to 8 May 1964 with assignment to VU-4 “Dragon Flyers,” a Fleet Utility Squadron, at Oceana on the latter date.  VU-4 trained F8 pilots and was in the process of switching from the F-8A to the F-8C in May 1964.  The Crusader was assigned briefly to VU-4 Detachment A at NAS Cecil Field from 23 July to 1 November 1964, and made a very short stop at NAS Roosevelt Roads from 16 to 21 September 1964 for “Progressive Rework.”  Detachment A was tasked with providing “services to the Fleet in the Jacksonville Operating Area.”

From early November 1964 to the end of March 1966, the Crusader was with VU-10 “Proud Pelicans” at Roosevelt Roads and GTMO.  VU-10 became VC-10 (Fleet Composite Squadron) during the Crusader’s tour and was responsible for providing training aircraft for the Fleet in the Caribbean, defense of the GTMO base, and ready alert fighters for “reconnaissance operations in the Eastern Cuban region.”

New

The Crusader returned to VC-4 Detachment A at Cecil Field on 1 April 1966 where the mission was Replacement Pilot Training along with services to the Fleet.

On 6 September 1967, the Crusader transferred to VF-62 “Boomerangs” for deployment aboard USS SHANGRI-LA (CVA-38).  The SHANGRI-LA deployed to the Mediterranean from November 1967 to August 1968 after which the Crusader rejoined VC-4 Detachment A at Cecil Field on 25 September 1968.

From 10 March to 25 August 1969, the Crusader underwent a remanufacturing program at Vought to upgrade it to a F-8K.  Changes to the 87 aircraft that went through this upgrade included a new cockpit interior and a pylon under each wing for fuel tanks or ordnance.

The Crusader moved across the airfield to NAS Dallas on 25 August 1969 for use as a post-student training aircraft.  On 12 July 1970, it became part of the newly formed VF-201 “Hunters” at Dallas.  It is likely that the Crusader participated in 2 days of carrier qualifications on USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14) off southern California beginning on 16 November 1970.  The squadron history states that “[t]his was the first time fighter squadrons from the reserves had gone aboard an aircraft carrier during a two week active duty cruise.”  From 17 December 1970 to 14 March 1971, the Crusader was flown by VF-202 “Superheats” also based at Dallas.

On 14 March 1971, the Crusader moved to NAS Willow Grove and became part of the Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment (MARTD).  It is likely that the aircraft was assigned to VMF-511 which had been the training detachment at Willow Grove since 1958 and which transitioned to F-8Ks in 1971. 

The Crusader moved to VF-302 “Stallions” at NAS Miramar on 10 January 1973 and then to MARTD at NAS Atlanta on 26 August 1973.    At Atlanta, it was likely assigned to VMF-351, which operated F-8Ks into 1975.

The end of the line for the Crusader came on 30 October 1975 with a transfer to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  The Crusader was coded as “Reserve Stock – Standard Rework Required – Undamaged” with 3,255 flying hours.  The Crusader was stricken under a “Category 3 – Administrative” code on 16 August 1977.

This writer believes that 145592, like another Crusader (145527), was sent to Vought in Dallas in 1978, as this would coincide 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 A35-17, however no authoritative information has been found to determine how Thunderbird acquired this aircraft.  The FAA issued N19TB to Thunderbird on 7 April 1987.  Simultaneously, Thunderbird executed a Chattel Mortgage Security Agreement with Margaret Higgins in order to borrow $986,912.63 against a number of planes including the Crusader.

It has been reported that Thunderbird spent $2 million dollars on a 2 ½ year project to make the Crusader flyable.  This involved mating the fuselage from 145592 to the tail from another F-8K adding an F-8L wing and parts from Vought and other sources along with a J57-P-55 engine.  The first flight after rebuilding was said to have taken place on 12 March 1987 from Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix.

“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 of the assignments involved testing cluster bombs for the Air Force.  The Crusader would drop 2 bombs taken from storage each month.  The bombs would be dropped from 500 feet at 500 knots with 1 bomb armed with a proximity fuse and the other without.  In addition, the Crusader was flown to air shows and F8 pilot reunions including:  Crusader reunion at Miramar (late 1980s); Crusader reunion in Phoenix (1994); El Toro Air Show; Yuma Air Show.

It appears that business got tougher for Thunderbird in the early 1990s and, by 7 September 1995, it defaulted on the Security Agreement mentioned earlier.  Margaret Higgins executed a Certificate of Repossession of Encumbered Aircraft in which it was stated that the repossession occurred on 27 August 1996 and the aircraft was registered to Higgins Aviation, Inc. (Higgins) on 31 December 1996.

 

Thunderbird went bankrupt at that time and the Crusader was sold officially to Higgins as part of the settlement dated 30 September 1997.  The aircraft was said to have been in open storage at Deer Valley Airport from the bankruptcy until late in 2002.

It appears that all was not well with Higgins, because, 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. 

The descriptions and photos are meant to give a broad overview of the material being offered. The condition and quantities are not guaranteed. Buyers are urged to make their own evaluation of the projects and parts offered.

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SPECIFICATIONS SUBJECT TO VERIFICATION UPON INSPECTION