"Crouze": the LTV F-8E(FN) Crusader
Simultaneously, weapons trials for the R.530 began in April with F-8E's based at China Lake NAS. Crusaders #2, 3 and 4 were also used for weapons trials. As early as November 1964, carrier launches and landings were carried out on USS Shangri-La, whose dimensions were roughly similar to those of the new French carriers. These tests were carried out by James H. Flatley, Yves Goupil and Dick Gralow on French Crusaders #2 and 3. Following this successful trials campaign, the French Crusader was declared ready to enter operational service in late 1964.
During its career, the F-8E(FN) was modernized on several occasions. Its weaponry was progressively improved. Its four Sidewinder armament was rarely used and abandoned in 1986. The Crusaders were often equipped with the Matra R.530, whose reliability was quite poor. In 1980, a 65% failure rate was recorded, but the missile was kept in Aéronavale inventory until the late 1980s. A mix of one radar-guided and one IR-guided R.530 was often carried.
The R.530 was replaced by the Matra R.550 Magic I, which was adapted to the Crusader in 1973. It was far more capable and reliable than the R.530 or early Sidewinders. The Super 530 was never used, as the AN/APQ-104 radar could not be made compatible with it. In 1988, the modernized Magic II was also introduced.
Among other systems used on the Crusader, a winch was fitted on the port side of the fuselage to tow a target for gunnery training. This system was abandoned in 1988.
In 1979, the J-57P-20A engines were equipped with a new afterburning system.
The renovated Crusader – F-8P
In the late 1980s, the Marine Nationale faced an ever-increasing problem: its Crusader fleet was growing quite old and its replacement, the Rafale, was not expected before the second half of the 1990s at best. Two options were considered. The first consisted in renting or purchasing F/A-18 Hornets from the US Navy as an interim measure while waiting for the Rafale. The other solution was to modernize the Crusader. Vice-Amiral Goupil, one of the first Crusader pilots, was one of the proponents of the Hornet solution and expressed his opinion and concern in the French Navy magazine “Cols Bleus” on 21 October 1989.
The F/A-18, Goupil wrote, had already been evaluated by the Armée de l'Air and the Aéronavale in 1970 but no order had been placed. If the Hornet was inferior to the Crusader, as far as pure performance was concerned, it was nonetheless far more versatile and modern. Dassault was nevertheless worried that this might endanger its Rafale program and strongly opposed the idea. According to Goupil, only the Hornet purchase/rental option could give the Aéronavale the capacity to protect its carriers.
Goupil pointed out the fact that keeping the Crusader operational until 1996 (year of the Rafale's arrival), would be very expensive and of a limited interest. Some talk was done about installing Dassault Mirage F.1 avionics and equipment on the Crusader but, as Goupil pointed out, “fitting the 1950s-era Crusader with equipment dating back to 1975 could hardly be called modernization”.
The debate went on for a while but this time the French aeronautical industry won and it was decided to renovate the F-8E(FN) Crusader while waiting for the Rafale. The winning argument was that if the Aéronavale were to equip with F/A-18s, the Armée de l'Air would be compelled to pay for the Rafale development on its own, which would have jeopardized the entire program. In the country's best interest, it was decided to simply overhaul the F-8's.
Seventeen aircraft were to be modified by the aviation works in Cuers between 1990 and 1997: one aircraft every 18 months. Crusader #35 was the first to be modified and, in April 1993, underwent operational trials on the Clémenceau.
The renovated F-8E(FN) was designated F-8P for prolongé (extended). It was more of an overhaul than a modernization, although some modern equipment was fitted. The entire electrical and hydraulic system was replaced, and the structure was inspected for fatigue and reinforced. A Martin-Baker Mk 7 zero-zero ejection seat replaced the older zero-120 model. The radar and flight control systems were reconditioned.
Only the avionics were really modernized. A VOR/ILS system was fitted, as well as an IFF, a GPS, a TACAN, a radar altimeter and a Thompson-CSF Sherloc radar warning receiver. The RWR was fitted in a rectangular fitting on the aircraft's fin, which distinguishes the F-8P from its predecessor. The cockpit layout was also changed and a new inertial navigation system, similar to that of the Mirage F.1, was installed.
Despite the overhaul, the “Crouze” (as it was called by the French) was obsolete: it was not adapted to modern warfare conditions and maintenance was increasingly difficult and heavy. The Crusader production lines had been stopped a long time ago and the French Navy depended on the Davis-Monthan AFB boneyard in Arizona for spares, or even had to manufacture them from scratch.
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