MCARA Aircraft > RF-8G Crusader
With the growing intensity of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, the US Navy had decided to keep many of its smaller 27C class carriers such as the Hancock, Oriskany, Intrepid, Ticonderoga, and Shangri-La in operation. These carriers were too small to be able to handle the Phantom, but they were able to operate the Crusader, which was the primary fighter and reconnaissance aircraft carried aboard these smaller ships. However, by this time, normal attrition as well as the losses produced by heavy combat had begun to deplete the number of available Crusaders serving aboard these ships.
In order to improve the capabilities and the longevity of the Crusaders that the Navy still had on strength, and in order to keep the Crusader operationally effective for a longer period of time, the Vought Aeronautics Division of the (now-renamed) Ling-Temco-Vought company was given a contract to refurbish and modernize existing Crusader airframes. The letters G through M were alloted for these remanufactured F-8s, with the letter 'I' being omitted.
The first remanufacturing program concerned the RF-8A reconnaissance version of the Crusader, with 73 RF-8As ultimately being remanufactured as RF-8G. They were rotated back to Vought for modernization with a J57-P-22 engine rated at 10,700 lb.s.t. dry and 18,000 lb.s.t. with afterburner. They were equipped with the ventral fins of later Crusader marks and were provided with improved navigation and electronic equipment. In addition, they were equipped with underwing hardpoints for drop tanks, and four cameras were mounted in the fuselage reconnaissance bay.
The first group of 53 were refurbished from 1965-67 and the second batch of 20 were refurbished in 1968-70. The Gs could be immediately distinguished from the As by the presence of the long ventral strakes mounted on the rear fuselage. The first RF-8G reentered service in October of 1965. It made its first cruise beginning in July of 1966 aboard the USS Coral Sea. In service with the U.S. Marine Corps the RF-8G was only flown by VMJ-4 USMC reserve squad from 66-73. Active duty Marines went to RF-4Bs and only the Navy flew the Gs in active duty.
The lifetime of the RF-8G proved to be much longer than even the most optimistic projections had predicted. In the late 1970s, there were substantial numbers of these planes still flying on active duty with the Navy. Beginning in February 1977, a second upgrade of reconnaissance Crusaders was carried out. Many of the J-57-P-22 engines of the RF-8Gs were replaced by more powerful J57-P-429 engines. New electrical wiring was provided and new electronic countermeasures equipment was added. These modified RF-8Gs could be identified by the presence of two large afterburner cooling air intakes mounted on their upper tailcones, a feature which had first appeared on the F8U-2 (F-8C). The modified RF-8Gs also featured a round protrusion sticking out of the rear of the upper vertical fin just above the rudder. This carried a radar warning receiver.
The RF-8G was ultimately to be the longest-serving US version of the Crusader, serving long after its fighter cousins had been withdrawn. The last active duty Navy unit to fly the RF-8G was VFP-63, which relinquished its planes in June of 1982. The RF-8G flew even longer with the Naval Air Reserve. The Naval Air Reserve units operating the RF-8G were VFP-206 and VFP-306 and were both based at NAF Washington DC, stationed at Andrews AFB. VFP-206 finally relinquished its RF-8Gs on March 29, 1987, becoming the last Navy unit to fly the Crusader. The last Crusader in Navy service, RF-8G BuNo 146860, was officially turned over to the Smithsonian Institution the next day.
Rockwell International in Palmdale, California obtained two RF-8Gs from VFP-206 and 306 after these reserve units decommissioned. These were 144617 and 145607. They were used in support of Rockwell's Advanced Technology Wing program. However, only 144617 actually made any flights. In May of 1987, the ATW program ran out of funds, and no further tests were carried out.
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