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French Crusaders visit Kleine Brogel AB 16 June 1999

To celebrate a jubilee with the Belgian OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) four French Navy F-8P Crusaders visited Kleine Brogel AB. As it is the last year of the Crusaders in operational service with the French Navy it was a great opportunity to catch these mighty jet on photo.


Maurice had contact with the commanders of both OCU and Kleine Brogel AB and arranged a small base visit. When we arrived we saw the Crusaders parked at the OCU ramp. The weather was very good, nice clear and sunny. Unfortunately the sun was a little on the back of the aircraft. Despite that we managed to take some very nice shots.


After we finished the photo shoot at the OCU ramp we left the base and went to the spotters area to take some landing shots. When we arrived here we were surprise by the arrival of a fifth Crusader. When all four Crusaders and the local F-16s landed we left Kleine Brogel AB. What a day!! On less than five French Navy Crusaders on one day!!                                                      (Click here for a full log)









History of the French Navy F-8 Crusader


Faced with the urgent need to retire the venerable Aquilons, its only fleet air defense fighters, the French Navy issued an invitation to tender. The French manufacturer Dassault was not part of it because its navalized version of the Mirage, still on the drawing board, had a high approach speed. The French Navy then naturally turned towards the USA which was operating the F-8 Crusader and the F-4 Phantom II.


CC Hurel from the BET (Technical Studies Bureau), Mr.Faucheux from the Aeronautical Techniques Service and a engineer were rushed across the Atlantic to decide which one of the two planes would be the most suitable to defend the new Foch and the Clemenceau aircraft-carriers. The Phantom II turned out to be oversized for the small carriers, and the Crusader was chosen. An evaluation campaign was then performed aboard the Clemenceau on March 16th 1962 by two VF-32 F-8s from the carrier USS Saratoga. The Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) manufacturer offered to build an all weather interceptor based on the F-8U-2NE (F-8E), but with an improved system of flaps and the capability to fire the MATRA R530 air to air missile. This version is dubbed F-8E(FN). The $65 million contract is for a first batch of 40 single seaters and 6 two seaters, as well as a large supply of spare parts and engines.


Unfortunately Congress cancelled the Twosader (two seat Crusader), and the French Navy changed its order to 42 single seaters (BuNo. 151732 to 151773). Four pilots were sent to the USA and transitioned to the Crusader with VF-174 Hell's Razors at NAS Cecil Field (FL); the first French pilot soloed May 6th 1963. The F-8U-2NE (BuNo. 147036, a transformed F-8D) prototype made its first flight on February 27th 1964. It had a entirely new wing, a special auto throttle for carrier approaches, a stall warning, wiring for the Matra R530, a J57-P-20A engine, and finally special test avionics.


The YF-8E(FN) crashed on its 21st flight on April 11th with Bob Rostine in the cockpit. Later that month Matra 530 tests were performed at NAS China Lake (CA) with a US Navy F-8E. A new series of tests was held on June 26th 1964 with the first production aircraft, specially fitted with a measuring nose probe. The third, fourth and fifth production aircrafts were committed to weapon system tests. The carrier campaign was held in November 1964 aboard USS Shangri-La (CV-38), which is roughly the size of Clemenceau class ships. Planes No.2 and 3 performed these tests, flown by Dick Gralow, Goupil and James H. Flatley. Finally the 13 first aircraft were loaded on the Arromanches at Norfolk on October 6th 1964, and arrived at St-Nazaire on November 4th. The last 29 planes were ferried on the Foch early 1965.


12 F squadron was reactivated on October 15th 1964 with 12 airplanes. On March 1st 1965 14 F squadron received its planes, to replace the old Corsairs. From April 28th to May 6th 1965, 4 planes went on an evaluation cruise on the Clemenceau. On July 6th 1965, a Crusader performed the types first in-flight refueling, taking on fuel from an Etendard IVP. On September 8th both squadrons were grouped together and formed GAN 2 (Carrier Air Wing 2). The Crusader is officially brought to active duty on March 1st 1966. 12 F squadron left its base at NAS Lann-Bihoué and moved to NAS Landivisiau, followed by 14 F squadron a few days later. 14 F squadron eventually switched to Dassault Super-Etendards in 1979.


 In October 1974 (on the Clemenceau) and June 1977 (on the Foch), several planes from 14 F squadron participated to the Saphir missions (I and II) over Djibouti. On May 7th 1977, two Crusaders went separately on patrol against supposedly French Air Force (4/11 Jura squadron) F-100 Super Sabres stationed at the Djibouti joint forces air base. The leader intercepted two fighters and engaged a dogfight (supposed to be a training exercise) but quickly called his wingman for help, as he had actually engaged two Yemenite Mig-21 Fishbed armed with four missiles each. The two French fighters switched their master armament to "on", but in the end everyone returned to his base. This was the only ever combat interception by a French Crusader.


After it withdrew from the European study group which eventually give birth to the EF-2000 Typhoon, France decided to continue alone and launched the Rafale program. Unfortunately the Rafale M would not be available before 1996, and the French Navy had to choose between leasing American F/A-18s and thoroughly upgrading the Crusaders. In December 1989 the French military & industrial complex won: the Navy committed itself to the Rafale M but also had 17 Crusaders renovated (but not modernized) at the Cuers AIA between 1990 and 1997, with one plane rolling out every 18 months.


The first renovated plane (No.35) performed a tests campaign aboard the Clemenceau in April 1993. In May 1996, the Crouze's fate was sealed: the last airframes were to be retired no later than December 31st 1999. By then, the F-8 was the French Aéronautique Navale's plane that required the most maintenance time. One flight hour was indeed followed by 67 hours of maintenance (including major maintenance visits to Cuers)!


The final carrier landing on the Foch took place on October 28th 1999 at 12:45pm, when LV Denis landed F-8P No.34. The final catapulting took place the same day in the evening, when CF Guillot took off in F-8P No.11 with CV Bertrand Aubriot, Foch CO and CA Alain Coldéfy, commander of the Force d'Action Navale in the assistance. After 140,000 hours of flight time and 25,000 traps/catapultings, the half dozen (No.7, 10, 11, 34, 39) remaining specimen of one of the last "Century Fighters" were retired in this end of the millennium, on December 15th 1999 at NAS Landivisiau.


Source: French Fleet Air Arm












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