Airmodel 1/72 F8U-3 Super Crusader

KIT #: AM060
PRICE: 11.00 Euros
DECALS: None supplied
REVIEWER: Carmel J. Attard
NOTES: Vacuform kit with injected plastic parts


The Vought F8U-3 Super Crusader was a re-engined version of the Crusader that has been in service with the US Navy. It was a time when a need was felt for the acquisition of all-weather defence aircraft for American aircraft carriers in the 60s. Three prototypes were built of this interesting and highly sophisticated aircraft. Two companies, Chance Vought and McDonnell had been working on two separate private developments for the Navy. Vought redesigned the successful Crusader utilising much of Crusader derived experience while McDonnell with experience in military aviation with types that saw combat in Korea came with a new design, the twin engined F4H-1 Phantom II.

 The Crusader III as it came to be known was an extremely advanced aircraft but its possibilities were stillborn when the Phantom eventually won the competition. Vought’s development contract was cancelled in December 1958. The Phantom went on to become one of the greatest aircraft in military aviation. The XF8U-3 offered tremendous potential and performance that only few appreciated at the time. The first prototype Bu No 146340 was powered by a Pratt and Whitney J75 Turbojet with afterburner producing 29,000Lb of thrust. The second Bu No 146341 and third Bu No 146085 used engines that supplied 23,500 lb of thrust, but which offered also water injection for longer periods at high speed. The new Vought fighter also flew without internal guns but carried two types of air-to-air missiles, the AIM-7 Sparrow and the shorter-range AIM-9 Sidewinder. Both were used extensively in Vietnam and beyond. Weapons avionics and nose mounted radar were state-of-the-art produced by Raytheon of New England and Autotechnics a subsidiary of North American Aviation, California. A Head Up Display that went earlier tests on F3D Skyknight was also installed.

Test pilot John Konrad flew the first flight of XF8U-3 having also undertaken the maiden flight of XF8U-1 three years earlier and who would make the first flight in September of the YA-7A Corsair. Konrad has flown P-47 and B-17 in Europe during WWII. Konrad who joined Vought in 1953 stayed with the Dallas based company until he retired in 1990. The multi shock air intake was particularly suited to high supersonic speed and with the J75 engine being the most powerful engine at the time in the USA was as envisaged for increased high-level performance. The armament consisted entirely of missiles, namely the Sparrows half sunk into the fuselage. It had a variable incidence wing to improve visibility for deck landings. A boundary layer control system of the flap-blowing type was to increase the lift coefficient during critical phases of take-off and landing. Aircraft stability at high speed was attained with two fins beneath the rear part of the fuselage. These folded horizontally during take off and landing.

The first flight of the type was 12th June 1958, shortly after that however the aircraft was relegated to carrying out research on high-speed flight for NASA. The three Vought test pilots still found it the most impressive airplane they have ever seen. Some interesting fact told years later like highest mach number achieved during the course of the Edwards AFB, the F8U-3 flight test program was mach 2.39 equivalent to 1,601 mph and at this speed the aircraft was still accelerating and it is believed that it was the wind screen heat limitations that kept the airplane from flying faster. The plexi glass simply could not take it especially for a long period of time and therefore the Crusader never flew to its limits. Two Langley F8U-3 prototypes were barged to Norfolk NAS, Virginia for disposal and the spare airframe was moved to Penn Naval Air Station for use as fire fighting target. The Crusader III remained to be proved till the end as the most delightful aeroplane to fly and have ever seen by Admiral Engen. It was compared to the FJ3 Fury, which had control harmony, and forces that made it one of the airplanes in the Navy inventory. The overriding factors in the F4selection over the III were the avionics and automation of the control system as well as the twin-engined, two-crew concept. Had the III gone into production it would have been the world’s fastest jet at the time.

It is reckoned that had the Crusader III been produced in numbers, it would have been the fleet’s primary interceptor and dogfighter during the Vietnam War. All reports told of the aircraft’s acceleration, manoeuvrability and high-speed stability: prime requisites in air-to-air combat. Speculating on combat engagements between N Vietnamese Migs and the III, John Konrad believes that the highly manoeuvrable III “would have eaten them up”.  The aircraft excellent control harmony –noted by every former test pilot-imparted an ease of handling that was alien to the stodgy F-4, which Don Engen declared “flew like a truck” At the start of an aerial engagement, the F-4 pilot usually had to unload and use his aircraft’s superior power to escape from the lithe Mig-21. Former F-8 pilot and retired Rear Admiral Paul Gillcrist later wrote when he referred to the Crusader III brief history” the brightest moment of US Naval Aviation occurred like a lightning flash, then died somewhat ignominiously”.


Note:  RADM Paul T Gillcrist is winner of seventeen combat decorations for his duels with MiGs and SAMs in the bloody air war over North Vietnam, and making daring, dangerous ejections more than once in his heroic career. Gillcrist speaks with authority as a former fighter squadron commanding officer who recorded 167 combat missions over Vietnam flying the F-8 Crusader. Subsequently, he commanded a carrier air wing and finally served, with the rank of Rear Admiral, as the wing commander for all Pacific Fleet fighter squadrons. His pilot's logbook includes over 6,000 hours, in seventy-one different types of aircraft from 1952 to 1981. He retired in 1985 as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations. (Naturally, as an ex F-8 pilot, he is not biased. Just to put things into perspective, Gilcrest's two ejections were due to F-8 engine failures. One of the main reasons the Phantom was chosen over this aircraft was due to the second engine, something that Naval fighters have had ever since.  Ed)


The Vought F8U3 Crusader though belonging to an era that has received much attention has received very little from model manufacturers. While the predecessor F8U-2 has been relatively well represented in the injection molded form by Heller, Revell, ESCI and Hasegawa the Super Crusader F8U-3 until recently (as in Anigrand resin) was only issued in vac form. Thanks to Airmodel of Germany who has it among the list of vac form kits. This is a well reproduction of what could have been the super interceptor at the time when it first flew. The F8U-3 differed quite considerably from the F8U-2 Crusader which was the best fighter in the Viet Nam war. It featured a notably lengthened fuselage, a redesigned tail fin and having a most unusual feature with its ‘sugar scoop’ air intake. Which had the advantage of providing air at speeds approaching Mach 3. It also had bulkier fuselage to house the larger diameter and more powerful P&W J-79 jet engine. The Crusader III had additional set of fuselage side fins to increase stability of the aircraft at high-speed flight. The cockpit office was more spacious resulting into a larger canopy. Three Crusader prototypes were built. The kit can be built into any one of them the basic difference was that in one of them there was the broad chord fin and with or without the air scoop. The kit comes in a white soft styrene sheet containing all the kit major parts and a cockpit canopy in clear acetate all being vac-formed. The kit itself is of moderate complexity as it comes with injected landing gear and ejector seat. These are most welcome features, which are normally absent in Airmodel kits I have built.

Kit parts also have beautifully executed surface detail accurately reproduced. This can be enhanced with the edge of a blunt blade if so desired.


The components mainly the fuselage halves, wings, tail planes, different tail fins, fuselage fins and cockpit bulkheads were separated from vac form backing sheet in the time borrowed fashion, scribing around the components with a sharp knife and separating them from the backing sheet by twisting and tearing action. Great care was taken however around the pointed nose not to break off the nose tip. The next operation was rubbing down starting with the fuselage. For smaller items as tail fin pieces and stabilisers I used masking tape as a finger hold. Trailing edges were generally scraped down on the inside face until the required thin edge is produced.

 Cockpit opening is cut into the fuselage, as also are the fuselage-side spill doors downstream as used at lower speeds for air intake. The aft and forward bulkhead, cockpit floor, side consoled and ejector seat are assembled to half of the fuselage and painted in light grey and black instruments. A pilot figure also added strapped to the seat as this will give indication of scale to the aircraft. The nose and fuselage wheel wells are cut with a sharp knife and detailed making reference to wells found on Crusader kits though slightly smaller than the III version. A pocket for the nose weight was also built. Sea through effect of intake was blanked with a spare engine front turbine detail. A cutaway drawing in journal ‘Wings of fame. Vol 9’ provided position of this blanking piece obtained from spares from surplus Tamiya Tomcat engine parts, which were modified to suite. A rear engine part was also added further aft.. Plastic card tabs ½” X ¼” were added to the fuselage joint line at intermittent spaces along the length to serve as guides and secure the fuselage when glued. Wing halves were also treated in normal manner avoiding excessive glue, which can result into sink areas when set. Main wing halves also needed sprue length at mid section of wings. These are of measured diameter identical to both wings on either side.

 With the fuselage halves glued and well secured it was turn to fix the wings in place. The scale plans provided were referred to when fitting the wings to the fuselage. Tail planes were horizontal while main planes had anhedral inclination. I found it best was to cut a cardboard template to check the fuselage to wings angle at both fuselage sides for correctness. At this stage all molding pips were removed. The intake lip comes in two halves, these were assembled with correct aperture and added to the front of fuselage beneath the nose area and correctly aligned with the axis of the fuselage. Wherever needed filler was applied and rubbed down to a smooth surface. Any hidden surface detail was improved with a sharp knife. I opted to fit the standard tail fin, the one that had no air intake at its root. A long pointed metal needle was super glued to nose cone.

 The canopy was cut from its backing sheet with scissors and gently trimmed with a new blade until a good fit was achieved. It was then glued to the fuselage with a little Kristal Kleer and no filler was needed. Fuselage rear wheels were fixed in place followed by nose wheel once the correct sit of the model was obtained by adjusting the height of the nose wheel.  Any filler at seams was added at this stage followed by sanding. Half cut Sparrow missiles were prepared. These were obtained from F4 kits Sparrows and were painted white and bright blue, three of them. These were fixed in place after the first photo session.


 I decided to represent my model as the second prototype Bu No 6341. Apart from the day glow areas the kit was airbrushed in an overall mix of silver and few drops of gloss lacquer. Burnished areas were applied to rear of fuselage. Entire model was given a coat of Klear. An assortment of Super Scale decal lettering and star and bars were added to the kit and finally another coat of Klear sealed the entire kit.


 In my opinion this is one of the best Airmodel kits ideal for attractive color scheme to represent the prototype. I enjoyed this somewhat straightforward build keeping in mind it is a vac form type. It is therefore recommended for anyone who is new to building the type and kit is apparently still available from from where I got my model.


1)     Airmodel kit instructions

2)     Wings of Fame Vol 9 journal of classic combat aircraft.

3)     ‘Feet wet’. Reflections of a carrier pilot by Paul Gillcrist.

Carmel J. Attard

December 2011

Copyright All rights reserved. No reproduction in part or in whole without express permission.

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact the editor or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page 2022