Sword 1/72 RF-8 Crusader

KIT #: 72149/50
DECALS: Two options per kit
REVIEWER: Hans Gertje
NOTES: New release


The RF-8 Crusader (early designation F8U-1P) was a photoreconnaissance development of Vought’s supersonic carrier fighter. The F-8’s speed, long range, and sleek airframe made for a natural choice in the role. The forward fuselage was redesigned to be larger and with a “horseshoe” frontal profile, resulting in flatter sides and bottom which were more suitable for camera ports. With its guns deleted, the RF-8’s only defense was its speed. The RF-8 prototype was a modified F-8A with cameras installed and first flew in December 1956. The following year, future astronaut Major John Glenn flew an RF-8 to complete the first supersonic transcontinental flight in only 3 hours and 23 minutes. RF-8s soon arrived on aircraft carriers, joining Navy Light Photographic Squadrons VFP-62 and 63, and Marine Composite Jamming Squadron 2 (VMCJ-2).

These recce versions of the Crusader were the first to see combat. CDR William Ecker and other daring naval pilots from VFP-62, 63, and VMCJ-2 notably flew low altitude missions over Cuba in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where they obtained photographic evidence of Soviet missile deployment. These aircraft flew out of NAS Key West (and in VMCJ-2’s case, Guantanamo) over the course of six weeks during what was known as Operation Blue Moon.

The RF-8 would later see extensive combat over the dangerous skies of North Vietnam. Their role was especially hazardous, photographing enemy activity and battle damage assessments over terrain festooned with anti-aircraft guns and SAM sites. RF-8 pilots would fly so extremely close to the deck on their photo runs that they would sometimes capture clotheslines in their imagery and be fired down upon by enemy guns on ridges. They would often be accompanied by F-8 fighter escorts to defend from any North Vietnamese MiGs, although losses of both Crusader types were mainly due to ground fire. Around 1966 RF-8As were upgraded to RF-8Gs, equipping them with increasingly sophisticated ECM fairings. They were also equipped with ventral strakes to improve high speed directional stability, an upgrade common to all F-8s.

RF-8s would continue to serve as an important naval reconnaissance asset long after the F-8 fighter was retired. VFP-63 operated the RF-8 until 1982, and the RF-8 was finally retired from Naval Reserve service in 1987.


Sword has filled one of the longest-standing voids in all of aircraft modeling: a kitted RF-8 Crusader. There have been various conversions for existing F-8E kits over the years, and some very old vacforms may exist, but this is the first modern injection molded RF-8 that can be built straight out of the box. While many including myself will still have to wait for a 1/48 release, Sword has nonetheless done something that all jet modelers can appreciate.

Sword has technically released two kits, but these boxings have identical parts, the only difference being the decals and instructions included. If you buy the RF-8A version, you simply won’t use included parts like the ventral strakes and ECM equipment. The earlier RF-8A Over Cuba release includes decals for a jet flown by CDR William Ecker during the Missile Crisis, and a Marines jet from the Gitmo detachment. The other kit contains the upgraded RF-8G decals for VFP-62 and 63 jets that flew over Vietnam. Paint scheme for all aircraft is light gull grey over white, which was typical of Navy aircraft of the era.

There’s certain hallmarks of limited run kits here. There’s no locator pins, so the modeler will have to be careful to guide parts together. Raised ejector pin marks will also have to be removed prior to assembly, as they’ll interfere with joining parts like the fuselage. Also, there’s no options to position the wing and flaps, or raise the tips in a stored position. Nevertheless, the mold quality looks quite nice, and Sword has thoughtfully included a resin ejection seat and precut masks for the canopy and camera ports. There are two dark bluish-grey sprues and a clear plastic sprue, which has a large component containing several camera ports.

The instructions are perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the kit, since they are vague on what version should have certain optional components or not. Pay close attention to reference materials to make sure you’re using the correct components and camera ports for the version you’re making. Generally the early A version had no ECM equipment and no ventral strakes on the tail. The step for the ECM fairings also appears before the fuselage assembly, when it should be one of the last construction steps.

The decals look excellent albeit with limited stencil markings and are printed by Techmod. Sword chose some excellent options that represent a good variety of jets in service with different units. This is also a great opportunity for the aftermarket folks to put out some additional markings, as RF-8s frequently sported interesting livery. While it’s hard to say if any aftermarket parts will be released, be on the lookout for a decal set from Caracal for these RF-8s around February-March 2024.


This is a great release for a subject sorely underrepresented in all scales. They’re available for a very reasonable $25-$40 most places, so if you’re a jet modeler, pick one up! Heck, get both—let Sword know you want more like this. Maybe next they’ll make the early version F-8s since they’re never gotten a proper release either.

Hans Gertje

February 2024

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