Heller 1/72 F-8 Crusader
KIT #: 259
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: Initial 1978 release


The F-8 Crusader is considered by those interested in things nautical as the last Navy Gunfighter. Well, that may or may not be the case, but it was the last single-engined fleet fighter, at least until the advent of the F-35. With the high cost of aircraft and the Navy's tendency to have them crash where they cannot be easily picked up, found and repaired, it has been pretty much a twin-engine haven. Having that second engine makes flying over long stretches of water so much easier on the nerves of the crews.

The F-8 was used probably more intensely by the Marines in combat than by the Navy. There were no Marine aces during Vietnam and that is because they were using their F-8s to move mud, and lots of it. Sure, they carried Sidewinders just in case they got lucky, but the NVAF never flew any missions south of the DMZ (that I know of) to help support their troops, so the Marines had to be content with blowing up things on the ground.

The F-8E, which is the subject of this kit, is actually the same as the old F8U-2N. That meant it had better navigation systems that allowed it to operate in all types of weather, hence the (AW) in the unit designator of Marine squadrons that flew this version. Some of the distinguishing features of the F-8E over the earlier variants are the afterburner coolant scoops, the ventral fins, and the 'humped' area over the wing. It also carried wing pylons that enabled the aircraft to haul ordnance. Many were upgraded to J standards. The F-8 finally left service when the F-14 started to enter fleet squadrons and left lots of extra Phantoms around for the reserves.


From what I've been able to determine, the first injected kit of this aircraft in 1/72 scale was by Fujimi in 1968. This kit was really 1/70 scale but marketed as 1/72. I built this kit way back when and found it not to be the best kit I've ever built so would recommend to anyone considering it to stay away. Next was this one by Heller in 1978, followed by the Hasegawa offering in 1979. Both of these are raised panel lines with many at the time preferring the Heller kit as the ventral strakes on the Hasegawa kit are the wrong shape. In 1988, ESCI did one with engraved panel lines and modelers flocked to that one. This kit was also released by AMT and while I've not built it, it looks nice in the box. Many years later, Academy did the F-8 and that has since been the kit to get when modeling the Crusader in this scale.

I bought this particular kit about 25 years back to use for a never-built RF-8 conversion. The kit was cheap as it was missing two things. One was the decal sheet. The other is half of the build instructions. Yep, it appears the previous owner had torn the build sheet in half and all I have left is the forward half of the exploded view that Heller used for its instructions. Not an issue, really as it is a fairly straight-forward build.

The cockpit consists of the usual tub with a seat shape and control stick. The instrument panel requires a decal that I don't have, but for a shelf model, it really doesn't matter. The cockpit sits atop an intake section that is really only the lower part.  Wings are a single piece with the 'double droop' slats of the French version. This is also where you find a fairly long sink area. This can be posed raised if you so wish.

There is a separate speed brake, which appears to be able to be displayed in the lowered position, though one rarely sees the plane on the ground with this lowered. There is fair detail in the main gear well with the main gear struts being separate items on either side. Tailplanes are separate pieces and simply plug into holes in the fuselage. You are provided with two missile options. For the USN planes, a pair of Sidewinders. For the French plane, a pair of Matra 530s

As mentioned, my instructions are incomplete, but Heller instructions of the time were basically a single exploded view with some detail illustrations, in this case for the cockpit arrangement. Scalemates states there were three markings options. The two USN offerings were with VF-24 and VF-194 while the French option is with 12F. All three planes would be in light gull grey over white. I'm sure that even if I did have the decals, they'd be useless so it is a good thing that there are a number of aftermarket sheets that could be used. The image for the sheet was snagged from the 'net.

With the advent of the Academy kit, I'd be hard pressed to recommend this one. However, if you are modeling on a budget, it can be found for around $10, but I wouldn't pay more than that. Next time you are at a swap meet at a model show, look around. I think you'll probably find one for a lot less.

November 2021

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