The French Navy’s air forces, known as the Aéronavale, submitted a requirement for a carrier-based fighter in the early 1960s to serve aboard their new carriers. As it turned out, ol’ Double Ugly–the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II–was just too much warplane for the smaller French ships to handle, so they needed a Plan B. That came in the form of the U.S.S. Saratoga sending two F-8s to conduct CQ aboard the French carriers. Voila, the Crusader was chosen, and 42 F-8E(FN)s were ordered by the French.

The French jets were based on the F-8E, but needed to be modified in order to allow for the rigors of flight operations from the smaller French carriers. For example, the maximum angle of incidence of the aircraft’s wing increased from five to seven degrees and blown flaps were installed in an effort to give the aircraft as much lift as possible at lower power settings as it settled over the flight deck of the little carriers.

The desired weapon loadout would include Matra R.530 missiles in lieu of the American-made AIM-9 “Sidewinder,” in addition to the guns in the nose. Deliveries of the French Crusaders ensued in late 1964 and continuing until the early part of 1965.

The French Crusaders were subject to a series of modifications during their service, including afterburners, new wings, and upgrades to weaponry and avionics as new technology became available in the 80s. Even though they didn’t see service in either Operation Desert Storm or Operation Allied Force, the French Crusader fleet stayed in service until they were replaced by the Rafale-M in 2000.

(F-8 Crusader schematic courtesy of
(F-8 Crusader schematic courtesy of
Manufacturer: LTV Aerospace Corporation
Type: Interceptor/air superiority fighter
Crew: Pilot
Powerplant: One 18,000 lb. static thrust with reheat Pratt & Whitney J57-P-20 turbojet
Dimensions: Length: 54 ft., 3 in.
Height: 15 ft., 9 in.
Wingspan: 35 ft., 8 in.
Weight: Empty: 17,836 lb.
Gross: 34,100 lb.
Performance: Max Speed: 1,133 mph at 35,000 ft.
Ceiling: 52,350 ft.
Range: 1,425 miles
Armament: Four fixed forward-firing 20mm cannon, four AAMs and up to 5,000 lbs. of ordnance