1/48 What-If F-8S Crusader II “Templar”

Gallery Article by Scott Smither a.k.a. Desertpilot on Mar 23 2020



This build started life as an Esci F-8 and a Hasegawa F-2, both 1/48 scale. I grafted the cockpit & intake mouth and trunk, from the F-2, onto the F-8. I worked up an extensive background to go with my model, it’s set in the same “universe” as my F-106 Switchblade. I hope you like it! 

History of the F-8S Block 40 Crusader “Templar”
In 1976, the US Navy, faced with the delay of the F-18 program due to the untimely crash of the first flying prototype aircraft, began to explore the idea of extending the service life of the F-8 Crusader. The F-4, while still viable as a fighter, was not the most economical vehicle and with the oil crisis about to burst into reality, congress was keen to save money. 

The Regan administration made the difficult decision, early in 1981, to cancel the F/A-18 Hornet program. This decision was due to the ongoing litigation between the F/A-18’s two prime vendors, Northrop and McDonnell Douglas, and a number of crashes dubiously blamed on the fighter’s state of the art, Fly-By-Wire system. The decision to modernize and extend the life of the venerable and economically single-engined, F-8C Crusader II was controversial, and was met with considerable opposition from within the Navy itself. House Armed Serviced Committee Chairman Melvin Price was instrumental in securing funding and Government funded technology, from the F/A-18, to use in the modernization of the F-8C Crusader II. 

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While Northrop and McDonnell Douglas protested this decision, Congress asserted that keeping Vought in the business of making aircraft for the US Navy, was a good decision, for diversification of the industrial base and to keep the tribal knowledge of making “Naval Gun-Fighters” in the hands of more than just one company. 

With the decision to modernize the F-8C made and the funding secured, the real work began. In August of 1982, line squadrons that were due to transition to the F/A-18, were placed on shore duty with the operational tasks handed off to the F-4 and newly minted F-14, squadron F-8’s were cycled through the Vought factory in Dallas, for re-work. 

The details of the modernization of the F-8C were tantalizing for the veteran fighter pilots waiting to be reunited with their trusty steeds. First, the fighters would receive upgraded mission computers, 1553 data-busses, brand new cockpits with wide angle heads-up-display, multi-function displays and radars, based on the Westinghouse APG-66. 

Next, the fuselage was to be shortened and the engine replaced with the newly qualified F110-GE-400. This increased the top speed, useful range, and greatly enhanced the fuel economy of the already thrifty, F-8. 

To accommodate the powerful new motor, a brand new wing, wing main spar and fuselage longerons were fitted, increasing the maximum “G” tolerance of the airframe from 7, to an incredible 10 G’s as well as bringing each airframe to a “Zero-Flight-Hour” state. With the shortening of the fuselage and overall reduction in weight, the landing gear were enhanced to improve the aircraft’s ground handling and approach angle. That change alleviated the need for the articulated wing structure, which further reduced weight. 

The new wing was also adorned with two additional hardpoints, outboard of the original plumbed hardpoints. This enabled F-8 to carry and astounding 10 air to air missiles in addition to it’s twin upgraded ADEN 30mm cannons.

The first reworked F-8, was delivered to the US Navy at Patuxent River NAS in December of 1984, and was designated the F-8F Crusader. Naval developmental test pilots were quick to realize the scorching performance of this new incarnation of the Crusader. 

Tuesday, 15 April, 1986 saw the combat debut of the F-8F, when Crusaders of VFA-11, The Red Rippers engaged and destroyed 3 Mig-23’s of the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force over the Gulf of Sidra. 

The F-8F provided immense capability for the US Navy during the Desert Storm conflict in 1990-91. Fighter squadrons from across the US Navy participated with great effect, with the loss of only two F-8F Crusaders. 

In late 1998, the it was decided to upgrade the F-8C again, incorporating lessons learned in the X-31 program. This extensive re-work garnered a change in designation to F-8S Block 40, nicknamed the “Templar”. 

This upgrade program, codenamed “Have Sabre”, saw the inclusion of wing leading edge extensions, all-moving canard surfaces as well as the incorporation of a full Thrust Vector Control system. The TVC system allowed for the deletion of the entire elevator assembly. This enhancement in maneuverability and overall reduction in weight, brought the F-8S up to the same operational level as the USAF’s F-106F Switchblade. 

In 2008, the US Navy, reeling from the delays in the F-35 program, transitioned a number of F-14 squadrons, back into the F-8S Templar. This marked the first time that an active duty US Navy squadron was transition to an existing platform that was (technically) older than the previous airframe. 

Along with external changes, April of 2010 saw the final Service Life Extension program for the F-8 line. The “Have Ensure” program included an extensive refurbishment of the airframe of the Templar along with the installation of the Thales Scorpion Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems included in the aircraft’s extensive list of capabilities. That, along with the addition of the “Legion” IRST modification to the Templar’s belly fuel tank, saw an extensive expansion of the aircraft’s passive detection and engagement capabilities.

In the twilight of it’s impressive career, F-8S Templar’s of VF-84 supported F-106F Switchblades of the GameCock’s during the Spratly Islands Campaign of 2021. F-8S’s of the Jolly Rogers flew long range intercept patrols from the USS Ronald Regan and amassed an impressive 68-1 kill ratio, having lost 1 Templar to a missile fired from a Chinese J-10. 

One US Navy pilot stood out during the Spratly Island Campaign, LCDR Tommy “Vine” Foster, who’s aircraft is depicted here. LCDR Foster sing-handedly engaged and destroyed 9 enemy aircraft, during a single 6 hour sortie, on the afternoon of June 17th, 2021. This action saw “Vine” become the first American “ace in a day” since the end of World War II. 

The fall of 2022, when the US Navy welcomed the brand new F-122 Peregrine into squadron service, saw the F-8S Templar finally removed from active duty flying. The airframes, some of which were going on 60 years of hard service, rightfully earned the designation of being the longest serving, and most successful combat aircraft ever produced for US military service. 

Scott Smither a.k.a. Desertpilot

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Photos and text © by Scott Smither a.k.a. Desertpilot