F4D vs F8U

Sent by my Air Force friend – this  had to have been in the late 50s-early 60s.




Lived at Roosey Roads when I was 15. my dad was stationed there with VW-4.Every year the base would host “Operation Spring Board”. an all out Marine Air/Ground exercise. The Grunts would attack Vieques Island by amphibious assault and the supporting air would operate out of Roosey. They brought a lot of “color” to our little island paradise.

One year we had an F4D squadron and F-8 squadron down. As such things happened in those days. There was a lot of back and forth between the squadrons as to the virtues of the particular aircraft each squadron flew.

Finally, the F4D squadron Commander threw down the gauntlet. and said in front of God and everybody at the O’Club. Our bird may be long in tooth. but we can beat your ass to 20,000 feet. any day of the week!

Naturally, the challenge was immediately accepted by the Crusader C.O. Well, word got around about the challenge and it morphed into a bet and a big deal on the base. A Sunday morning was set aside for the big event and  if I recall, the stakes were a case of Corona to be provided by each officer from the losing squadron. to the troops of the winning squadron.. I think the Staff NCO’s had to pitch in too?

As things built up. it wasn’t just a big deal. It became a Big F’ing Deal! I’m sure each squadron had their whiz wheels turning and slide rules burning. trying to figure out the best L over D equations. fuel load  attitude… and angle of the dangle… to get max performance out of each machine.

The big day finally arrived. Most of us locals went to the top of the mountain where the Armed Forces radio station was located; that allowed us to look down on the runway and scene below. Both sides of the runway where the starting line was located, was lined with Marines from the two squadrons. One Ford and one ‘Sader were towed to the end of the runway and lined up side by side. Each had its’ own start cart. Then another Crusader and Ford taxied by and launched. pretty impressive, but nothing like what was to come.

The reason they launched was to provide visual, on scene confirmation of who beat who to 20K; in case it was close. Guess they didn’t trust each other. Once the two referees were in orbit and on station. word was passed to start engines. From there, everything happened pretty quickly.

A designated “Starter” walked between the two airplanes with a big orange and white checkered flag off the “Follow Me” truck. He goes out in front of them. twirls the flag a couple of times to let the planes turn up the RPM’s and then drops to his knee and stabs the flag to the ground in a classic launch signal. Then…How’d that old song go?… “The Heat is on”!

Instantly, both airplanes shot forward and a second or two later we could hear the retort of the two “Hard Light” burners going off. as we witnessed the flames from the burners in the morning sun. From there it was a tale of two totally different tactics. It seemed as soon as the Ford had flying speed. it just levitated almost 60-70 degrees nose up.. The Crusader accelerated in a low transition to build up speed before rotating,  then pulling almost into the vertical!

Gents. It wasn’t even close. by the time the Crusader rotated, the little Skyray was already passing 10K on its way to 20! Never seen anything like it before or since. It was like watching a rocket launch! While the Crusader was accelerating horizontally. the little Ford seemed to be doing the same thing vertically! The whole thing was over in less than a couple of minutes.

As soon as the Ford hit 20K and radioed his altitude. BIG CHEER GOES UP AND I WATCHED THE BURNER FLAMES GO OUT AND THE BAT WING BEAUTY ROLLED ONTO IT’S BACK AND STARTED DOWN HILL IN A MODIFIED SPLIT S. He was back on the ground almost as fast as he took off! He was followed by the Crusader a couple of minutes or so later. It was a hoot!

Everybody was yucking and clapping. cheering the good show. I was looking down as the F4D taxied back to his flight line and shut down. and then I noticed, the F-8 had gotten about half way back to his line and was stopped.

They had to tow him in. the rumor later, was they’d cut the fuel so close, he’d flamed out taxiing back to the line. Anyway. the Marines had a big day.

The losers paid up and the winners gracefully shared their bounty. The rest of us had a great start to our day. and a memory to last forever.


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7 responses to “F4D vs F8U

  1. NavyDavy

    Good Story. As an ex-F8U fixer I have heard variations of this from Navy F8U pilots and, imagine my surprise, the ending was reversed. 🙂

  2. Bill Brandt

    Wouldn’t you have loved to be on that hill looking at those planes? I was going to ask you guys why it was called a “Ford” but thanks go Google & Wikipedia it was from the F4D designation, which I am sure caused no confusion with the later Phantom (had a hyphen, so I learned).

  3. No surprise here. The little Skyray broke 5 time to climb records and could climb to 40,000′ in 2 minutes. Just a bit bigger than the A-4 Skyhawk but the J57 with afterburner put the Skyray in the can’t-catch-me class of airplanes of the 1950’s. Would have been fun to watch the contest.

  4. Bruce Martin

    I flew both aircraft in several Marine All Weather Fighter sqiadrons. I can vouch for the climb performance of the F4D. It could turn as well and it might have been an interesting contest at the right altitude to see who could out turn the other but I’d take the F8 in a hassle. We had no tanks on the F8 and the F4D typically flew with two 300 gal drops.. The Ford was a far better a/c clean than with tanks but the F8 could stay supersonic in a climb, something the Ford could never do, clean or otherwise. Both had the same J57 engine but the ducting on the F8 was way more efficient than the Ford and the F8 was a much cleaner a/c with respect to drag. I was delighted to fly both but the F8 was my all time favorite of anything I flew including the F4J.

    Bruce Martin

    • Lucky you! Early on, from all I’ve read, the F4D was a bit squirrelly and it took a while to get all the bugs out of the control system. Unstable. On the other hand a fighter has to be unstable in a lot of ways.
      Read of one pilot who was a Korean War fighter pilot who wished he’d had an F4D against the MIGs. He said it would be easy, one, two, three shot down quickly.
      I’m still wrapping my pea brain around the idea of takeoff to 40,000 in 2 minutes. Caramba!

    • Bruce Martin

      I flew both aircraft aboard ship. The F4D had a reputation as being difficult but that was almost exclusively held by people who didn’t fly the aircraft. It looked odd in the groove as it had what we called a “Dutch Roll,” sort of a tail wagging condition that was not apparent from the cockpit but very evident to the LSO and other observers. It was responsive to power changes and pretty stable throughout the pattern.

      The F8 however was another matter. It was very clean, (minimal drag) and tough to slow down if one had a fast start off the 180. A typical bad approach would begin with a fast start, followed by the pilot taking off too much power in an effort to get back on speed. That caused the aircraft to settle either in the middle or approaching the groove which required a big addition of power in close and probably a bolter, i.e. missing all the wires and going around again for another try. Once one got the hang of shipboard operation the F8 was fine but it, or any carrier based aircraft could be challenging at night and decidedly more so in bad weather.

      The Ford had a weird gadget called a transconic trim compensator that could do some odd things when passing through Mach either accelerating into supersonic flight or coming back out. The F8 went through Mach with little fuss other than a bit of a nose tuck. It could bite you coming back out however because the nose wanted to pitch up as the a/c slowed and if one was pulling a lot of Gs the big horizontal stabilizer, (Unit Horizontal Tail) could add to the pitch and result in an overstress.

      Both were really interesting airplanes to fly. I was truly lucky.


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