Among the many myths and legends to emerge from the Vietnam War was that the U.S. Navy’s Vought F-8 Crusader was “the last of the gunfighters” and the only air superiority fighter of its time. Although the Crusader did pack four Colt- Browning Mark 12 20mm cannons at a time when other American fighters were relying on air-to-air missiles, its cannons were unreliable and virtually all Crusader victories over its Mikoyan-Gurevich-designed opposition were achieved using AIM-9 heat-seeking missiles.

It is true, however, that the Crusader established the highest kill-to-loss ratio over Vietnam, destroying 14 MiG-17s and four MiG-21s for the loss of three F-8s—all to the older but agile MiG-17s. The second of the downed Crusader pilots, Cdr. Dick Bellinger of fighter squadron VF-162 off the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany , was credited to Ngo Duc Mai on July 14, 1966, but the American survived and on Oct. 9 gained a unique revenge when he shot down Nguyen Van Minh, who also ejected just before his plane crashed, the third MiG-21 downed in Vietnam and the first credited to a U.S. Navy fighter.

Photo of Lt. Jack Terhune ejecting from his F-8 Crusader after it flamed out
over the South China Sea in 1965. He was rescued
uninjured.Lt. Jack Terhune ejects from his F-8 Crusader after it flamed out over the South China Sea in 1965. He was rescued uninjured.

Straddling truth and myth on the other side is Vietnam’s crediting of an F-8E to Pham Ngoc Lan as Vietnam’s first air-to-air victory on April 3, 1965. That date is still celebrated as Vietnam People’s Air Force Day, in spite of the documented fact that Lt. Cmdr. Spence Thomas of USS Hancock ’s VF-211 managed to get his damaged Crusader to Da Nang, where it was repaired and returned to service.

In the seventh in Osprey’s “Dogfight” series, F-8 Crusader, Vietnam , Peter E. Davies combines his extensive research, including interviews and combat reports, to give the reader an in-cockpit glimpse of what it was like to fly and fight in the plane. For all the successes described within its niche of aerial combat, however, the author does not shy away from including the wider, deadlier world in which the plane operated, harboring the dangers of surface- to-air missiles and ground fire, which added up to the highest operational loss rate of any U.S. tactical aircraft.

F-8 Crusader, Vietnam 1963-1973

By Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, 2023, $23

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This review appeared in the 2024 Winter issue of Vietnam magazine.

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