Douglas F4D Skyray vs Chance Vought F-8 Crusader

Fighter Pilots in tactical operational squadrons spend a lot of time berating and belittling other squadron pilots.  Most of the razzing has to do with the perceived or imagined weaknesses or shortfalls of the other pilot's aircraft.  It is easy for Fighter pilots to find fault with attack pilots aircraft.  After all, their airplane is not a fighter plane.  Helicopter pilots are sometimes held in disdain by fixed wing pilots and are occasionally relegated to hovering in a corner of the bar or a table set apart from the fixed wing aviators.   You can readily see that a Marine Air Wing will have a pilot ridicule precedence similar to the pecking order found in a barnyard full of chickens.

The fighter air group will have bantering at Happy Hour between like squadrons or between squadrons having different aircraft.  A memorable example of intra squadron rivalry was in 1959 when there was a continuous drumbeat between VMF-312 with F4D Skyray fighter aircraft and VMF-334 with their newly acquired Chance Vought F-8 Crusader fighters.  An early prime argument was the top speed of each aircraft.  The F-8 won that quarrel hands down with a top speed near Mach 1.75 without having a designated race.  But the F4D pilots came right back with a statistic from the secret supplement which indicated the Skyray time to climb to 40 thousand feet was much quicker than the time possible for the Crusader.  Back and forth went the ridicule at the Officers Club and even at the Open Mess meals about the reported Crusader shortfall in maximum performance climb to high altitude.  Finally, the taunting became too much for the VMF-334 Crusader jocks and they challenged the Skyray pilots to a duel to settle the argument once and for all.


Hal Vincent had been the project test pilot at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland for the F-8 Crusader and had also flown the Skyray while at the Flight Test Center.  He was well aware of the capabilities of both aircraft.  Hal was a flight leader in VMF-334 and was selected to fly the F-8 in the contest which was a race to 10 thousand feet and then continue the contest for the fastest time to the conning altitude.  Hal knew that he would need to bend every rule a little to have any chance of the Crusader defeating the Skyray.  So, Hal had squadron Operations early launch an F-8 to determine the exact conning [visible engine contrail] altitude level.  Con altitude was 33,000 feet.  Maintenance checked the fuel consumed on refueling and put just enough fuel in Hal's Crusader fuselage tank to make it to the contrail level and then idle RPM glide back to El Toro for landing on fumes.  An additional 400 lbs was put into the wing tanks for dumping 4000 feet below contrail level to create the impression that the Crusader hit con before the Skyray. 

The contest rules were to line up on the parallel runways at El Toro. Hal requested the start be a three second count of "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, Go!"  The afterburner on the Crusader took three seconds to ignite after moving the throttle to the outboard A/B detent.  Hal knew from testing the F4D at Pax River that the thrust versus weight ratio was so high on the Skyray that the pilot could only bring the engine up to about 90 % RPM or the Skyray would commence sliding even with the brakes fully on.

The two contestants were lined up abeam of each other at the end of the runways.  With full braking, they added power to the highest engine RPM that the brakes would hold.  Hal was at MRT [maximum rated thrust (basic engine)] and the F4D was only about 90 %.  Hal started the count and moved his throttle outboard to the afterburner detent and after 3 seconds when he said, "Go!" the A/B kicked in giving him immediate CRT [Combat Rated Thrust].  The F4D pilot, Tom Kelly, shoved this throttle to MRT and then selected afterburner, CRT, which put him a couple of seconds behind the F-8 in reaching full afterburning thrust.  The Crusader got an immediate head start on takeoff acceleration.

Although the F4D pilot, Tom Kelly, was quite experienced he made a classic mistake when he reached takeoff speed by pulling the Skyray straight up into a maximum performance climb rate for the F4D.  The big platform wing had a lot of drag and could not accelerate upward at the rate of the Crusader.


Hal had held the F-8 on the deck after clean up on take off until reaching best climb speed of about 400 knots and then pulled it up vertical which put him past ten thousand feet well ahead of the Skyray.  The F4D slowly decreased the distance between the aircraft and was getting close as Hal dumped his wing fuel at 29 thousand to show the Crusader had hit contrail level.  The F4D pilot could not tell if he was conning or not.  Hal continued the F-8 straight up and zoomed past 33 thousand with the Crusader doing zero G over the top.

To the many personnel from both squadrons and hundreds of interested onlookers on the ground, it appeared that the Crusader had easily beaten the Skyray to 10,000 feet and then reached the contrail level first.  In reality, Hal says the two aircraft were about even at the real contrail level at 33 thousand feet at the end of the contest.  But, the visual perception of spectators settled the bar banter forever.  The F-8 Crusader had won!  Hal wasn't about to confide with others on how he beat the F4D pilot.  Guile and cunning are valuable assets to the longevity of a fighter pilot.  Use craftiness when necessary.  Hal Vincent says he has always felt some pangs of remorse about cheating on the Fighter Time to Climb Contest but states in true Fighter Pilot fashion, without blinking an eye, "Winning isn't everything!  It's the ONLY Thing!"

And that is how Major General Hal Vincent described the Fighter Time to Climb Contest to me.


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