Apr 13, 2021

Museum Monday spotlights aircraft that paved the way for supersonic travel

Boom’s maiden Twitter chat spotlights the world’s first carrier-based supersonic fighter: The Museum of Flight’s XF8U-1, prototype of the F-8 Crusader.

For Boom, it’s all about innovation: the breakthroughs that are driving a new era of supersonic commercial travel — and how those breakthroughs will ultimately transform how we experience the planet.

Linking the past to the present, Boom’s new Museum Monday Twitter chat series chronicles the aircraft programs that have paved the way for its commercial airliner, Overture. Each month, Boom partners with a different museum to delve into the history (and mystery) of iconic supersonic aircraft.

For its maiden chat, Boom tapped into the expertise of Museum of Flight Senior Curator Matthew Burchette. The topic? The Museum’s XF8U-1, the prototype of the F-8 Crusader — the world’s first supersonic carrier-based fighter and the first fighter to fly more than 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h).

The F-8 was one of the most advanced aircraft of its time, earning the 1956 Collier Trophy for the year’s greatest achievement in aviation. The design and technology first tested in the F-8 informed the performance, efficiency, and safety of the many supersonic aircraft programs that followed. The collective engineering knowledge gained in the 1950s subsequently triggered huge growth in the aerospace industry, leading to the development of Concorde, and paving the way for Overture, Boom’s supersonic airliner.

Museum of Flight Senior Curator Matthew Burchette was on-hand to answer questions about the museum’s XF8U-1, prototype of the F-8 Crusader, which won the 1956 Collier Trophy for the greatest achievement in aviation. Photo credit: Museum of Flight

The F-8 Crusader: The Last of the Gunfighters

With its gaping mouth-like jet inlet (intake) and high-mounted, variable-incidence wing, it was also one of the most capable fighters of the post-World War II era. To open the chat, Burchette shared stats about the F-8’s prowess, illustrating its dual capabilities as a fighter jet and reconnaissance aircraft:

  • Design began in 1952, when the U.S. Navy issued specifications for a new carrier-based fighter with the capability to exceed the speed of sound in routine level flight. Chance-Vought won the bid.
  • On March 25, 1955, test pilot John Konrad took the F-8 supersonic on its maiden flight, the first time any fighter had gone supersonic on its first flight.
  • On July 16, 1957, future astronaut Major John H. Glenn, Jr., flew a photo reconnaissance version of the aircraft in a record transcontinental flight, taking off from Los Alamitos, California, and reaching Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 3 hours, 22 minutes, and 50.05 seconds.
Of all the aircraft that John Konrad flew, the F-8 Crusader was his favorite. On its maiden flight on March 25, 1955, he accomplished a level supersonic flight, thus giving the Navy a high degree of confidence in their design of this aircraft. This had never been accomplished before and the record still stands today. Photo credit: Museum of Flight

Top 4 Questions About the F-8

From inside the museum, Burchette shared more about the F-8’s legacy of innovation, answering the top four questions from fans.

How did the F-8 get its nickname?

The F-8 may not have technically been the absolute last of the gunfighters, but pilots loved it for a very specific reason. Burchette explains its name.

Why do the wings look like that?

Arguably, the F-8’s high-mounted, variable-incidence wing was its most interesting feature. For takeoff and landing, the entire wing would elevate seven degrees at the leading edge, thus dramatically improving pilot visibility and coincidentally allowing the landing gear to be shorter and stronger. In the up position for takeoff, (or fuselage down position in flight), the drooping leading edge devices and trailing edge flaps would combine to form a very cambered, high lift wing.

Hear more from Burchette and see the wing up close.

What’s the purpose of the giant tube on the X8FU’s nose?

As a prototype, the X8FU-1 has a unique feature: a long, pointed probe at the nose measuring close to 9 ft (almost 3 metres) used for research purposes. You only see these narwhal-esque probe on the prototype, and you can only see a prototype at The Museum of Flight.

How did the F-8 get its power?

Designing and building a supersonic jet in the 1950s was a serious challenge. For power, Chance-Vought chose a single Pratt and Whitney J57 turbojet engine, which produced 16,000 lb of thrust.

The F-8 went on to make history and set additional records before its retirement in the 1980s. Several were even used by NASA — and you can see the very first one (when the time is right for safe travel) in Seattle at The Museum of Flight. Tell them Matthew Burchette sent you.

Boom extends its warmest thanks to the team at The Museum of Flight for opening its doors for a behind the scenes look at the XF8U-1. To learn more about the museum, visit museumofflight.org.

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