The F-8J was, by most folks' recollection, one of the worst Navair aircraft program fiascoes since the Cutlass.

The intent was to improve the F-8E with better radar, tail armament in the form of armor plate protection for the UHT actuators, better cruise and landing flight characteristics with 2-section leading edge droops and BLC, improved approach power compensator with a UHT rate input, improved ECM and wing pylon fuel drop tank capability. There were a few more things, like new wiring, UHF radio, and APR-30 RWR gear. But the plane was rushed to the fleet with only limited carrier-suitability testing.

Squadrons on the Ticonderoga and Bon Homme Richard got to be the carrier-suitability testers for the fleet by default.

The aircraft was woefully overweight by almost 2000# and underpowered. With BLC on you lost about 800# of thrust. Flight control rigging was optimized to achieve the slowest approach speed with apparently little consideration for anything else. The result was a dangerous aircraft around the boat, especially at night. Although approach speeds were down around the 120-kt range at max trap weight, you couldn't see over the nose, and wave-off capability was pathetic. Squadrons tried various things to deal with the poor wave-off performance.

The Tico played with "trim drag" by altering the c/g of the aircraft through fuel management. They would intentionally leave fuel in the aft cluster for this purpose. The Bonny Dick placed limits on temperatures that we could fly using 90° for day and 85° for night. (They promptly installed a thermometer that could be read in tenths, and at 84.9° at night we would launch.) We also were taught the "pulse technique" wave-off. For this you would rotate the aircraft to almost a stall while simultaneously applying full power. With the sink rate halted, you would then ease off and climb out. Imagine that maneuver at night!

To add to your worries, you could actually fly the airplane below the minimum speed required to operate the RAT (Marquardt emergency Ram-Air Turbine). The thought that you could be on final at night, operating off the RAT, and then lose all electrical power was frightening, to say the least.

Gradually, during the cruise, Navair responded to the problems and sent teams to WestPac to begin incorporating the fixes. To relieve the weight problem, armor plate in the tail was removed and the ALQ-51 was re-installed to replace the newer, but heavier, ALQ-100. Visibility over the nose was improved by changing the flight control rigging and increasing the approach speed to around 128 kts. The RATs were reworked to allow for safe operation at approach speeds. Wave-off capability was improved by incorporating a "War Emergency Thrust" throttle position -- a spring was added to the leading edge of the throttle quadrant that would stop the throttle at the MRT position unless you pushed it further against the spring and into the WEP position. We were instructed to get used to using WEP by practicing during fouled-deck waveoffs until the first engine hot section inspection showed that we were destroying the engine's burner cans. It seems that WEP was just intentionally allowing you to overspeed the engine for additional power, and it played hell on the burner cans.

The ultimate fix came with the improved J57-P-400 series engines about a year later. Eventually, Navair made all the necessary mods, and the -8J served well until its retirement. (-- Jack Musitano 02/01/00)