HI-ALT TESTS OF F-8 CRUSADER ROCKETS
Flame-outs Above 60,000 ft. Firing Sidewinders
I was a Test Pilot in the Service Test Department at NTC Patuxant River back in the early ‘60s. A lot of new and different airplanes were there during those days. I envied the guys in Flight Test and Carrier Qualification Departments doing some exotic test flying in the new aircraft. However, I did have some great experiences flying over 25 different aircraft at Pax River. My favorite project was trying to determine why the F-8 Crusader flamed out when firing a sidewinder missile above 60,000 ft. You might ask "Why did we care?" The Department of Defense wanted a shoot down capability against the Soviet Foxbat MIG that was known to operate at altitudes up to 70,000 ft. Find the problem and fix it was the order at the time.
Most of these flights were relatively uneventful except for two that did raise my pucker factor. One was a problem with the space suit that was caused by my own negligence. When the engine flamed out at 70K I lost cabin pressurization that would cause the space suit to expand. One time I forgot to tighten one of the belts. When the engine flamed out at 70K, the pressurization was lost, my space suit started to expand and my head was pushed up to the canopy and the control stick was almost out of reach. My comment was "Oh s***!" Fortunately, I could barely reach it with my finger tips and was able to recover.
The other occurrence was the loss of Unit Horizontal Tail (UHT=elevator) control upon return to base. Again my comment was "Oh s***!" So far I had one successful landing for every takeoff with the F8, but this looked like ejection time. Luckily, I could control the attitude with trim tab. How many of you have attempted to land the F8 using only the trim tab? Another fun project was penetrating thunderstorms with the F8 and F4, but that is another story.
Ray Stewart, Lieutenant Colonel U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)