Lt Jerry Tucker kill was disallowed on the grounds that it had been achieved without the use of any weapons, despite five USAF pilots being awarded victories in similar circumstances.
When the Vietnam War began, the F-8 Crusader was already firmly established as a fighter and reconnaissance aircraft. It entered combat as an escort for Alpha strike packages, braving the anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles alongside the A-4 Skyhawk bombers and meeting MiGs for the first time on 3 April 1965. Although the Crusader was nicknamed ‘last of the gunfighters’, its pilots employed ‘secondary’ AIM-9D Sidewinder missiles in all but one of their MiG kills, with guns also used as back-up in three. Its 20 mm guns were unreliable as they often jammed during strenuous manoeuvres, although they were responsible for damaging a number of MiGs. However, in combat the F-8 had the highest ‘exchange ratio’ (kills divided by losses) of any US combat aircraft involved in the Vietnam War.
As told by Peter E. Davies in his book F-8 Crusader Vietnam 1963–73, the very last Crusader MiG kill, after a gap of three years and nine months from Lt Anthony j Nargi air-to-air victory (on Sep. 9, 1968 Nargi of VF-111’s Det 11 shot down a MiG-21 scoring the Navy’s 29th MiG kill of the war whilst flying F-8C BuNo 146961 (AK 103) from the veteran carrier USS Intrepid), was achieved by Lt Jerry Tucker of VF-211 (flying from Hancock) in F 8J BuNo 150900, although it was not registered as a victory at the time.
By that stage in the war, the last four US Navy Crusader squadrons still operating with Seventh Fleet (VF-24, VF-191, VF-194, and VF-211) had been relegated to flying CAP and escort missions that were unlikely to encounter MiGs.
On a May 23, 1972 TARCAP with Lt Cdr Frank Bachman, Tucker took over an intercept from a pair of VF-161 F-4s who had lost the single MiG-17 that they were chasing.
The two F-8 pilots listened to the proceedings as the F-4 crews quickly lost the ‘bubble’ and the MiG. Tucker called Red Crown and said his section was ready to go. Red Crown called the Phantom IIs off and sent the Crusaders toward the MiG.
Heading north, the F-8s spotted the MiG-17 and sped toward what seemed like a sure kill. Lt Tucker took the lead because he had the enemy fighter in sight.
He saw the distant sunlight reflection off a MiG’s windscreen as the jet flew close to the ground, and turned to get behind it and open fire. It was a mark of the Crusader’s persistently fearsome reputation that even in the last year of the US Navy’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War, the MiG pilot chose to pitch down and eject before Tucker could launch his AIM-9D. His kill was disallowed on the grounds that it had been achieved without the use of any weapons, despite five USAF pilots being awarded victories in similar circumstances.
One of the aspects of this ‘engagement’ has long been whether the MiG pilot punched out when he found his opponents were F-8s instead of F-4s. Of course, the Crusader ‘drivers’ will say that his reaction was understandable given the potent reputation of the F-8. As Lt Tucker points out, however, only that MiG pilot knows for sure, and he has long since faded into the security of anonymity.
No more MiGs rose to challenge F-8 CAPs before the cessation of all US air strikes on North Vietnam on Jan. 15, 1973.
F-8 pilots officially had shot down 18 MiGs and claimed two probables by September 1968 for the loss of three Crusaders in aerial combat, giving the aircraft a 6 to 1 kill ratio. F-4B/J pilots achieved a 5.42 to 1 kill ratio over the entire war. Thirteen Phantom II victories were scored by US Navy units in 1965–68 during Rolling Thunder, and a further 26 had been added by the time the final MiG was downed by VF-161 on Jan. 12, 1973.
F-8 Crusader Vietnam 1963–73 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force