1/72 Falcon and Airmodel.de RF-8G

Gallery Article by Carmel J Attard on May 25 2009

  Memorial Day 2009 


Vought RF8G Crusader


I have always been interested in reconnaissance version of the F8 Crusader ever since I detected their presence on the decks of the 6th fleet carriers USS Shangri-La and USS FD Roosevelt back in late 60s. On an occasion one of these also landed at Luqa airfield. During the time when the F8 Crusader fighter was enjoying a highly successful service, development of a dedicated photo-reconnaissance platform also began. Utilising the 32nd F8U-1 Bu No141363 the installed 4x20mm cannon and related fire control were deleted to accommodate the cameras and film canisters, the fuselage belly was flattened and the in-flight refuelling probe was completely enclosed, thereby altering the characteristic ‘bump’ on the Crusader’s port side. The horizontal tail was slightly reduced to increase the aircraft speed which would be the only difference.

The original suite of cameras included three trimetrogen cameras which provided horizontal to Horizontal coverage at station 2.. Eventually the definitive camera arrangement was: 2 cameras giving vertical and oblique views in Station 3 and 4 while Station 1 located below and forward of the cockpit, mounted a forward- looking oblique camera that photographed the aircraft flight path. Station 1 could operate a 16mm movie camera. Cameras in station 3 and 4 could give several degrees of obliquity, the most common used was5, 15 and 30 degrees. The cameras were manufactured by Chicago Aerial and were Ka-66, Ka-51,-53 and Ka-45 or -51. Lens focal length varied from 3” in Ka-66 camera to 6” and 12” in oblique and vertical cameras. Vertical cameras in Station 3 and 4 also used to air-to-air photography, beloved of squadron public affairs officers and enthusiasts alike. Nothing matched a well lit5”x5” aerial negative and resulting prints taken by an experienced pilot of an F8U-1P which became a fine art and skill could only be acquired with experience.

The first Navy squadron to acquire the RF-8A was VFP-61. The photo Crusader’s first operational test came in late autumn 1962 and involved both the Navy and Marines RF-8As. These were needed for a low-level, high-speed, reconnaissance to confirm the earlier U-2 photographs, which only showed earth moving and unconfirmed construction activities.

One of the early Navy reconnaissance squadrons was VFP-63 which started to equip F8U-1P back in July 1961. Several aircraft of the type were embarked in Ticonderoga, Bon Homme Richard and Constellation at the time of Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964 which precipitated the United States involvement in the protracted Viet Nam war. Vought at their Dallas factories incorporated changes like additional ventral fins, at the rear, revised cockpit instrumentation, wing hard points installed, higher capacity electrical system and most important of all, provision of an improved camera system and revised sensor aimed to improve operational capability. RF-8G delivery began in October 1965 and soon supplanted the RF-8A and were detached to carriers like Oriskani and Midway that could not handle the far larger and more sophisticated RA-5C Vigilante which was then beginning to join the fleet. In 1968 they joined Shangri-La and FD Roosevelt in the Mediterranean. By middle of 1969 VFP-63 had been in combat front line service for some5 years and several aircraft had been lost when conducting missions over North Vietnam. The RF-8G was particularly vulnerable to ground fire since it was essential for the aircraft to maintain a straight and level flight path if good photography was to be obtained. The VFP-63 was the only Navy squadron to see front-line combat duty throughout the entire Vietnam War. A total of 20 aircraft were lost, most brought down by intense ground fire at a cost of 5 pilots captured and a further 7 listed as missing in action. The distinguished record resulted in the Squadron becoming one of the most decorated in this era. 

The RF-8G served with several Navy and Marines squadrons. On 22nd March 1982 it was time for the RF-8G to initiate its retreat and the carrier Coral Sea sailed with its air Wing 14 after its Indian Ocean deployment to its hope port where RF-8G Bu No 144618 of Detachment 2 landed at Miramar to fully end its cruise and the last deployment of Crusader Squadron. All the crew who maintained and flew the RF-8 remain part of the history of a great aircraft. It was fun aircraft to fly and created a source of respectability and confidence for those who flew it. VFP-63 retired after 33 years of Photo-reconnaissance to the Navy.

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Kit review

RF8G in 1/72 Scale
Falcon Industries of New Zealand.
www.Airmodel.de of Germany
Type: Vac form kits, no decals supplied.

Both Falcon and Airmodel produce a vac form kit conversion for use with any Crusader F8 kits. Whereas the Airmodel caters for a forward nose vac form parts in green plastic, the Falcon industries issues the vac form nose as well as the upper wing half, since this item differed considerably from that of the fighter version. The latter is in white plastic. I have used both products and practically they go by the same procedure and I will go by describing how one can go about building the model making continuous reference to the Falcon conversion kit as it was the more recent kit build of the two.

Undoubtedly Falcon Industries of New Zealand have carried a enviable reputation as producers of both high quality vac form kits and crystal clear canopies. Having experienced the vac form conversion of a TA-7 and the Grumman Trader I went for their RF-8 Crusader conversion and once again with a convincing result.

The Kit

The RF8 Crusader is at a glance outwardly similar to the basic fighter version but does in fact contain a number of differences. These mainly result in a completely different forward fuselage shape, having the underside of a flat section as compared to the fighter version. There is an added fairing containing forward-looking camera under the forward nose are and aft of the cockpit there is a distinctive ‘hump’ on top of the fuselage in line with the wing leading edge. Building the RF8G is made easier using the Falcon conversion kit merged with a Hasegawa F8E kit. The Falcon kit in fact comes in a set containing also the F-100F and the TA-7C nose conversions. The RF8 set consists of two new forward fuselage halves and an upper wing centre section. I have done away with the wing centre section in preference to building up the ‘hump’ with filler on top of the Hasegawa wing part which I found just as simple to do.


The vac form conversion parts were first cut from the carrier sheet and the excess plastic removed by sanding down on a sheet of wet and dry, medium grade, secured to a rectangular flat wooden backing. The vac form parts had the camera parts opened by first drilling 4 small holes at corners at each camera opening port. Then cut with a pointed blade to bring the square port aperture. I made continual reference to detailed photos and drawings from reference material like ‘Wings of Fame’ volume5 and ‘Aviation News’ Vol 7 No 15. These deal very comprehensively about the reconnaissance type including scale plans. It is imperative that one decides from a very early stage which particular aircraft one decides to build as one RF8 varied from another in the camera combination as well as sensors it carries. In my case, for the Falcon build I picked an RF8G shown in one of the photo pages of Koku Fan 1973 No41 on page 71. This is RF8G having Bu No 145608, nose identification 991 coded PP. This served as a detachment on board the USS Bon Home Richard during the Viet Nam war era and was attached to VFP-63. I picked this particular Crusader because besides the already mentioned differences it also carried a tail fin sensor, possibly passive radar and also lacked the two rear prominent air intake ducts fixed to the top of engine exhaust pipe.

Having completed the windows apertures I then added camera equipment, side and vertical ones which were constructed out of sprue of different diameters, assembled and painted in black and greys. The surrounding interior was also painted black. The vac form fuselage nose was cemented into one piece and place aside. The Hasegawa F8 fuselage sides were assembled and cut in half with a razor saw at a point 1mm forward of the main undercarriage bay. Once set, the replacement forward fuselage was then attached to the rear fuselage from Hasegawa kit adding plastic tabs on the inside to provide a more secure and aligned joint. Revell Plasto filler was applied around the immediate area at the joining part. The discarded F8 forward fuselage was then joined on its own and had the first 3mm of the intake front cut across to use as a replacement to the same part on the vac form kit.. I also used the F8 kit nose cone. These were joined and a small amount of filler applied and smoothened with wet and dry paper. The wing parts were assembled and attached to the fuselage. The ‘Hump’ was built up in narrow layers of Plasto filler which was in the eng given a true shape using wet and dry sanding.

Kit cockpit interior and wheel legs were assembled as per instructions, a crew figure added and decal instruments added to front panel and side consoles. Seat belts were made from masking tape cut to strips. Pilot figure painted in colours of same era. A radar scope was also added to central upper of instrument panel. Cockpit interior was medium grey and all consoles in black and dark grey. With the kit assembly almost complete the canopy was fixed in place and masked. A small amount of filler was added to the exhaust pipe where the flat portion to rest the intake ducts that were not on this model and sanded round to conform diameter of pipe. 

Colour and decaling. 

The RF-8Gs wear the standard USN Gull grey FS36440/ white FS37875 scheme with black anti glare panels forward of the cockpit. I used Model Master Semi brilliant white and flat grey 1730E. The colour scheme was a straight forward job and the rest was to sort out the various sizes Bu numbers from different decal sheets. The Modex number presentation was standard, as was also the PP tail codes. For the Navy enthusiasts who models aircraft with markings of their taste I can recommend the follow decal sheets out of which one can pick all size of letters and numerals. In fact I picked all the markings from these sheets: Aeromaster 72-011 which contains US 45 degrees ID letters; Scale Master SM-15B; Super Scale 72-84 for USN and Marines MOD insignia. The dark blue stripes with white stars VFP-63 motifs came from Micro Scale Crusader sheet 72-204 with some alteration. Black decal sheet provided fuselage and tail plane walk way areas. Other markings were picked from the Hasegawa sheet. Kristal Kleer was used for the camera windows which was clear enough to show the camera arrangement inside the fuselage.


Whether one uses the Falcon or Airmodel conversion set depends on availability and I highly recommend the Falcon set which may prove the better of the two. I recommend to anyone who has not yet tried their hand on vac form kits. It is a pity that these Falcon conversion kits come without decals which maybe the only drawback I could find. The finished article looked very pleasing creating an impression of an aircraft ready for action whether it is Cuba, Haiphong Harbour/ Hanoi or Lebanon during its time of duty over several decades. These two RF8Gs joined the rest of reconnaissance aircraft models: RA4C, RA3B, RA5C and recce Banshee in my show case.

Carmel J Attard

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Photos and text © by Carmel J Attard