James Markel, who flew the F-8 Crusader during the Vietnam War, will speak about his career and experiences in the cockpit on Thursday, June 15, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.
James, EAA 1184466, entered the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 19, earning his naval aviator wings by the age of 22. Earning high marks throughout his training, James had options when it came to choose what he wanted to fly and the Crusader was it.
“When I checked in at [Marine Corps Air Station] El Toro, the colonel checking me in, the assignments officer, and this is a direct quote, he just said, ‘Gee, you’ve got pretty good grades and you know we’re just forming up a brand new F-4 squadron. Would you like to go to that there?’” James explained. “I said, ‘I really am a purist and the single-seat fighter with four 20 mm cannons that really appeals to me, if you got a slot in the F-8.’ And he said, ‘Yes, we do.’ And that’s what he did. So that’s how I ended up in the F-8.”
Introduced in 1957, the supersonic Vought F-8 was operated by both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as an air superiority fighter, replacing the F7U Cutlass, and was the final American fighter with guns as its primary weapon. More than 1,200 Crusaders were built, with the type serving with the Navy and Marines through the Vietnam War into the mid-1970s. It was also used by the French Navy and Philippine Air Force. The LTV A-7 Corsair II attack aircraft was developed from the F-8.
“To me it was the real fighter pilot’s airplane because the response to controls to me was just excellent,” James said. “I have to point out too that the F-8 was a bit of a challenge. It first flew in 1955, so it had by today’s standards relatively primitive systems, but the flight controls were just beautifully balanced and it only had one seat. … It was developed early in the jet age. I mean, just eight years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. So you had to have some respect for how you flew the airplane because you could lose control of it. And that happened fairly frequently.”
Shortly after flight school, James was deployed to Southeast Asia. On October 18, 1966, while leading a formation of F-8Es near Chu Lai, South Vietnam, Jim sank several vessels and disrupted enemy forces that had pinned down a Marine Reconnaissance Platoon near the Song Tra Khuc River. For his heroic actions, James was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 5 and under, and just $5 for nonmembers.