25 March 1955: Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation experimental test pilot John William Konrad took the first prototype XF8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 138899, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.
The new fighter had been transported from the factory at Dallas, Texas, aboard a Douglas C-124C Globemaster II, on 3 March 1955. It was reassembled and all systems were checked. Taxi tests began on 14 March.
During the first flight on 25 March, the Crusader went supersonic in level flight. It was able to maintain supersonic speeds (not only for short periods in a dive) and was the first fighter aircraft to exceed 1,000 miles per hour in level flight (1,609 kilometers per hour).
The F8U Crusader has a unique variable-incidence wing which can be raised to increase the angle of attack. This created more lift at low speeds for takeoff and landing aboard aircraft carriers, but allows the fuselage to remain fairly level for better forward visibility.
The test program went so well that the first production airplane, F8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 140444, made its first flight just over six months after the prototype’s.
The Chance Vought F8U-1 was nearly identical to the prototype XF8U-1. It was a single-place, single-engine swept-wing fighter designed to operate from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. The F8U-1 was 54 feet, 3 inches (16.535 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) and height of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters). Its empty weight was 15,513 pounds (7,037 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,468 pounds (12,459 kilograms).
Early production aircraft were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-12A engine. This was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J57-P-12A was rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 16,000 pounds (71.17 kilonewtons) with afterburner.
The F8U-1 had a maximum speed of 733 miles per hour (1,179.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and Mach 1.53 (1,013 miles per hour/1,630.3 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). It had a service ceiling of 42,300 feet (12,893 meters) and combat radius of 389 miles (626 kilometers).
The Vought F8U Crusader was in production from 1955 through 1964 with a total of 1,261 built in both fighter and photo reconnaissance versions. The fighter earned several nicknames: It is known as “The Last of the Gunfighters” because it was the last American fighter aircraft to be designed with guns as the primary armament. (It carried four Colt Mark 12 20-mm autocannon with 144 rounds of ammunition per gun, though it could also carry AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.) Because of a high accident rate, the Crusader has also been called “The Ensign Killer.”
During five years of testing, Bu. No. 138899 made 508 flights. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1960. The restored prototype is now at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.
According to information recently discovered by The Museum of Flight, fighter pilot, test pilot and future astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr., made his first flight in a Crusader when he flew Bu. No. 138899 on 4 May 1956. According to Glenn’s logbook, he made two flights in the prototype on that date, totaling 2 hours of flight time. Many thanks to Mike Martinez, a docent for the museum for providing this information.
John William Konrad was born 25 November 1923 at San Diego, California. He was the second of three children of William Konrad, a salesman, and Emma Louise Stensrud Konrad.
Konrad became interested in aviation at an early age, learning to fly in a Piper Cub at the age of 15. After graduating from high school, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Diego, 26 February 1943. Konrad was 5 feet, 3 inches (1.60 meters) tall and weighed 118 pounds (53.5 kilograms). He trained as a pilot and flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers with the 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), stationed at RAF Chelveston, during World War II. He later flew Douglas C-47 Skytrains during the Berlin Airlift.
Konrad married Miss Harriet Marilyn Hastings at Clearwater, Florida, 11 February 1945. They would have two children.
Following the War, Konrad was selected for the first test pilot training class at Wright Field, then was assigned to Muroc Army Airfield (Edwards Air Force Base) in California, where he graduated from the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, Class 51-C, 19 May 1952.
Konrad resigned from the Air Force in 1953 and joined the Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation in Dallas, Texas, as a test pilot. In addition the the XF8U-1 Crusader, he also made the first flight of the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II, and the experimental LTV XC-142 tiltwing V/STOL transport in 1964. He was appointed Director Test Operations in 1965. Konrad retired from Vought in 1988 after 25 years with the company.
After retiring, John Konrad continued to fly a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair with Commemorative Air Force.
John William Konrad, Sr., Captain, United States Air Force, died 20 September 2006 at Dallas, Texas. He is buried at the Dallas–Fort Worth National Cemetery.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby