Book Review
F-8 vs MiG-17
F-8 Crusader vs MiG-17 Vietnam 1965-72
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Even after the F-8 was phased out of frontline service in the era of the F-14 Tomcat, the motto of many Naval Aviators was, "When you are out of F-8s, you're out of fighters" Thus I was gratified when Osprey Publishing announced F-8 Crusader vs MiG-17 Vietnam 1965-72 is the 61st title in their series Duel. I was anxious to read the stories and analysis of this jet in combat. This book examines the dogfights between the legendary F-8 Crusader and the notorious MiG-17. Authored by Peter Mersky and illustrated by both Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector, the book is 80 pages, available in paperback, PDF and ePUB formats, with ISBN: 9781782008101.

No mid-Cold War naval fighter captures the imagination like the legendary Chance-Vought F8U Crusader. "The people eater" looked like a jet that wanted to bolt into the sky, and did just that with amazing performance. Indeed, a souped-up F-8 with radar-homing missiles almost beat out the F-4 Phantom II as the Navy's next fighter.

Russia's MiG-17 was obsolescent in an era of guided missiles and high-altitude supersonic dashes. Yet it was the right airframe for primitive air forces in conflicts not requiring high-altitude supersonic dashes. Simple to fly and simple to keep flying, the jet was as much a gadfly to the superior F-8 as the Polikarpov I-16 was to the superior Bf 109 a generation earlier. Kept on a short leash by Soviet-style ground control when vectored towards Navy attackers suffering from spotty radar advisories, the little jet was a tragic surprise to many American aircrewmen.
    Revered by Naval Aviators as the ‘last of the gunfighters’ due to its quartet of Colt-Browning Mk 12 20 mm cannon, the F-8 Crusader enjoyed great success against VPAF MiG-17s during the Rolling Thunder campaign of 1966–68. But, the MiG-17’s unequalled low-speed manoeuvrability, small size and powerful cannon armament meant that the American forces didn’t have it all their own way. This fully illustrated book, featuring photographs, maps and battlescene artwork, reveals the tactics that were developed by pilots on both sides to give themselves the edge in air-to-air dogfights, allowing the reader to understand how the differing design and development doctrines played a part in combat. -Osprey Pub.

F-8 Crusader vs MiG-17 Vietnam 1965-72 is brought to us through 11 chapters and sections in 80 pages;
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

Author Mr. Mersky writes in an an easily followed conversational manner. The book is well organized. I am happy to find many quotes from pilots or excerpts from reports.

The first 25 pages introduce the aircraft and Cold War background that brought these two antagonists together, plus an interesting concise description of the jets, what they were made of, and how they were equipped. Engines, radars, weapons and pylons, these are all discussed. America's Rules of engagement and their affect upon the fighter pilots are remarked upon. How the F-8's weapons compared to contemporary USN and USAF fighters is presented. The MiG-17 is not ignored. Some readers may be surprised that some MiG-17s were armed with heat seeking missiles, and others attacked with old air-to-air unguided rockets.

Several topics disappoint or concern me. First, the author's contrast between US fighter firepower is incongruous, e.g., F-8 was armed with four traditional cannon while newer USAF fighters were armed with a single cannon. That single cannon was the 20 mm Gatling Gun-style M61 Vulcan, an accurate weapon that could spew 100 rounds per second. It seems the implication is that four Mk 12 20 mm cannon were superior to 'just one' M61 Vulcan. There is also a comment that the F-8 was the last US fighter to be armed with an internal gun until the F-14 Tomcat. USAF fielded the F-4E Phantom II with an internal M61 about 2 years before the Tomcat's first flight.

Next, no mention was made of the semi-active radar homing variant of the Sidewinder, the AAM-N-7 Sidewinder IB (later AIM-9C), developed and used by the F-8 Crusader. Presumably because it was not used over Vietnam?

Third, as great as the F-8 was, no mention is made of its horrible mishap rate (over 1,000 airframes damaged or destroyed from 1,200 Crusaders). That is a significant statistic for any aircraft!

Regardless, those pages are very informative and will expand your knowledge.

In The Strategic Situation we are treated to a good account of the controversial Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the series of events that led to America and North Vietnam exchanging fire. It recounts the first encounter between the two fighters during the escalating attacks against the communists. A lengthy excerpt by the Vietnamese pilot who scored against an F-8 is included.

Seven pages later in The Combatants, the author presents curious similarities between US aircrews facing the Japanese in 1941 and those going after the NVPAF in 1965. The subsequent establishment of the Topgun and Red Flag training programs following combat results is mentioned. In 10 pages the background and pilot training of the two countries is explored.

Combat is chronicled in 20 pages. This book is about the Crusader fighting the 'Fresco' and does not discuss the four MiG-21 kills by F-8s. Still, this is a very interesting chapter that is divided up into several sections, including Schaffert's Fight. That 3-page section examines the long solo engagement by Lt Cdr Dick Schaffert against a group of 'Frescos'; as interesting as it is, I was disappointed that most of the story was told by other pilots, and was less detailed than a History Channel reenactment. But it had an interesting pilot's take on older Sidewinders verses newer Sidewinders.

Speaking of pilots, two are profiled in one-page biographies: Philip Victor Vampatella and Maj. Gen. Pam Ngoc Lan.

Another absorbing aspect in these chapters discusses choices of missile armaments verses aircraft performances. Pilots describe why they might prefer to fly with two Sidewinders in lieu of the four the Crusader could carry.

Seven pages wrap up the book in Statistics and Analysis and Aftermath. Here the scorecards are compared with the usual qualifiers of acknowledged and confirmed kills verses enemy records. This fascinating chapter may amaze you as much as it does me, even with the following problem.

The author incorrectly claims that the F-8 holds the greatest kill-to-loss ration of any American fighter. F-8's official kill ratio lags behind several US-flown US fighter types, past and present. Massaging true kill-to-loss ratios can be arcane and subjective and not always officially standardized. (Interestingly, North Vietnam confirms a MiG kill by a Crusader that USN still does not recognize!) If the author only meant fighters of the Vietnam conflict, then F-8 reigns supreme. And considering that for most of the war VPAF held USN fighter pilots in higher regard than USAF pilots, cautioning their pilots to avoid dogfights with 'the white', i.e., USN, jets, I was truly shocked at how few kills USN F-4 Phantoms scored. No wonder Crusader pilots boasted When you're out of F-8s, you're out of fighters!

In that vein, the raw data is fascinating. Citing the Red Baron reports the author lists how many missile and gun shots were taken by the F-8, MiG-17 and MiG-21, and the number of kills from those attacks. Graphics show combat formations of the F-8 and the MiG.

Finally, the author recounts that after the departure of their master ace Col. Robin Olds, when USAF realized that they were sucking wind when it came to air-to-air, USAF called upon USN to send F-8 pilots to teach their USAF cousins how to kill MiGs!

Many of us love to compare and contrast 'which fighter was better.' Aftermath begins with just that concerning the F-4 Phantom II and the F-8 Crusader. It continues with the twilight of the Crusader in USN service. Then the MiG-17's continuing career is examined. In these two pages some of the pilots are mentioned, and so are the different criteria for USN and VPAF to confirm a kill.

This was a very interesting book. While it did not include some of the trivia and narrative I was hoping for, and despite typos and factual mistakes, I found it gratifying. Perhaps Osprey could whittle down the strategic narrative to allow more aircraft gee-whiz content? Modelers, artists, historians and enthusiasts should appreciate this book, although the factual mistakes could mislead those without depth in the subject.

photographs, artwork, graphics
Many high quality color and black-and-white photographs fortify the text. Perhaps half are from Vietnamese sources, and they are more than just grainy propaganda shots of pilots. There's even a clear shot of an F-8 stabilizer that took a serious flak round - just before a MiG killing dogfight! Modelers and artists will find a great deal of valuable detail in these images.

Artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector created original artwork for the book, starting with vignettes on the cover. All of the illustrations have narrative sidebars or insets. Further art and maps include;

1. 3-view of F-8E Crusader, No. 104, USS Hancock.
2. 3-view of MiG-17F "Fresco-C", No.2310, flown by Capt Pham Ngoc Lan, 923rd FR, Noi Bai, 3 April 1965.
3. Cutaway: F-8E Guns and Missiles.
4. Cutaway: MiG-17F Guns.
5. Engaging the Enemy: Crusader cockpit view of the death of a "Fresco".
6. F-8E Crusader Cockpit keyed with 92 items.
7. MiG-17F "Fresco-C" Cockpit keyed with 54 items.
8. Centerfold combat scene: Cdr Marion Isaacks, VF-24, in his MiG killing - and almost MiG-killed - dogfight.
9. USN “Loose deuce”
10. MiG-17 formations: ‘High-Lo Pairs’; ‘Stacked Three’.


I. NVN MiG bases.
II. Yankee Station and Dixie Station, and alternate areas.


a. F-8E Crusader and MiG-17F comparison specifications: Powerplant; Dimensions; Weights; Performance; Armament.
b. MiG-17 Kills by Type, June 1965-January 1973: F-4 Phantom II (per USN and USAF); F-8 Crusader; F-105D/F Thunderchief.
c. MiG-21 Kills by Type: F-4 Phantom II (per USN and USAF); F-8 Crusader.
d. Other VPAF Kills by Type
e. VPAF MiG-17 Aces with at least one F-8 score

I am pleased with this enjoyable book. Despite some dubious data and assertions, it delivers good information about the performance of the Crusader and ‘Fresco’ and their combat performance against each other. No doubt the format of the Duel series constrains additional air combat accounts. Perhaps Osprey could whittle down the strategic narrative to allow more aircraft gee-whiz content? Yet the dogfights chronicled do a good job of presenting the foibles and fortes of the two jets.

Excellent artwork enhances the story. A great selection of photographs supports the text.

This was a very interesting book. While it did not include some of the trivia and narrative I was hoping for, and includes typos and factual mistakes, I found it gratifying. I do recommend it to students of the Vietnam air war, the F-8, and the MiG-17.

We thank Osprey for providing this book for review here - on Aeroscale!
Highs: Modelers and artists will find a great deal of valuable detail in the photographs.
Lows: Minor typo and some technical inadequacies.
Verdict: This was a very interesting book. While it did not include some of the trivia and narrative I was hoping for, and includes typos and factual mistakes, I found it gratifying.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781782008101
  Suggested Retail: £12.99
  PUBLISHED: Jan 27, 2015

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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