Chance Vought F4U Corsair
In February 1938, the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics published a requests for proposals (RFP) for both a twin-engine and a single-engine fighter. For the single-engine fighter the Navy requested the maximum obtainable speed, and a stalling speed not higher than 113km/h (70mph). A range of 1610km (1000 miles) was specified. The fighter had to carry four guns, or three with increased ammunition. Provision had to be made for anti-aircraft bombs to be carried in the wing. These small bombs would, according to thinking in the 1930s, be dropped on enemy aircraft formations.
An unusual element of the RFP was that the Navy vowed to consider designs with liquid-cooled engines, in contradiction with a policy settled in 1927 that required air-cooled engines for shipboard aircraft. From the viewpoint of naval aviators, liquid cooling systems had serious disadvantages: They were heavier, more vulnerable, and more difficult to maintain. But in the late 1930s, there was a growing conviction in international aviation circles, that radial engines presented a too high drag penalty. Liquid-cooled engines with their smaller frontal area could be installed in a more streamlined fuselage. Hence the option to accept a fighter built for such an engine, in practice the Allison V-1710.
This engine was indeed chosen by Bell for their entry in the competition: The Bell Model 5 Airabonita, virtually a P-39 Airacobra with tailwheel landing gear, a slightly larger wing, and a stronger structure. As in the P-39, the engine was placed amidships, over the wing. The pilot sat in front of the engine, with a long extension shaft passing between his legs to drive the propeller up front. A 23mm Madsen cannon (or a .50 gun) and two .30 guns were installed in the nose, the cannon firing through the hollow propeller hub.
There was more choice in radial engines: The older Pratt & Whitney R-1830, and the new the Wright R-2600 and Pratt & Whitney R-2800. These air-cooled radial engines had a larger frontal area than the V-1710, and thus generated more drag. For the R-2600 and R-2800 this was compensated for by their power: While the V-1710 was hoped to deliver about 1150hp, the R-2800 was expected to generate 2000hp and more, and the R-2600 1500hp. Radial engines were chosen by Brewster, Grumman, Vought and Curtiss. Grumman proposed a development of the F4F Wildcat, that would be powered by the R-2600 engine. Brewster, manufacturer of the F2A Buffalo that had been the US Navys first monoplane fighter, offered designs with the R-2600 or R-2800. Curtiss proposed developments of the P-36 Mohawk, powered by either the R-2600 or the older R-1830 engine.
In April 1938, Vought proposed its two designs to the US Navy. One, called V-166A by Vought and "Vought A" by the USN, was powered by the R-1830. The other, the V-166B or "Vought B", was designed around the new Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine. This was an 18-cylinder, two-row air-cooled radial. This engine would later also be installed in the competing Grumman F6F Hellcat and in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt for the USAAF, but the new Vought fighter was the first to use this engine. The R-2800 later acquired a reputation as a powerful and very reliable engine. But it was also very bulky, and aircraft powered by it tended to be big.
In May 1938, the Bureau of Aeronautics evaluated the proposals. The "Vought B" was deemed to be the best one, with a merit figure of 86.4 on a scale from 0 to 100. Hence on 11 June, a contract was given for development of the Vought V-166B, the fighter that would become famous as the F4U Corsair.
The evaluation committee also recommended that the "Brewster A" proposal, rated third best, should be developed because of its alternative R-2600 engine. Because of the management difficulties of Brewster, this never happened. Grumman received a contract to develop to F4F-3 version of the Wildcat, and won the simultaneous competition for a twin-engine fighter with F5F Skyrocket. Their R-2600 engine fighter was rejected, but in June 1941 the Navy would nevertheless order two prototypes of the F6F Hellcat which switched to the R-2800 during development. The Navy was also sufficiently intrigued by the Bell proposal to order a prototype, named the XFL-1. But the Bell fighter, ranked sixth of the competitors, was obviously not destined to enter production, and Bell was very reluctant to invest time and money in its development. The history of the Airabonita would be an unhappy one.
The engineers of Grumman and Republic both selected to install the R-2800 in a fuselage with an egg-shaped cross-section, deeper than was strictly required by the R-2800. This created room for a bath with ducts under the engine. For the P-47, the determining factor was the installation of the turbo supercharger in the aft fuselage, which required air and exhaust ducts in the lower fuselage. The considerations of Grumman may have been similar, because a version of the F6F with a turbo supercharged R-2600 engine was offered to the US Navy.
Voughts Chief designer Rex B. Beisel instead opted for a fuselage of circular cross-section, of a diameter matching that of the R-2800. The oil cooler and supercharger air intakes would be installed in the wing leading edges. He also avoided the hump-backed upper fuselage of the Grumman F4F and F6F, that was designed to give the pilot a better forward visibility over the engine. Hence, the forward fuselage was of cylindrical shape. Construction was all-metal, and streamlining was improved further by using a new spot-welding technique that gave a very smooth finish.
A very large propeller was required to convert the power of the R-2800 into forward thrust. A three-bladed propeller with a diameter of 4.04m was chosen. Sufficient propeller clearance could have been achieved by designing a long and stalky landing gear, or by making the fuselage deeper again, thus moving the wing downwards relative to the engine. Instead, the Vought team adopted an inverted gull wing: the wing started with strong anhedral, i.e. a downwards slope toward the wingtips, and then curved upwards to strong dihedral. The landing gear was installed at the lowest point of the bend. Such a construction was not uncommon, though usually associated with fixed landing gear, such as on the German Junkers Ju-87 'Stuka' dive bomber. Inevitably, the weight of such a construction is higher than that of a straight wing. But apart from keeping the landing gear short and simple, it offered the advantage that the joint between wing and fuselage was made at the ideal angle. In that way a wing root fairing could be avoided. The entire construction contributed to the purposeful ugliness of the design, but it was efficient.
The wing had integral leading edge fuel tanks, which were unprotected. For storage aboard carriers, the wing folded upward outboard of the main landing gear legs. The wheels folded backwards, turning through 90 degrees while retracting, so that they were stored flat within the wing. The entire trailing edge inboard of the ailerons was provided with flaps. The outer wing panels were covered with fabric aft of the wing spar.
The pilot sat in a large cockpit over the wing trailing edge. The view straight forward over the engine cowling was poor, even more so than common in single-seat fighters of the day. View too the sides was reasonable, although the cockpit canopy was heavily framed. No concessions were made to rearward view, the aft of the cockpit being faired into a gently sloping fuselage decking. The tailplanes and fins had rounded tips, and the control surfaces were fabric covered.
Armament consisted of one .50 gun in each wing, and a .50 and a .30 in the engine cowl decking. There was also room for 20 small anti-aircraft bombs, stored in the wings.
In June 1938 the USN signed a contract for a prototype, the XF4U-1, BuNo 1443. After mock-up inspection in February 1939 construction of the XF4U-1 went ahead quickly.
First flight of the XF4U-1 was made on 29 May 1940, by Lyman A. Bullard Jr. The XF4U-1 was powered by a XR-2800-4 engine, rated at 1805hp. The first flight was not uneventful. A hurried landing was made when the elevator trim tabs failed because of flutter.
Early testing encountered a serious setback when project pilot Boone T. Guyton ran out of fuel during the fifth test flight and made an emergency landing on a golf course. The XF4U-1 was badly damaged, but not beyond repair, and Chance Vought rebuilt it.
On 1 October the XF4U-1 made a flight for Stratford to Hartford with an average ground speed of 650km/h (404mph). It was then the first US fighter to fly faster than 400mph. The XF4U-1 also had an excellent rate of climb. On the other hand, the testing of the XF4U-1 revealed that some of the requirements of the US Navy would have to be rewritten. In full-power dive tests speeds of up to 885km/h were achieved, but not without damage to the control surfaces and access panels, and in one case, an engine failure. The spin recovery standards also had to be relaxed, as recovery from the required ten-turn spin proved impossible without recourse to an anti-spin chute.
Much time was spent trying to improve the handling of the XF4U-1. Numerous changes were made to the ailerons, with success, as these were later known to be very effective. However, the low-speed handling characteristics left much to be desired. The F4U had a troubling tendency to drop a wing when it stalled. And this was a critical factor for a shipboard fighter, which would have to make dangerous deck landings.
At the end of June 1941 the US Navy ordered 584 F4U-1 fighters. The first of these would appear a year later, in June 1942. At that time Brewster and Goodyear were already tooling up to join the Corsair production program.
For the production F4U, the US Navy required some changes, which were logical in itself but had unfortunate side effects. More amour was carried for the pilot and oil tank, which added 68kg to the weight. The armament was changed to six .50 machine guns, three in each wing. The wing bomb bays were deleted. This increase in firepower was needed, but the wing guns displaced the leading edge fuel tanks. To restore an adequate fuel capacity, an additional fuel tank had to be installed in the fuselage. Because it had to be near the center of gravity, there was no other option than moving the cockpit to the rear. The 897 liter self-sealing fuel tank pushed to cockpit 0.91 meter closer to the tail. Forward view over the engine cowling, already poor in the prototype, was now decidedly bad. This was especially a problem during take-off and landing, because the F4U, like most fighters of its generation, was a tail-dragger. On the other hand, rearward vision was improved a bit by making cutouts in the rear fuselage decking. Vision to the sides and downwards was excellent.
The ailerons were enlarged, the cockpit canopy was made jettisonable, an IFF transponder was fitted, and the tailwheel design changed. The engine of production aircraft was the R-2800-8, rated for 2000hp at an rpm of 2700 for take-off. It had a mechanical two-stage, two-speed supercharger. When all changes were incorporated, the gross weight had increased considerably. The XF4U-1 had weighed 4244kg, but the F4U-1 5758kg.
The performance of the F4U was impressive. Below is a comparison with the two other fighters which were powered by the R-2800. The F4U was considerably faster than the competing F6F Hellcat. It was slower than the P-47 Thunderbolt, but the latter achieved it highest speed at 9150m, with the help of a turbocharger. The F4U had a mechanically supercharged engine.
The Ensign Eliminator
The first production F4U-1 made its first flight on 25 June 1942. The USN received its first aircraft on 31 July.
Overall handling of the F4U-1 was acceptable, but not very good. In level flight the Corsair was stable enough to be flown hands-off. The ailerons were light and effective, and the high roll rate was used with good effect in combat with the A6M, which suffered from bad aileron response at high speeds. The elevators were heavy, but effective. Only the rudder really stiffened with increasing speed. For combat maneuvering, the flaps could be deployed 20 degrees.
After the first delivery of an F4U-1 on 31 July 1942, more than two years passed before the US Navy cleared the type for shipboard operations. The Corsair was found to be much too difficult to land on a carrier deck. First of all, the pilot could hardly see the deck, because he sat so far aft of the bulky engine. The F4U tended to stall without warning, and was then certain to drop the starboard wing. Quick action had to be taken to prevent a spin. Spin recovery was difficult. In landing configuration, the F4U-1 would stall at 141km/h. A warning light would light at 148km/h. On touchdown, the F4U-1 had sluggish controls and insufficient directional stability. It also was prone to "bounce" because of overly stiff landing gear oleo legs.
These characteristics had already been there on the XF4U-1, and if anything they were worse on the production type. Carrier qualification trials on the escort carrier USS Sangamon Bay, on 25 September 1942, caused the US Navy to release the type to the US Marine Corps. After all, the US Navy still had the Grumman F6F Hellcat, which did not have the performance of the F4U but was a far better deck landing aircraft. The Marines needed a better fighter than the F4F Wildcat. For them it was important that the F4U could be put on a carrier, but they usually flew from land bases.
During the Pacific war, the strategy of "Island hopping" turned islands into forward operating bases for the aircraft of the US Marine Corps, the US Navy and the Army Air Force. Essential to this strategy was that no attempt was made to conquer all Japanese strongholds in the Pacific. Instead, they were neutralized by attacks, cut off from the main Japanese forces, and left behind.
The islands from which the advanced units operated were often very small. If they were larger, they were often covered with a dense jungle, and only a small part of the island was used by the combatants. The climate was often unhealthy, both for people and aircraft, and standards of living were primitive. Missions often involved long over water flights. The island group of the Eastern Solomons, for example, extends over more than 1000km.
The first USMC unit to equip with the F4U was VMF-124, which was declared operational on 28 December 1942. VMF-124 was quickly deployed to Guadalcanal, where it flew its first combat mission, also the first of the F4U, on 11 February 1943. Fighting over Guadalcanal was intense. The first air-to-air combat took place on the 14th, when a mixed force of P-38s, P-40s, PB4Ys and F4Us lost ten aircraft to the Japanese, and claimed four A6M "Zero" fighters.
As on this first mission, the aircraft involved in an operation were often of different types, belonged to different services, and belonged to different bases. The coordination between them was not always what it should have been.
Within six months, all USMC units in the Pacific were equipped with the F4U. The production was extremely rapid, and by August 1934 a thousand aircraft had been delivered. Final production of the F4U-1 was 5559, including the 2010 FG-1s built by Goodyear and 735 F3A-1s built by Brewster.
The Royal Navy received 95 Corsair Mk.Is and 510 Mk.IIs, these being equivalent to the F4U-1 and F4U-1A or D. Goodyear-built aircraft were known as Mk.IIIs, and Brewster-built aircraft as Mk.IVs. British Corsairs had their wing tips clipped, 20cm being removed at the tips, to allow storage of the F4U on the lower decks of British carriers. The Royal Navy was the first to clear the F4U for carrier operations. It proved that the Corsair Mk.II could be operated with reasonable success even from small escort carriers. It was not without problems, one being excessive wear of the arrester wires due to the weight of the Corsair and the understandable tendency of the pilots to stay well above the stalling speed.
Fleet Air Arm units where created and equipped in the US, at Quonset Point or Brunswick, and then shipped to war theatres on board of escort carriers. The first Corsair unit of the FAA was No 1830 Sqdn, created on the first of June 1943, and soon operating from HMS Illustrious. At the end of the war, 19 FAA squadrons operated with the F4U. British Corsairs operated both in Europe and in the Pacific. The first, and also most important European operations were the series of attacks in April, July and August 1944 on the German battleship Tirpitz, for which Corsairs provided top cover. In the Pacific the FAA Corsair also began to operate in April 1944, participating in an attack on Sabang, and later in the attack on oil refineries at Pelambang.
In July and August 1945, the Corsair squadrons No 1834, No 1836 and No 1842 took part in a series of strikes on the Japanese mainland, near Tokyo. They operated from the carriers MHS Victorious and HMS Formidable.
The other major user of the Corsair was New Zealand. It received over 425 F4U-1A and F4U-1D models. In late 1944 the F4U equipped all twelve Pacific-based fighter units of the RNZAF. The first squadrons to use the Corsair were Nos 20 and 21, on Esperitu Santo island, operational in May 1944. In the RNZAF Corsair units, only the pilots and a small staff belonged to the squadron; aircraft and maintenance crew were grouped in a pool.
The RNZAF Corsair mainly flew close-support missions, and as a consequence did not claim a single enemy aircraft shot down. At the end of 1945, all Corsair squadrons but one (No 14) were disbanded. That last squadron was based in Japan, until the Corsair was retired from service in 1947.
Soon after production began, wing leading edge tanks of 235 liter were again installed outside of the gun bays. Later provisions were made for the carriage of external fuel tanks, first on the centerline, then on the starboard wing and finally on both wings. At that stage, the wing leading edge tanks, which were not self-sealing, were eliminated again.
The cowling gills on top of the fuselage were soon fixed in the closed position, to avoid the deposition of oil on the windscreen. For similar reasons, the joints of the fuselage fuel tank in front of the cockpit were often covered with sealing tape.
To cure the tendency to drop a wing, a small spoiler was installed on the starboard wing.
From the 759th aircraft onwards, the framed canopy of the F4U-1 was quickly replaced by a much neater plexiglass "bulb" with small frames. The raising of the seat by 18cm slightly improved the view over the nose, and the new type also offered some rearward vision. Later this modification was associated with a change of designation to F4U-1A, which was not used at the time.
An important change, from the 1550th aircraft, was the installation of the -8W engine with water injection, which allowed higher emergency power to be used at low altitude.
The F4U-1B designation seems to have been used for the F4U-1As delivered to Britain.
The F4U-1C had four 20mm cannon instead of the six .50s. These guns were the British Hispano Mk.II cannon, known in the USA as the Hispano M2. These weapons protruded far from the leading edge. Production of this version remained limited to 200. They entered combat in April 1945.
In early 1944, bomb racks for the F4U-1 were developed by personnel of VMF-222 and VF-17. The modification was rapidly applied by other squadrons. The F4U-1D was a factory-built fighter-bomber model, powered by a R-2800-8W engine with water injection. The F4U-1D had three pylons, one on the centerline and two on the wings. Later small stubs on the outer wing panels, to carry rockets, were added.
Also in early 1944, longer oleos were installed in the main landing gear legs. They cured much of the tendency of the Corsair to "bounce". A longer tailwheel leg raised the fin, and reduced the directional stability problem.
These improvements were essential in making the Corsair suitable for carrier operations, and in April 1944 the Corsair was finally qualified for carrier operations.
An F4U-1 with a special mount in the rear fuselage for a K-21 camera was known as F4U-1P. The F4U-1P was used mainly to assess the results of air strikes. No F4U-1Ps were produced by the factories, they were all modified in the field by USMC or USN units.
Despite the decision to issue the F4U to Marine Corps units,VF-12 (October 1942) and later VF-17 (April 1943) were equipped with the F4U. By April 1943 VF-12 had successfully completed deck landing qualification. However,VF-12 soon abandoned its aircraft to the USMC, while VF-17 operated as a shore-based unit in New Georgia.
In November 1943 the land-based VF-17 ran out of fuel while giving top cover to the carriers USS Essex and USS Bunker Hill. The aircraft then landed on the carriers, without incidents.
The US Navy finally accepted the F4U for shipboard operations in April 1944, after the longer oleo leg was fitted, which finally eliminated the tendency to bounce. The first Corsair unit to be based effectively on a carrier was the pioneer USMC squadron,VMF-124, which joined the USS Essex. They were accompanied by VMF-213. The increasing need for fighters, as a protection against Kamikaze attacks, resulted in more Corsair units being moved to the carriers.
The Navy squadrons VF-12,VF-17 and VF-301 also soon operated from carriers.
The F4U-2 was a nightfighter development of the F4U-1. Standard nightfighter radars of WWII were too large, heavy and complicated to be installed in single-engine, single-seat fighters. But the availability of a small radar with a limited capacity made it possible to develop a nightfighter which would provide a degree of air cover during night operations. Because Vought was already overloaded with work, the development of the F4U-2 was undertaken by the Naval Aircraft Factory. In the end, only 34 were converted. Two of these were made by VMF(N)-532, and these were the only ones converted from F4U-1As.
The original radar was the AIA installation, developed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Project Roger. It had a range of 6km against aircraft. For single-seat fighters a easy-to-use scope had to be developed. This took the form of a small circular scope on the instrument panel that showed two blips for the target. The first blip indicated the direction and distance of the target, and the position of the second blip relative to the first one was an indication of the relative height of the target.
The small radar radome was added on the starboard wing, on the wing leading edge close to the wing tip. To compensate for the weight one of the wing guns was removed, and ammunition reduced. As the F4U-2 was intended for night operations, flame dampers were fitted to the exhaust stacks. A radio altimeter and an autopilot were also installed.
The F4U-2 equipped VMF(N)-532,VF(N)-75 and VF(N)-101. Early operations of VF(N)-75 in New Georgia revealed considerable problems with the operating procedures, but on the night of 1 November Lt. ONeill shot down a G4M bomber. The tactics finally developed let the F4U-2 climb towards its target from astern. This also helped to decelerate the fighter enough, to prevent it from overshooting its target.
VF(N)-101 was created by splitting of part of VF(N)-75. It was the first carrier-based nightfighter unit of the USN. This was in January 1944, and made the unit the first carrier-based Corsair squadron. A limited number of night operations was flown, because of reluctance to take the risk. Nevertheless, no accidents occurred, which helped to clear the Corsair for carrier operations.
Nevertheless, the Navy preferred to develop a nightfighter version of the F6F Hellcat, which was easier to fly and to deck-land. For night operations those were important advantages, and the Hellcat became the standard single-seat nightfighter.
The F4U-3 was a proposed version of the Corsair with a turbosupercharged XR-2800-16 engine. The 1009A turbosupercharger was expected to maintain the full engine power of 2000hp up to 12200m (40000ft). A large duct under the fuselage housed the turbosupercharger. The first XF4U-3 flew on 22 April 1944.
After the three XF4U-3s, only a single Goodyear-built FG-1A was converted to FG-3, before the programmed was cancelled. Twelve more FG-3s were completed, but were used only for development work.
Goodyear did undertake part of the production of the F4U, under the designation FG. Hence it developed, late in the war, a version of the Corsair powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major. It was based on the F4U-1D, and intended as a low-altitude interceptor. Such aircraft were required to defend the fleet against Kamikaze attacks.
The early R-4360-4 engine was rated at 3000hp. Because of the greater length of the four-row R-4360 radial, the engine cowling of the F2G was elongated. Together with the air intakes behind the engine cowling, on top of the fuselage, this was an easy recognition feature. The tail surfaces were enlarged, and more fuel capacity was installed. Goodyear also fitted an all-round vision bubble cockpit on the F2G. This had first been tried on a FG-1A. It was a significant improvement, that for some reason was not adapted by later models of the Corsair.
The first models were land-based F2G-1s, but they were later followed by F2G-2 carrier fighters with hydraulic wing folding.
Production of the F2G ended after eight prototypes, five F2G-1s and five F2G-2s were completed. The original order for 418 F2G-1s was cancelled, because the end of the war removed any need for the F2G. Climb was excellent, 9150m could be reached in 4 minutes. Maximum speed on the other hand was rather disappointing, 32km/h (20mph) down from the expected 724km/h (450mph). The F4U-5, with its uprated R-2800 engine, was faster than the F2G. The F2G also suffered from lateral control problems.
The first F4U-4 was delivered to the US Navy on 31 October 1944. The F4U-4 was powered by C-series Double Wasp engine. The installed model was the R-2800-18W, later replaced by the R-2800-42W. It had a war emergency power of 2760hp. A four-bladed propeller replaced the three-bladed one of the F4U-1. A chin scoop was added to the underside of the engine cowling. The F4U-4 could reach a speed of 726km/h.
During the F4U-4 production, the cockpit was redesigned again. It now incorporated a flat, bullet-proof windscreen, a revised canopy, an armored seat, and an improved instrument panel.
Production included 2050 F4U-4s with six .50 guns, 297 F4U-4Bs or F4U-4Cs with four 20mm cannon, a single F4U-4N nightfighter conversion and nine F4U- 4P reconnaissance modifications. The last one was delivered in August 1947. Plans to produce the F4U-4 by Goodyear as the FG-4 were abandoned.
The F4U-4 arrived late in WWII, and served only during the last four months of the conflict. The war of the F4U-4 was the Korean war. Here the type served mainly as a fighter-bomber, but nevertheless one pilot, Capt. J. Folmar of VMA-312, was credited with shooting down a MiG-15.
The first post-war model, the F4U-5, was basically similar to the F4U-4. The air scoop under the engine cowling was removed, and replaced by two small scoops incorporated in the lower side of the cowling. Also, the outer wing panels were now fully covered with metal. The armament consisted of four 20mm cannon, as in the F4U-4B. The engine was the 2675hp R-2800-32W, with a variable-speed two-stage supercharger. The engine installation introduced a lowering of the thrustline by 2.75 degrees, which improved stability and forward view.
The first XF4U-5 flew on 4 April 1946.
There was also a nightfighter version, the F4U-5N. The radar was again, as in the F4U-2, installed on the outer starboard wing. The radome was different in shape, however, betraying the presence of the improved AN/APS-6 and later AN/APS-19A radar set. The AN/APS-6 radar had a range of 8km against aircraft, and 37km against ships.
Production included 223 F4U-5s, 214 F4U-5Ns, and 30 F4U-5P reconnaissance models. In addition 101 winterized F4U-5NLs were built, with de-icing booths for service in the bitter winters of Korea. Production continued until October 1951.
In the late 1950s the US delivered a small number of F4U-5s and F4U-5Ns to the Argentine Navy.
The AU-1 was a dedicated low-level attack version of the F4U. The XAU-1 was created by converting a F4U-5NL, and initially the contracts called it the F4U-6. It was powered by a R-2800-83WA with a single-stage supercharger and water injection, that delivered 2800hp at sea level. The air scoops were again removed from the engine cowling.
The AU-1 was given more amour for the pilot and the engine. Four 20mm cannon with 231 rounds each were installed in the wings. The number of outer wing racks was increased from eight to ten.
Performance had, of course, decreased. The handling had suffered even more, and the AU-1 was unpleasant to fly. Only 111 were built between February and October 1952.
The F4U-7 was developed for France. It was based on the F4U-4B. The cockpit was again slightly redesigned, with a small upward extension of the rear fuselage decking. Thus the pilot could be seated even higher. The engine was the R-2800-18W. The French received 94 F4U-7s. The last one completed, on 31 January 1953, was also the last Corsair built.
In addition, the French acquired a few AU-1s used previously by the USMC.
French Corsairs fought in Indochina, Algeria, and the Suez conflict. The last were retired in 1964.
How can the Corsair be evaluated Its standing as a major combat aircraft of World War II can not be denied. But its merits, or lack thereof, have always been controversial. The Corsair was fast, sturdy, powerful, well-armed, and versatile. Its handling qualities were widely criticized, but an experience pilot who knew the strong points of the aircraft could outmaneuver fighters that were praised for their handling and maneuverability. The most unfortunate feature of the design was the cockpit, which in early versions presented a very poor view for fighting as well as normal operations. Continuous modifications moved the pilot upwards, removed canopy frames and created an acceptable forward view. One wonders why Vought never adopted the Goodyear-designed bubble cockpit, even if it would have had a drag penalty.
The F4U is often said to have been the most successful fighter of WWII. This is based on a claimed 11 to 1 kill ratio: 2140 enemy aircraft shot down for a loss of 189. But as a measure of effectiveness, this is not very reliable. Kill claims are almost invariably too high: Repeated firing on the same aircraft, the confusion of a fast-moving battle, overestimation of damage done to the enemy, and over-confidence of the pilots usually produce estimates which are at least a factor two too high. Also, the opponents encountered by the Corsair squadrons in the Pacific were of greatly varying quality. Most of them indeed flew aircraft to the F4U, but the A6M "Zeke" was inferior to all US fighters of the end of WWII. Finally, to these 189 lost in air-to-air combat one should add the 349 shot down by anti-aircraft fire, the 164 that crashed on landing, and the 992 that were lost for other reasons, including training accidents. The large number of aircraft lost to anti-aircraft fire reflects the use of the Corsair as a fighter-bomber. In this role it excelled, and its use continued into the Korean war.
In one respect the F4U must be considered a partial failure: More than two years passed before the Corsair became an acceptable deck-landing aircraft. Of the 64051 combat missions flown by the type in World War II, 54470 were flown from land bases. If Grumman had not hastily produced the F6F Hellcat, the US Navy could have been in serious trouble. Clearly the Hellcat and Corsair represented different design philosophies: The Hellcat sacrificed performance to simplify production and to make it a better deck-landing aircraft, but the Corsair did not. The Grumman team also produced a fighter that was almost right from the start, apart from the engine change in the early stages of development. Far more time and effort were required to realize the potential of the Vought fighter, and by the time it was fully developed the war was almost over.
Production of the Corsair ended after 12571 had been built, which 4017 by Goodyear and 735 by Brewster. For comparison: Grumman built 12275 Hellcats, and Republic completed 15683 Thunderbolts. One must take into account that production of the F4U continued after the war, and that of the F6F and P-47 did not. The actual production rate of Vought was lower than that of its competitors, but it was still impressive.
Wings of the Navy
Captain Eric M. Brown, edited by William Green and Gordon Swanbrough
Pilot Press / Janes, 1980 ISBN 0-7106-0002-X
The Chance Vought F4U Corsair:
The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was a carrier-capable fighter aircraft that saw service in World War II and the Korean War (and in isolated local conflicts). Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. The Corsair served in some air forces until the 1960s, following the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in U.S. history (1942–1952). Some Japanese pilots regarded it as the most formidable American fighter of World War II. The U.S. Navy counted an 11:1 kill ratio for every F4U shot down.
The Corsair started life as the result of a U.S. Navy requirement for a carrier aircraft which could match the performance of the best land and carrier-based fighter planes. Designed in 1938 by Rex Beisel, the first prototype Corsair designated XF4U-1 first flew on 29 May 1940. When flown in 1940, the XF4U-1, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine, became the first U.S. single-engine production aircraft capable of 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight. It was a remarkable achievement for Vought; compared to land-based counterparts, carrier aircraft are "overbuilt" and heavier, to withstand the extreme stress of deck landings.
The Corsair was designed by Rex Beisel and Igor Sikorsky, and incorporated the largest engine available at the time, the 2,000 hp (1,490 kW) 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial. To extract as much power as possible, a relatively large, 13 ft, 4 inch (4.06 m) Hamilton Standard Hydromatic three-blade propeller was used. To accommodate a folding wing, the designers considered retracting the main landing gear rearward, but for the chord of wing selected, it was difficult to fit gear struts long enough to provide sufficient clearance for the large propeller. Their solution was an inverted gull wing, the same layout used as Germanys infamous Stuka dive bomber, considerably shortening the length of the main gear legs The "bend" in the wing also permitted the wing and fuselage to meet at the optimum angle for minimizing drag. Offsetting these benefits, the bent wing was more difficult to construct and would weigh more than a straight one.
The Corsairs aerodynamics were an advancement over contemporary naval fighters. The F4U was the first U.S. Navy airplane to feature landing gear that retracted fully, exactly in the manner of the Curtiss P-40 in rotating through 90° during retraction with the wheel atop the lower end of the strut, leaving a completely streamlined wing. Air intakes used slots in the leading edges of the wings rather than protruding scoops. Panels were attached with flush rivets, and the design took advantage of the newly-developed technique of spot welding. While employing this new technology, the Corsair was also the last American-produced fighter aircraft to feature fabric covered control surfaces, which were used for the top and bottom of each outer wing and the elevator surfaces. (The later Boeing B-29 bomber used a fabric-covered rudder.) Even with its streamlining and high speed abilities, with full flap deployment of 60 degrees, the Corsair could fly slowly enough for carrier landings.
In part because of its advances in technology and a top speed greater than existing Navy aircraft, numerous technical problems had to be solved before the Corsair would enter service. Carrier suitability was a major development issue, prompting changes to the main landing gear, tail wheel and tailhook. Early prototypes had difficulty recovering from developed spins, since the inverted gull wings shape interfered with elevator authority. A small spoiler was added to the leading edge of the starboard wing to reduce adverse stall characteristics.
The combination of an aft cockpit and the Corsairs long nose made landings hazardous for newly-trained pilots. The cockpit position in the prototype was 36 in (91 cm) further forward, but a desire for more powerful armament necessitated changes. Putting three 50 caliber guns in each outer wing panel eliminated fuel tanks there, and the fuselage tank above the wings was enlarged to compensate. This required that the seat be moved rearward, behind the tank, an arrangement used in other piston fighters of the era. Because the more docile, and simpler to build, F6F Hellcat was coming into service, Corsair deployment aboard U.S. carriers could be delayed. Following Vought modifications to the landing gear, repositioning of the seat, addition of the stall block to the starboard wing, and after a landing technique using a curving approach was developed by the British Royal Navy that kept the LSO (landing signal officer) in view while coming aboard, Corsairs entered U.S. carrier service toward the end of 1944.
United States Navy and Marine Corps:In February 1938, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics published two requests for proposal, for twin-engined and single-engined fighters. For the single-engined fighter the Navy requested the maximum obtainable speed, and a stalling speed not higher than 70 mph (113 km/h). A range of 1,000 miles (1,610 km) was specified. The fighter had to carry four guns, or three with increased ammunition. Provision had to be made for anti-aircraft bombs to be carried in the wing. These small bombs would, according to thinking in the 1930s, be dropped on enemy aircraft formations.
In June 1938, the USN signed a contract for a prototype, the XF4U-1, BuNo 1443. After mock-up inspection in February 1939, construction of the XF4U-1 powered by an XR-2800-4 engine, rated at 1,805 hp (1,350 kW) went ahead quickly. The first flight of the XF4U-1 was made on 29 May 1940, with Lyman A. Bullard Jr. at the controls. The maiden flight was eventful although a hurried landing was made when the elevator trim tabs failed because of flutter.
On 1 October, the XF4U-1 made a flight from Stratford to Hartford with an average ground speed of 405 mph (650 km/h), the first U.S. fighter to fly faster than 400 mph (640 km/h). The XF4U-1 also had an excellent rate of climb. On the other hand, the testing of the XF4U-1 revealed some requirements would have to be rewritten. In full-power dive tests, speeds of up to 550 mph (885 km/h) were achieved, not without damage to the control surfaces and access panels, and, in one case, an engine failure. The spin recovery standards also had to be relaxed, as recovery from the required two-turn spin proved impossible without recourse to an anti-spin chute. The problems clearly meant delays in getting the type into production.
Reports coming back from the war in Europe indicated that an armament of two .30 caliber (7.62 mm) and two .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns was insufficient, and so when the U.S. Navy asked for production proposals in November 1940, heavier armament was specified. The Navy entered into a letter of intent on 3 March 1941, received Voughts production proposal on 2 April, and awarded Vought a contract for 584 F4U-1 fighters on 30 June of the same year. On 25 June 1942, Boone Guyton flew the production F4U-1 on its maiden flight. Brewster and Goodyear were already tooling up to join the Corsair production program, having been selected in late 1941 as additional contractors for the aircraft.
The performance of the Corsair was impressive. The F4U-1 was considerably faster than the F6F Hellcat and 13 mph (21 km/h) slower than the P-47 Thunderbolt, the two other fighters powered by the R-2800. But while the P-47 achieved its highest speed at 30,020 ft (9,150 m) with the help of an intercooled turbosupercharger, the F4U-1 reached its maximum speed at 19,900 ft (6,100 m), and used a mechanically supercharged engine.
Carrier qualification trials on the escort carrier USS Sangamon Bay, on 25 September 1942, caused the U.S. Navy to release the type to the U.S. Marine Corps. Early Navy pilots spoke disparagingly of the F4U as the "hog", "hosenose" or "bent wing widow-maker". After all, the U.S. Navy still had the Grumman F6F Hellcat, which did not have the performance of the F4U but was a far better deck landing aircraft. The Marines needed a better fighter than the F4F Wildcat. For them it was not as important the F4U could be recovered aboard a carrier, as they usually flew from land bases. Growing pains aside, Marine Corps squadrons readily took to the radical new fighter.
Despite the decision to issue the F4U to Marine Corps units, two Navy units,VF-12 (October 1942) and later VF-17 (April 1943) were equipped with the F4U. By April 1943,VF-12 had successfully completed deck landing qualification. However,VF-12 soon abandoned its aircraft to the Marines. VF-17 kept its Corsairs, but was removed from its carrier, Bunker Hill (CV-17), due to perceived difficulties in supplying parts at sea. In November 1943, while operating as a shore-based unit in the Solomon Islands,VF-17 reinstalled its tail hooks so its F4Us could land and refuel while providing top cover over the task force participating in the carrier raid on Rabaul. The squadrons pilots successfully landed, refueled and took off from their former home, Bunker Hill and the USS Essex (CV-9) on 11 November 1943.
The U.S. Navy did not get into combat with the type until September 1943 and the FAA would qualify the type for carrier operations first. The U.S. Navy finally accepted the F4U for shipboard operations in April 1944, after the longer oleo leg was fitted, which finally eliminated the tendency to bounce. The first Corsair unit to be based effectively on a carrier was the pioneer USMC squadron,VMF-124, which joined USS Essex. They were accompanied by VMF-213. The increasing need for fighters as a protection against kamikaze attacks resulted in more Corsair units being moved to carriers.
From February 1943 onward, the F4U operated from Guadalcanal and ultimately other bases in the Solomon Islands. Corsairs were flown by the famous Black Sheep Squadron (VMF-214, led by Marine Maj. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington) in an area of the Solomon Islands called "The Slot." Boyington was credited with 22 kills in F4Us (of 26 total, including four in an AVG P-40). Other noted Corsair pilots of the period included VMF-215s Robert M. Hanson and Don Aldrich,VMF-124s Kenneth A. Walsh, Joe Foss, James E. Swett, and Archie Donohue, and VF-17s Tommy Blackburn, Roger Hedrick, and Ira Kepford. Nightfighter versions equipped Navy and Marine units afloat and ashore. At wars end, Corsairs were ashore on Okinawa, combating the kamikaze, flying from fleet and escort carriers. VMF-312,VMF-323,VMF-224, and a handful of others met with success in the Battle of Okinawa.
The Corsair was in frontline service by early 1943. A dozen USMC F4U-1s arrived at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal (code name "Cactus") in the Solomon Islands on 12 February 1943. The first recorded combat engagement was on 14 February 1943, when Corsairs of VMF-124 under Major William E. Gise assisted P-40s and P-38s in escorting B-24 Liberators on raids against Japanese installations in the Solomons. Japanese fighters contested the raid and the Americans got the worst of it, with four P-38s, two P-40s, two Corsairs and two Liberators lost. No more than four Japanese Zeros were destroyed. A Corsair was responsible for one of the kills, but it wasnt anything to boast about since it was due to a midair collision. The fiasco was referred to as the "Saint Valentines Day Massacre."
Although the Corsairs combat debut was not impressive, the Marines quickly learned how to make better use of the machine and demonstrate its superiority over Japanese fighters. By April 1943, the Corsair was getting the upper hand. By May,VMF-124 had produced the first Corsair ace, 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh, who would rack up a total of 21 kills during the war.
Corsairs also served well as fighter bombers in the Central Pacific and the Philippines. By spring 1944, Marine pilots were beginning to exploit the types considerable capabilities in the close-support role during amphibious landings. Charles Lindbergh flew Corsairs with the Marines as a civilian technical advisor for United Aircraft Corporation in order to determine how best to increase the Corsairs warload and range in the attack role and to help evaluate future viability of single- versus twin-engine fighter design for Vought. Lindbergh managed to get the F4U into the air with 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) of bombs, with a 2,000 lb (900 kg) bomb on the centerline and a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb under each wing. In the course of such experiments, he performed strikes on Japanese positions during the battle for the Marshall Islands.
By the beginning of 1945, the Corsair was a full-blown "mudfighter," performing strikes with high-explosive bombs, napalm tanks, and HVARs. She proved surprisingly versatile, able to operate everything from Bat glide bombs (without sacrificing a load of 2.75 in 70 mm rockets) to 11.75 in (300 mm) Tiny Tim rockets. The aircraft was a prominent participant in the fighting for the Palaus, Iwo Jima and Okinawa Prefecture, with the ground-pounders calling it the "Sweetheart" for its welcome services when things were getting nasty.
Statistics compiled at the end of the war indicate that the F4U and FG flew 64,051 operational sorties for the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy through the conflict (44% of total fighter sorties), with only 9,581 sorties (15%) flown from carrier decks. F4U and FG pilots claimed 2,140 air combat victories against 189 losses to enemy aircraft, for an overall kill ratio of over 11:1. The aircraft performed well against the best Japanese opponents with a 12:1 kill ratio against Mitsubishi A6M, 7:1 against Nakajima Ki-84, 13:1 against Kawanishi N1K-J, and 3:1 against Mitsubishi J2M during the last year of the war. The Corsair bore the brunt of fighter-bomber missions, delivering 15,621 tons of bombs during the war (70% of total bombs dropped by fighters during the war).
Corsair losses in World War II were as follows:
* By combat: 189
One particularly interesting kill was scored by a Marine Lieutenant R.R. Klingman of VMF-312 Checkerboards, over Okinawa. Klingman was in pursuit of a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ("Nick") twin engine fighter at extremely high altitude when his guns jammed due to the gun lubrication thickening from the extreme cold. He simply flew up and chopped off the Ki-45s tail with the big propeller of the Corsair. Despite missing five inches (127 mm) off the end of his propeller blades, he managed to land safely. He was awarded the Navy Cross.
During the Korean War, the Corsair was used mostly in the close-support role. The AU-1 Corsair was a ground-attack version produced for the Korean War; its Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, while supercharged, was not as highly "blown" as on the F4U. As the Corsair moved from its air superiority role in World War II into the close air support role in the Korean Conflict, the gull wing proved to be a useful feature. A straight, low-wing design would have blocked most of the visibility from the cockpit toward the ground while in level flight, but a Corsair pilot could look through a "notch" and get a better ground reference without having to bank one way or the other to move the wing out of the way.
The AU-1, F4U-4B, F4U-4C, F4U-4P and F4U-5N logged combat in Korea between 1950 and 1953. There were dogfights between F4Us and Soviet-built Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters early in the conflict, but when the enemy introduced the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, the Corsair was outmatched, though one Marine pilot did get lucky. On 10 September 1952, a MiG-15 made the mistake of getting into a turning contest with a Corsair piloted by Captain Jesse G. Folmar, with Folmar shooting the MiG down with his four 20 millimeter cannon. The MiGs wingmen quickly had their revenge, shooting down Folmar, though he bailed out and was swiftly rescued with little injury.
Corsair night fighters were used to an extent. The enemy adopted the tactic of using low-and-slow Polikarpov Po-2 intruders to perform night harassment strikes on American forces, and jet-powered night fighters found catching these "Bedcheck Charlies" troublesome. U.S. Navy F4U-5Ns were posted to shore bases to hunt them down, with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Guy Pierre Bordelon, Jr. becoming the Navys only ace in the conflict, as well as the only ace to not score any victories in a jet aircraft. "Lucky Pierre" was credited with five kills (two Yakovlev Yak-18 and three Po-2). Navy and Marine Corsairs were credited with a total of 12 enemy aircraft.
More generally, Corsairs performed attacks with cannon, napalm tanks, various iron bombs and unguided rockets. The old HVAR was a reliable standby, however sturdy Soviet-built armor proved resistant to the HVARs punch leading to a new 6.5 in (16.5 cm) shaped charge antitank warhead being developed. The result was called the "Anti-Tank Aircraft Rocket (ATAR)." The big 11.75 inch (29.8 cm) Tiny Tim was also used in combat, with two under the belly. There is also the story of a Corsair pilot who used his arresting hook to snag enemy communications lines from telephone poles.
Lieutenant Thomas J. Hudner, Jr., flying with naval squadron VF-32 off the USS Leyte, was awarded the Medal of Honor for crash landing his Corsair in an attempt to rescue his squadron mate, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, whose aircraft had been forced down by antiaircraft fire near Changjin. Brown, who did not survive the incident, was the U.S. Navys first African American naval aviator.
FAA introduced the Corsair into carrier service before the USN. British units solved the landing visibility problem by approaching the carrier in a medium left-hand turn, which allowed the pilot to keep the carriers deck in view over the dip in the port wing, allowing safe carrier operations.
In the early days of the war, RN fighter requirements had been based on cumbersome two-seat designs, such as the Blackburn Skua, Fairey Fulmar, and Fairey Firefly, on the assumption they would only be fighting long range bombers or flying boats. The RN hurriedly adopted higher performance but less robust types derived from land based aircraft, such as the Supermarine Seafire. The Corsair was welcomed as a much more robust and versatile alternative.
In Royal Navy service, many Corsairs had their outer wings clipped to assist with carrier storage as well as benefitting its low-altitude performance. Despite the clipped wings and the shorter decks of British carriers, RN aviators found landing accidents less of a problem than they had been to USN aviators due to the curved approach used. RN Corsairs saw widespread service with the British Pacific Fleet from late 1944 until the end of the war, some six carrier-based squadrons flying intensive ground attack/interdiction operations and also claiming 47.5 aircraft shot down.
The Royal Navy received 95 Corsair Mk Is and 510 Mk IIs, these being equivalent to the F4U-1 and -1A. Goodyear-built aircraft were known as Mk IIIs (equivalent to FG-1D), and Brewster-built aircraft as Mk IVs (equivalent to F3A-1D). British Corsairs had their wing tips clipped, 20 cm being removed at the tips, to allow storage of the F4U on the lower-overhead British carriers. The Royal Navy was the first to clear the F4U for carrier operations. It proved the Corsair Mk II could be operated with reasonable success even from escort carriers. It was not without problems, one being excessive wear of the arrester wires due to the weight of the Corsair and the understandable tendency of the pilots to stay well above the stalling speed.
Fleet Air Arm units were created and equipped in the US, at Quonset Point or Brunswick and then shipped to war theaters aboard escort carriers. The first FAA Corsair unit was No. 1830, created on the first of June 1943, and soon operating from HMS Illustrious. At the end of the war, 19 FAA squadrons were operating with the Corsair. British Corsairs operated both in Europe and in the Pacific. The first, and also most important, European operations were the series of attacks in April, July and August 1944 on the German battleship Tirpitz, for which Corsairs from HMS Victorious and HMS Formidable provided fighter cover. It appears the Corsairs did not encounter aerial opposition on these raids.
FAA Corsairs originally fought in a camouflage scheme with a Dark Slate Grey/Extra Dark Sea Grey disruptive pattern on top and Sky undersides, but were later painted overall dark blue. Those operating in the Pacific theater acquired a specialized British insignia - a modified blue-white roundel with white "bars" to make it look more like a U.S. than a Japanese Hinomaru insignia to prevent friendly-fire incidents. A total of 2,012 Corsairs were supplied to the United Kingdom.
In the Pacific, FAA Corsairs began to operate in April 1944, participating in an attack on Sabang, and later in the attack on oil refineries at Palembang. In July and August 1945, Corsair squadrons Nos. 1834, 1836, 1841 and 1842 took part in a series of strikes on the Japanese mainland, near Tokyo. They operated from the carriers HMS Victorious and Formidable.
At least one Corsair was captured by the Germans, this was Corsair JT404 from No. 1841 squadron (HMS Formidable). Wing Leader Lt Cdr RS Baker-Falkner made an emergency landing on 18 July 1944 in a field at Sorvag, near Bodø, Norway. The Corsair was captured intact and it is not known if it was taken to Germany.
On 9 August 1945, days before the end of the war, FAA Corsairs from Formidable were attacking Shiogama harbor on the northeast coast of Japan. Royal Canadian Navy pilot, Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, was hit by flak but pressed home his attack on a Japanese destroyer, sinking it with a 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bomb but crashing into the sea. He was posthumously awarded Canadas last Victoria Cross, becoming the second fighter pilot of the war to earn a VC as well as the final Canadian casualty of the Second World War.
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Equipped with obsolescent Curtiss P-40s, RNZAF squadrons in the South Pacific performed impressively compared to the American units they operated alongside, in particular in the air-to-air role. The American government accordingly decided to give New Zealand early access to the Corsair, especially as it was not initially being used from carriers. Some 424 Corsairs equipped 13 RNZAF squadrons, including No. 14 Squadron RNZAF and No. 15 Squadron RNZAF, replacing SBD Dauntless as well as P-40s.
In late 1944, the F4U equipped all twelve Pacific-based fighter units of the RNZAF. The first squadrons to use the Corsair were Nos 20 and 21 Squadrons on Espiritu Santo island, operational in May 1944. In the RNZAF Corsair units, only the pilots and a small staff belonged to the squadron; aircraft and maintenance crew were grouped in a pool.
By the time the Corsairs arrived, there were virtually no Japanese aircraft left in New Zealands allocated sectors of the Southern Pacific, and despite the RNZAF Squadrons extending their operations to more northern islands, they were primarily used for close support of American, Australian and New Zealander soldiers fighting the Japanese. New Zealander pilots were aware of the Corsairs poor forward view and tendency to ground loop, but found these drawbacks could be solved by pilot training in curved approaches before use from rough forward airbases.
The RNZAF Corsairs mainly flew close-support missions, and as a consequence did not claim a single enemy aircraft shot down. At the end of 1945, all Corsair squadrons but one (No. 14) were disbanded. That last squadron was based in Japan, until the Corsair was retired from service in 1947.
No. 14 Squadron took its Corsairs to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. Only one airworthy example of the 424 aircraft procured survives: NZ5648/ZK-COR, owned by the Old Stick and Rudder Company at Masterton, NZ. One other mostly complete aircraft and the remains of two others were known to be held by a private collector at Ardmore, NZ, in 1996. Their current whereabouts are unknown.
A total of 94 F4U-7s were built for the French Navy in 1952, with the last of the batch, the final Corsair built, rolled out on 24 December 1952. The F4U-7s were actually purchased by the U.S. Navy and passed on to the Aeronavale through the U.S. Military Assistance Program (MAP). The French used their F4U-7s during the end of the First Indochina War in the 1950s, where they were supplemented by at least 25 ex-USMC AU-1s passed on to the French in 1954, after the end of the Korean War.
French Corsairs also performed strikes in the Algerian War in 1955 and 1956 and assisted in the Anglo-French-Israeli seizure of the Suez Canal in October 1956, codenamed Operation Musketeer. The Corsairs were painted with yellow and black recognition stripes for this operation. In 1960, some French Corsairs were rigged to carry four SS-11 wire-guided missiles. This was a more or less experimental fit and it is hard to believe it worked well, since it required a pilot to "fly" the missile after launch with a joystick while keeping track of a flare on its tail – an exercise that could be very tricky in a single-seat aircraft under combat conditions. All French Corsairs were out of service by 1964, with some surviving for museum display or as civilian warbirds.
The "Football War"
Corsairs flew their final combat missions during the 1969 "Football War" between Honduras and El Salvador. The conflict was famously triggered, though not really caused, by a disagreement over a football (soccer) match. Both sides claimed various numbers of kills, and each side disputed the claims of the other.
The Corsair entered service in 1942. Although designed as a carrier fighter, initial operation from carrier decks proved to be troublesome. Its low-speed handling was tricky due to the port wing stalling before the starboard wing. This factor, together with poor visibility over the long nose (leading to one of its nicknames, "The Hose Nose"), made landing a Corsair on a carrier a difficult task. For these reasons, most Corsairs initially went to Marine Corps squadrons who operated off land-based runways, with some early Goodyear built examples (designated FG-1A) being built with fixed, non-folding wings. The USMC aviators welcomed the Corsair with open arms as its performance was far superior to the contemporary Brewster Buffalo and Grumman F4F-3 and -4 Wildcat.
Moreover, the Corsair was able to outperform the primary Japanese fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M "Zero". While the Zero could out-turn the F4U at low speed, the Corsair was faster and could out-climb and out-dive the A6M. Tactics developed early in the war, such as the Thach Weave, took advantage of the Corsairs strengths.
This performance advantage, combined with the ability to take severe punishment, meant a pilot could place an enemy aircraft in the killing zone from the F4Us six .50 (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns and keep him there long enough to inflict major damage. The 2,300 rounds carried by the Corsair gave over one full minute of fire from each gun, which, fired in three to six-second bursts, made the F4U a devastating weapon against aircraft, ground targets, and even ships.
Beginning in 1943, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) also received Corsairs and flew them successfully from Royal Navy carriers in combat with the British Pacific Fleet and in Norway. These were clipped-wing Corsairs, the wingtips shortened eight inches (20 cm) to clear the lower overhead height of RN carriers. FAA also developed a curving landing approach to overcome the F4Us deficiencies.
Corsairs served with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, Fleet Air Arm, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, as well the French Aeronavale and other services postwar. It quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter-bomber of World War II. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Voughts manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear (as the FG-1) and Brewster (as the F3A-1). From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured by Vought, in 16 separate models.
Infantrymen nicknamed the Corsair "The Sweetheart of the Marianas" and "The Angel of Okinawa" for its roles in these campaigns. Among Navy and Marine aviators, however, the aircraft was nicknamed "Ensign Eliminator" and "Bent-Wing Eliminator" because it required many more hours of flight training to master than other Navy carrier-borne aircraft. It was also called simply "U-bird" or "Bent Wing Bird". The Japanese allegedly nicknamed it "Whistling Death", for the noise made by airflow through the wing root-mounted oil cooler air intakes.
The Corsair has been named the official aircraft of Connecticut, due to its connection with Sikorsky Aircraft, in legislation sponsored by state senator George "Doc" Gunther; Gunther had also organized a Corsair Celebration and Symposium at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Connecticut, on Memorial Day, 29 May 2006.
During World War II, Corsair production expanded beyond Vought to include Brewster and Goodyear models. Allied forces flying the aircraft in World War II included FAA and RNZAF. Eventually, more than 12,500 F4Us would be built, comprising 16 separate variants.
F4U-1: The first Corsair with the original cockpit seat height and "bird cage" canopy. It was based on the XF4U, but differed with the addition of a larger fuel tank and the removal of the fuselage windows behind the canopy as well as a modified armament consisting of six Browning MG53-2 0.50" machine guns. A land-based version for the USMC, without the folding wing capability, was built by Goodyear under the designation FG-1. In Fleet Air Arm service the F4U-1 was given the name Corsair Mk I. Vought also built a single -1 two-seat trainer; the Navy showed no interest.
F4U-1A: Variant incorporating the new "Malcolm" hood with only two struts, similar to the canopy of the Supermarine Spitfire. The cockpit seat was also raised to allow the pilot to see over the long nose as well. F4U-1As supplied to the USMC lacked folding wings and arrester hooks. Aircraft ready for naval service, however, had these features. Additionally, an experimental R-2800-8W engine with water injection was fitted on one of the late F4U-1As. After satisfactory results, many F4U-1As were fitted with the new powerplant. The aircraft carried 237 U.S. gallon (897 liter) in the main fuel tank, located in front of the cockpit, as well as an unarmored, non-self-sealing 62 U.S. gallon (235 liter) fuel tank in each wing. With drop tanks fitted, the fighter had a maximum ferry range of just over 1,500 mi. (2,425 km). A land-based version, without the folding wing capability, was built by Goodyear as the FG-1A. In British service, the aircraft type was modified with clipped wings for use on British aircraft carriers, under the designation Corsair Mk II.
F4U-1B: Essentially identical to the F4U-1A. This new variant however had clipped wing tips to fit in the smaller elevators and lower-overhead hangar decks of British carriers.
F4U-1C: This variant was in production in 1943, but was only introduced in combat during 1945, most notably in the Okinawa campaign. Intended for ground-attack as well as fighter missions, the F4U-1C was similar to the F4U-1A but its armament was replaced by four 20 mm (0.79") AN/M2 cannons, each containing 231 rounds of ammunition. The variant was very rare as only 200 were built. This was due to the fact aviators preferred the standard armament of six .50 machine guns since they were already more than powerful enough to destroy most Japanese aircraft, and had more ammunition and a higher rate of fire. The weight of the Hispano cannons and their ammunition affected the flight performance, especially its agility, but the aircraft was found to be especially potent in the ground attack role.
F4U-1D: Built in parallel with the F4U-1C, but was introduced in April 1944. It had the new -8W water-injection engine. This change gave the aircraft up to 250 hp (187 kW) more power, which, in turn, increased performance. Speed, for example, was boosted from 417 mph (671 km/h) to 425 mph (684 km/h). Because of the U.S. Navys need for fighter-bombers, it had a payload of rockets double the -1As, as well as twin-rack plumbing for an additional belly drop tank. Such modifications necessitated the need for rocket tabs (attached to fully metal-plated underwing surfaces) and bomb pylons to be bolted on the fighter, however, causing extra drag. Additionally, the new job of fighter-bombing was a new task for the Corsair and the wing fuel cells proved too vulnerable and were removed. The extra fuel carried by the two drop tanks would still allow the aircraft to fly relatively long missions despite the heavy, un-aerodynamic load. The regular armament of six machine guns were implemented as well. The canopies of most -1Ds had their struts removed along with their metal caps, which were used - at one point - as a measure to prevent the canopies glass from cracking as they moved along the fuselage spines of the fighters. Additional production was carried out by Goodyear (FG-1D) and Brewster (F3A-1D). In Fleet Air Arm service, the former was known as Corsair Mk IV, the latter as Corsair III, and both had their wingtips clipped by 9" per wing to allow storage in the small confines of British carriers.
F4U-2: Experimental conversion of the F4U-1 Corsair into a carrier-borne night fighter, armed with five .50 machine guns (the outboard, starboard gun was deleted), and fitted with airborne Intercept (AI) radar set in a radome placed outboard on the starboard wing. Since Vought was preoccupied with more important projects, only 32 were converted from existing F4U-1s by the Naval Aircraft Factory and another two by front line units. The type saw combat with VF(N)-101 aboard USS Enterprise and USS Intrepid in early 1944,VF(N)-75 in the Solomons and VMF(N)-532 on Tarawa.
XF4U-3: Experimental aircraft built to hold different engines in order to test the Corsairs performance with a variety of powerplants. This variant never entered service. Goodyear also contributed a number of airframes, designated FG-3, to the project. A single sub-variant XF4U-3B with minor modifications was also produced.
F4U-4: The last variant to be produced during World War II, the F4U-4 began entering service near the end of 1944. It fully equipped naval squadrons four months before the end of hostilities. It had the 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) dual-stage-supercharged -18W engine. When the cylinders were injected with the water/alcohol mixture, power was boosted to 2,450 hp (1,827 kW). The aircraft required an air scoop under the nose and the unarmored wing fuel tanks of 62 U.S. gal capacities were removed for better maneuverability at the expense of maximum range. The propeller had one additional blade, bringing the total to four. Maximum speed was increased to 448 mph (718 km/h) and climb rate to over 3,800 fpm (1,180 m per minute) as opposed to the 2,900 fpm (884 m per minute) of the F4U-1A. The service ceiling also increased significantly from 37,000 ft. (11,278 m) to 41,000 ft. (12,497 m). The "4-Hog" retained the original armament and had all the external loads (i.e., drop tanks, bombs) capabilities of the F4U-1D. The armored windshield was now flat to avoid optical warping, unlike the curved, armored windshields of the earlier Corsairs. Vought also tested the two F4U-4Xs (BuNos 49763 and 50301, prototypes for the new R2800) with fixed tiptanks (the Navy showed no interest) and an Aeromatic six-blade contraprop (not accepted for production).
F4U-4B: Designation for F4U-4s to be delivered to the British Fleet Air Arm, but were retained by the U.S. for its own use. The Fleet Air Arm received no F4U-4s.
F4U-4C: 300 F4U-4s ordered with alternate gun armament of four 20 mm (0.79") AN/M2 cannons.
F4U-4E and F4U-4N: Developed late in the conflict, these night fighters featured radar radomes projecting from the starboard wingtip. The -4E was fitted with the APS-4 search radar, while the -4N was fitted with the APS-6 type. In addition, these aircraft were often refitted with four 20mm M2 cannons similar to the F4U-1C. The night fighter variants would see greater use during the Korean conflict.
F4U-4P: As with the -1P, a rare photoreconnaissance variant.
F4U-5: A 1945 design modification of the F4U-4, first flown on December 21st of that year, was intended to increase the F4U-4 Corsairs overall performance and incorporate many Corsair pilots suggestions. It featured a more powerful Pratt and Whitney R-2800-32(E) engine with a two stage supercharger, rated at a maximum of 2,450 hp (1,830 kW). Other improvements included automatic blower controls, cowl flaps, intercooler doors and oil cooler for the engine, spring tabs for the elevators and rudder, a completely modernized cockpit, a completely retractable tail wheel, and heated cannon bays and pitot head. The cowling was lowered two degrees to help with forward visibility, but perhaps most striking as the first variant to feature all-metal wings (223 units produced). F4U-5N: Radar equipped version (214 units produced)
F4U-5NL: Winterized version (72 units produced, 29 modified from F4U-5Ns (101 total). Fitted with rubber de-icing boots on the leading edge of the wings and tail.
F4U-5P: Long-range photo-reconnaissance version (30 units produced)
F4U-6 : Redesignated AU-1, this was a ground-attack version produced for the US Marine Corps.
F4U-7 : AU-1 developed for the French Navy
Super Corsair variants
The F2G-1 and F2G-2 were significantly different aircraft, fitted with the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major 4-row 28-cylinder "corncob" radial engine and teardrop (bubble) canopy, as a specialized interceptor against Japanese suicide Kamikaze attacks. The difference between the -1 and -2 variants was that the -1 featured a manual folding wing and 14ft. Propellers, while the F2G-2 aircraft had hydraulic operated folding wings, 13ft. propellers and carrier arresting hooks for carrier use. As World War II was drawing to a close, development problems emerged that led to the abandonment of further work on the F2G series. While only 10 were built, several F2Gs went on to racing success after the war, winning the Thompson trophy races in 1947 and 1949.
* Argentine Navy
Survivors:Chance-Vought F4U survivors Over two dozen Corsairs are believed to be still airworthy, most in the United States. Others are found in museum collections worldwide.
* FG-1D 92436: In flying condition (currently undergoing complete restoration in Idaho) owner: Olympic Flight Museum, olympia airport, Olympia, Washington state
* Crew: 1 pilot
* Maximum speed: 425 mph (369 knots, 684 km/h)
* Guns: ** 4× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 400 rounds per gun 2× 0.50 in Browning M2 machine guns, 375 rounds per gun
* Crew: 1 pilot
* Maximum speed: 446 mph (388 knots, 718 km/h)
* Guns: 6× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 400 rounds per gun or 4× 20 mm AN/M2 cannons.
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* Flying Leathernecks (1951) starring John Wayne, was about a Marine Corps squadron flying Corsairs while developing close-support tactics.
* F6F Hellcat
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