| Continued from above… to fame. It remained in production for a longer period than any other American fighter - 11 years - and it was the last piston-engined fighter in production for the US forces. Official figures credit the Corsair with an 11:1 ratio of kills to losses in combat with Japanese aircraft in World War II. |
"Sweetheart of Okinawa" to the U.S. Marine Corps, "Whistling Death" to the Japanese, and "Bent-winged Bird" to the American ground forces that sheltered under the massive umbrella of ordnance which it delivered in the Pacific, the Corsair was universally acknowledged to be the finest naval fighter of the Second World War. Many people, and particularly its pilots, went further and claimed it to be the best single-seat fighter of any nation to emerge from that conflict.
The F4U-1 Corsair was the largest production series
The sub-series F4U-1A had a different hood for improved visibility, while the 1944 F4U-1D had a more powerful engine and heavier armament. The Corsair F4U-1 was the largest production series. A (war) total of 4,102 were built by Vought; 3,808 by Goodyear, which called them FG-1; 735 by Brewster, which called them F3A-1. Great Britain received 2,012 Corsairs, and New Zealand received 370.
Right: World War II F4U Corsair Production Line of the Chance Vought aircraft factory in Stratford, Connecticut.
Operating from airstrips...
Despite its formidable quality, however, and the fact that it was expressly designed for shipboard operations, the Corsair spent most of its wartime career confined to land bases, and it was not until the end of 1944 that it made its first operational sorties from American carriers in the Pacific. But the same problems which kept it from the U.S. Navy's carrier decks for two years after its introduction to operational service provided it with the opportunity to prove its superiority, at the eager and capable hands of U.S. Marine Corps pilots, to all enemy and, for that matter, friendly fighters in the South-West Pacific.
Operating from airstrips on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, the U.S. Marines forged the Corsair into an air supremacy weapon, meeting the Japanese Navy's Zero-Sen fighters on more than equal terms for the first time in the Pacific conflict, smashing them into the sea and jungle alike, and helping turn the tide of air combat permanently in favor of the Allied forces. Most of the twenty-eight victories achieved by Major "Pappy" Boyington, the top-scoring U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot, were gained from the cockpit of a Corsair, as were also the majority of the "kills" of the runner-up, Captain Joe Foss, with twenty-six victories, and other aces such as Majors Ken Walsh and Marion Carl, Commander Thomas Blackburn, Lieutenants Ike Kepford and Bob Hanson.
Within six months of its introduction all Marine Corps fighter squadrons in the South Pacific were Corsair-equipped, but to Britain's Royal Navy was to go the distinction of first introducing the remarkable Chance Vought fighter to carrier service.
Designing the Bent-Wing Bird
The Corsair stemmed from a U.S. Navy design contest of February 1, 1938, the requirements specifying a single-seat shipboard fighter offering a particularly good service ceiling, and a speed which encouraged Chance Vought's design team to aim at producing the fastest fighter ever built. The Engineering Department of Chance Vought Aircraft, led by Rex B. Beisel, prepared several design studies to meet the Navy's requirements and, eventually, submitted two proposals during the following April. These were designated V-166A, a fighter powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp, then one of the most powerful production engines available to the U.S. aircraft industry, and V-166B, a more advanced design with the revolutionary Pratt and Whitney XR-2800-2 Double Wasp. As the most powerful engine available in the foreseeable future, the 2,000 h.p. Double Wasp was an obvious choice, except for the fact that it was still very much in the experimental stage, and its manufacturers were under considerable pressure from the U.S. Army Air Corps to concentrate all their facilities on the development and production of liquid-cooled engines. Since the Air Corps had backed the liquid-cooled inline engine, it was inevitable, in view of the strong inter-service rivalry, that the Navy should have favored the air-cooled radial. While proponents of the liquid-cooled power plant pointed out the immediate advantages of streamlining possible with inline engines, air-cooled radials were claimed to be appreciably lighter, less complex and less vulnerable to battle damage. In the case of the Corsair, adherence to the air-cooled formula was to be fundamental to the success of this warplane.
The airplane was huge, far bigger than any fighter I had ever seen. Most of it seemed to be engine. As soon as possible, I fired up the big bird and began going through the pre-take-off checks the moment the 2000-hp engine was warm. At length, I gingerly taxied forward, cursing the extremely poor ground visibility of this and all Navy fighters of the day; with its long nose stretching an unprecedented 12 ft in front of my windshield, the F4U was the champ of champs in this regard. Sinuous forward movement was an absolute must if I wanted to see anything out ahead.
Lt Cdr Tommy Blackburn, VF-17, Floyd Bennett Field, 1943
Inverted gull wing arrangement
The fighter's characteristic inverted gull wing arrangement was a neat solution to the problem of accommodating the massive power plant with its enormous airscrew while keeping undercarriage length and ground angle to a minimum, and simultaneously obtaining the optimum right angle for minimum drag at the junction of the wing and fuselage.
The wing was built in three sections, the centre section being integral with the fuselage, and was of single-spar type, the outer panels being fabric-covered aft of the main-spar, and the fuselage was a semi-monocoque structure built up in four sections, these being assembled individually with heavy, pressed flange bulkheads, extruded stiffener section stringers and heavy sheet skin. The combination of heavy frames and thick skin drastically reduced the number of longitudinal members and simplified construction. A new spot-welding technique evolved jointly by Chance Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory resulted in an exceptionally smooth external finish. The mainwheel legs folded straight aft, with the wheels rotating through ninety degrees to lie flat in the wings where they were each completely enclosed by twin doors.
The first production F4U-1 Corsair flew for the first time on June 25, 1942,
at a time when the Allies were on a crumbling defensive throughout the entire Pacific. The Japanese Navy's Zero-Sen fighter had come as a shattering surprise to the western nations, and there was an immediate outcry for fighters capable of besting the Mitsubishi. The Corsair promised to do just that, but it took time to eliminate its teething troubles and introduce it into service, albeit a remarkably short time.
The U.S. Navy received its first F4U-1 on July 31, 1942, but the U.S. Marine Corps had priority, and by September sufficient Corsairs had been delivered to equip VMF-124 which had been formed on September 7th from the remnants of VMF-122.
The Marine Corps pilots soon established decisive air superiority over the Japanese in that combat theatre, and within six months all Marine Corps fighter squadrons in the South Pacific were Corsair-equipped.
Even before the XF4U-1 had been completed and flown, it had become the yardstick by which the Navy judged other aircraft and the goal that other manufacturers strove to attain.
The prototype was fitted with an XR-2800-4 engine affording 1,805 h.p. for take-off and 1,460 h.p. at 21,500 ft., armament comprising one 0.3-in. gun and one 0.5-in. gun in the upper decking of the forward fuselage, and a single 0.5-in. gun in each wing, and there was also a receptacle in each wing for ten light bombs which were to be dropped on bomber formations. The idea of bombing enemy formations, although to be abandoned in the production Corsair, was subsequently used with some success by the Luftwaffe against American bomber formations over Germany. The first flight of the XF4U-1, with Lyman A. Bullard Jnr. at the controls, took place on May 29, 1940 at Stratford, Connecticut, and the sensational performance of the new fighter was immediately apparent.
Further flight testing confirmed the remarkable capabilities of the XF4U-1 which, during a flight from Stratford to Hartford on October 1st., attained a speed of 404 m.p.h., thus becoming the first U.S. fighter of any type to exceed the 400 m.p.h. mark in level flight. The Corsair was accorded much publicity for this flight, although the precise figure attained was not to be revealed for some years, and it was indirectly responsible for Pratt and Whitney being given permission by General H. H. Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps, to abandon their liquid-cooled engine program.
He dove down even lower to pick up speed, getting down to between 10 to 25 ft above the water. The F4U's top speed was 405 mph at sea level, so the Zeke was also moving at about that speed. I was probably gaining a little on him, but I couldn't stay wide open much longer or I would burn up my engine. If I fixed my sights on him in level position my bullets would hit the water behind him. By raising my nose the bullets would go straight for about 800 to 900 ft, then drop downward due to gravity. Even if he was 800 ft away, I would have to raise my sights above him.
My plan was to lob the bullets into him so I fired another short burst. He hit the water and bounced back up and kept going. I knew I had the right angle on raising my nose so I fired again. He hit the water again and bounced back up. Again I fired and he hit the water and came back up. The fourth time, however, he went down to stay.
Lt Joe D Robbins, VBF-8, USS Shangri-La, 1945
Chance Vought and Sikorsky Aircraft Divisions
In January 1943 the Chance Vought and Sikorsky Aircraft Divisions of the former Vought-Sikorsky Division of the United Aircraft Corporation had been reconstituted as separate manufacturing divisions to enable Chance Vought to devote all their energies to the development and production of combat aircraft, and the F4U-1D went into production with the reorganized concern in April 1944. The new model was also produced by Goodyear and Brewster as the FG-1D and F3A-1D respectively. The F4U-1D differed from the F4U-1A in having the unprotected outboard 51.6 Imp. gal. (62 U.S. gal.) wing tanks deleted, twin pylons provided beneath the centre section for two 1,000-lb. bombs or a 133 Imp. gal. (160 U.S. gal.) drop tank, and attachment points beneath the outer wing panels for an alternative external load of eight 5-in. rockets. Water injection boosted the maximum take-off power of the R-2800-8W engine to 2,250 h.p. Some weight saving had resulted in a reduction in the empty weight from 8,873 lb. to 8,694.6 lb., normal loaded and overload weights being 12,039 lb. and 13,120 lb. respectively. Initial climb rate was boosted from 2,890 ft./min. to 3,120 ft./min., maximum speed ranged from 328 m.p.h. at 500 ft. to 349 m.p.h. at 10,000 ft. and 425 m.p.h. at 20,000 ft., and range with a 2,000-lb. bomb load was 500 miles.
After finding the F4U more responsive to persuasion than dominance, "Dog Ears" Coleman, an 'ole country boy serving with VF-12, had remarked, "This plane is as co-operative as a hog on ice". Thus the F4U was known for a long time as the Hog.
Lt Cdr Tommy Blackburn, VF-17, Floyd Bennett Field, 1943
By the end of 1943, when the U.S. Navy signed contracts for no less than 4,699 Corsairs, the service still refused to accept the aircraft for shipboard operation. In. fact, in March 1944 the Chief of Naval Air Operational Training drew up a statement condemning the Corsair's deck-landing characteristics, stressing the fighter's tendency to bounce dangerously on landing, particularly in the hands of inexperienced pilots! To prevent this statement being promulgated, Chance Vought initiated a final development scheme' one of four presented by the company's engineers to eliminate once and for all the Corsair's built-in bounce, the scheme being known as "Programme Dog". The undercarriage oleo legs were redesigned to provide a long stroke with low rebound ratios, and the results of test flights were so encouraging that carrier trials aboard the U.S.S. Gambler Bay followed immediately. These were performed in April 1944 by VF-301 whose Corsairs completed 113 landings with excellent results. All Corsair oleos were similarly modified, and the F4U-1 was finally cleared for shipboard service with the U.S. Navy.
Surprisingly, the Corsair had been cleared by the Royal Navy for operation from carriers some nine months earlier, and the first operational sorties with the F.A.A. were undertaken by the Corsair IIs of No. 1834 Squadron from H.M.S. Victorious on April 3, 1944, when these aircraft provided fighter cover for torpedo-bombers attacking the German battleship Tirpitz. Lend-Lease F4U-ls supplied to Britain were designated F4U-1B by their manufacturer, but in addition to the ninety-five Chance Vought-built F4U-ls and 510 F4U-lAs supplied to the Royal Navy, this service also received 430 Brewster-built F3A-lDs as Corsair IIIs and 977 Goodyear-built FG-IDs as Corsair IVs, Britain thus receiving 2,012 Corsairs which equipped nineteen squadrons.
Corsair finally achieves its original design aim...
Towards the end of 1944 the Corsair finally achieved its original design aim of shipboard operation when, on December 28th, VMF-124 began operations from the U.S.S. Essex. This unit and VMF-213 were the first Marine Corps fighter squadrons to operate from fast carriers in combat. The threat of Japanese Kamikaze attacks had resulted in a Pacific Fleet High Command conference at Pearl Harbour during November 24-26, 1944, and a decision had been taken to increase the number of fighters aboard aircraft carriers for Kamikaze interception, and to ensure the procurement of the highest performing combat types. This inevitably meant extensive re-equipment with the Corsair since, earlier that year, on May 16th, after a series of comparative trials between the F6F-3 Hellcat and the F4U-1D Corsair, a Navy evaluation board had concluded : "It is the opinion of the board that generally the F4U is a better fighter, a better bomber and equally suitable carrier aircraft compared with the F6F. It is strongly recommended that the carrier fighter and or bomber complements be shifted to the F4U type."
By the end of the Okinawa campaign, nearly every U.S. carrier was equipped with Corsairs, which, in the Pacific, were to be credited with the destruction of 2,140 enemy aircraft in aerial combat by V-J Day
The Vought Corsair was the first U.S. single-engine fighter to exceed 400 m.p.h sustained level flight ., and had much better performance than the F4F Wildcat, which was the current top-of-the-line Navy fighter when the Corsair was introduced. Unfortunately, due to its very long nose (which limited pilot visibility, especially during take-offs and landings), it was believed by the Navy high command to be unsuitable for carrier operations. Typically, when the Navy had an aircraft that it did not want, it gave them to the Marines (the F2A Buffalo, and later the F7F Tigercat being further examples).
This is what happened to the Corsairs, as they were restricted to land bases. The Marines were happy to replace their old Wildcats with this hot new fighter, and soon showed everyone what the Corsair was capable of. Pappy Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron was one of many who used the Corsair's abilities to its fullest. Later in the war it was proven that the Corsairs could operate safely off of carriers, and the "bent-wing birds" were used very successfully in helping to thwart the kamikaze raids in the war's final months. Demand for the Corsairs was such that they were also produced by Brewster and Goodyear.
Vought F4U Corsair cockpit -- layout and visibility.
| Summary: |
If you've never seen a F4U Corsair before, your first glance at the outsized propeller and "bent" wings might leave you with the feeling that either this warbird was assembled from parts that didn't match or it has met with some sort of disaster. But from all these outsized and mismatched parts came one of WWII's greatest fighter planes. It could outfight, out climb and (if need be) outrun any prop driven enemy.
The Corsair was developed early in 1938, at the request of the U.S. Navy, which ordered the construction of a prototype on June 30. The head Vought designer, Tex B. Beisel, set to work with the idea of building the smallest body compatible with the most powerful engine available. He chose Pratt & Whitney's XR-2800 Double Wasp, a new 2,000-h.p. 18-cylinder radial then receiving some finishing touches. This powerful engine required a large-diameter propeller to absorb the power, and this in turn led to the inverted gull-wing that characterized the Corsair. Thus the propeller disk was at a safe distance from the ground, and the landing gear struts were reduced in length. This last feature was extremely important for safe landing on carrier decks. The prototype, the XF4U-1, first took to the air on May 29, 1940. It was an outstanding success from its first test flights. On October 1, during a transfer flight, it became the first American fighter to break the 400-m.p.h. barrier.
Finishing touches, however, took a long time. To begin with, the armament was increased, and this required repositioning the fuel tanks and adding one on the fuselage. This in turn meant that the cockpit had to be moved back almost three feet, creating problems of visibility for the pilot. It was the question of visibility that made authorities hesitate to use the plane on carriers. Nevertheless an initial contract for 584 F4Us was signed on June 30,1941, and the first production model was ready a year later. By the end of 1942 the navy had received delivery of 178 aircraft, but the planes were not considered suitable for use on carriers until April, 1944. The Corsair became operational first with the Marine Corps, which used Vought Corsairs at Guadalcanal on February 13, 1943. Subsequently they were used as land-based planes by the Navy.
Corsairs were manufactured for more than ten years, and they remained in service until at least 1965 ; total production was 12,681 aircraft. The Vought F4U Corsair was the best carrier-based fighter of World War II and in some respects was an even better plane than the superlative North American P-51 Mustang. Yet, despite these fine qualities, the Corsair spent nearly half its wartime career at land bases. For almost a year the naval authorities considered it unsuitable for carrier duty. This formidable plane racked up an impressive number of victories. In the Pacific theater alone, in the course of 64,051 missions, Corsairs downed 2,140 enemy planes while only 189 Corsairs were lost - a ratio unmatched in the history of air warfare.
The F4U Corsair was such a solid design it was used well after the war into the 1950's in a variety of roles. For a plane type that is assumed to make some concessions to its carrier-based operation, the F4U proved to be an outstanding design. If it weren't slightly range limited compared to the P51, P38 or P47, it could have easily filled any of the roles they were used for as well in the Pacific.