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Chance Vought F4U Corsair

The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was a carrier-capable fighter aircraft used by the U.S. Navy and Marines during World War II. It was the most effective fighter bomber operating off of carriers during the war. The Corsair served as a fighter interceptor, bomber, and reconnaissance plane, primarily in the Pacific Theater. The Corsair also saw service with the Fleet Air Arm of the British Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The aircraft was so successful that it remained in service not only through the end of World War II, but during the Korean War as well.

Vought F4U-5 Corsair fighters from USS <i>Tarawa</i> (CV-40) fly in formation over the Mediterranean, 15 December 1952
Vought F4U-5 Corsair fighters from USS Tarawa (CV-40) fly in formation over the Mediterranean, 15 December 1952.

Today in WW II: 15 Nov 1943 German SS leader Heinrich Himmler orders Gypsies and those of mixed Gypsy blood to be 'on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps'.   

Vought F4U Corsair in World War II

The Vought F4U Corsair first saw combat on 14 February 1943 when F4U-1s in VMF-124 joined P-38s and P-40s to escort B-24 Liberators against the Japanese at Kahili. The raid went so poorly that it came to be known as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," with the Corsair recording only one kill, due to a midair collision.

The Marines, the first branch to use the Corsair, quickly learned to make the most of the aircraft. VMF-124 produced its first Corsair ace, 2nd Lt. Kenneth A. Walsh, in May 1943, and the Corsair soon became the bane of Japanese Zero pilots.

On 26 March 1944, VMF-113 at Marine Corps Station El Toro flew Corsairs as escort for four B-25 bombers in a raid over Ponape. In April, VMF-113 provided air support for landings at Ujelang, and spent the rest of the year attacking Japanese targets on the Marshall Islands. Marine pilots also used the Corsair for bombing and close air support in the Philippines.

The Corsair was most famously used by the "Black Sheep" squadron, VMF-214, under Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington of the Marines. The Black Sheep operated in the Solomon Islands, where Boyington and others became multiple aces in Corsairs.

Famed pilot Charles Lindbergh flew F4Us with the Marines as a civilian technical advisor for United Aircraft Corporation. He helped figure out how to increase the payload and range for the Corsair. Lindbergh even engaged the Japanese during one of his tests.

The Navy finally approved the Corsair for carrier operations in April 1944, though it started combat operations from land in 1943. Pilots struggled with the high nose of the Corsair, and preferred the F6F Hellcat for carrier operations. Navy VF-12 completed deck landing qualification in April 1943, but gave its Corsairs to the Marines. VF-17, assigned Corsairs in April 1943, was removed from its carrier, the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). Marine Corsairs operated from Navy carriers, and the need to protect carriers from kamikaze attacks brought more Corsairs on board.

At the Battle of Okinawa, Corsairs in VMF-312 and VMF-323 fought successfully against the Japanese. Corsairs then operated from land bases on Okinawa, fending off kamikaze attacks on American assets. The Corsair could engage enemy fighters, and deliver munitions such as high-explosive bombs, napalm tanks, and HVAR rockets.

The Corsair flew 64,051 operational sorties during World War II, with 9,581 from aircraft carriers. Corsairs had 2,140 air combat victories versus 189 losses, and dropped 15,621 tons of bombs.

The British Royal Navy modified the Corsair by reducing its wing size to accommodate the limited hangar height in many carriers. Royal Navy pilots took to carrier operations with the Corsair faster than their American counterparts, in part by changing the landing approach technique. British Corsairs first saw action in June 1943, and ultimately served in both Europe and the Pacific theaters.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force operated Corsairs in the South Pacific along side American units. The RNZAF received Corsairs under lend-lease starting in March 1944, and operations began in May 1944. Approximately 424 Corsairs served with the RNZAF, many replacing the outdated Curtiss P-40. But by this time, few Japanese aircraft remained, so RNZAF Corsairs provided close air support for American, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers fighting the Japanese on the ground.

Vought F4U Corsair in the Korean War

The F4U Corsair was primarily used for close air support during the Korean War. The gull wing of the Corsair gave pilots the extra visibility to attack ground targets. The Corsair also engaged Soviet-built Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters, but was no match for the MiG-15 introduced later in the war. The F4U-5N engaged in night fighter operations to protect American forces. For the most part, the Corsair used bombs, cannons, and rockets to attack ground targets.

Vought F4U Corsair Models and Production History

The U.S. Navy contracted with Vought for a prototype in June 1938 based on a request from the Bureau of Aeronautics in February for a single-engine fighter. The prototype, designated the XF4U-1, was designed by Rex B. Beisel at Vought. A prototype of the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp radial engine was adopted, giving the XF4U-1 the largest and most powerful engine at the time, along with the largest wing and propeller of almost any fighter in history.

The XF4U-1 prototype first flew on 29 May 1940, with Lyman A. Bullard Jr. as the pilot. A test flight conducted on 1 October 1938 from Stratford to Hartford in Connecticut was the first time any U.S. fighter flew faster than 400 mph when the Corsair prototype reached 404 mph. In other testing, however, the F4U sustained damage during a power dive and had problems with spin recovery, which Vought corrected. Other improvements involved heavier armament, per a Navy specification in 1940 based on reports of the war in Europe.

The resulting F4U used the 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial, and the largest propeller made, the 13-foot 4-inch Hamilton Standard Hydromatic three-blade propeller. The F4U also had foldable wings, which combined with the high landing gear struts necessary to accommodate the propeller, resulted in the distinctive inverted gull wing shape of the aircraft.

The F4U had many new and advanced features, including aft-retracting landing gear that folded entirely into the aircraft, fuselage panels made of aluminum, and a top speed greater than other Navy aircraft. But these features created technical problems during testing of the prototype, in particular for carrier landings. Vought slowly solved these problems, refining the F4U in the process.

The first production F4U-1 Corsair was delivered on 31 July 1942. The aircraft was significantly faster than the F6F Hellcat and only slightly slower than the P-47 Thunderbolt. The F4U-1 Corsair passed its carrier qualification on the USS Sangamon (CVE-26) on 25 September 1942, and the U.S. Navy released this model to the U.S. Marine Corps. It would be two years before a combination of improvements to the Corsair and training of Navy pilots resulted in the Navy clearing the type for shipboard operations.

A total of 12,571 F4U Corsairs were built, including those after World War II. Demand for the Corsair was so high that Goodyear and Brewster were contracted to produce additional units during the war. The Goodyear Corsairs were designated "FG" and the Brewster, "F3A." When Corsair production ended in 1953, it had the longest production run for any piston-engine aircraft in U.S. history. Major models of the Corsair are as follows.

Model F4U-1

The first production Corsair, the F4U-1, included six .50 cal. machine guns mounted in the wings. The guns and their ammunition took up space that required moving the wing fuel tanks so as to keep them near the aircraft's center of gravity. The tanks were moved ahead of the pilot in the fuselage. This required the addition of self-sealing fuel tanks and 150 pounds of armor plate. Further changes included use of the R-2800-8 Double Wasp engine, addition of an IFF transponder, and use of NACA slotted flaps. Goodyear built a land-based version of the F4U-1 under the designation "FG-1" without folding wings.

The "A" variant of the F4U-1 included many minor changes such as a taller and wider clear-view canopy, a longer tail wheel strut, and a raised cockpit seat. The "A" variant was the first carrier-capable Corsair. Goodyear produced a land-based version, designated the "FG-1A," without folding wings.

The "C" variant appeared in August 1943. Capable of both fighter missions and ground attack, the F4U-1C was used in Okinawa in particular. This variant included a Hispano cannon for ground attack.

The "D" variant was built at the same time as the "C" variant, and appeared in April 1944. It used a new water-injection engine configuration to increase performance. The F4U-1D could also carry double the number of rockets as the F4U-1A as well as fittings for an additional belly fuel tank. The clear-view Malcolm Hood canopy was introduced with this variant, and became standard on all later F4Us.

Model F4U-4

This was the last variant of the Corsair produced during WWII, appearing in late 1944. It used a dual-stage-supercharged engine for added power. The air scoop under the nose and unarmored wing fuel tanks were removed to improve performance. The F4U-4 retained all the armaments of earlier Corsairs.

Model F4U-5

A more powerful and capable version of the Corsair designed based on pilot experience, the F4U-5 first flew on 21 December 1945, after WW II ended. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800-32(E) engine with a two-stage supercharger was adopted. The wings were all metal, a first for the Corsair. Cowl flaps, automatic blower controls, spring tabs for the rudder and elevators, and an updated cockpit were part of the F4U-5 design as well. A total of 223 were manufactured.

Vought F4U-1 Corsair Characteristics

ArmamentSix .50 cal. machine guns mounted in the wings; four HVAR rockets
Bomb load2,000 lbs.
EnginePratt & Whitney 2,250 hp R-2800-8 radial piston
Maximum speed425 mph
Cruising speed185 mph
Range1,015 mi.
Ceiling36,900 ft.
Span41 ft.
Length33 ft. 4 in.
Height16 ft. 1 in.
Weight8,982 lbs. empty; 14,000 lbs. loaded

Vought F4U-4 Corsair Characteristics

ArmamentSix .50 cal. machine guns mounted in the wings; four 20mm AN/M2 cannons; eight HVAR rockets
Bomb load4,000 lbs.
EnginePratt & Whitney 2,450 hp R-2800-18W radial piston
Maximum speed446 mph
Cruising speed185 mph
Range1,005 mi.
Ceiling41,500 ft.
Span41 ft.
Length33 ft. 8 in.
Height14 ft. 9 in.
Weight9,205 lbs. empty; 14,669 lbs. loaded

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the F4U Corsair variant, manufacturing site, and date.

F4U Corsair, Sioux Gateway Airport (Col. Bud Day Field) flying at Air/Ag Expo '09 at the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing, Sioux City, IA, August 2009
F4U Corsair, Sioux Gateway Airport (Col. Bud Day Field) flying at Air/Ag Expo '09 at the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing, Sioux City, IA, August 2009.

F4U Corsair, Sioux Gateway Airport (Col. Bud Day Field) flying at Air/Ag Expo '09 at the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing, Sioux City, IA, August 2009
F4U Corsair, Sioux Gateway Airport (Col. Bud Day Field) flying at Air/Ag Expo '09 at the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling Wing, Sioux City, IA, August 2009.

Vought F4U-4 Corsair (Bureau No. 81712), of Fighter Squadron 791 (VF-791) makes vapor rings with its propeller as it takes off from USS <i>Boxer</i> (CV-21) for a Korean War air strike, 6 July 1951. Note small bombs under the plane's wings
Vought F4U-4 Corsair (Bureau No. 81712), of Fighter Squadron 791 (VF-791) makes vapor rings with its propeller as it takes off from USS Boxer (CV-21) for a Korean War air strike, 6 July 1951. Note small bombs under the plane's wings.

Marine Corps Vought F4U-5 Corsair fighter takes off from from USS <i>Coral Sea</i> (CVB-43), while she was operating in the Mediterranean Sea, November 1950
Marine Corps Vought F4U-5 Corsair fighter takes off from from USS Coral Sea (CVB-43), while she was operating in the Mediterranean Sea, November 1950.

Recommended Books about the Vought F4U Corsair

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