Vought F4U Corsair -27 year legend

By Willie Bodenstein

There are four fighters that will always be synonymous with WWII; the Spitfire, Hurricane, Mustang and Corsair. When in 1938 Chance Vought Aircraft responded to a request for proposals by the USN (United States Navy) for a single engine fighter it had a track record in designing and manufacturing aircraft going back to 1917.

In the years following WWI it was one of the main suppliers of aircraft to the USN and the USAAS (United States Army Air Service). In 1929 its VE-7 trainer made history when it became the first aircraft to take off from the USS Langley, the first American aircraft carrier. The VE-7 was soon followed by the O2U; the first of three legendary aircraft types all bearing the name Corsair.

The Vought Corsair F4U of which 12,571 were built in a production run that spanned 13 years, the longest of any piston engine fighter in U.S. history. Armed with four guns as well as under wing hard points for the carrying of external bombs the F4U went on the serve with distinction during WWII and the Korean War as well as the air forces of numerous countries as well as that of the Air Force of Honduras where it was only retired in 1979.

The XF4U-1 prototype first flew on 12 May 1940 with Lyman A Bullard Junior at the controls. Powered by the twin-row 18 cylinder Pratt & Whitney 1,805 hp (1,346 Kw) it became the first aircraft frame to be fitted with the Double Wasp. Not only was it the most powerful aircraft then constructed it also was fitted with the largest propeller, 4.06 m diameter and had the largest wing of any Navy fighter then in service. In October it became the first U.S. single engine fighter to fly faster than 400 mph (640 km/h) when it achieved an average ground speed of 405 mph (652 km/h).

As was to be expected the testing phase revealed a number of problems. In a full power dive the F4U could reach speeds of up to 550 mph (890km/) but that usually resulted in damage to the access panels and control surfaces. Spin recovery was also a problem and redesigning took time. It was only on 28 December 1942 that it entered service with the USN.

Because of carrier landing problems it initially served in a lesser degree in the USN but found a home with the US Marines operating from land bases. The carrier landing issues were only resolved in late 1944. By then the Corsair was equipped with three .50 calibre machine guns mounted in each wing panel, the fuselage was lengthened, and 150 lb of armour plate and Plexiglas windscreen protected the pilot. The Corsair was ready for war.

The first Marine F4U's arrived during February 1943 at Marine Corps basis in the Solomon Islands and the first engagement took place on the 14 February when during escort duties four P-38s, two P-40s, two Liberators and two Corsairs were lost for the loss of four Japanese Zero. A Corsair that collided mid-air with a Zero was responsible for one of the kills. The new type could not have had a worst start but by May the Marine pilots had gotten used to their new mounts and 2nd Lt. Kenneth Walsh became the first Corsair Ace demonstrating the F4U's superiority over the Japanese Zero. By wars end he had amassed 21 kills.

United Sate Corsairs flew 64,051 operational sorties during the war, only 15% of which were flown from carrier decks. The Corsair ended the war with 2,140 kills for 189 losses, a kill ratio of 11:1.

Barely five years later Corsairs were again in the thick of things, this time deployed to Korea where initially their foes were the piston powered Yak-9, Polikarpov Po-2, Lavochkin La-9s or La-11s and Yakovlev Yak-18s. The tide turned with the introduction of the jet powered Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15. However Marine pilot Captain Jesse Folmar became the only Corsair pilot to shoot down a Mig. A few minutes later he in turn was shot down but bailed out and was rescued. Navy and Marine Corsairs were credited with a total of 12 enemy aircraft downed.

The Corsairs wars were not over. It was by the French in Indochina, Vietnam, Tunisia Algeria and in Egypt during the Suez Canal crisis. In South America it during the so called "Foot Ball" war between Honduras and El Salvador Captain Fernando Soto of Honduras shot down three El Salvadorian aircraft on 17 July 1969. In the morning he shot down a Cavalier Mustang killing the pilot. In the afternoon, he shot down two FG-1s. These combats were the last ones among propeller-driven aircraft in the world. After 27 years the Corsair's fighting days was over.

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