The Corsair was conceived in 1938 in response to US Navy-sponsored competition for a carrier-based fighter with performance equal to those based on land. The brainchild of Rex Beisel, it was the first single-engine aircraft to exceed 400mph in level flight. Over a ten year production run, more than 12,500 airframes were built. Its passing marked the end of the piston-engined fighter in American service.
Probably the most important version was the F4U-1. The prototype, designated XF4U-1, first flew on May 29, 1940. The first production aircraft's first flight was June 25, 1942. It was delivered to the US Navy on July 31, 1942. However, its carrier qualifications aboard the USS Sangamon on September 25, 1942 were less than a resounding success, and the aircraft were passed on to the Marine Corps. The first Marine squadron to be equipped with Corsairs was VMF-124. They became operational on December 28, 1942, and flew their first combat mission on February 11, 1943 on Guadalcanal. The Corsair saw its first aerial combat a few days later on February 14. By August, all Marine fighter squadrons had converted to the "Bent-Wing Bird." Eventually, in April 1944 the aircraft was accepted by the US Navy for carrier service, with some modifications.
The F4U-1 was identifiable by its three bladed propeller. Vought built 2814, Goodyear 2010 designated FG-1, and Brewster 735, designated F3A-1. The -1A featured an improved canopy with reduced framing, and a seat raised approximately seven inches. After aircraft number 1550, the engine was changed to the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8W, with water/methanol injection. This provided a war emergency power rating of 2250Hp. The -1B was a -1A produced for Britain. Six inches were clipped from each wingtip to facilitate storage aboard British carriers, which had lower hangar ceilings than their American counterparts. The -1C replaced the six .50 caliber machine guns with 4 x 20mm Hispano M2 (Mk. II in British service) cannon. Two hundred were built, with production ending in April 1945. The -1D was an important variant. It incorporated at the factory field modifications that allowed for the external carriage of bombs under the inner wing sections and fuselage centerline. Lastly, the -1P was a field modification to carry a K-21 camera in the rear fuselage.
Next came the F4U-2. This was a nightfighter, using M.I.T.'s AIA (Airborne Intercept Radar). Thirty four were modified from -1As at the factory, and two more were converted in the field by VMF(N)-532. The radar was mounted in a pod on the right wing. To counterbalance this, one gun was removed from the opposite wing and the overall ammunition load was reduced. Also, flame dampers were added to the exhaust stacks, and a radio altimeter and autopilot were installed. The F4U-2 was operated by VMF(N)-532, VF(N)-75, and VF(N)-101. VF(N)-101 was also the first squadron to operate nightfighters from a carrier.
The F4U-3 was a proposed high-altitude version of the Corsair. Using an XR-2800-16 engine with a 1009A turbosupercharger was to have allowed full rated power of 2000Hp up to 40,000 feet. Three XF4U-3's were built. Additionally, one FG-1A was converted, and twelve FG-3's were built. First flight of this variant was on April 22, 1944.
The next major derivative was the F4U-4. It was powered by a R-2800-18W, and later a -42W. The -42W had a war emergency power rating of 2760HP. Both engines were coupled to a new four-blade prop. The -4 also had a flat windscreen, redesigned canopy, armored seat, and re-organized instrument panel. 2050 F4U-4's were built. This included 297 -4B and -4C's fitted with 4 x 20mm cannon instead of 6 x 0.50cal machine guns, 1 -4N nightfighter, and 9 -4P, a photo recon modification. The last rolled off the assembly line in August 1947.
Perhaps the ultimate variant was the F4U-5. It featured a redesigned cowl, all metal outer wing panels, and a standard armament of 4 x 20mm cannon. The engine was the 2675HP R-2800-32W. The first XF4U-5 flew on April 4, 1946. 223 were built. The other subtypes included the -5N nightfighter, the -5P photo recon, and the -5NL, a -5N equipped for Low temperatures as in Korea. 214 -5N's were built, using either the AN/APS-6 or AN/APS-19A radar's in a starboard wing radome ala F4U-2. 30 -5P's were built, and 101 -5NL's. The production run ended in October 1951.
The F4U-6 was the original designation for the AU-1. No -6's were ever built under that name.
The F4U-7 was built specifically for the French Navy. It was powered by the R-2800-15W, and was based on the F4U-4B. 94 were built, ending Corsair production on December 24, 1952. This Corsair featured a raised pilot's seat, and was finally retired from French service in 1964.
The AU-1 was a ground-attack version based on the -5NL. It had a R-2800-83WA producing 2800Hp. It featured increased armor overall, and carried 4 x 20mm cannon, each with 231 rounds. Additionally, 10 stub pylons, up from 8, were fitted under the outer wing panels for the carriage of 5 inch rockets. However, it was a poor flyer, and 111 were built during production from February to October 1952.
The F2G was a low-altitude interceptor by Goodyear based on a -1D. It used a Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major 4-row radial, producing 3000Hp. Since the new engine was longer, the cowl was lengthened. The more powerful engine and longer nose required greater tail area. The most distinguishing feature was the bubble canopy. Five land based F2G-1 and five F2G-2 with hydraulic folding wings were built. 418 were ordered, but the order was canceled after VJ day. It was a disappointment, being slower than a -5, and had lateral control problems.
The Corsair fared well in aerial combat, downing 2140 enemy for the loss of 189, a kill ratio of 11.3:1. Other losses included 349 downed by anti-aircraft fire, 164 in landing accidents, and 992 for other reasons. This totals to 1694 aircraft lost, out of 12,571 airframes built. It flew a total of 64,051 missions during WWII. 54,470 of these were from land bases, while the remaining 9581 were off of carriers. To conclude, the Corsair line had numerous spin-offs, and reached its zenith with the F4U-4. The aircraft served with the US, Britain, France, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina during WW2, Korea, The Suez Crisis, over French Indochina and Algeria. Additionally some served in other Central and South American air forces, including that of Honduras.
The Corsair had a multitude of nicknames. These included "The Ensign Eliminator," based on its tendency to snap roll at low altitude when mishandled by inexperienced pilots, "The Bent-Wing Bird," from its inverted-gull wing, "Old Hose-Nose," from its long nose, "Whistling Death", given by the Japanese from the sound made by air flowing over the ducts on the inboard wing leading edges, "Sweetheart of Okinawa," from its outstanding service there, "The Hog," from its overall size and weight, and "The Great Iron Bird" (thanks to WWII Corsair Pilot Don Wilson for that one!).
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