The Vought F4U Corsair is an American fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought's manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear and Brewster: Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured in 16 separate models, in the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in U.S. history.
Whilst designed as a carrier-based aircraft, its difficult carrier landing performance rendered it unsuitable for Navy use until the carrier landing issues were overcome by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. The Corsair thus came to and retained prominence in its area of greatest deployment land based use by the U.S. Marines.
To accommodate a folding wing the designers considered retracting the main landing gear rearward but, for the chord of wing that was chosen, it was difficult to make the landing gear struts long enough to provide ground clearance for the large propeller. Their solution was an inverted gull wing, which considerably shortened the required length of the main gear legs. The anhedral of the wing's centre-section also permitted the wing and fuselage to meet at the optimum angle for minimising drag, without using wing root fairings. The bent wing, however, was heavier and more difficult to construct, offsetting these benefits.
Numerous technical problems had to be solved before the Corsair entered service. Carrier suitability was a major development issue, prompting changes to the main landing gear, tail wheel and tail-hook. Early F4U-1s had difficulty recovering from developed spins, since the inverted gull wing's shape interfered with elevator authority. It was also found that the Corsair's right wing could stall and drop rapidly and without warning during slow carrier landings. In addition, if the throttle were suddenly advanced the left wing could stall and drop so quickly that the fighter could flip over with the rapid increase in power. These potentially lethal characteristics were later solved through the addition of a small, 6 in -long stall strip to the leading edge of the outer right wing, just inboard of the gun ports. This allowed the right wing to stall at the same time as the left.
Other problems were encountered during early carrier trials. The combination of an aft cockpit and the Corsair's long nose made landings hazardous for newly trained pilots. During landing approaches it was found that oil from the hydraulic cowl flaps could spatter onto the windscreen, badly reducing visibility, and the undercarriage oleo struts had bad rebound characteristics on landing, allowing the aircraft to bounce out of control down the carrier deck. The first problem was solved by locking the top cowl flap down permanently, then replacing it with a fixed panel. The undercarriage bounce took more time to solve but eventually a "bleed valve" incorporated in the legs allowed the hydraulic pressure to be released gradually as the aircraft landed. The Corsair was not considered fit for carrier use until the wing stall problems and the deck bounce could be solved.
Corsair deployment aboard U.S. carriers was delayed until late 1944, by which time the carrier landing problems had been tackled by the British.
In the early days of World War II, Royal Navy fighter requirements had been based on cumbersome two-seat designs, such as the Blackburn Skua (and its turreted derivative the Blackburn Roc) and the Fairey Fulmar, since it was expected that they would encounter only long-range bombers or flying boats and that navigation over featureless seas required the assistance of a radio operator/navigator. The Royal Navy hurriedly adopted higher-performance single-seater aircraft such as the Hawker Sea Hurricane and the less robust Supermarine Seafire, but neither of these aircraft had sufficient range to operate at a distance from a carrier task force. The Corsair was welcomed as a much more robust and versatile alternative.
In November 1943, the Royal Navy received the first batch of 95 Vought F4U-1s, which were given the designation of "Corsair I". The first squadrons were assembled and trained on the U.S. East coast and then shipped across the Atlantic. The Royal Navy put the Corsair into carrier operations immediately. They found its landing characteristics dangerous, suffering a number of fatal crashes, but considered it as the best option they had.
In Royal Navy service, because of the limited hangar deck height in several classes of British carrier, many Corsairs had their outer wings "clipped" by 8 in to clear the deck-head. The change in span brought about the added benefit of improving the sink rate, reducing the F4U's propensity to "float" in the final stages of landing. Despite the clipped wings and the shorter decks of British carriers, Royal Navy aviators found landing accidents less of a problem than they were to be for U.S. Navy aviators, thanks to the curved approach they used: British units solved the landing visibility problem by approaching the carrier in a medium left-hand turn, which allowed the pilot to keep the carrier's deck in view over the the left wing root. This technique was later adopted by U.S. Navy and Marine fliers for carrier use of the Corsair.
The Royal Navy also developed a number of modifications to the Corsair that made carrier landings more practical. Among these are a bulged canopy, raising the pilot's seat 7 in and wiring shut the cowl flaps across the top of the engine compartment, diverting the oil and hydraulic fluid around the sides of the fuselage.
The U.S. Navy received its first production F4U-1 on 31 July 1942, but getting it into service proved difficult. The framed "birdcage" style canopy provided inadequate visibility for deck taxiing. Even more seriously, the machine had a nasty tendency to "bounce" on touchdown, which could cause it to miss the arresting hook and slam into the crash barrier, or even go out of control. The long "hose nose" visibility problem and the enormous torque of the Double Wasp engine also created operational problems.
Carrier qualification trials on the escort carrier USS Sangamon, on 25 September 1942, caused the U.S. Navy to release the type to the United States Marine Corps. At the time 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 that 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.
From February 1943 onward, the F4U operated from Guadalcanal and ultimately other bases in the Solomon Islands. The first recorded combat engagement was on 14 February 1943, when Corsairs of VMF-124 P-40s and P-38s in escorting a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberators on a raid against a Japanese aerodrome at Kahili. 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.
Pilots quickly learned that altitude was paramount. Whoever had altitude dictated the terms of the battle, and there was nothing a Zero pilot could do to change that. The F4U could outperform a Zero in every aspect except slow speed manoeuvrability and slow speed rate of climb. The trick was to avoid getting slow when combating a Zero.
Corsairs were flown by the "Black Sheep" Squadron (VMF-214, led by Marine Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington) in an area of the Solomon Islands called "The Slot". Boyington was credited with 22 kills in F4Us.
One particularly unusual kill was scored by Marine Lieutenant R. R. Klingman , 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 flew up and chopped off the Ki-45's 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 after this aerial ramming attack.
Corsairs also served well as fighter-bombers in the Central Pacific and the Philippines. By early 1944, Marine pilots were beginning to exploit the type's considerable capabilities in the close-support role during amphibious landings. U.S. figures 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 with only 9,581 sorties 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.
During the Korean War, the Corsair was used mostly in the close-support role. The AU-1 Corsair was developed from the F4U-5 and was a ground-attack version which normally operated at low altitudes. There were dogfights between F4Us and Soviet-built Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters early in the war, but when the enemy introduced the MiG-15, the Corsair was outmatched On 10 September 1952, a MiG-15 made the mistake of getting into a turning contest with a Corsair piloted by Marine pilot Captain Jesse G. Folmar, with Folmar shooting the MiG down with his four 20 mm cannon. In turn, four MiG-15s shot down Folmar minutes later; Folmar bailed out and was quickly rescued with little injury.
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