Vought F4U "Corsair"

The Corsair, in its various versions and various origins of manufacture (Vought, Goodyear and Brewster) has always been my favorite USN/Marine fighter of WWII. What's not to love? It has speed, looks, good load-carrying capacity, armament, survivability... The list goes on. And does it have a BIG propeller!

The Corsair was produced longer than any other piston fighter in our history: the production run of the first operational model (F4U-1) began in 1942 and the last Corsair was manufactured in 1952. The first and last production Corsairs had many similarities (R-2800 engine of one version or another, inverted gull wing, cockpit a country mile behind the nose, and the vertical tail well forward of the horizontal tail, to name a few) but they were different. The last of the line, the F4U-7, had a different cowling (bulges for air intakes for various needs) which had evolved over the years from the clean, perfectly circular cowling of the first models.

The Japanese gave the Corsair a name that meant "Whistling Death." The first Corsairs had all of their air intakes in the root of the wing. Because of six flow-splitters per side in these intakes, the purpose of which was to "bend" the airflow 90 to get it to the general direction of the engine components (supercharger air intake and intercooler) and another angle to get it to the oil cooler, etc, a whistling noise was generated. Later versions of the Corsair with either one "chin" (e.g. F4U-4)or two "cheek" intakes (e.g. F4U-5) still had air intakes in the wing roots, but because the chin or cheek intakes "scooped" in a great deal of the air needed by the big P&W radial, the whistling sound was considerably diminished. I, personally, think that the F4U-1s and -2s (and their Goodyear or Brewster counterparts) are the most attractive of the Corsair family. At the Wings Over Houston Airshow recently (10/17/98), we were blessed with the presence of an F4U-1 or -2 and an F4U-5N (read on to the end for a dream-come-true ~ well, at least one of Tom's dreams came true). They both flew and maybe because they probably didn't fly much faster than 250 Kts, they both sounded the same. I guess the "whistling" doesn't start till they build some real speed, like in a dive. Still, it never ceases to amaze me that with basically the same engine as the F6F and P-47 that performed at the airshow, the three big fighters still have their own, individual sound signatures.

I'm still looking into finding out more about the Corsair that was produced with the gigantic P & W R-4360 28-cylinder engine. It had a bubble canopy and was developed to be a kamakazi-chaser in the late stages of WWII. It was designed to be a low-altitude performer. The plane, while not as elegant as the F4U-1 (or its Goodyear and Brewster equivalents), was still a Corsair and worthy of being mentioned.

I would be remiss if I left out the Corsairs that flew in the Korean War. One Corsair variant, the AU-1, was an attack version (single-stage supercharger on the engine - all that would be needed for the relatively low-altitude work of the Corsair) and was supplied in relatively small numbers (about 110) to the USMC mostly. They boasted extra armour-plating to protect the engine, fuel, pilot, etc. They also reverted back to the perfectly-round cowling. The various air intakes moved back to the wing root. They were armed with four 20 mm cannons, carried 10 rockets on underwing racks and could carry as many as four 1,000 pound bombs. Top speed of this relatively unknown Corsair was nearly 440 mph at 9,500 feet. I've taken the time and words to describe this relatively rare Corsair because we sometimes forget just how long this fighter served our nation and the roles in which it served. The other basic type was the F4U-4 in both day and radar-equipped night versions.

The French air force was flying the -7 model (the last of the Corsair line) even into the early 60's. El Salvador and Honduras were even flying their Corsairs against each other in a 1969 war - man, now that just had to be confusing to each side! I imagine a pilot from either side seeing the unmistakable Corsair profile coming at them and wondering, "friend or foe?"

I gleaned some of the finer points of Corsair history from Frederick A. Johnsen's "F4U Corsair" section of one of my favorite books (it's also easily my biggest, about 10" x 14" x 2") The Great Book of World War II Airplanes, which features photos and outstanding artwork by the Japanese artist, Rikyu Watanabe. Much of my ramblings on about the Corsair and every other plane described and discussed I've picked up here and there ever since I was a little boy, some learned by reading and some by talking to my heroes, ex-wartime aviators.

One of my favorite stories was told to me by a pharmaceutical salesman, Charlie Pribyl (I hope that I got his last name spelled correctly!) back in 1977 or thereabouts. Charlie had been a Marine Corsair pilot before WWII ended and when the Korean War started, he was recalled into the service. He was in California when he was finally ready to ship out to Korea as a Corsair pilot again. He had a few days leave and hitch-hiked his way back towards the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois to see his family one last time before shipping out. He "hitch-hiked," as in, caught rides on military aircraft. He got as far as an airbase in either Arizona or New Mexico (my mind is failing me, but it was one of them!) and as the clock kept ticking, he scrounged up a Corsair that had been left behind by another Marine or Navy pilot. He found out that it was airworthy from the groundcrew, so he had them gas it up and he was on his way home! Because Charlie had been hitting the coffee all day long, Mother Nature called while he was somewhere between where he picked up the Corsair, and home. Being an experienced Corsair-man, Charlie reached down for the relief-tube and to his amazement, it crumbled between his fingers, a victim of dry-rot or something like that. Anyway, Charlie being the intrepid airman that he was, remembered that a Corsair is a carrier plane and he told me something that I had never been told: Carrier airplanes (at least during WWII and Korea) came equipped with heavy leather gloves that the pilot was supposed to put on before landing. He said that they were to protect your hands from being burned in case you had to pull yourself out of a burning cockpit from a landing mishap, etc. Anyway, Charlie looked in the storage pocket where they were supposed to be stowed, and there they were! He made good use of one of them (I imagine that the Corsair didn't fly very straight and level while this exercise was going on) and then had to decide what to do with it. He cranked back the canopy just ever so slightly, and put the open end of the now-full glove through the "crack" between the front of the canopy and the back of the windshield frame, and the slipstream obligingly vacuumed the contents out of the glove. I never asked Charlie what he did with the glove afterwards.

This is the dream-come-true promised paragraphs earlier. I added this in April, 1999. Last month (3/20/99), Louise and I, along with daughter Sarah and her man, Kenny, attended the Lone Star Flight Museum's Members' Appreciation Night. We got to touch the planes, tour the inside of the B-17, etc, etc. Among their many warbirds, they have the beautiful, award-winning F4U-5N of which I have several photos on this page. One of the pilots was standing on the starboard wing, helping little kids climb up into the cockpit using the various steps and the hand-hold on that side of the fuselage. The oldest kid must have been only 8 or 9. I asked him if a "big kid" could get in there too, and he said that I could! I handed the trusty Canon AE-1 over to Sarah and nervously climbed up the side of the fuselage, using the steps and hand-hold. I got my right and left feet mixed up (you've gotta start off with the correct foot in the retractable step that extends down from the fuselage when the landing gear are extended [a new fact that I learned that night]) and if I hadn't have come back down to the hangar floor (NOT back down to earth, because I was in Heaven!), it would have been like the first (and ONLY) time that I rode a horse - I'd have wound up facing backwards! Anyway, the pilot patiently got me to switch feet and in no time, I was sitting in the seat of this magnificent Corsair! Everything was so cramped in there - even if I wasn't on the tall side, it still would have seemed very cramped - much more so than our little Cessna 150 back in Crockett. I obliged the pilot and didn't touch anything. Sarah and Louise were taking photos from the hangar floor, but none will be necessary - I've got a bunch of them in my tiny mind. I was in there, maybe two minutes, asking the pilot about such things as how do you raise the seat to help you see forward over the seemingly endless nose of the beast. I knew the answer already - you still have to S-turn to taxi to keep from hitting things on the ground. Well, the next thing I know, Louise is telling me that I needed to let the next kid up there. Hell, I had flamed only 4 Zeroes during my mission - one short of becoming an ace! Next time I have a chance, I'll down one more plane!

...and the party goes on forever! This was added in March, 2000. Late last month, I was home in the kitchen (it was a Friday afternoon - thank God I'm off on Friday afternoons, usually!) and while I'm always listening for low-flying aircraft (luckily we don't live too far from the Victoria, TX airport) I generally hear the flat recip engines, turboprops and the occasional jet, this time I heard the rumbling roar of Heavy Iron - undoubtedly radials! I ran outside, to be happily surprised by a Corsair and Wildcat, flying in side-by-side formation over my house, obviously setting up for one of our runways at VCT. I ran back into the house, told Louise that I was going to the airport because a Corsair and Wildcat were most likely landing. I jumped into my car (the camera's always in the trunk and ready to go!). I got to the airport just after the F4U-1 landed, but not before it and the FM-2 taxied up to the FBO to refuel. They were flying from Cavanaugh Air Museum in Dallas, TX down to an airshow in Brownsville, TX as I was told by the pilots and the passenger(!) in the Corsair (there's a "jump-seat" installed behind the pilot's seat in this F4U - small windows are also provided behind the standard canopy - it looked kinda snug!). I shot about 24 photos, four of which have been added behind the last photo of the F4U-5N's prop hub close-up. The chance does NOT come up very often, to be able to take close-up outdoor photos of two of my favorite 'birds without scores of people, vehicles, etc in the way or in the background. The sounds were wonderful, too. And to make my day more fun, I got to pull the chocks from the right wheels on the F4U AFTER the engine had been fired up, just prior to it and the FM-2 taxiing out to take off. I was in a full-blown hurricane, even with the engine idled down! To quote Fred Astaire from his song Dancing Cheek to Cheek , "heaven, I'm in heaven..." Or, at least I was when I was that close to a running P & W R-2800!

All photos by Tom Griffith...

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