Chance-Vought F4U Corsair
United States | Bell P-39 | Bell P-59 | Bell P-63 | Brewster F2A | P-36 Hawk | P-40 Warhawk | F4F Wildcat | F6F Hellcat | F7F Tigercat | F8F Bearcat | P-38 Lightning | Lockheed P-80 | P-51 Mustang | P-61 Black Widow | P-47 Thunderbolt | F4U Corsair
When one thinks of the war in the Pacific, images of Zeroes and Corsairs come to mind. It is not really correct to call the F4U the most successful shipboard fighter of the war because it never even operated from flattops before mid-1944! It easily outperformed the P-51 Mustang in most regards, although it spent most of its career in WW2 confined to land bases.
Initially, the long nose charicteristic of the F4U was non existent, as in the first prototypes the fuel tanks were behind the pilot and in the wings. The entire airframe was built around the massive R-2800 Double Wasp from Pratt &Whitney. Perhaps the most interesting was the design of the inverted gull wing configuration, which was selected to offer ground clearance for the huge Hamilton Standard propeller that was to be used.
The fighter was first flown on May 29th, 1940, and the prototype was a sensational accomplishment, having maneuverability, speed, and ease of controls. A few months later the early F4U, still in the development stage, broke the speed record for US fighter planes when it achieved 404mph; the first carrier-based aircraft to go over 400mph. Early armament was of one .303-calibre and one .50-calibre machine gun in the nose, firing through the propeller arc, as well as two more .50-calibre machine guns, one in each wing. Many modifications began to take place in late 1941, the first of which was the need more a more heavier armament. Two more .50-calibre machine guns were placed in the wings, making the total to five 50s and one 30. However, to make room for these wing guns, the fuel tanks in the wings had to be removed, and to allow for this loss of fuel a 200 gallong tank was fitted in between the cockpit and the engine, moving the cockpit back three feet and making the 'long nose' appearance so easily recognized today. This resulted in greatyl reduced pilot vision, and the US Navy was not at all pleased in this. For carrier operations, visibility was highly important.
Still, the US Navy ordered about 600 of the fighters in mid-1941, and the first deliveries began in early 1942. They arrived in the Pacific in August of 1942, but the Navy would not use them on any carriers because of the visibility problem. So a Marine Squadron was equipped with the F4Us and operated from land bases. They first saw combat in Feb. 1943.
It was in the hands of Marine pilots that the F4U really earned its fame. Names like Ira Kepford and Pappy Boyington will always be remembered right alongside their F4Us. The Japanese also had appreciation for the F4U; they called the 'Whistling Death.'
In combat operation, the F4U was a very versatile aircraft, armed ultimatly with 6 .50-calibre machine guns and carrying an assorted array of bombs, rockets, and napalm. The later versions of the F4U mounted larger engines capable of speeds like 466mph. Near the end of the war, in later 1944, Corsairs were finally approved for operations from carrier decks and saw combat in some minor battles in the last months of the conflict. They also fought well into the Korean war as fighters and ground attack aircraft. Over 12,000 of the F4Us were built, and sadly, only a small handful remain today.