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The Facts Tell The Whole Story

Since the end of the Second World War, there has raged a continuous debate over which was the best overall fighter aircraft to emerge from the conflict. This debate shows no sign of abating to this day. From the school boys of the mid nineteen forties to the aviation scholars of the 1990?s, P-51 advocates argue their case with Spitfire men and Lightning defenders, and so goes the debate forever..........

Or, does it?

While these debates certainly do not lack for passion, they frequently lack accurate analysis of the aircraft in question. There is some solid evidence that strongly supports the argument that the Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair was the finest all around fighter of the war. Certainly it qualifies as the best fighter/bomber.

The F4U-4 arrived in combat early in 1945. Therefore, it had only about six months to establish its combat record against the Japanese. However, the big fighter remained in service throughout the Korean War, where along with the F4U-5, it gained a sterling reputation for delivering ordnance with great accuracy. Indeed, the Corsair earned the respect of enemy pilots flying the MiG-15. Vought's Corsair was a fighter that could not be treated lightly. In a turning fight below 350 knots, the MiG pilot could find himself in big trouble very quickly.

Chance Vought's F4U-4 came about as a development of the F4U-4XA, which was first flown in early April 1944. It was fitted with an up-rated Pratt & Whitney R2800-18W or -42W engine. This powerplant developed 2,450 bhp with water injection. It was also fitted with a four blade hydromatic propeller which provided the necessary efficiency to utilize the greater power. The carburetor inlet was moved from the wing root leading edge to a duct located under the engine. The exhaust stacks had to be re-routed as a result. Armament remained the same as the F4U-1, with six .50 caliber Browning MGs. The limited production F4U-4B was armed with four M3 20mm cannon. Under-wing load capability was substantial. Up to three 1,000 lb. bombs along with eight 5 inch rockets could be carried. Reportedly, it was not unusual to rig the F4U-4 with as much as 6,000 lbs of ordnance. Apparently the robust structure of the Corsair could bear these loads without undue wear and tear on the airframe. Almost certainly, such overloaded Corsairs did not operate from carrier decks, but exclusively from shore bases.

Let?s compare the F4U-4 to its earlier sibling, the F4U-1 so that we can clearly see the improvements made.

Maximum speed:
F4U-1: 417 mph @ 19,900 ft.
F4U-4: 446 mph @ 26,200 ft.

The -4 displays a 29 mph speed advantage, but more importantly, does it at a considerably greater altitude. The F4U-4 is actually 10 mph faster than the P-51D at the Mustang?s best altitude.

Rate of climb:
F4U-1: 3,250 ft/min.
F4U-4: 4,170 ft/min.

While the -4 has a more powerful engine, it also weighs more than the F4U-1. This marked increase in climb rate can be attributed to the more efficient 4 blade propeller as well as the higher power of the up-rated powerplant. The increase moves the Corsair into stellar company with fighters such as the P-38L and the F7F Tigercat. The F4U-4 climbs at a rate 20% better than the P-51D.

There is little doubt that the Corsair was likely the greatest load carrying fighter of its era. There is little to compare to it except perhaps late-war models of the P-47, which still fall somewhat short in maximum load.

We now get to the more subjective aspects of the -4?s performance. Rating a fighter?s flight characteristics is never without pitfalls. What one pilot feels is too stiff, another might describe as firm or secure. As a result, opinions may vary. However, empirical data is certainly the most valuable in determining a fighter?s overall performance. The tangible things such as cockpit layout and visibility are also important, as are the intangible things such as confidence in the airframe to get the pilot home. I will do my best to present the subjective data in an unbiased manner.

In terms of maneuverability, all models of the Corsair were first rate. The F4U-4 was better than the F4U-1 series. Why? More power and better performance in the vertical regime. Very few fighters, even pure fighters such as the Yak-3 could hang with an -4 maneuvering in the vertical. Its terrific climbing ability combined with very light and sensitive controls made for a hard fighter to beat anytime the fight went vertical.

Ease of flight.The Corsair was much less a handful than the P-51 when flown into an accelerated stall, although it was by no means as forgiving as the F6F Hellcat. Torque roll was no worse than most of its high power contemporaries.

The F4U also rolled well. When rolling in conjunction with powerplant torque, in other words, rolling left, it was among the very fastest rolling fighters of the war. In the inventory of American fighters, only the P-47N rolled faster, and only by 6 degrees/second.

In level flight acceleration the F4U-4 gained speed at about 2.4 mph/sec, the P-51D accelerated at about 2.2 mph/sec. The F4U-1 could not keep up with either, accelerating at only 1.5 mph/sec. The real drag racer of American WWII fighters was the P-38L. It gained speed at 2.8 mph/sec. All acceleration data was compiled at 10-15,000 ft at Mil. power settings.

Turning to dive acceleration, we find the F4U-4 and Mustang in a near dead heat. Both the P-47D and P-38L easily out distance the Corsair and P-51D in a dive. Still, these two accelerate better than the opposition from Japan and Germany. Moreover, both the Corsair and the Mustang have relatively high critical Mach numbers allowing them to attain very high speeds in prolonged dives before running into compressibility difficulty. With the exception of early model P-38?s, it was almost always a mistake to attempt to evade American fighters by trying to dive away. This goes for early war fighters as well, such as the P-40 and F4F Wildcat.

There is one story recorded by a Luftwaffe pilot who, while flying a Bf-109F over North Africa tangled with several FAA Martlets (the British name for the F4F). Finding himself alone with a Martlet on his tail, he elected to half roll into a steep dive to shake off the slow flying carrier fighter. Hurtling down in a screaming dive, the German looked over his shoulder and was stunned to see the Martlet (Wildcat) closing with guns blazing. Pulling back on the stick, under heavy G loading, the German eased into a zoom climb. The F4F was still with him firing bursts. As the speed bled down, the Bf-109 began to pull away in a steady rate climb. Had the Brit been a better shot, the German was certain he would have been shot down. He had underestimated the diving ability of the American fighter. Indeed, many of his comrades would do the same over Europe and not be as fortunate as he.

When we look at the turn rates of WWII fighters we stumble upon several factors that determine how well a fighter can turn. Aside from the technical aspects such as wing area and wing loading, we find that some fighters are far more maneuverable at low speeds than at higher velocities. This was very common with Japanese designs. At speeds above 250 mph, the A6M Zero and the Ki-43 Hayabusa (Oscar) could not roll worth a nickel. But at 150 mph, they were two of the most dangerous fighters ever to take wing. It did not take long for Allied pilots to learn to avoid low speed turning duels with the Japanese. Once this rule was established, the light weight dogfighters were hopelessly outclassed by the much faster opposition.

Over Europe, things were somewhat different. The Luftwaffe flew fast, heavily armed aircraft that were not especially suited to low speed turning fights. The Allies had in their inventory the Spitfire, which was very adept at turning fights. The Americans had the P-47, P-38 and P-51. All of which were very fast and at least a match for the German fighters in maneuverability. Especially the P-38 which could out-turn anything the Luftwaffe had and could give the Spitfire pilot pause to consider his own mortality. With the exception of these last two, there was nothing in western Europe that could hang with the F4U-4. Even when including the Soviets, only the Yak-3 could hope to survive a one on one with the Corsair. To do so, the Yak would have to expertly flown. Furthermore, the Yak-3 was strictly a low to medium altitude fighter. Above 20,000 ft its power dropped off rapidly, as did its maneuverability. The Yak-3 in question had better be powered by the Klimov M107A engine and not the low output M105. Otherwise, the speed difference is too great to overcome.

So, perhaps now is a good time to summarize the performance of the F4U-4. Let?s compare it to the aircraft generally believed to be the best all-around fighter of World War Two, the North American P-51D Mustang.

Speed: The -4 was about 10 mph faster than the P-51D at the altitude where the Mustang developed it?s highest speed.
Advantage: F4U-4

Climb: The -4 Corsair was a remarkable climber despite its size and weight. It could out-climb the Mustang by nearly 800 fpm.
Advantage: F4U-4

Maneuverability: The F4U-4 was one of the very best. According to Jeffrey Ethell: "Of all World War II fighters, the Corsair was probably the finest in air-to-air combat for a balance of maneuverability and responsiveness. The -4, the last wartime version is considered by many pilots who have flown the entire line to be the best of them all?.." Indeed, the F4U-4 had few, if any equals at the business of ACM (air combat maneuvering).
Advantage: F4U-4

Armament: Equipped with either six .50 caliber machine guns or four 20mm cannons, the -4 had more than adequate firepower to destroy any aircraft. It was the premier load carrying single engine fighter of the war. It could get airborne with bomb loads exceeding that of some twin engine medium bombers.
Advantage: F4U-4

Survivability: There was no other single engine fighter flown during the war that could absorb greater battle damage than the Corsair and still get home. Even the USAAF admitted that the F4U was a more rugged airframe than the tank-like P-47 Thunderbolt. That is a remarkable admission. The big Pratt & Whitney radial engine would continue to run and make power despite have one or more cylinders shot off. The P-51D, on the other hand, could be brought down by a single rifle bullet anywhere in the cooling system.
Advantage: F4U-4

Useful range: The F4U-4 had roughly the same radius of action as the Republic P-47D-25-RE, which flew escort missions deep into Germany as far as Berlin (the P-47D-25-RE had 100 gallons of additional internal fuel capacity). Yet, the P-51D still maintained a big edge in endurance.
Advantage: P-51D

Ease of flight: Despite gaining the nickname of "Ensign Eliminator", the F4U series tendency to roll under torque was no more difficult to handle than any other high powered fighter of the era. Some who have flown both the Corsair and the Mustang state without hesitation that the P-51 exhibited a greater propensity to roll on its back than did the F4U. Moreover, the Corsair was a far more forgiving aircraft when entering a stall. Although it would drop its right wing abruptly, the aircraft gave plenty of advanced warning of an impending stall by entering a pronounced buffeting about 6-7 mph before the wing dropped. The P-51, however, gave no warning of an impending stall. When it did stall, it was with a total loss of pilot control, rolling inverted with a severe aileron snatch. Recovery usually used up 500 ft or more of altitude. It was not uncommon for Mustangs to spin out of tight turns during dogfights. The F4U could also be flown at speeds more than 30 mph slower than that at which the Mustang stalled. In other words, the P-51 could not hope to follow a Corsair in a low speed turning fight.
Advantage: F4U-4

Outward Visibility: The Corsair provided for very good visibility from the cockpit. However, few if any WWII fighters offered the pilot a better view than the P-51D. The earlier P-51B was inferior to the F4U. Nonetheless, it was the D model that made up the bulk of Mustang production.
Advantage: P-51D

Finally there is an area in which the P-51 cannot compete at all. The F4U was designed to operate from an aircraft carrier. What this provides for is a utility that is unmatched by the better land based fighters of WWII. The ability to operate at sea or from shore can never be over-valued.
Obvious advantage: F4U-4

In conclusion, it would be hard, no, impossible to dismiss the F4U-4 as the leading candidate for the "best fighter/bomber of WWII". Furthermore, there is strong evidence that it very well may be the best piston engine fighter (to see combat) period. Certainly, everyone can agree on this: The F4U-4 Corsair was at the pinnacle of WWII piston engine technology and performance. When people debate the relative merits of the great fighter aircraft of WWII, they would be remiss in not acknowledging the F4U-4 as one of the very best, and in the educated opinion of many, "the best" fighter aircraft to fly into combat in World War II.

Barrett Tillman, Corsair : The F4U in World War II and Korea.
Pilots Manual for F4U Corsair.
Various notes taken from Jeffery Ethell books and articles.
Pilots Manual for the P-51D.

Jordan Publishing

Unless otherwise indicated, all articles Copyright ? Corey C. Jordan 1998.
Reproduction for distribution, or posting to a public forum without express
written permission is a violation of applicable copyright law.
Special thanks to :


Vought F4U Corsair
Earl Swinhart
Aviation Models
The Corsair's distinctive sound, which earned it among the Japanese the nick-name of "Whistling Death", partly because of the engine sound, that was caused by the wing-root inlets for engine air. Shown above is Maj. Gregory Boyington's F4U from VMF-214.

If you?ve never seen a Corsair before, your first glance at the outsized propeller and "bent" wings might leave you with the feeling that either this warbird was assembled from parts that didn?t match or it has met with some sort of disaster. But from all these outsized and mismatched parts came one of WWII?s greatest fighter planes. It could outfight, outclimb and (if need be) outrun any prop driven enemy.

The US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics had a long tradition of issuing proposals for aircraft which pushed the limits of available technology. This stimulated the manufacturers ability to respond with new technology to meet the challenge. When "BuAer" sent its proposal for a high performance, carrier based fighter to United Aircraft Corporation (parent company of Vought-Sikorsky) on February 1, 1938, it seemed the Navy might have pushed technology to the point of giving it a hernia. C. J. McCarthy, who was Vought?s General Manager, called in the company?s chief engineer, Rex Beisel. Rex was one of those people who lived by the old motto "The difficult we do immediately. The impossible will take a week, ten days at the most." An elite team was selected for the development of Vought Design #V-166; Frank Albright as project engineer; Paul Baker as aerodynamics engineer; James Shoemaker as propulsion engineer. Each had an assistant. These engineers submitted their work to Beisel who then integrated it all into a final design.

Early on, Shoemaker chose the Pratt-Whitney R-1830 Wasp air-cooled radial engine because of it?s long history of reliability, and the V-166-A was designed around this engine. But, in 1940, the BuAer?s quest for speed resulted in a switch to the experimental XR-2800-4 version of the Pratt-Whitney Double Wasp, with a two-stage supercharger for the prototype XF4U-1 Corsair. The R-2800 engine was the most powerful engine in the world in 1940, exceeding 100 hp (74.6 kW) per cylinder for each of its 18 cylinders. The change in engines resulted in the design number being changed to Vought Design #V-166-B. The V-166-A was never built.

With the awesome 2,804 cubic inch (46 liter) Double Wasp air-cooled radial engine developing 1,850 hp (1,380.6 kW), the only way to convert that kind of horsepower efficiently into thrust was with a huge Hamilton Standard Hydromatic, 3 blade prop which measured 13 feet 4 inches (4.06 meters) in diameter. And that created a problem of deck clearance for the prop. It seemed either the main landing gear had to be lengthened, or the prop had to be shortened.

Since the landing gear had to be very strong to withstand the pounding of a carrier deck landing, a short, stout leg was required. Also, there wouldn?t be enough room in the wing to properly stow a longer gear. And, if the prop were shortened, much of the horsepower of the Double Wasp would be wasted. So, Vought engineers came up with the distinctive inverted gull-wing design which forever characterized the F4U Corsair. This "bent wing" design allowed the huge prop to clear the deck while providing for a short, stout landing gear. And, as a byproduct, the wing also improved the aerodynamics of the intersection where the wing attaches to the fuselage, boosting the top speed.

It was a very "slick" looking plane using flush riveting and a new technique developed jointly by Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory called "spot-welding". In order to make the Corsair as aerodynamically clean as possible, there was nothing protruding into the air stream. The intake for the turbo-supercharger, intercooler and the oil cooler were located in slots in the inboard leading edges of the wings. Vought designed the fuselage with a circular cross-section which fit snugly over the Pratt-Whitney engine. The F4U was the first Navy craft to have landing gear which retracted flush into the bottom of the wing, though it took some effort. Other craft had retracting gear, but there was always some bulge or part of the wheel exposed. Vought engineers designed the Corsairs wheels to swivel 90? and retract straight back to fit flat inside the bottom of the wing. Two panels then closed over the gear making a perfectly smooth fairing. The idea was to mate the most powerful engine with the smallest, cleanest possible airframe.

F4U's (Corsairs) returning from a combat mission over North Korea circle the USS Boxer as they wait for planes in the next strike to be launched from her flight deck.
A helicopter hovers above the ship.

The XF4U-1 first went aloft on May 1, 1940 and five months later flew the 45 miles (73 km) between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut at a speed of 405 miles per hour (651.8 kph), becoming the first production aircraft to exceed 400 mph in level flight. The US Navy was very pleased with the performance of the Corsair and, in June 1941, ordered 584 copies. Over the next 11 years that figure would grow to over 12,500 F4Us.

Several stumbling blocks developed when carrier trials were held aboard the USS Sangamon and other carriers in late 1941. The biggest problem was the long nose. It stuck out 14 feet (4.27 m) in front of the pilot, and when the Corsair was sitting in take-off position, the nose pointed up at an angle sufficient to block forward vision to about 12? above the horizon. In carrier landings it was practically impossible to see the Landing Signals Officer once the Corsair was lined up with the carrier deck on final approach. Adding to this problem were oil and hydraulic leaks from the engine compartment which seeped past the cowl flaps and smeared the windshield, further restricting visibility.

Landing on a carrier deck required the pilot to have the plane at stall speed just as the tail-hook snagged the deck wire, but this was made very difficult by the wicked stall characteristics of the F4U. Just as stall speed was reached, the left wing tended to drop like a rock. In a deck landing this could cause the landing gear to collapse resulting in injuries to the pilot and severe damage to the aircraft. Assuming luck was with the pilot and he landed intact, the Corsair normally "bottomed out" the shock absorbers as it slammed down on the deck. The resulting recoil caused the plane to bounce high in the air. The tailhook itself sometimes failed to "trap" the plane by engaging an arrestor wire. If this happened on a straight deck carrier it usually meant the aircraft plowed into the planes parked forward. It was said on a straight deck carrier there were only two kinds of landings; a "trap" and a catastrophe!

As the Corsair was thought by the Navy to be unsuitable for carrier duty, it was given to the U.S. Marines for land-based operations where it earned an outstanding combat record. Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia also received the F4U during WWII.

Shown above is a F4U Corsair from US Marines VMF-511, USS Block Island.

It was the British who finally worked out a method of landing the Corsair on their carriers in spite of the visibility problems caused by the long nose. Instead of the normal downwind-crosswind-final approach method, the British simply turned downwind, then made a slow, continuous curve which aligned the Corsair with the deck only at the last second before the aircraft touched down and trapped. This method allowed the pilot to keep the Landing Signals Officer in view right up to the moment the plane was over the fan-tail where the LSO gave the sign to either "cut" or make another attempt.

To alleviate the problem of oil and hydraulic fluid smearing the windshield, the Brits simply wired shut the cowl flaps across the top of the engine compartment, diverting the oil and hydraulic fluid around the sides of the fuselage. Numerous other simple, effective alterations were devised to alleviate the dreadful stall characteristics, landing bounce and tailhook problems (among others), and these modifications were incorporated into the production line. In 1944 the US Navy decided to again try landing the F4U on carriers, and this time succeeded. It turned out to be an extremely wise decision.

As the nature of the war changed, the Corsair also changed. There were seven different dash numbers, some built exclusively for foreign countries (the F4U-7 for the French Aeronavale), and one was never built at all (the F4U-6). Some dash numbers had letter suffixes designating different changes in the airframe, weapons or engine. In addition to Vought, the Corsair was built by the Goodyear Aircraft Company, with a lesser production run by Brewster Aeronautical Corporation.

VMF-214 on Turtle Bay fighter strip, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. VMF-214 poses for a group picture before leaving for Munda. Colonel Gregory Boyington's Black Sheep Squadron.

There were also night fighter versions (designated by the suffix letter "N"), and photo versions (with the suffix "P"). The Corsair underwent over 950 major engineering changes over is lifetime though none changed the distinctive profile of the F4U. Most often, production aircraft were simply pulled off the assembly line and used as test beds. Some of these were designated prototypes with the prefix "X" (such as the "XF4U-3"). By the end of Corsair production 1952, there were 16 separate models on the books.

Depending on which Air Squadron you were in, the F4U had many nicknames: "Hose Nose", "Bent Wing Bird", "Hog" and "Ensign Eliminator", the latter due to it?s stall and landing characteristics. Under the right circumstances, the wing mounted air intakes caused a pronounced whistling sound. For that reason, Japanese ground troops called it "Whistling Death".

Several varieties of the Pratt-Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine were used in the Corsair. Some used a water-methanol injection to increase the power for short sprints. This was called "War Emergency" power and had a suffix "W" after the dash number of the engine. During the Korean War, there were modifications to cope with the extreme cold encountered in that theater. These were designated with the suffix "L" (for "Low" [temp]).

US Navy, VMF-121

The XF4U-1 was of course the original prototype with a greenhouse type canopy and the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-4 radial which delivered 1,850 hp (1,380.6 kW) for take-off and 1,460 hp (1,089.6 kW) at 21,500 feet (6,553.2 meters). It had two .50 cal. (12.7 mm) Colt-Browning machine guns mounted in the nose and each wing held two more for a total of six. Its top speed was 405 mph (651.77 kph). It weighed in at a maximum 10,074 pounds (4,569.4 kilograms) and had a range of 1,070 miles (1,722 km).

The F4U-1 was the first production type. It started rolling off the assembly lines in September 1942. The production "dash one" had some changes made to the canopy for better vision to the rear, though this would continue to be a problem until the advent of the "bulged" canopy introduced in the F4U-1A.

The two Colt-Browning .50s mounted in the nose of the prototype were removed and all six machine guns were mounted in the wings outside the propeller arc which eliminated the need for synchronization. The dash one also featured the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-8 engine. Some were produced with "-8W" engines. Both engines produced 2,000 hp (1,492.5 kW) for take-off, with the water injected -8W producing an extra 250 hp (186.6 kW) for war emergency. Suffix letters for the dash one Corsair ran from "A" to "D" and the "P" photo model.

Five-inch rockets being loaded under the wing of an F4U of MAG-33. Just before take-offs, the safety pins are removed and the rockets are armed. Okinawa, Japan.

F4U-2 was a night fighter version of the dash one. For reasons known only to the US Navy, instead of calling it the "F4U-1N" (a method it used on all succeeding models), they gave it the dash two designation. The dash one was transformed into the dash two by modifying the starboard wing and the radio bay in the fuselage to accept the "XAIA" ("Experimental Airborne Intercept [model] A") radar which was hand-built.

The starboard wing was modified by removing the outboard .50 cal. (12.7 mm) Colt-Browning and altering the wing to support the radar scanner. The radio was removed and placed beneath the pilot?s seat and the radar set was placed in the radio bay. There were other slight modifications such as bore sighting the guns to converge fire at 250 yards (228.6 m) and were angled slightly upward so the pilot could fire without bouncing around in the target?s slip-stream. There were no tracers loaded so as not to blind the pilot when firing. The engine was fitted with exhaust flame dampers. After radar installation, the aircraft weighed 235 pounds less than the standard dash one.

The F4U-3 was a bump in the evolution of the Corsair. The US Navy had for many months kicked around the idea of a high altitude (40,000+ ft) (12,192+ m) version of the F4U. Toward the latter half of 1943, they approached Vought with the scheme and Vought designer Russell Clark went to work molding the Corsair fuselage around the XR-2800-16 Double Wasp engine which was fitted with two Bierman model 1009A turbo-superchargers.

At first the project looked very promising with the engine producing 2000 hp (1,492.5 kW) at 40,000 ft (12,192 m). But defects in the turbo-superchargers caused the project to be dropped after a few copies had been produced and tested. The dash three could be identified by a large intake tube fitted to the belly below the engine.

Shown above is a F4U Corsair from US Marines VMA-323, circa 1952.

The F4U-4 was one of the more important variants of the Corsair. Seven prototypes were built, anticipating the many problems which would arise from the proposed changes. Five F4U-1s were pulled from the production line to be modified into the XF4U-4A, ?4B, ?4C, ?4D and?4E. Two more "FG-1" aircraft (identical to the Vought F4U-1) were pulled from Goodyear?s production line. They were all fitted with the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-18W engine which produced 2,100 hp (1,567 kW) and sported a new four blade prop. The engine also had methanol-water injection which boosted the war emergency power rating to 2,450 hp (1,828 kW) for about five minutes. The 18W engine necessitated changes in the basic airframe to handle the extra power and the turbo air intake was mounted on the inside bottom of the engine cowling (it was called a "chin scoop") while air for the intercooler and oil cooler continued to be drawn from the wing slots. The F4U-4 was clocked at a top speed of 446 mph (717.75 kph) at 26,200 ft (7,985.76 m).

Although it wasn?t designated by the Navy as such, the dash four was a fighter-bomber for all intents and purposes. It had 6 Colt-Browning .50 cal. (12.7 mm) wing mounted machine guns (the F4U-4C substituted four 20 mm cannon), plus it could carry two 1,000 lb (453.6 kg) bombs or eight 5 inch (127 mm) rockets. The first 300 of the production F4U-4Cs were assigned to Marine Air Group 31 and were taken into the Battle for Okinawa aboard the escort carriers Sitko Bay and Bereton. The Army and Marine riflemen who fought that battle on the ground remember the F4U-4 as the "Sweetheart of Okinawa" and it undoubtedly saved many hundreds of their lives.

The prototype "Dash Five" was flown in December 1945, a few months after World War Two had ended. It utilized all the knowledge built up over the war years and major changes were made to upgrade the F4U-5 Corsair. First, the engine was changed to the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-32W. This was called a "Series E" engine and featured a dual supercharger to boost engine power to 2,350 hp (1,753.7 kW) at 26,200 ft (7,985.8 m). War emergency power was boosted to 2,760 hp (2,059.7 kW). The dual supercharger necessitated removing the chin scoop and installing two "cheek" scoops inside the engine cowling.

Due to the higher horsepower, the fuselage was lengthened by 5 inches (127 mm) and the engine angled down about 2? to provide more stability. Until the dash 5, the outer top wing panels and the control surfaces of the Corsair had been fabric covered. At speed, the fabric tended to deform and slow the aircraft by a few miles per hour. The F4U-5 had all fabric surfaces replaced with sheet duralumin to minimize this problem. Armament was the same as the F4U-4.

Shown above is the F4U Corsair of Lt. J.G. Ira Kepford from US Navy VF-17, circa 1944.

A few improvements were made solely for pilot comfort. Cockpit heating was redesigned, controls were made easier to operate and/or automatic. Armrests were installed on the seat, which reclined slightly. With the improvements and the -32W engine, the dash five could operate very comfortably at altitudes approaching 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

The AU-1 project began life as the F4U-6 but was quickly redesignated by the Navy to reflect its ground attack role. The dash six was never built. The AU-1 was produced solely for the US Marines during the height of the Korean War. Deliveries began in January 1952 and a total of 111 were supplied during the year. The AU-1 was powered by an R-2800-83W Double Wasp with a single stage supercharger, developing 2,300 hp (1,716.4 kW) for take off and 2,800 hp (2,089.6 kW) for War Emergency. Extra armor was added for protection from the small arms fire which would be encountered at the lower altitudes where the AU-1 would be working. It?s ground attack role was underlined by the statistics; max take-off weight was almost 10 tons (9071.9 kg) while the service ceiling was only 19,500 ft (5,943.6 m) and the maximum speed was a mere 238 mph (383 kph)! Ground attack required only enough speed to present a difficult target for ground fire and only enough altitude to properly aim it?s weapons.

The AU-1 was armed with 10 rockets or 4,000 lbs (1,814.4 kg) of bombs, in addition to four wing mounted 20 mm cannon with 230 rounds per gun. A fully armed AU was an awesome war machine!

The F3A-1 was produced by the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation and was identical to the F4U-1. Internal management problems at the corporation caused the Navy to end Brewster production in 1944 after over a year in which only 735 aircraft rolled off the Brewster assembly line.

Goodyear produced a number of Corsair models identical to the Vought models. But since it was easier to interrupt Goodyear production than Vought, some experimental models were also constructed. Most notably the F2G series which featured an entirely new engine; the Pratt-Whitney R-4360-4 "Wasp Major". The airframe received significant alterations in order to mount this engine. The Wasp Major could deliver 3,000 hp (2,238.8 kW) for take-off and 2,400 hp (1,791 kW) at 13,500 feet (4,114.8 m). Top speed was 431 at 16,400 ft (4,998.7 m). It was armed with four .50 cal. (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns with 300 rounds per gun, and could carry two 1,600 lb (725.8 kg) bombs on wing pylons. The F2G-1 was the land based version, while the F2G-2 was the carrier model. Although hundreds were on order by August 1945, only 5 examples of each were built due to cancellations at the end of hostilities. All ten of these were sold as surplus, and a few could be found at various air races around the country after the war.

The entire production run of the F4U-7 was tailored specifically for the French Navy (the "Aeronavale"). Ninety-four copies were built and all were sold to the Aeronavale. The dash seven was an upgrade of the AU-1 built specially for ground attack. Production of the dash seven began in June, 1952 and when the last one was delivered to the French in December of that year, the long production run of the Vought F4U Corsair came to an end.

Vought F4U-4 Corsair
Wing span: 41 ft (12.5 m)
Length: 33 ft 8 in (10.3 m)
Height: 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m)
Wing Area: 314 sq ft (29.17 sq m)
Empty: 9,205 lb (4,175.3 kg)
Gross: 12,420 lb (5,633.6 kg)
Maximum Take-Off: 14,670 (6,654.2 kg)
Maximum Speed: 446 mph (717.75 kph) @ 26,200 ft (7,985.8 m)
Cruise Speed: 000 mph (000 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 41,500 ft (12,649.2 m)
Normal Range: 0,000 miles (0,000 km)
Maximum Range: 1,560 mi (2,510.5 km)
One Pratt-Whitney R-2800-18W Double Wasp eighteen-cylinder radial
engine, developing 2,100 hp (1,567 kW) for take-off, 1,950 hp (1,455 kW)
@ 23,300 ft (7,101.8 m), 2,450 hp (1,828.4 kW) for "War Emergency".
Six .50 cal (12.7 mm) Colt-Browning M2 machine guns (some variants had four 20mm cannon) and two 1,000 lb (453.6 kg) bombs or eight 5 in (127 mm) rockets.

Additional Notes:

When the Korean conflict began, VMF(N)513 was sent from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) El Toro with twelve F4U5(N)s to Atsugi, Japan. They flew night interdiction missions from Atsugi until southern South Korea was cleared. VMF(N)513 then moved to K-1 airfield near Pusan. By that time the 38th parallel was secured as a front. VMF(N)513 then covered three roads coming from North Korea during night hours. A navy PB4Y2 flew from Japan and dropped flares over these roads so that the F4Us could work underneath, attacking trucks, tanks, trains, and troop movements. The F4U5(N)s were equipped with 20mm cannons in the wings, four bomb/rocket racks under each wing. Additionally they could carry, one drop fuel tank and two napalm tanks. A radar dome was mounted in the right wing. Radar was extremely useful in these operations. These flights were very effective in slowing down traffic to the front lines.

Additional duties included night time scramble alerts at K-14 (Kyongsong) to meet aircraft intrusions from the North. There were some "In Close" air support flights to the front line units. A few planes were equipped with special equipment for MPQ flights during day light hours. In late 1950, VMF(N)542 transferred twelve Grumman F7Fs Tigercats to VMF(N)513 which then gave the squadron twelve F4Us and twelve F7Fs.

In late 1951, VMF(N)513 moved to K-6 (P'Yong'taek) and remained there until McDonnell F-3D Demons replaced all the F4Us and the F7Fs to the end of the conflict.

"WF" were the letters painted on the vertical stabilizers.

I Raymond M. Smith Major, USMC retired, flew the F4U-4B and the F4U5(N) at MCAS Cherry point NC and MCAS El Toto as well as in Korea with VMF513 during 1950 and 1951. I flew all the different missions mentioned above. Decorations I received in Korea included the Air Medal with three gold stars, and one Distinguished Flying Cross.

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