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Vought F4U Corsair

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The F4U Corsair was one of the best naval fighters of the Second World War. Serving mainly with the United States Marine Corps, United States Navy and Fleet Air Arm. Six different variants of the aircraft would go into production with a number being built by Brewster and Goodyear. Remaining in service into the 1950s the Vought F4U Corsair also played a role in the Korean War, scoring a victory against the formidable MiG-15 jet fighter.

Quick Facts
Vought F4U Corsair side profile image
First flight
29th May 1940
Entered service
28th December 1942
Total built

Front view
F4U Corsair front view photo
Side view
F4U Corsair side view photo
Rear view
F4U Corsair rear view photo

During 1938 the United States Navy Bureau of Aeronautics requested proposals for both single and twin-engined fighters. Responding to the single engined fighter request Rex Beisel and his design team set about building an airframe that could accommodate the 1,805-hp Pratt & Whitney XR-2800 Double Wasp, at the time the most powerful engine, whilst making the aircraft as small as possible, and this was given the Vought identification of V-166B. The resulting propeller used had a large diameter that allowed it to use the full power of the Pratt & Whitney engine, however this posed a problem as by using a conventional wing it would result in a tall, stalky landing gear which wouldn't be suitable for carrier operations. As a result the Corsair's distinctive gull wing was conceived enabling a short landing gear, the V-166B became the first United States Navy aircraft to feature a fully retractable landing gear, whilst keeping drag at a minimum and was foldable for storage on carriers. The USN received the design so it could be evaluated and on the 30th June 1938 a single prototype of the new aircraft now designated XF4U-1 was ordered.

On the 29th May 1940 piloted by Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. the XF4U-1 flew for the first time and when the aircraft reached 21,500ft it lost around 400-hp compared to its take off horsepower. However the XF4U-1 showed outstanding performance from the very first test, and on the 1st October 1940 during a flight from Stratford to Hartford, Connecticut the aircraft became the first US fighter to fly faster than 400 mph during level flight when it achieved a speed of 404 mph. The United States Navy placed an order for 584 F4U-1s on the 30th June 1941.

Making its first flight on the 25th June 1942 the first production F4U-1 featured a few modifications to the aircraft including a bullet-proof windscreen, more armour and a brand new engine the Pratt & Whitney 2,000-hp R-2800-8 Double Wasp. This gave the aircraft a top speed of 395 mph, range of 1,000 miles and a service ceiling of 37,000 ft. Armament consisted of six 0.50-in machine-guns. Just over a month later on the 31st July the first F4U-1 Corsairs were handed over to the United States Navy. It would not be until the 28th December 1942 that the Corsair would enter service when United States Marine Corps Squadron VMF-124 was declared operational.

It was the United States Marine Corps who would take the aircraft into action via its land based squadrons, when on the 13th February 1943 USMC Squadron VMF-124 was involved in operations at Guadalcanal, with its first air-to-air combat occurring the following day losing two of its aircraft. Whilst all this was going on Vought had orders for a large number of Corsairs to be produced and so to speed up production two more production lines were set-up. One at Brewster, these would be designated F3A-1, and the second production line was at Goodyear with these aircraft being designated FG-1.

Under the Lend-Lease agreement Corsairs were delivered to the Fleet Air Arm during June 1943. The Fleet Air Arm received both the F4U-1 and the F4U-1A which they re-designated Corsair Mk I and Corsair Mk II respectively. Forming on the 1st June 1943 at Naval Air Station Quonset Point, No. 1830 Naval Air Squadron would be the first to receive this new type. Working under United States Navy supervision they familiarised themselves with the Corsair before being shipped to the UK aboard an escort carrier. More squadrons became operational in this manner during 1943 whether at Naval Air Station Quonset Point or Naval Air Station Brunswick, and by the time the Second World War (1939 - 1945) ended nineteen squadrons had been formed in this way.

Whilst Corsair Mk Is were able to enter Fleet Air Arm service with minimal changes the same could not be said for the Corsair Mk II, with 8 inches taken off each wing to enable below deck storage and fittings to enable a drop tank to be fitted and wing mounted rockets were added. A bulged canopy was also fitted to allow the pilot to get a better forward view by raising his seat 7 inches. The Brewster built F3A-1D and Goodyear built FG-1D would also see service with the Fleet Air Arm being designated Corsair Mk III and Corsair Mk IV respectively.

It would be No. 1834 Naval Air Squadron operating Corsair Mk IIs off HMS Victorious (R38) who would use the aircraft operationally for the first time with the Fleet Air Arm when on the 3rd April 1944 they escorted the carrier's Fairey Barracudas when they attacked the German battleship Tirpitz at Kaafjord, Norway as part of 'Operation Tungsten'.

Vought had started work on a night fighter version which was to be designated F4U-2 however only one XF4U-2 was built due to existing commitments meaning that Vought was unable to produce the aircraft. F4U-1s were instead to be modified by the Naval Aircraft Factory with Airborne Interception radar installed at the expense of two guns and a radome placed on the starboard wingtip, these would be designated F4U-2. The top speed of the aircraft was 425 mph with a range of 1,015 miles and a service ceiling of 37,000 ft. Armament was four 0.50-in machine-guns.

Designed as a high altitude interceptor the XF4U-3 never went past the prototype stage. This was due to the unreliability of the superchargers being tested on the engine. So it was the F4U-4 which was to be the final production Corsair built during the Second World War, featuring a modified canopy and cockpit, an armoured seat and either the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W or 42W engine. This was an improvement on its predecessors with a top speed of 446 mph, range of 1,560 miles with a service ceiling of 41,500 ft. Armament was back to the six 0.50-in machine-guns whilst two 1,000lb bombs or eight 5-in rocket projectiles could also be carried and this entered service with the United States Navy on the 31st October 1944. A number of designated F4U-4Bs had been due to serve with the Fleet Air Arm, however these would be kept by the United States for their use.

The postwar years saw the XF4U-5 prototype appear in 1946 powered by a 2,300-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-32 engine leading to the F4U-5. This had a top speed of 470 mph, range of 1,120 miles and a service ceiling of 41,400 ft. Armament changed from 0.50-in machine-guns to four 20mm cannons alongside either 500lb bombs or eight 5-in rocket projectiles.

A prototype powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83W and designated XF4U-6 appeared. With a number of changes including more armour protection and the ability to carry more weapons underwing, however in service with the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War (1950 - 1953) they were re-designated AU-1. Top speed was 389 mph with the range and service ceiling being identical to the F4U-5. Armament was four 20mm cannons and upto 4,600lb bombs or ten 5-in rocket projectiles.

The last production Vought F4U Corsair was the F4U-7 which similar to the AU-1 but with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W engine giving the aircraft a top speed of 446 mph, range of 1,005 miles with a service ceiling of 41,500 ft. Armament consisted of four 20mm cannons and either one 1,000lb bomb or two 500lb bombs or eight 5-in rocket projectiles. These would serve with the French Navy before being retired in 1964.

Serving with distinction in the Second World War with the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Fleet Air Arm and Royal New Zealand Air Force and seeing service in the Korean War, with a Corsair piloted by Captain Jesse Folmar shooting down a MiG-15 jet fighter on the 10th September 1952. By the time the last production F4U-7 rolled off the line a total of 12,571 Vought F4U Corsairs had been built between 1942 and December 1953.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
F4U-1 395 mph 1,000 miles 37,000 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
F4U-1A side profile image
F4U-2 425 mph 1,015 miles 37,000 ft four 0.50-in machine-guns
F4U-3 Cancelled project.
F4U-4 446 mph 1,560 miles 41,500 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
two 1,000lb bombs or
eight 5-in rocket projectiles
F4U-4 side profile image
F4U-5 470 mph 1,120 miles 41,400 ft four 20mm cannons
5,000lb bombs or
eight 5-in rocket projectiles
F4U-6 389 mph 1,120 miles 41,400 ft four 20mm cannons
4,600lb bombs or
ten 5-in rocket projectiles
Re-designated later on as AU-1
F4U-7 446 mph 1,005 miles 41,500 ft four 20mm cannons
and either one 1,000lb or
two 500lb bombs or
eight 5-in rocket projectiles
FG Designation given to Goodyear built Corsairs.
F3A Designation given to Brewster built Corsairs.


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See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

FG-1A Fleet Air Arm Museum
FG-1D Imperial War Museum, Duxford

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