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Vought F4U Corsair

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Despite a disappointing start in operational service the Corsair would go on to become one of the best naval fighters serving with the United States Navy and Fleet Air Arm. Continuing in service long after the end of World War 2 a Vought F4U Corsair even managed to score a victory against the formidable MiG-15 jet fighter during the Korean War.

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

The Corsair come to life during 1938 when the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics requested proposals for both single and twin-engined fighters. Responding to the single engined fighter request Tex 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 plane as small as possible, and this was given the Vought identification of V-166B. By using this engine 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 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, similar to the Junkers Ju 87 wing, enabling a short landing gear whilst keeping drag at a minimum and was foldable for storage on carriers. Armament was one 0.50-in machine-gun per wing and a 0.50-in and 0.30-in machine gun in the forward fuselage decking. The V-166B also become the first United States Navy (USN) plane to feature a fully retractable landing gear which operated in a similar manner to the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk. The USN received the design so it could be evaluated and on the 30th June 1938 a single prototype of the new plane now designated XF4U-1 was ordered.

On the 29th May 1940, just under two years after the prototype was ordered, the XF4U-1 flew for the first time and the plane differed a little from the prototype although when the plane reached 21,500ft it lost around 400-hp compared to its take off hp. 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 plane became the first US fighter to fly faster than 400 mph during level flight when it achieved a speed of 404 mph.

As with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the North American P-51 Mustang the Vought Corsair benefited from reports of combat in Europe and changes to the plane were made in response to this information. The front fuselage machine-guns were removed and two more 0.50-in machine-guns were installed in each wing bringing armament to a total of six 0.50-in machine-guns. As the space required for the extra armament dictated the removal of the leading edge fuel tanks a fuselage tank was installed and this lead to the pilots cockpit being moved three foot back to allow the newly installed fuel tank to be located as close as possible to the plane's centre of gravity. The USN accepted this modified prototype during February 1941 before placing an order for 584 F4U-1s on the 30th June.

Making its first flight on the 25th June 1942 the first production Corsair featured a few more modifications to the plane including a bullet-proof windscreen and more armour, and a brand new engine the 2,000-hp R-2800-8 double wasp engine. And 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.

The Vought Corsair suffered a set back when the USS Sangamon (CVE-26) carried out trials of the plane to asses its carrier potential, but with poor forward visability being a primary concern, it was decided that this new plane was unsuitable for deployment on aircraft carriers. Despite the cockpit being raised by 7 inches and other modifications to improve the planes suitability, with planes that were modified in this way designated F4U-1A, it was not until April 1944 that the USN would finally allow the Corsair to be used aboard its aircraft carriers. So it was the USMC who would take the plane 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 planes. Although in April 1943 VF-17 became the first Corsair F4U-1A squadron in operational use with the USN. 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, Long Island City, these would be designated F3A-1 and the second production line was at Goodyear with these planes being designated FG-1 and had fixed wings instead of folding wings.

Under the lend-lease agreement Corsairs were delivered to the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) during June 1943. The FAA 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 the USN base at Quonset, FAA Squadron No. 1830 would be the first to receive this new type. Working under USN supervision they familiarised themselves with the Corsair before being shipped to the UK aboard an escort carrier. Seven more squadrons became operational in this manner during 1943 whether at NAS Quonset or NAS Brunswick, and by the time the Second World War ended nineteen squadrons had been formed in this way. The Corsair had provided the FAA with a more versatile alternative aircraft to the planes previously used such as the two-seat Blackburn Skua and Fairey Fulmar, which provided the range need for carrier operations but lacked performance so the FAA used higher performances planes such as the Supermarine Seafire and Hawker Sea Hurricane which lacked the range, which made the Vought Corsair a welcome addition to the FAA. Whilst Corsair Mk Is were able to enter FAA 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 FAA being designated Corsair Mk III and Corsair Mk IV respectively.

So flying for the FAA No.1834 Squadron operating Corsair Mk IIs off HMS Victorious would use the plane operationally aboard an aircraft carrier for the first time when on the 3rd April 1944 they were part of an escort force to Fairey Barracuda bombers when they attacked the Tirpitz at Kaafjord, Norway.

The F4U-1C was the next version to be produced during August 1943 by which time a new R-2800-8W engine had been introduced, there was a F4U-1B but this was used to designate F4U-1s modfied for use by the FAA, its armament of six machine-guns was replaced by four 20-mm cannons, although the following F4U-1D reverted back to the armament of six 0.50-in machine-guns due to the weight of the cannons affecting the Corsairs performance. The F4U-1D had the ability to carry either a fuel tank or 1,000lb bomb in the centre of the plane.

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 plane. Twelve F4U-1s were instead to be modified by the Naval Aircraft Factory with Airborne Interception (AI) radar installed at the expense of two guns and a radome placed on the starboard wingtip and VFN-75 and 101 would operate six of these each. These would be designated F4U-2 instead and it was with VFN-75 that the first single-seat fighter equipped with radar would record a night interception.

Designed as a high altitude interceptor the F4U-3 had been ordered in March 1942 and powered by the XR-2800-16 (C) engine, three prototypes designated XF4U-3 were built, these planes were able to fly at 40,000ft whilst maintaining the engines rated output of 2,000-hp however this would not see service in the Second World War as the first production version built by Goodyear and designated FG-3, was not ready until 1946 and when they finally entered service the USN used them for hight altitude tests.

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 R-2800-18W or 42W engine. Entering service with the USN on the 31st October 1944 a number designated F4U-4B had been due to serve with the FAA, however these would be kept by the United States for their use. With the reintroduction of the four 20-mm cannon armament the FU4-4C appeared followed by the radar equipped F4U-4E and F4U-4N and the FU4-4P which carried cameras and was used for tactical reconnaissance.

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 fighter-bomber, F4U-5N night-fighter, a winter version the F4U-5NL appeared this was fitted with rubber de-icing boots on the leading edge of the wing and tail, and the F4U-5P for photo reconnaissance. A prototype powered by the the 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 seeing service with the USMC during the Korean War (1950 - 1953) they were re-designated AU-1. The last production Vought Corsair was the F4U-7 which similar to the AU-1 but with a R-2800-18w engine these would serve with the French Navy before being retired in 1964.

Serving with distinction in the Second World War with the USN, USMC, FAA and Royal New Zealand Air Force and seeing service in the Korean War, with a Corsair piloted by Captain Jesse G. Folmar shooting down a Mig-15 jet fighter. By the time the last production F4U-7 rolled off the line in December 1952 a total of 12,571 Vought Corsairs had been built in over ten years.


Click on the aeroplane image to view a larger version.

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 six 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-5 469 mph 1,120 miles 41,400 ft four 20mm cannons
ten 5-in rocket projectiles or
5,000lb bombs
F4U-6 470 mph 1,120 miles 41,400 ft four 20mm cannons
ten 5-in rocket projectiles or
3,000lb bombs
Re-designated later on as AU-1
F4U-7 470 mph 1,120 miles 41,400 ft four 20mm cannons
ten 5-in rocket projectiles or
either one 1,000lb or two 500lb bombs


Click on a photo to view a larger version.

On Display

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

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

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