Staff Writer (Updated: 7/26/2016):
The Corsair was born from a 1938 USN requirement calling for a new high performance carrier fighter and Chance Vought of United Aircraft returned with their V-166 model. Vought engineers handed their design the then- largest possible engine the compact airframe could handle - the experimental Pratt & Whitney XR-2800 "Double Wasp" of 2,000 horsepower. To this was added an equally massive three-bladed propeller assembly and the inverted "gull wing" arrangement was chosen to help the spinning propeller blades clear the ground and full-length main landing gear legs to be used. The engine was conventionally fitted at the front with the single-seat cockpit at amidships. The main wing appendages were seated ahead of center while the fuselage was tubular in its general shape. The empennage consisted of a single, short (curved) vertical tail fin with low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage was of the traditional "tail dragger" arrangement and wholly retractable. Original armament included 4 x 0.50 Browning heavy machine guns. Despite the inherent strong points in the F4U design, the aircraft held an obstructed forward view (due to the wing's location and long nose) and reduced visibility to the rear due to the raised fuselage spine. Pilots commented on the difficulties of cockpit access because of the unique wing bend.
Vought produced two prototype aircraft - V-166A and V-166B to which V-166A received the Pratt & Whitney R1830 Twin Wasp engine while V-166B was given the Pratt & Whitney R2800-2 Double Wasp engine. The USN favored the B-model prototype and placed its contract within months of Vought's submission. In development, the aircraft would be known as "XF4U-1".
When first tested in 1940, V-166B exceeded 400 miles per hour (403mph) and became the first American fighter to reach such speeds. First flight was recorded May 29th, 1940 (as the XF4U-1). changes were soon ordered. New armament was the call and this forced a relocation of wing fuel tanks to the fuselage. In turn, the set back the cockpit some three feet from the nose which generated all sorts of dangers for a pilot. In1941, Vought was handed a serial production contract for 584 examples (F4U-1) by the USN. However, the initial production-quality airframe did not go airborne until June 25th, 1942. Carrier trials began in September and the aircraft was officially introduced into service on December 28th at a critical point in the Allied push to victory.
The inherent dangers of landing such a high-performance aircraft on a moving carrier deck prompted the U.S. Navy to delay shipboard use of the F4U. Instead, the aircraft was began operations as a land-based fighter with US Marine air group VMF-124 from land bases during February 1943 over Bougainville. In practice, the F4U made short work of the marauding Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters - the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy air service - as Zeros proved poorly protected, lacking armor along critical components and self-sealing fuel tanks. Additionally, American fighter aircraft were much improved over the pre-war models available in the initial Japanese assaults throughout the Pacific. Improved training and a better stock of seasoned pilots coupled to a fast and powerful fighter eventually helped to turn the tide of the Pacific War over time. indeed, the F4U proved itself the first Allied fighter to be able to counter the threat of the A6M Zero in the war - she could out-turn and out-dive most any enemy when called upon.
In the following months, the US Marines took on even greater stocks of the new aircraft, such was their impression of the mount. Its versatility allowed it to be utilized to great effect as a ground attack fighter, outfitted with 8 x 5" aerial rockets or up to 4,000lbs of stores. Jettisonable fuel tanks served to increased overall combat ranges and bring the fight to the enemy wherever they would be found. Japanese Army forces grew so accustomed to Corsair strikes and their accompanying dive sound that they nicknamed the American aircraft "Whistling Death" (this sound was attributed to the rush of air at the cooler vents when in a dive).
Corsair pilots managed over 500 air kills by the end of 1943 and totaled some 2,140 enemy aircraft by the end of the war in August of 1945.The highest scoring ace of the U.S. Marine Corps alone became Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington who managed 28 total enemy kills. All of these totals were made possible by the 64,000 sorties recorded by F4U airmen in the whole of the war. Allied pilots eventually earned an astounding kill ratio of 11:1.