Vought F4U Corsair Carrier-Based Fighter / Fighter-Bomber / Night Fighter
The fast and powerful Vought F4U Corsair fighter was the first Allied aircraft capable of going toe-to-toe with the fabled Japanese Zero - it fought into the Korean War years and beyond.
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One of the greatest fighter aircraft of all time, the American Vought F4U "Corsair" became the stuff of legend for its part in the air wars of World War 2 (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953) and several Cold War conflicts that followed. The design was attributed to Igor Sikorsky and Rex Beisel and went on to see production totals reach over 12,500 units with manufacturing ending in 1952 - an impressive total for an aircraft initially rejected by the United States Navy (USN).
The F4U originally appeared as a USN carrier-based fighter design until difficulties in landing the aircraft on a moving carrier led to its expanded use as a land-based fighter in the hands of US Marine aviators. While the United States Navy moved on to the equally-excellent Grumman F6F "Hellcat", the F4U continued to make a name for itself in the Pacific Theater - even earning the respect of its Japanese foes as one of the most feared combat aircraft in the region.
The Corsair was born from a 1938 USN requirement calling for a new high-performance carrier-based fighter and Chance Vought of United Aircraft answered the call with their Model V-166. Vought engineers gave their compact design the largest possible engine - the experimental Pratt & Whitney XR-2800 "Double Wasp" of 2,000 horsepower output. To this was added a massive three-bladed propeller unit. The inverted "gull wing" mainplane arrangement was chosen to keep the spinning propeller blades from hitting the ground and this forced full-length main landing gear legs to be used.
The engine was fitted at the front of the airframe in the traditional way with the single-seat cockpit located just aft. The wing mainplanes were seated ahead of midships while the fuselage was well-streamlined and tapered to the rear. 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 rearward vision for the pilot due to the raised fuselage spine. Pilots also noted difficulties in 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". The USN favored the B-model prototype and placed its contract within months of Vought's submission. In development, the aircraft would be known under the designation of "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) and changes were soon ordered. A revised armament scheme forced a relocation of wing fuel tanks to the fuselage and this, in turn, set back the cockpit a further three feet from the nose which generated all sorts of challenges for a pilot. In 1941, Vought was given a serial production contract for 584 examples of their new aircraft (F4U-1) by the USN. However, the initial production-quality airframe did not go airborne until June 25th, 1942. Carrier trials began in September of that year and the aircraft was officially introduced into service on December 28th - a critical junction in the Allied push to victory.
The inherent dangers of landing such a high-performance aircraft on a moving carrier deck prompted the Navy to delay shipboard use of the F4U for the time being. Instead, the aircraft began operations as a land-based fighter with US Marine air group VMF-124 during February 1943 over Bougainville. In practice, the F4U made short work of the once-unbeatable Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters - the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy air service - as Zeros proved themselves poorly-protected, lacking suitable armor protection 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 in the Pacific Theater.
In the following months, the US Marines took on even greater stocks of the new aircraft, such was the services impression of the mount. Its versatility allowed it to be utilized to great effect as a ground attacker when outfitted with 8 x 5" aerial rockets or up to 4,000lb of conventional drop stores. Jettisonable fuel tanks helped 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 the Corsair was in a high-speed diving action).