World War II: Chance Vought F4U Corsair

F4U Corsair
F4U Corsair taking off from USS Boxer during the Korean War, 1951. Photograph Courtesy of the US Navy History & Heritage Command

The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was a noted American fighter that debuted during World War II. Though intended for use aboard aircraft carriers, the F4U experienced early landing issues that initially prevented its deployment to the fleet. As a result, it first entered combat in large numbers with the U.S. Marine Corps. A highly-effective fighter, the F4U posted an impressive kill ratio against Japanese aircraft and also fulfilled a ground-attack role. The Corsair was retained after the conflict and saw extensive service during the Korean War. Though retired from American service in the 1950s, the aircraft remained in use around the world until the late 1960s.

Design & Development

In February 1938, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics began seeking proposals for new carrier-based fighter aircraft. Issuing requests for proposals for both single-engine and twin-engine aircraft, they required the former be capable of a high top speed, but have a stall speed of 70 mph. Among those who entered the competition was Chance Vought. Led by Rex Beisel and Igor Sikorsky, the design team at Chance Vought created an aircraft centered on the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine. To maximize the power of the engine, they selected the large (13 ft. 4 in.) Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller.

While this significantly enhanced performance, it presented problems in designing other elements of the aircraft such as the landing gear. Due to the propeller's size, the landing gear struts were unusually long which required the aircraft's wings to be redesigned. In seeking a solution, the designers ultimately settled on utilizing an inverted gull wing. Though this type of structure was more difficult to construct, it minimized drag and allowed for air intakes to be installed on the leading edges of the wings. Pleased with Chance Vought's progress, the U.S. Navy signed a contract for a prototype in June 1938.

Chance Vought XF4U-1 Corsair prototype sitting on the tarmac.
Chance Vought XF4U-1 Corsair prototype during tests at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), Langley Research Center at Hampton, VA, in 1940-41.  NASA Langley Research Center

Designated the XF4U-1 Corsair, the new aircraft quickly moved forward with the Navy approving the mock-up in February 1939, and the first prototype took flight on May 29, 1940. On October 1, the XF4U-1 made a trial flight from Stratford, CT to Hartford, CT averaging 405 mph and becoming the first US fighter to break the 400 mph barrier. While the Navy and the design team at Chance Vought were pleased with the plane's performance, control issues persisted. Many of these were dealt with by the addition of a small spoiler on the leading edge of the starboard wing.

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the Navy altered its requirements and asked that the aircraft's armament be enhanced. Chance Vought complied by equipping the XF4U-1 with six .50 cal. machine guns mounted in the wings. This addition forced the removal of fuel tanks from the wings and an expansion of the fuselage tank. As a result, the XF4U-1's cockpit was moved 36 inches aft. The movement of the cockpit, coupled with the aircraft's long nose, made it difficult to land for inexperienced pilots. With many of the Corsair's problems eliminated, the aircraft moved into production in mid-1942.

Chance Vought F4U Corsair

General

  • Length: 33 ft. 4 in.
  • Wingspan: 41 ft.
  • Height: 16 ft. 1 in.
  • Wing Area: 314 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 8,982 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 14,669 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Power Plant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8W radial engine, 2,250 hp
  • Range: 1,015 miles
  • Max Speed: 425 mph
  • Ceiling: 36,900 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 6 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns
  • Rockets: 4× 5 in High Velocity Aircraft Rockets or
  • Bombs: 2,000 lbs.

Operational History

In September 1942, new issues arose with the Corsair when it underwent carrier qualification trials. Already a difficult aircraft to land, numerous problems were found with its main landing gear, tail wheel, and tailhook. As the Navy also had the F6F Hellcat coming into service, the decision was made to release the Corsair to the U.S. Marine Corps until the deck landing problems could be resolved. First arriving in the Southwest Pacific in late 1942, the Corsair appeared in larger numbers over the Solomons in early 1943.

Marine pilots quickly took to the new aircraft as its speed and power gave it a decisive advantage over the Japanese A6M Zero. Made famous by pilots such as Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (VMF-214), the F4U soon began to rack up impressive kill numbers against the Japanese. The fighter was largely restricted to the Marines until September 1943, when the Navy began flying it in larger numbers. It was not until April 1944, that the F4U was fully certified for carrier operations. As Allied forces pushed through the Pacific the Corsair joined the Hellcat in protecting US ships from kamikaze attacks.

F4U Corsair fighter firing rockets during the Battle of Okinawa.
F4U Corsair attacks Japanese ground targets on Okinawa, 1945. National Archives and Records Administration

In addition to service as a fighter, the F4U saw extensive use as a fighter-bomber providing vital ground support to Allied troops. Capable of carrying bombs, rockets, and glide bombs, the Corsair earned the name "Whistling Death" from the Japanese due to sound it made when diving to attack ground targets. By the end of the war, Corsairs were credited with 2,140 Japanese aircraft against losses of 189 F4Us for an impressive kill ratio of 11:1. During the conflict F4Us flew 64,051 sorties of which only 15% were from carriers. The aircraft also saw service with other Allied air arms.

Later Use

Retained after the war, the Corsair returned to combat in 1950, with the outbreak of fighting in Korea. During the early days of the conflict, the Corsair engaged North Korean Yak-9 fighters, however with the introduction of the jet-powered MiG-15, the F4U was shifted to a purely ground support role. Flown throughout the war, special purpose-built AU-1 Corsairs were constructed for use by the Marines. Retired after the Korean War, the Corsair remained in service with other countries for several years. The last known combat missions flown by the aircraft were during the 1969 El Salvador-Honduras Football War.