The Corsair was the first carrier aircraft which could outfight the best fighters that the Japanese employed during WWII. It was also the first radial engine fighter passing 400 mph at level flight.
The US Navy required a new fighter design with high performance to follow the Brewster Buffalo and Grumman F4F Wildcat. The Navy initiated a 1938 competitive design to feature utility of the latest Cyclone or Twin Wasp of 1,200 hp; however, Pratt & Whiney was featuring the R-2800 Double Wasp with 1,850 hp. Pratt & Whitney was a company of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). Another UAC company, Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft met the Navy's proposal by designing a fighter which could employ the Double Wasp engine. Due to the enormity of the engine's power, a 13-foot diameter 3-bladed propeller was mounted onto the fighter. To facilitate blade clearance, the inboard main wings were bent into an inverted gull-shape providing shorter struts for the main gears. This feature enabled the gears to retract backwards ahead of the main flaps; but, it provided sufficient gear extension, which in turn provided ample propeller clearance. The large wings provided sufficient control for slow carrier landings. The fuselage sported two synchronized .30-inch guns and the main wings were each mounted with a .50-in gun.
Initial performance of the XF4U Corsair proved the aircraft to be better than predicted. On October 1, 1940, the aircraft recorded a true level flight speed of 405 mph. The armament was changed to remove the .30-inch guns from the fuselage and add four more .50-inch guns providing the new fighter a total of six guns. The aileron were increased in size to provide more rapid roll capability armor was added along with a bulletproof windshield, self-sealing tanks, folding wings, and an arrester hook. Final demonstrations of the fighter took place in early 1941 and the first production order for 584 fighters was received in June 1941.
The first F4U-1 flew on July 31, 1942, a day later after the Grumman F6F Hellcat made its first flight with the same engine. While the F6F was rushed into service, the Navy stalled the Corsair's combat entry by criticizing some of the flight characteristics of the F4U-1. Unfortunately, the Corsair was not employed for carrier at the outset of its combat debut. The first units to receive the Corsair were US Marine Corps squadrons operating from airfields on Pacific Islands.
In the capable hands of the Marines, the Corsair gained famed for its ruggedness, maneuverability, and fire power. In capable hands of Marine squadrons, such as Major Pappy Boyington's "Black Sheep" Squadron, Japanese fighters, while still highly maneuverable, were taking heavy losses. Although Corsairs won air supremacy in the battle areas, it proved to be a capable fighter-bomber supporting ground forces as US force advanced deeper into enemy territory. By 1943, everyone knew the Corsair was the premier fighter of the Pacific. In November 1943, the US Navy accepted the first squadron of F4U-1s under the famed "Jolly Roger" squadron. Lieutenant Ira C. Kepford, the leading Navy ace in the Pacific recorded sixteen 'rising suns' on the fuselage.
Tests back in the USA demonstrated the Corsair to be the best fighter everywhere.
Production of the Corsair started slowly with 178 manufactured in 1942, then increased to 2,294 aircraft in 1943; of which 378 FG-1s were built by Goodyear, and 136 F3As were built by the Brewster Company. After the 1,550th Corsair was produced, the new, more powerful R-2800-8W engine was mounted. This engine, with water injection, was capable of 2,250 hp. With the new engine, the Corsair was designated F4U-1A (FG-1A for Goodyear and F3A-1A for Brewster).
The F4U-1B was a variant produced for the British Fleet Air Arm. The F4U-1C was a batch of 200 mounted with four 20-mm M2 cannons. The F4U-1D was manufactured with pylons to mount 160-US gal external tanks or two 1,000-lb bombs. The F4U-2s were specially built night fighters equipped with radar; they achieved a remarkable combat record from both carrier and land-based operations. The FAU-4 went into production as the final wartime model. The F4U-4B mounted four M3 cannons; and all F4U-4s could carry an array of external ordnance, including 5-inch rockets.
The US Navy had initially prohibited the Corsair from carrier operations. However, the British Fleet Air Arm demonstrated the Corsair could be effectively employed as a carrier-based fighter by incorporating a curving landing pattern, which enabled pilots to keep the flight deck in sight. The US Navy adopted this flight technique and employed the Corsair as a carrier-based aircraft midway through the war.
By war's end, the Corsairs had flown 64,041 sorties with 2,140 confirmed enemy aircraft destroy in aerial combat (including many more destroyed on the ground) with a loss of 189.
Return To Top Of Page