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Chance Vought Corsair



Design and development

The Corsair was designed by Rex Beisel and Igor Sikorsky, incorporating the largest fighter engine available at the time, the 2,000 hp (1,490 kW) 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial. To extract as much power as possible, a relatively large 13 ft 4 inch (4.06 m) Hamilton Standard Hydromatic three-blade propeller was used. The propeller's radius required additional ground clearance, and resulted in the choice of an inverted gull wing. The bent wing kept the landing gear reasonably short, making it strong enough for carrier landings, while still providing clearance for the propeller.

The Corsair's aerodynamics were an advancement over contemporary naval fighters. The F4U was the first Navy airplane to feature landing gear that retracted fully, leaving a completely streamlined wing. Air intakes used slots in the leading edges of the wings rather than protruding scoops. Panels were attached with flush rivets, and the design took advantage of the newly-developed technique of spot welding. Despite being capable of speeds in excess of 400 mph (640 km/h), with full 60 degree flap deployment the Corsair was capable of flying at speeds slow enough for carrier landings.

Despite advances in technology and a top speed greater than existing Navy aircraft, numerous technical problems had to be solved before the Corsair would enter service. Carrier suitability was a major development issue, prompting changes to the main landing gear, tail wheel, and tailhook. Early prototypes had difficulty recovering from developed spins, as the inverted gull wing's shape interfered with elevator authority. A small spoiler was added to the leading edge of the starboard wing to reduce adverse stall characteristics.

The combination of an aft cockpit and the Corsair's long nose made landings hazardous for newly-trained pilots. As the availability of the more docile F6F Hellcat was not an issue, Corsair deployment aboard U.S. carriers was delayed. Following Vought modifications to the landing gear, repositioning of the seat, addition of the stall block to the starboard wing, and after a landing technique was developed that kept the LSO (landing signal officer) in view while coming aboard, Corsairs entered U.S. carrier service toward the end of 1944.

Wartime variants

During World War II, Corsair production expanded beyond Vought to include Brewster (F3A) and Goodyear (FG) models. Allied forces flying the aircraft in WW II included the British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Eventually, more than 12,500 F4Us would be built, comprising sixteen separate models. World War II variants included:

F4U-1: The first Corsair with the original cockpit seat height and "bird cage" canopy. It was based on the XF4U, but differed with the addition of a larger fuel tank and the removal of the fuselage windows behind the canopy as well as a modified armament consisting of 6x Browning MG53-2 0.50" machine guns.

F4U-1A: Variant incorporating the new "Malcolm" hood with only two struts, similar to the canopy of the Supermarine Spitfire. The cockpit seat was also raised to allow the pilot to see over the long nose as well. F4U-1As supplied to the USMC lacked folding wings and arrester hooks. Aircraft ready for naval service, however, had these features. Additionally, an R-2800-8W engine with water-injection was experimented on one of the late F4U-1As. After satisfactory results, many of the F4U-1As were fitted with the new powerplant. The aircraft carried 273 U.S. Gal. (897 L) in the main fuel tank located in front of the cockpit as well as a 62 U.S. Gal. (235 L) fuel tank in each wing. With drop tanks fitted in addition to these internal fuel tanks, the fighter could ferry a maximum range of just over 1,500 mi. (2,425 km).

F4U-1B: Essentially identical to the F4U-1A. This new variant however had clipped wing tips so that it could fit in the smaller hangers of British carriers.

F4U-1C: This variant was in production in 1943, but was only introduced in combat during 1945, most notably in the Okinawa campaign. Intended for ground-attack as well as fighter missions, the F4U-1C was similar to the F4U-1A but its armament was replaced by 4x 20 mm (0.79") Hispano M2 cannons, each containing 231 rounds of ammunition. The variant was very rare as only 200 were built. This was due to the fact that pilots preferred the standard armament of six .50 calibre machine guns since they were already more than powerful enough to destroy most Japanese aircraft, yet had more ammunition and a better firing rate. The weight of the Hispano cannons and their ammunition caused the aircraft to lack agility.

F4U-1D: Built in parallel with the F4U-1C, but was introduced in 1944. It had the new water-injected engine known as the R-2800-8W. This change gave the aircraft up to 250 hp (187 kW) more power, which, in turn, increased performance. Speed, for example, was boosted from 417 mph (671 km/h) to 425 mph (684 km/h). Because of the US Navy's need for fighter-bombers, it had a double payload of rockets when compared to the F4U-1A as well as twin-rack plumbing for an additional drop tank to be carried under the fuselage. Such modifications necessitated the need for rocket tabs and bomb pylons to be bolted on the fighter, however, causing extra drag. Additionally, the new job of fighter-bombing was a new task for the Corsair and the wing fuel cells proved too vulnerable and were removed. The extra fuel carried by the two drop tanks would still allow the aircraft to fly relatively long missions despite the heavy, unaerodynamic load. The regular armament of 6x .50 calibre machine guns were implemented as well. The canopies of most F4U-1Ds had their struts removed along with their metal caps, which were used - at one point - as a measure to prevent the canopies' glass from cracking as they moved along the fuselage spines of the fighters.

F4U-1P: A rare variant fitted with a reconnaissance camera.

F4U-2: Experimental conversion of the F4U-1/1A Corsair, armed with 4x .50 cal MGs. The fighter was fitted with an Airborne Intercept (AI) radar set in a radome placed on the outboard, starboard wing. Only 12 were produced since Vought was preoccupied with more important projects.

XF4U-3: Experimental aircraft built to hold different engines in order to test the Corsair's performance with a variety of powerplants. This variant never entered service.

F4U-4: The last variant to be produced during WWII, entering service four months before the end of hostilities. It had the dual-stage, supercharged R-2800-18W engine which produced 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) of power. When the cylinders were injected with the water/alcohol mixture, power was boosted to 2,450 hp (1,827 kW). The aircraft required an air scoop under the nose and the unarmored wing fuel tanks of 62 U.S. gal capacities were removed for better maneuverability in expense of maximum range. The propeller had one additional blade, bringing the total to four blades. Maximum speed was increased to a blistering 448 mph (718 km/h) and climb rate increased to over 3,800 fpm (1,180 metres per minute) as opposed to the 2,900 fpm (884 metres per minute) climb of the F4U-1A. The flight ceiling also increased significantly from 37,000 ft. (11,278 m) to 41,000 ft. (12,497 m). The "4-Hog" retained the original, 6x .50 cal armament and had all the external loads (i.e. drop tanks, bombs, etc.) of the F4U-1D. The armored windshield was now flat to avoid optical warping, unlike the curved, armored windshields of the earlier Corsairs.

The F4U-5, a 1945 design modification of the F4U-4, was intended to increase the F4U-4 Corsair's overall performance and incorporate many Corsair pilots' suggestions. It featured a more powerful 2,300 hp engine with a fully automatic two-stage supercharger. Other "improvements" were electrical trim control, automatic cowl flaps, a gyroscopic lead-computing gunsight and other automatic functions. These and other changes made the F4U-5 500 pounds heavier than the F4U-4.

Royal Navy

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) introduced the Corsair into service before the U.S.N. British units flying from aircraft carriers solved the landing visibility problem by approaching the carrier in a medium left-hand turn, which allowed the pilot to keep the carrier's deck in view over the dip in the port wing, allowing safe carrier operations.

In the early days of the war, RN fighter requirements had been based on cumbersome two-seat designs, such as the Blackburn Skua, Fairey Fulmar and Fairey Firefly, on the assumption they would only be fighting long range bombers or flying boats. The RN hurriedly adopted higher performance but less robust types derived from land based aircraft, such as the Supermarine Seafire. The Corsair was welcomed as a much more robust and versatile alternative to naval adaptations of these.

In RN service, most Corsairs had their outer wings clipped to assist with carrier storage as well as benefitting its low-altitude performance. Despite the clipped wings and the shorter decks of British carriers, the pilots of the RN found landing accidents less of a problem than they had been to U.S.N aviators due to the curved approaches mentioned above. Royal Navy Corsairs saw wide service with the British Pacific Fleet from late 1944 until the end of the war, some six carrier-based squadrons flying intensive ground attack/interdiction operations and also claiming 47.5 aircraft shot down.

The Royal Navy received 95 Corsair Mk Is and 510 Mk IIs, these being equivalent to the F4U-1 and F4U-1A or D. Goodyear-built aircraft were known as Mk IIIs, and Brewster-built aircraft as Mk.IVs. British Corsairs had their wing tips clipped, 20 cm being removed at the tips, to allow storage of the F4U on the lower decks of British carriers. The Royal Navy was the first to clear the F4U for carrier operations. It proved that the Corsair Mk II could be operated with reasonable success even from small escort carriers. It was not without problems, one being excessive wear of the arrester wires due to the weight of the Corsair and the understandable tendency of the pilots to stay well above the stalling speed.

Fleet Air Arm units were created and equipped in the U.S., at Quonset Point or Brunswick and then shipped to war theatres on board escort carriers. The first Corsair unit of the FAA was No. 1830 Squadron FAA, created on the first of June 1943, and soon operating from HMS Illustrious. At the end of the war, 19 FAA squadrons were operating with the Corsair. British Corsairs operated both in Europe and in the Pacific. The first, and also most important European operations were the series of attacks in April, July and August 1944 on the German battleship Tirpitz, for which Corsairs from the HMS Formidable provided top cover. It appears the Corsairs did not encounter aerial opposition on these raids.

FAA Corsairs originally fought in a camouflage scheme, with a light-green/dark-green disruptive pattern on top and white undersides, but were later painted overall dark blue. Those operating in the Pacific theater acquired a specialized British insignia - a modified blue-white roundel with white "bars" to make it look more like a U.S. than a Japanese insignia to prevent friendly-fire incidents. A total of 2,012 Corsairs were supplied to the United Kingdom.

In the Pacific, the FAA Corsair also began to operate in April 1944, participating in an attack on Sabang, and later in the attack on oil refineries at Palembang. In July and August 1945, the Corsair squadrons No 1834 , No 1836 and No 1842 took part in a series of strikes on the Japanese mainland, near Tokyo. They operated from the carriers HMS Victorious and Formidable.

At least one Corsair was captured by the Germans, this was Corsair JT404 from No. 1841 squadron (HMS Formidable). Pilot, Wing Leader Lt Cdr RS Baker-Falkner, made an emergency landing on 18 July 1944 in a field at Sorvag, near Bodo, Norway. The Corsair was captured intact and it is not known if the Corsair was taken to Germany.

On 9 August 1945, days before the end of the war, FAA Corsairs from Formidable were attacking Shiogama harbor on the northeast coast of Japan. Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, was hit by flak but pressed home his attack on a Japanese destroyer, sinking it with a 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bomb but crashing into the sea. He was posthumously awarded Canada's last Victoria Cross, becoming the second fighter pilot VC of the war as well as the final Canadian casualty of the Second World War. (Although P/O Andrew Charles Mynarski's VC was actually awarded in 1946, it commemorated an action in 1944).

General characteristics

Crew: one pilot

Length: 33 ft 4 in (10.1 m)

Wingspan: 41 ft 0 in (12.5 m)

Height: 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m)

Empty weight: 8,982 lb (4,073 kg)

Loaded weight: 14,000 lb (6,349 kg)

Powerplant: 1 radial engine, 2,000 hp (1,490 kW)


Maximum speed: 417 mph (671 km/h)

Range: 1,015 miles (1,634 km)

Service ceiling: 36,900 ft (11,247 m)

Rate of climb: 2,890 ft/min (880 m/min)


4 .50 cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 machine guns with 400 rounds per gun

2 .50 cal Browning M2 machine guns with 375 rounds per gun

4 5" (12.7 cm) High Velocity Aircraft Rockets and/or 2,000 lb (908 kg) of bombs

Chance Vought Corsair II JT666

Built by Brewster as part of an order for 605 F4U-1 aircraft and delivered to Blackburn Aircraft for modification and delivery to the Royal Navy as a MkII. The final fate of this aircraft is not known.

Chance Vought Corsair II JS666

Built by Brewster as part of an order for 420 F3A-1 aircraft and delivered to the Royal Navy as a MkII. The final fate of this aircraft is not known.

Chance Vought Corsair IV KD666

Built by Goodyear as part of an order for 857 FG-1D aircraft. Main deliveries to the British Pacific Fleet as MkIV. The final fate of this aircraft is not known.


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