The Vought F4U Corsair
Vought designed the XF4U-1 with the concept of building a lightweight fighter around the most powerful engine available. The Navy ordered the XF4U-1 in 1938. It had a 2,000 horsepower XR-2800 Double Wasp engine. To accommodate the large propeller radius Vought gave the plane inverted gull wings. Modifications to improve the Corsair’s performance made the aircraft more difficult to handle. The Navy decided it was no longer suitable for carrier operations. The Navy gave the aircraft to the Marine Corps for land-based operations. Vought improved the Corsair’s handling characteristics and in mid-1944 the Navy certified it for carrier operations. F-4U production continued until 1952 and 12,571 were built. [i]
[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes © Harper Collins Publishers 2005.
The F-4U Corsair in Combat
Corsairs first saw combat with VMF-124 under the command of Major William E. Gise. Soon the Corsair became the standard fighter for U.S. Marine fighter squadrons in the Pacific. The Corsair proved superior to the famed A6M Zero. [i] Captain Kenneth A. Walsh became the first Corsair ace. He scored 3 kills while flying Wildcats before he arrived at VMF-124. He shot down 18 Japanese aircraft with Corsairs, to bring his total score to 21. In one of these actions he shot down 4 zeros on a single day. USMC’s top scoring ace, Major Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington flew Corsairs when he commanded VMF-214. In his first action against Zeros while flying a Corsair he shot down 5 of them. There were two days in October 1943 where he shot down 3 Zeros. On December 23rd he shot down 4 Zeros. On January 3, 1944 Boyington shot down 3 Zeros but the Japanese shot him and his wingman down. A Japanese I-Boat [ii] captured Boyington and he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his final sortie. Boyington scored 22 of his 28 victories in Corsairs. First Lieutenant Robert M. Hanson scored 25 kills, all in Corsairs. Like many of the high scoring Corsair aces he had a number of days where he shot down 3 or more enemy aircraft. This included 5 Zeros on January 14, 1944. Ground fire shot him down on February 3, 1944. He died in the crash. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. [iii]
The Navy also had great success with the Corsair. VF-17 was the first U.S. Navy squadron equipped with Corsairs. This squadron shot down 154 Japanese aircraft in 79 days. The squadron had at least 13 Corsair aces. [iv]
Corsairs flew 64,000 sorties during World War II and shot down 2,140 Japanese aircraft. They had an 11:1 kill ratio in air-air combat. [v]
Corsairs saw service in the Korean Conflict. The Corsairs served primarily in the ground attack role. The F4U Corsairs did serve in the night fighter role. As night fighters they proved superior to their jet engine counterparts. Communists would fly nuisance raids at night. The Americans nicknamed these raids “Bed Check Charlies”. In this jet age war the only U.S. Navy ace was Corsair pilot Lieutenant Guy P. Bordelon. From the night of 29/30 June to July 16, 1953 he shot down 5 aircraft. These were 3 Yak-18s and 2 Lavochkin fighters. [vi]
In 1969 Honduras and El Salvador had an armed conflict dubbed the Soccer War. The air forces of these countries consisted of World War II era aircraft. On July 17 Honduran Air Force Captain Fernando ‘Sotillo’ Soto and two other Honduran F4U-5 Corsair pilots engaged El Salvadoran P-51D Mustangs. Captain Soto shot down one of the Mustangs. Later in the day Captain Soto shot down two FG-1 Corsairs. His three kills were the only aircraft losses suffered in the conflict. [vii]
[i] Aerial Warfare: An Illustrated History, Edited by Anthony Robinson, © Orbis Publishing Limited, London 1982.
[ii] Japanese term for a submarine.
[iii] Air Aces by Christopher Shores© 1983 Bison Books.
[iv] Air Aces by Christopher Shores© 1983 Bison Books.
[v] Military Factory, http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=87, last accessed December 17, 2016.
[vi] Air Aces by Christopher Shores© 1983 Bison Books.
[vii] Air Aces by Christopher Shores© 1983 Bison Books.