One of the most iconic and successful propeller-driven aircraft of WW2 was the Vought F4U Corsair. However, it was not without significant teething issues that almost led to its rejection from military service.
In early 1938 the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics put forth a request for proposal for a new single-engine fighter. The requirements included a range of 1,000 miles, a stall speed of at most 70 mph, four guns (or three with more ammo), and anti-aircraft bombs. A few months later, a contract was signed with Vought to build a prototype of their design. The Vought team was led by Rex Beisel, who also designed the SB2U Vindicator. A little under a year later, a mock-up of the XF4U-1 was completed and construction of an actual prototype began.
The XF4U-1 used a prototype of Pratt & Whitney's latest radial engine, the R-2800 Double Wasp, and was the first airframe designed from the start to use this engine type. By the time the XF4U-1 had been completed, it had the biggest propeller and most powerful engine that had been mounted on any naval fighter to date. Its first flight was on 29 May 1940, and on 1 October it was the U.S.' first single-engine fighter to fly faster than 400 mph. Additionally, the prototype had a good rate of climb but could reach speeds in a dive that would damage itself. It also suffered from nasty spin characteristics, and as a result of these problems the production was delayed.
By the time the Corsair entered service it had the largest engine available at the time (the 2,000HP Pratt & Whitney R-2800) and a gigantic propeller over 13 feet in length. In order to allow the propeller to clear the ground while ensuring that the landing gear legs would not be too long, the distinctive gull wing design was chosen. The stall characteristics were mitigated by adding a 6-inch piece of metal called a "stall strip" to the front edge of the right wing.
In early 1941, acceptance trials for the XF4U-1 began, and in April Vought was given a contract to produce 584 F4U-1s. The initial flight of the production models occurred in June 1942, but Navy pilots were loath to fly it due to the difficulty of carrier take-offs and landings. The early models of the Corsair had a "birdcage" type canopy that highly restricted the pilot's view, and the shock absorbers of landing gear legs had a high enough hydraulic pressure that the F4Us tended to 'bounce' upon landing, which could mean death for a carrier pilot. All in all, the Navy decided to use the Grumman F6F Hellcat instead, which did not quite have the performance of the F4U but was much better suited for use on carriers. Needing a replacement for their F4F Wildcats, the Marine Corps gladly switched over to the Corsair, as their primary use of land bases negated the difficulties of carrier operations.
When it entered Marine service, the Corsair operated from U.S. bases in the Solomon Islands, and it took a while for pilots to figure out how to best use it. According to Marine ace Kenneth Walsh, "I learned quickly that altitude was paramount. Whoever had altitude dictated the terms of the battle, and there was nothing a Zero pilot could do to change that — we had him. The F4U could outperform a Zero in every aspect except slow speed manoeuvrability and slow speed rate of climb. Therefore you avoided getting slow when combating a Zero." Additionally, Marine units made many field modifications to their aircraft. Since they did not fly from carriers, they removed as much unnecessary equipment as they could, such as catapult and arresting hooks, and any other devices specifically for carrier use. All in all, they were able to lower the weight of a Corsair by 48 pounds.
In 1943, the Corsair was finally cleared by the U.S. Navy for carrier use, thanks in part to strategies developed by England's Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. The first effective carrier-based Corsair unit was actually the Marine squadron VMF-124, which was stationed on the USS Essex. As the threat of kamikaze attacks from Japanese pilots became more prevalent, more Corsair units were stationed on carriers, as it was one of the few aircraft fast enough to intercept kamikazes in time.
The Royal Navy used Corsairs both in Europe and in the Pacific. Fleet Air Arm Corsairs provided fighter cover during the attacks on the Kriegsmarine battleship Tirpitz, and took part in air raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia. The Royal New Zealand Air Force also used the F4U, as a replacement for their outdated P-40s. However, due to a lack of Japanese aircraft by the time the RNZAF received the Corsair, they were primarily used for close support of infantry.
During WW2, some Corsairs were equipped with radar equipment in order to serve as a nightfighter, and they also highly effective as close support for infantry and Marines on the ground, in a fighter-bomber configuration. There is also one record of a Marine pilot of VMF-312, Lt. R. R. Klingman, downing a Ki-45 Toryu by chopping off the Japanese airplane's tail with his Corsair's propeller (source).
The Corsair's career did not end in WW2. With the advent of jets, though, the F4U was outclassed and thus U.S. units were primarily relegated to close-support or nighttime interdiction of attack aircraft and disruption of supply lines. Another main user of the Corsair was the French Aéronavale, which flew them until 1964.
The final combat mission of the F4U was in 1969 during the "Football War" between Honduras and El Salvador. This conflict was purportedly triggered by a disagreement over a football (soccer) match, though it was more indicative of greater political turmoil between El Salvador and Honduras. Both Air Forces flew variants of the Corsair, and the war ended with a cease-fire a few days after it had begun. This so far is the last conflict in which piston-engine fighters directly fought each other.
All in all, despite severe issues at the outset, the Corsair went on to become one of the most effective prop-driven aircraft of all time, and had the longest production run of any piston-engine fighter in U.S. history, being manufactured from 1942 to 1953. It is also the state aircraft of Connecticut.VMF-214
VMF-214 was originally formed in July 1942 in Hawaii. Their first main combat was flying the F4F Wildcat out of Henderson Field, Guadalcanal during the Solomon Islands campaign, under the nickname "Swashbucklers." After this combat tour ended, they were disbanded and the VMF-214 designation went to a Marine unit on Espiritu Santo.
The squadron's main claim to fame is as "The Black Sheep" squadron, led by Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, formerly of the 1st American Volunteer Group in China. Originally, these 28 pilots of VMF-214 wanted to call themselves "Boyington's Bastards," as none of them had initially been assigned to a squadron, with few planes and no mechanics. When they presented this name to the nearest Marine Corps public information officer, they were told that it was unacceptable because newspapers stateside would never print it. So they settled on the euphemism of "Black Sheep."
The newly-christened "Black Sheep Squadron" fought from Munda Airfield for a total of 84 days, and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their actions. They were disbanded in January 1944 after their second combat tour, and a few weeks later VMF-214 was reformed at MCAS Santa Barbara. While on their way to support the landings at Okinawa, their carrier, the USS Franklin, was struck by a Japanese bomber, forcing VMF-214 to return to the USA.
VMF-214, still using Corsairs, was the first Marine squadron to see combat in the Korean War, flying air cover and ground attack missions. In 1957, they were redesignated as VMA-214 (an "attack" squadron) and in 1961 were awarded for the "most outstanding safety record" of attack squadrons of the USMC. They also participated in the Vietnam War, and in 1989 became the first operational squadron of the AV-8B Night Attack Harrier II jets.The Scale Model
This model is the Tamiya 1:72 F4U-1a Corsair, which is basically a 2006 retooling of a 1994 kit. The livery is purportedly that of Major "Pappy" Boyington from when he was with VMF-214. However, the famous photo of Boyington in this Corsair is just a photo op, as pilots of VMF-214 did not have personal airplanes, being forced to fly whatever they could due to a chronic lack of working aircraft and supplies. An imgur album of the scale model and reference photo is available here.
Vought F4U Corsair of VMF-214