Corsairs were built for more than ten years, and they remained in service until 1965; total production was 12,681 aircraft. The Vought F4U Corsair was the best carrier-based tighter of World War II and in some respects was an even better plane than the superlative North American P-51 Mustang. Yet, despite these fine qualities, the Corsair spent nearly half its wartime career at land bases. For almost a year the naval authorities considered it unsuitable for carrier duty. This formidable plane racked up an impressive number of victories. In the Pacific theater alone, in the course of 64,051 missions, Corsairs downed 2,140 enemy planes while only 189 Corsairs were lost - a ratio unmatched in the history of air warfare.
The Corsair was developed early in 1938, at the request of the U.S. Navy, which ordered the construction of a prototype on June 30. The head Vought designer, Tex B. Beisel, set to work with the idea of building the smallest body compatible with the most powerful engine available. He chose Pratt & Whitney's XR-2800 Double Wasp, a new 2,000-h.p. 18-cylinder radial then receiving some finishing touches. This powerful engine required a large-diameter propeller to absorb the power, and this in turn led to the inverted gull-wing that characterized the Corsair. Thus the propeller disk was at a safe distance from the ground, and the landing gear struts were reduced in length. This last feature was extremely important for safe landing on carrier decks. The prototype, the XF4U-1, first took to the air on May 29, 1940. It was an outstanding success from its first test flights. On October 1, during a transfer flight, it became the first American fighter to break the 400-m.p.h. barrier.
The finishing touches, however, took a long time. To begin with, the armament was increased, and this required repositioning the fuel tanks and adding one on the fuselage. This in turn meant that the cockpit had to be moved back almost three feet, creating problems of visibility for the pilot. It was the question of visibility that made authorities hesitate to use the plane on carriers. Nevertheless an initial contract for 584 F4Us was signed on June 30,1941, and the first production model was ready a year later. By the end of 1942 the navy had received delivery of 178 aircraft, but the planes were not considered suitable for use on carriers until April, 1944. The Corsair became operational first with the Marine Corps, which used Corsairs at Guadalcanal on February 13, 1943. Subsequently they were used as land-based planes by the Navy.
The subseries F4U-1A had a different hood for improved visibility,
while the 1944 F4U-1D had a more powerful engine and heavier armament. The Corsair F4U-1
was the largest production series. A total of 4,102 were built by Vought; 3,808 by
Goodyear, which called them FG-1; 735 by Brewster, which called them F3A-1. Great Britain
received 2,012 Corsairs, and New Zealand received 370. The final version produced during
the war was the F4U-4, which had a 2,450-h.p. engine. Only a few of these went into
service before the Japanese surrender. Nevertheless, a total of 2,356 planes of this model
were built by August 1, 1947, and these were followed by 509 F4U-5s (with more powerful
engines, heavier armament, and some structural modifications), 110 AU-1s (a version
designed expressly for low-altitude tactical support), and 94 F4U-7s (built for the French
to use in Indochina).
(Source: Enzo Angelucci & Paolo Matricardi, in "World War II Airplanes, Volume 2)
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