The most capable carrier based fighter of the Second World War proved to be the Chance Vought F4U Corsair. This big, fast and maneuverable Navy and Marine fighter was designed around the Pratt and Whitney XR-2800 Double Wasp engine, which promised to be the most powerful aircraft engine in the world at that time. This very successful twin row 18-cylinder radial engine initially produced about 1850 HP and ultimately produced about 2,450 HP with water injection by the end of the war.
The U.S. Navy requested proposals for new carrier based fighter in February 1938 and Vought came up with a design that ultimately became the Corsair. The basic idea for the new fighter was a fairly simple concept: the smallest airframe that would allow use of the proposed 1,850 HP Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp radial engine. The Navy preferred air-cooled radial engines due to their greater reliability and ability to absorb battle damage and still function (compared to liquid-cooled engines).
The most distinctive feature of the new Vought fighter was its “cranked” or inverted gull wing. It gave the V-166B (as it was known inside the company) a unique look among WW II fighters, a look that is still popular today. Model airplane retailers say that the P-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair are by far the most popular WW II fighter models. The inverted gull wing was designed to raise the nose of the airplane farther from the ground without unduly lengthening the undercarriage. The reason was to allow the use of the largest possible diameter propeller in order to make most efficient use of the engine’s high power. The propeller selected was a three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant speed model.
In October the XF4U-1, as the Navy called it, achieved a speed of 404 MPH in level flight, the first U.S. made aircraft to do so. Armament was a mix of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the wings and cowl.
The XF4U-1 also became the first Navy fighter to encounter “shock stall”. This insidious problem affected the first generation of U.S. fighters to achieve high mach numbers in a dive and was due to their lack of laminar flow wings. In other words, the F4U, P-38 and P-47 all had wings that were thick in cross section, which provided high lift, but caused the early formation of shock waves as the air flow over them reached supersonic speeds in high altitude, high speed dives. These standing shock waves degraded the lift normally provided by the wings, resulting in an increasingly steeper and faster dive from which the pilot could not pull out until the plane reached the thicker air of lower altitudes, where drag increased enough to slow the plumeting aircraft and gradually return control to the pilot. Such uncontrolled dives were terrifying and could be fatal if they happened over mountainous terrain where the pilot might run out of altitude before enough speed bled away to permit recovery.
A series of revisions were implemented as problems were identified. These included a more powerful 2,000 HP R-2800-8 engine and a revised fuel system, which required moving the cockpit 3 feet back to maintain a correct center of gravity. This had the unfortunate side effect of reducing the pilot’s forward visibility in nose high attitudes, as when landing. The armament was revised and became 6-.50 caliber wing mounted machine guns (3 per wing).
F4U-1’s reached the Marines fighting desperately to hold Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, in February of 1943. Just in the nick of time, as the saying goes, as the outcome of that crucial turning-point battle was balanced on a razor’s edge. The famous “Black Sheep” squadron of book and TV series fame immortalized the Corsair in the blue South Pacific skies.
The Marines found that the new fighter at last gave them superiority over the Zero, as long as they did not try to turn with the lighter Japanese plane. The Corsair was much faster than the Zero, had a better roll rate and could dive away to safety when necessary. Corsair pilots established a very satisfactory kill ratio against Japanese fighters and helped turn the tide in the Solomons (and later battles). The F4U-1 had a top speed of 393 m.p.h. at 25,000 ft. Later water injection was added to the radial engine, raising the top speed to 415 m.p.h.
Although U.S. Navy and Marine pilots operated the Corsair from a multitude of airfields hewn from Pacific atolls, it wasn’t until April 1944 that the Navy cleared the powerful fighter for shipboard use. This delay was primarily due to the Corsair’s high (for the time) landing speed and the pilot’s limited forward visibility over the big radial engine when landing. By that time the British Royal Navy had been operating Corsair fighters from aircraft carrier decks for nine months https://cite4me.org/cover-page/mla/.
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