The Vought F4U Corsair: Meet The Whistling Death Of World War II

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Vought F4U Corsair, a history, as told by military expert Christian D. Orr: In response to the multiple 19FortyFive articles I’ve written about the best fighter planes of WWII, several of my readers have admonished me to the effect of “But what about the Corsair!?!” Hey, fair enough; after all, I’ve already written about the A-7 Corsair II, so why not give the original U.S. Navy Corsair warbird her due? And besides, the WWII Corsair was the centerpiece warplane in Baa Baa Black Sheep AKA Black Sheep Squadron – starring Robert Conrad (R.I.P.), a young pre-Night Course John Larroquette, a pre-MacGyver Dana Elcar, and Dirk Blocker (son of Bonanza’s Dan Blocker) – which is the 1970s TV series that made me fall in love with military aviation history in the first place! So then, without further ado…

Creation of the Vought F4U Corsair

Unlike her Vietnam War-era “sequel” (so to speak), the original Corsair was built from the get-go to be a true fighter plane, i.e. for engaging in combat against enemy warplanes. Designed and initially manufactured by Chance Vought (now the Vought Aircraft Division of Triumph Aerostructures), she made her maiden flight on 29 May 1940 and entered into operational service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps on 28 December 1942. This latter date didn’t happen a moment too soon, as by this point, the Grumman F4F Wildcat had been doggedly holding the line on behalf of the USN/USMC against the vaunted Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero-sen fighter plane in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during WWII. But ‘twas the Corsair – along with the Wildcat’s own in-house successor, the F6F Hellcat – that finally enabled American air superiority over the so-called “Zeke.”

How so?  In large part due to the warbird’s unique gull-wing (no pun intended vis-à-vis “warbird”) design combined with a bigger propeller to power the mighty Pratt & Whitney R2800 Double Wasp engine…which in turn made possible a max airspeed of 453 mph (729 kph), thus giving the Corsair a speed advantage of over 100 mph (160 kph) over the Japanese adversary, whilst also retaining the superior durability and survivability of the predecessor planes thanks to the armor and self-sealing fuel tanks that the Zero sorely lacked. And then, of course, there was the armament, six wing-mounted Browning M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine guns, which could light up those unarmored “Zekes” like a tinderbox.

Vought F4U Corsair – Black Sheep to the Americans, Blue Death to Imperial Japan and North Korea

Okay, so I just made up that “Blue Death” moniker on the spot; the unofficial nickname bestowed upon the F4U was “Whistling Death.” Just how much “death” are we talking about here? As Scott Wolff, Host and Editor for FighterSweep, notes: “They accounted for over 2,100 victories in air combat with only 189 losses, producing an overall kill ratio of more than 11:1. It did especially well against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, with a kill ratio of 12:1 versus that type.”

As for the Black Sheep Squadron – officially VMF-214 – in particular, whilst that aforementioned TV series embellished a lot of stuff (typical Hollywood for ya), what’s not embellished is that the unit piled up a record of 203 planes destroyed or damaged, produced nine fighter aces with 97 confirmed air-to-air kills, and received a Presidential Unit Citation for their accomplishments—the first Marine Corps fighter unit to be so honored. The Black Sheep’s legendary leader, Maj. (later Col.) Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, scored 26 out of his 28 total air-to-air kills in the Corsair and earned the Medal of Honor.

The Corsair went on to serve in the Korean War, mostly in the air-to-ground role due to the advent of jet-to-jet combat. However, one “Whistling Death” driver somehow managed to shoot down a MiG-15 jet fighter during that conflict.

Vought F4U Corsair – Where Are They Now?

A total of 12,571 of these planes were built before they were retired by the USN/USMC in 1953 and by the Honduran Air Force in 1979. Thankfully, a good number of them survive today, and according to the FAA, there are 45 privately owned F4Us in the U.S. Some of the airworthy Stateside examples are in the capable hands of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) – (Dixie Wing) in Peachtree City, Georgia, the Lone Star Flight Museum in Houston, Texas, and the Stonehenge Air Museum in Lincoln County, Montana.

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