The Gullwing Legend
A peanut. That’s what you feel like after you’ve
scaled the side of a Corsair and into the cockpit. You are so small
and inconsequential compared to the airplane that you feel like a peanut.
This thing is BIG! And intimidating! If looks could kill, you wouldn’t
even have to fire it up to become an ace!
With 2800 cubic inches of fire-breathing Pratt and Whitney perched on
the end of that impossibly long nose and three of Mr. Browning’s
fast firing specials in each wing, the Corsair more than looked mean.
It was mean. And it was tough.
As legendary as the Corsair became at the hands of heroes like Pappy
Boyington, the Corsair was far from being an instant success. In fact,
it actually was an instant flop as a carrier plane. The Navy refused
to qualify it for carrier duty until December 1944, two years after
introduction, because it demonstrated too many short comings.
For one thing, that big nose blotted out everything directly ahead,
so the canopy was bulged upward allowing the pilot to move higher on
landing. The airplane exhibited a really nasty rolling tendency when
it stalled, so a large, fierce looking wedge was added to the right
wing to help control the airflow. And, worse of all, the airplane loved
to bounce on touchdown.
Carrier airplanes can’t bounce. They are supposed to hit the deck
and stick. But the Corsair bounced. A lot. The fix to that was a single-action
landing gear leg that absorbed shock, but didn’t feed any of the
energy back into the airplane. Considering that the gear already had
a linkage that not only rotated the wheels to fair them into the wing
but also made the gear shorter so it would fit better, designing a no-bounced
shock system into it was a pretty good feat. But they did it and eventually
the Corsair became a double threat, launching from island runways and
The early Corsairs, the F4U-1A and FG-1As suspended the pilot in a metal
chair many feet above the cavernous inside belly of the fuselage. If
you dropped anything smaller than a basketball, down that yawning hole,
it was gone.
As the Corsair matured it became more sophisticated. It grew floor boards
and eventually the canopy moved forward and back at the flick of a switch.
She also was equipped with ever-increasing power, and the last wartime
version, the F4U-4 was to have 2,450 ponies stuffed into that cowl.
Surprisingly, the airplane has nice, slick controls with a higher roll
rate than you’d expect and that ability to roll didn’t disappear
during a dive, which was a huge advantage considering that the Zero
rolled like a turtle when fast.
Although the Corsair wasn’t an exact match to the Zero in a turning
fight, in the right hands, it could hold its own. However, as soon as
the combat was moved into the vertical plane, the Corsair shined as
it could slash and dash with the best of them and drop down on its foe
like an avenging eagle only to zoom up and do it again. Plus, the Corsair
could absorb an immense amount of punishment and bring its pilot home.
One of the most distinctive appearing airplanes of WWII, it was also
the only one to stay in long-term production after the war. The last
Corsair rolled off the line as an AU-1 ground attack machine for the
USMC in 1953 after thirteen years of continuous production.
Old Hose Nose earned, and is deserving of, its legendary status
Peanut Pirep? Return to PEANUT.