Vought F4U-1 Corsair

The air war in the Pacific was one of bloody attrition through the first year of the war. But early in 1943 a new generation of high performance fighters were deployed by the Allies against Japan. This meant kill ratios started to change dramatically.


After the jump, a look at one of the first of these improved types.

Four new fighters were introduced to the Pacific in late 1942/early 1943.  They were the P-38 Lightning for the Army Air Force, the F4U Corsair for the US Marines, F6F Hellcat on carriers and Supermarine Spitfire for the British Commonwealth.  All of these types spelled bad news for Japan, but the Corsair made a particularly strong statement in the on-going Solomons campaign.


The Corsair was clearly better than the Japanese Navy types, including the Zero, that it faced.  It had all the advantages American aircraft had always had (rugged construction, pilot armor, self sealing fuel tanks, heavy fire power, good radios and flight instruments).  It added advantages one would expect from having twice the horsepower of a Zero; speed, rate of climb and dive speed.  Basically it totally dominated in the area of kinetic energy.  The Zero would always have an advantage for pure maneuverability, especially in close or slow.  But the fast and powerful Corsair could determine when and if a fight was going to occur.


Corsairs established an 11:1 kill ratio over the Japanese, which is considered the best of any widely used type in the entire war.  And throughout 1943, they completely changed the tide of the Solomons Campaign.  In doing so, they eliminated the vast majority of Japan’s remaining elite naval aviators.


I just finished Dana Bell’s excellent guide book to the early F4U-1 Corsair, which I would recommend highly to any modeler.  He makes a heroic effort sorting out the early production paint schemes and primer colors, including the obscure “Salmon” primer and “Candy Apple Green”.  This was far more random than I would have imagined.  I’m thinking the best rule on any early Corsair may be that you can’t really know what colors were used without a good color photograph.

Marine Fighter Squadrons used two main types during World War II.  The Grumman F4F Wildcat early in  the war (right) and the Vought F4U Corsair later.

Marine Fighter Squadrons used two main types during World War II. The Grumman F4F Wildcat early in the war (right) and the Vought F4U Corsair later.

Corsair designations are also an interesting issue covered by the book. The “-1”, “-1A” and “-1D” designations we so often use were apparently never “official”.  At least not according to the Navy.  Vought may have used the letter sub-types to keep track of production changes, but the Navy referred to them all as F4U-1.  The earliest “-1″s, what we sometimes call “bird cage” Corsairs (as seen here) were referred to as the “low cockpit” version in government documents, but not otherwise distinguished from later aircraft.  Those 300 bird cage Corsairs modified as night fighters were officially redesignated “F4U-2”, and a much redesigned F4U-4 did enter service just before the end of the War.

He also talks at length about the whole issue of Corsairs on carriers.  There is no doubt that the pilots of VF-17, the Navy squadron assigned to carrier qualification testing, felt strongly that the Corsair would make an excellent carrier fighter.  And it would seem the main issue was just that the Navy only wanted to support a single fighter type in the fleet.  But I think Mr. Bell does soft sell the type’s deficiencies as a carrier aircraft.  Vought spent much time and effort making the Corsair better as a carrier aircraft; from raising the pilot’s seat and tail wheel for better visibility over the nose, to softening the “bounce” of the main gear, to adding a spoiler to the right wing that improved low speed handling.


Perhaps it is true that the Corsair’s “deficiencies” as a carrier fighter were never as pronounced as some would have us believe.  But it does seem that in late 1942 the Hellcat was a better choice for the fleet.  That difference was less evident with later model Corsairs.


This example is the Tamiya kit with Superscale decals.  This aircraft is a late bird cage Corsair (a late early model?), and was operational with VMF-215 summer of ’43 in the Solomons.

Related Post
Vought F-4U-1D Corsair

~ Up Next: Messerschmitt Bf110G 

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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19 Responses to Vought F4U-1 Corsair

  1. Theresa says:

    The Marine’s use of the Corsair Was the best use of this plane. While some argue that the Corsair could be launched by a heavy carrier. It was never ideal use. It was a land launch plane which occasionally be sea launched. The heavy pounding of Sea Launch magnified its structural weaknesses. They crack in half. This is why the Navy went with the far superior air frame of the Hell Cats.

    • atcDave says:

      Later Corsairs were plenty capable of being good carrier aircraft. But I agree completely, that the Hellcat was better optimized for that role, especially during the rapid expansion of ’43 and ’44.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    The Corsair is one of the Pacific theater’s planes that made an early impression on me. Largely through a show about the “Black Sheep” squadron back in the late ’70’s (staring Robert Conrad and a pre-Magnum PI Larry “Rick” Manetti). But the big thing for me was that it looked “kinetic” to borrow Dave’s word. Sometimes things look different to our modern eyes than they may have to people living at the time, but the Corsair and the Mustang, to me, have a timeless look that reflects exactly what they are.

    • atcDave says:

      I remember “Baa Baa Black Sheep” very well! Fun show. I’m sure I’d cringe now, I don’t quite have a 12 year old’s eyes anymore! But that was right at a time when I was really getting in to these aircraft and it made a huge impression on me.

      And I do agree completely the Corsair and Mustang may be the two most timeless beauties as American fighters. Add in Spitfire and Zero and I think those are the best looking fighters of the whole war.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I would allow that many other planes retain certain aspects of their character. The Hellcat and Thunderbolt for instance both reflect a rugged dependability that they did indeed possess, but we don’t see their equally “kinetic” nature. The Lightning does portray innovation through it’s very appearance, but not the compromises that accompanied those flaws. The The best example is probably the ME262. It has the looks to be included with the Mustang, Corsair and Spitfire as deadly sharks preying on others who dared roam their skies, and in numbers it could have fulfilled that, maybe, to some extent. But the Mustang, Spitfire, and Corsair lived up to their looks. They were pilots planes, weapons that lived up to their reputations and appearance. The Zero? I’ll take issue here. It might have been a nightmare for the opposition, but me, I just don’t think it looks like a scary predator like some of the other planes.

      On some further thought I’ll add the Hawker Typhoon to the list of looks better than they performed. And if it helps Dave, the performed better than they looked can start with the Zero and the Hellcat.

      • atcDave says:

        The Typhoon definitely has a “bad” look about it! I think the Thunderbolt looks imposing, although maybe not beautiful. I think the Me262 looks better than it is, engine problems were unlikely to be fixed no matter how many they built.
        To me there’s a certain balanced perfection to the Zero. I don’t know if it looks dangerous or not, but it sure looks like it should be a great airplane.
        If we’re talking just about beauty I would add the P-36 and Mosquito into the mix. If we’re talking about looking as deadly as it is I would add the Fw190.

  3. Terry Brodin says:

    Another nice bEuild, Dave. You do keep cranking out these gems! What do you have an assembly line for a workbench
    Enie started the ball rolling with the Corsair and Mustang, but slowly the list grows as far as good looking aircraft. While “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” certainly is at work her, I think WWII gave aircraft designers the opprotunity to hone thier skills with new designs and refining old designs. I’d include the P-40Q. Maybe it was the “last gasp” of the design, but lookwise it was a long ways off from the original XP-40. I agree the Spitfire had an ellegance to it, but I prefer the looks of a Hurricane. Now, there were some “wallflowers”, but even those had a ” just something about them” factor going for them.
    Now as far as jets go, to this day, I think the F-86 Sabre sets the bar! Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good looking jets, but the Sabre still wears the “prom queen” crown after all these years.

    • atcDave says:

      As I mentioned elsewhere, I really kind of like all of them. The variety is constantly appealing to me.
      I sure wouldn’t argue that the P-40Q was very nice looking. I think I’d add Fw190, MiG-3 and C.205 as honorable mentions; and we’re still just on the fighters!

      I sure wouldn’t argue about the F-86 either. Beautiful airplane. I’ve seen them do aerobatic displays a couple times at Thunder Over Michigan (including two together this last year!), its a plane that makes a great impression.
      I think I would add the F-15 to the short list of gorgeous jets.

      So far, most of what I’ve shown represents 15+ years of building. My wife reintroduced me to modeling about 20 years ago, but I haven’t kept very many of my first efforts. After a three year break, I started up again this last summer and I finished 6 planes, two tanks, two trucks and a car in that time.
      I hope to get much more done this year. After the break, and having to change airbrushes, I’m getting my confidence back and things seem to be going more quickly now.

      • Terry Brodin says:

        Outside of good looks, the F-86 and F-15 share another trait.
        When the F-15 first became public, I recall reading that the F-86 was the last aircraft designed (originally) purely as an air superiority fighter and twenty-five years later, the F-15 picked up that baton.

  4. Terry Brodin says:

    So maybe a “Top Fifty Most Aesthetic Fighter Aircraft of WWII” would cover it — but just maybe.
    You’re 6 months coming off a three year break! You obviously got back in the grove quick enough!
    Ernie —- perspective has a lot to do with an aircraft’s looks. Say you were flying along in a Mustang, Spitfire or a Corsair. You look up at your rearview mirror to check your six o’clock and find it filled with Zero. I think that might give it a scary predator look!

    • atcDave says:

      A lot of fighters would look particularly menacing in the rear view mirror!

      I will think about an angle for that post. It could be fun, but of course it’s pure opinion without a lot of data to share.
      In a couple weeks I plane to do build series. Nothing too complicated, just a quick walk through of my process. I was thinking I would suspend the bigger aircraft posts during those few weeks. Maybe that would be a good time for some pure fun posts like that too.

      • Terry Brodin says:

        I sure we would all look forward to seeing that.
        Gotta keep the fun in it, otherwise it gets to be “work”. I went down that road to many times!
        I never use to like “hypothetical/what if” builds, but did an about face on them.
        On one hand, I truly appreciate a very accurate/historically correct model. On the other hand, a hypo comes from a “relaxed” enviroment and can simply be enjoyed as a good build, without comparing it to a tech manual.
        Just keep up the good work.. As an old retired modeler, I live vicariously through your writeups and models. Thanks

      • atcDave says:

        Well I’m pleased if you’re enjoying the ride!

        I think Hypotheticals are much more personal. Instead of being about trying to replicate a reality; its about trying to bring an idea or imagination to life.
        A similar thing would be speculatives. Like we were discussing the purple Rufes a couple weeks back, or the orange disruptive schemes on some Pearl Harbor Vals. They are things that were mentioned by witnesses, but never really corroborated. So its fun to try to posit what exactly was seen, and bring it to life.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        And I’ll add that I very specifically stated that a Zero could have looked like a nightmare to an allied pilot, but I’ll also add that like a Sherman tank encountering a Tiger or Panther, the reality of these encounters were that tactics mattered almost as much as the performance when these fighters encountered each other in groups. It would be a very rare event when a Zero appeared on your six without another member of your group lining up on his. Frightening, yes, but most likely short lived, especially later in the war.

      • atcDave says:

        Remember though, in the first six months of the war, ONLY the Flying Tigers and US Navy managed a positive kill ratio against the Japanese.
        There’s no doubt that the AVG’s dive and zoom tactics and the Navy’s teamwork pointed the way to undoing the Japanese advantage. But it took time to work out those tactics and get every squadron working effectively.
        From Pearl Harbor to The Phillipines to Southeast Asia to Indonesia the Japanese shredded allied fighter groups with near impunity.
        There’s one story I think really drives home the Japanese advantage; several Australian Spitfire squadrons were recalled from North Africa to defend Darwin in late 1942. These were experienced combat pilots in Spitfire Mk Vs. They were briefed about fighting the Japanese by Marine pilots who had faced them over Guadelcanal. The Marines felt frustrated that the Aussies weren’t taking their briefing very seriously. And sure enough, they were shot to pieces in short order. It was a bit of a national embarrassment (USAAF P-40s were more effective at this point than the new Spitfire squadrons).
        Not only did they take the Japanese too lightly, they used precisely the wrong tactics for dealing with them. The role of Spitfire v Zero was opposite of Spitfire v Messerschmitt. Against a Messerschmitt experienced Spitfire pilots turned into the attack. Against a Zero, that resulted in the Zeke running up your butt.

        Obviously, as allied pilots gained experience, they developed tactics and teamwork that helped them overcome the Japanese’ strengths. But to the end of the war, a Zero could be a tough opponent. Especially if you were caught low and slow!

  5. Terry Brodin says:

    While the Navy seemed to favor the F6F for carrier operations, they sure were quick to do a flip-flop postwar. The Hellcat design had peaked, with the F8F Bearcat waiting in the wings. The Navy must have felt the Corsair still had potential to offer.
    My theory on how the Bearcat came into being; Leroy Grumman had a meeting and said “Take everything we have in the Hellcat and make it fit in a Wildcat — and give it a new name!”

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the Bearcat was a pure interceptor, the smallest airframe possible on an R-2800. I’ve heard it said it was developed to combat the kamikaze threat, although that seems unlikely to me given development times of these things. I’ll have to check dates and all when I do a Bearcat post In a few weeks (Kamikaze started Fall of ’44; Bearcat joined the fleet summer of ’45. Seems like a stretch…)

      It does seem like the Navy switched from the Hellcat awfully fast. I think it was a choice not to develop that air frame any further. I know Grumman tinkered some with supercharged Hellcats and such. But I would guess the Navy position was that the Corsair and Bearcat were better performers, so once the insane pace of wartime operations slowed down, they were’nt as worried about a type that maximized serviceability as much. They were willing to look more at maximized performance.

  6. Terry Brodin says:

    Wildcat is a hands down favorite of mine. It had a more passive but “I can take care of myself” look to it compare to the Bearcat’s aggressive “go ahead just try it — I dare you” look.

    Likewise, the Hellcat reminded me of a professional boxer, the F8F a tough little street brawler.
    Hard not to like anything Grumman

    Funny how the Bearcat had its hayday with the French in Vietnam.

    • atcDave says:

      In terms of history, the Wildcat and Dauntless are my two favorite planes of all time. It’s hard for me to judge their looks; I think the Wildcat just looks exactly like itself (!), and the Dauntless is the best looking aircraft of its type.

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