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The F4U-1 in World War II
Advancements in aircraft design proceeded at an explosive pace during the 1930s, and no sooner did the US Navy adopt the Grumman F4F Wildcat and Brewster F2A Buffalo for development and testing, than they were already looking for a new and better fighter aircraft to take their place, issuing requirements in February 1938 for an aircraft featuring even higher performance. Vought engineers, led by Rex Beisel, began work on plans for a fighter design mounting what was at the time the largest and most powerful radial engine available: The massive 18-cylinder, 2000hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, with a displacement of a whopping 2804 cubic inches (46L). The engine would be fit into the smallest and lightest airframe that could fit it, resulting in a sleek and (for a radial engine) streamlined fuselage that fit tightly around the big engine and possessed as small frontal cross-section as possible. To take full advantage of the power produced, the engine would turn one of the largest propellers used on any fighter plane, in the form of a 13'4" Hamilton Standard three-bladed propeller.
However, it became clear early in development that to provide sufficient ground clearance for the massive 6' propeller blades the aircraft's landing gear would need to be of such great length as to make them unsuitable for the shock and stress of carrier operations. This was the result of the Corsair's low-profile, cylindrical fuselage, which lacked the deep belly of the taller F6F and P-47 fighters. Additionally, to accommodate folding wings for carrier storage the landing gear were designed to retract aftwards, which would require a wing of much greater chord than was practical. Vought's adopted solution, also used in the German Stuka dive-bomber, would make the Corsair one of the most recognizable aircraft ever produced. The inner portion of the wings were angled downward below the fuselage then extended out again with a slight dihedral in a configuration known as the "inverted gull" wing. The landing gear were placed at the "knuckle" of the wing (the lowest point). This allowed sufficient clearance between the ground and propeller, without extending the landing gear to an impractical length. Additionally, the angle at which the wings met the fuselage would later prove ideal for reducing drag, and would contribute to the airframe's exceptional top speed. However, the wing structure was much more complex than a straight wing of comparable size and rigidity, and would make the Corsair more difficult and expensive to produce.
The F4U also incorporated numerous advances in aeronautical design, particularly over contemporary naval aircraft. She was the first naval fighter to utilize landing gear that completely retracted into the wings and fuselage. Air coolers utilized low-drag vents and slots rather than scoops. Newly-developed techniques in spot-welding and flush rivets were also used, resulting in an aircraft that as aerodynamically cleaner than its predecessors. She was also the last American-produced fighter aircraft to utilize fabric covering for airfoils and control surfaces.
The initial XF4U-1 prototype was ordered on June 11, 1938, and the first flight was performed on May 29, 1940, with Vought chief test pilot Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. at the controls. The XF4U-1, again flown by Bullard, reached a speed of 404mph to become the first fighter aircraft in history to exceed 400mph in level flight while flying under a full combat loadout. However test flights also revealed a number of problems in the design. The inverted gull wing caused disruption in elevator authority while the aircraft was on the ground. This left the pilot with limited control during takeoffs while the tail wheel was down, though this would automatically be corrected as soon as the aircraft built up sufficient airspeed to lift the tail. Additionally, in early full-power dive tests the aircraft suffered damage to control surfaces and access panels at speeds over 550mph, although the aircraft's structure otherwise remained intact. The most troubling issue, perhaps, was the one that would plague the Corsair for the entirety of her service life and would lead to the aircraft's most famous nickname. The design was found to possess a dangerous accelerated stall that could very rapidly develop into a spin. Recovery of a developed spin of more than two revolutions was almost impossible without the use of an anti-spin chute, forcing alterations in departure recovery requirements. Another area where the Corsair would initially prove to be disappointing was in suitability for carrier service. The main landing gear oleo struts had a strong bounce and were prone to collapse. Additionally, the fighter's suspect low-speed stability and vicious stall behavior led the Navy to declare her unfit for carrier service. The F4U showed a strong tendency to snap over if power was applied too rapidly at low speeds, due to the massive amount of torque put out by the engine. The frequency of accidents among inexperienced pilots quickly led to the Corsairs infamous nickname, "Ensign Eliminator."
Initially the F4U was armed with two Browning .50cal M2 heavy machine guns in the nose and four Browning .30cal with two in each wing. Additionally, the Corsair was also intended to carry one of the most unusual fighter-mounted weapon systems ever developed. Initial designs called for the aircraft to carry twenty small bombs on the wings. Their purpose was for use not against ground targets, but against enemy bomber formations. The aircraft would fly above the formation and release these small bomblets. However, feedback from observations of combat in Europe during the early stages of the war indicated that the Corsair's armament was sorely under-powered, and changes were quickly made. The anti-air bombs were eliminated, as were the four Browning .30cal. The two .50cal were moved to the wings, and an additional four .50cal were added. The change and redistribution of the aircraft's armament forced another further alteration in the design. Because of the increased armament in the wings, there was no longer space for the large wing-mounted fuel tanks. As a result, the size of the fuselage-mounted tank was greatly enlarged. This required moving the cockpit back an additional three feet, resulting in the F4U's distinctive long nose and but further exacerbating problems with the forward view, especially during landings. The remaining smaller wing tanks would be alternately readded and removed throughout the development of the aircraft, though would be retained when the aircraft went to production.
The first production F4U was flown in June, 1942, and 584 F4U-1 Corsairs were ordered several days later.
The F4U-1 was initially declared unfit for duty aboard the fleet's carriers due to the type's numerous teething problems, including gear bounce and collapse, poor forward visibility, and most notoriously, her dangerous spin characteristics. As a result, most F4Us were turned over the the United States Marine Corps. Some were retained by the US Navy, including VF-17, who would later be the first unit to prove that the Corsair could be successfully flown from a carrier deck. The British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and the Royal New Zealand Air Force also operated Corsairs, designated as Corsair Mk.I.
Most of the initial Corsair variant to see combat were flown by the United States Marine Corps. The aircraft's first combat sortie was flown in from Guadalcanal on February 14, 1943. The action was an overall poor showing for the American forces involved, with two Corsairs and several P-40s, P-38s and B-24s lost to enemy action, however the Marines would soon prove the worth of the "Bent-winged Bird." It quickly became evident that the Corsair was vastly superior to the Zero and Ki-43 fighters used by the Japanese. She was faster at all altitudes, far more rugged and more heavily armed. Rather than attempt to turn with the nimble Japanese fighters, the Marines applied the same tactics that allowed their little Grumman Wildcats to hold their own to the bigger, more powerful Corsair by utilizing high-speed slashing attacks. The Corsair proved exceptionally agile in high speed fights, with a remarkable rate of roll and strong control authority at speeds at which her lighter Japanese opponents would begin experiencing sluggish response.
Marines who had been flying the older Grumman F4F readily transitioned into the Corsair. Among the first units to receive the Corsair was VMF-124. VMF-214, VMF-215 and VMF-222 would also fly the F4U during the early months of 1943. On May 13, 1943, Kenneth A. Walsh of VMF-124 became the first Corsair ace of the war by shooting down two Japanese aircraft to add to the three he shot down on his previous sortie. Walsh would go on to claim a total of 21 victories before the end of the war, and would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
As most Corsairs were assigned to Marine Corps squadrons, the F4U-1 primarily served on land bases in the South Pacific. The harsh conditions: rain, mud, punishing sun, highly abrasive coral dust used for runway surfaces, primitive maintenance facilities, and long supply lines led to the ubiquitous battered appearance of many Corsairs in operational areas. Paint faded and was blasted off surfaces by coral dust, and the F4U was notorious for throwing oil from its big engine. Tape on the gun ports and outer fuel tank panels were a common sight. Additionally, Marine ground crew introduced numerous modifications; including deliberately jamming the top cowl flaps closed to prevent oil from being thrown on the canopy in flight. By modifying a Brewster bomb rack the Corsair could be made to carry up to a 1000lb bomb on the centerline, or when available a 150 gallon drop tank to extend the aircraft's already excellent range. The F4U's excellent durability and good firepower made her an excellent ground-attack candidate. Additionally, the aircraft's landing gear design incorporated a dive brake setting, allowing the main landing gear to be extended to slow the aircraft during an attack dive. This capability would be enhanced in later developments of the airframe.
The tail hooks and wing-folding mechanisms were also frequently removed in the field as they were unnecessary when operating away from the fleet. Some Corsairs also had their wing-mounted fuel tanks removed to save weight, as the tanks were troublesome and prone to leakage. However because of the distances involved during the Pacific war, many pilots preferred the tanks over loss of performance caused by the drop tanks. Other modifications and enhancements were made by Vought themselves, aimed at rectifying many of the Corsair's deficiencies and which were frequently retrofit on aircraft already deployed in the combat zone. Many of these improvements would later be collected under a new designation: the F4U-1A.
The F4U-1 in Aces High II
The F4U-1 Birdcage was the initial Corsair variant to see service, first appearing in early 1943. She is a superb fighter, and one of the best aircraft available in the Mid War Arenas. Though overshadowed by later models she still remains competitive in the Late War and has the advantage of a comparatively high ENY, so is rarely disabled.
The F4U-1 mounts the massive Pratt and Whitney R-2800 radial engine, generating 2000hp under standard combat power ASL. The variant in the game is something of a hybrid or later block of the -1, as her engine is equipped with WEP (apparently substituting for water-injection). The F4U-1 is very fast at all altitudes, however her "toothpick" style propeller leaves her feeling sluggish and under-powered in acceleration and climb. She's just a few mph slower than the F4U-1A, but is much slower to accelerate and has poorer climb. The F4U-1 is in the bottom third in both these characteristics.
Aces High II Performance Charts
Good. The F4U-1 carries six Browning .50cal machine guns, which is the standard armament configuration of much of the American plane set. The primary bank consists of two with 375rds/gun, with the remaining four in the secondary bank at 400rds/gun. As with all aircraft carrying the "Ma Deuce," the strength of this armament in the F4U is accuracy, high lethality for a machine gun, and volume of fire. The Brownings throw out a lot of lead in short order, and have superb ballistics properties. Gunnery in the Corsair is about as close to point-and-click as it gets. However as with all machine guns it takes weight of fire to inflict heavy damage. Shots outside convergence range, or with convergence set at a great range, will reduce the effectiveness of the guns.
In regards to ordinance, the -1 is adequate for Mid War, but somewhat lacking for a Late War fighter, carrying up to a single 1000lb bomb. The .50cal are also not the greatest weapons for strafing, as their shorter effective range over cannon means getting in close. Additionally, the Brownings lack the punch to effectively tackle even semi-armored vehicles such as Ostwinds and M8s.
Maneuverability in the Corsair is excellent throughout her speed range, however her best performance falls between 250-350mph. Rate of roll in the Corsair is excellent, and actually improves as airspeed increases. Instantaneous turn is superb at all speeds and she's one of the best at high-speed sustained turns, especially when utilizing energy saving or building maneuvers such as the low yo-yo. Controls remain responsive up through incredibly high airspeeds, and though the Corsair can compress, it occurs long after most opponents are in elevator lock or have begun shedding parts. At the bottom end of this range the F4U can begin taking advantage of her flaps, which are among the most effective of any aircraft in the game. The first notch can be dropped at 250mph IAS, above speeds where most better-turning opponents can begin to put theirs into effect. Responsiveness is strong, and will haul the Corsair's long nose around faster than most opponents would expect from 12,000lbs of airplane.
Below 250mph the Corsair can perform an astonishingly tight circle as the flaps begin to come out, and with full flaps can even cut corners on many of the Spitfires. However the Corsair's turn rate suffers in a full-flaps situation, and if the F4U is unable to capitalize on her tighter turning radius quickly most of the dedicated turn-fighters will quickly be around on her. Rate of roll also suffers at stall speeds, especially to the right.
Vertical maneuvering is not spectacular in the -1 when the nose is up, and she can be quite sluggish coming over the top of a loop at low airspeeds. Nose down is much better, as especially when flaps-out she can really haul through the bottom side.
Not to be overlooked is the Corsair's rudder. The rudder is massive, and unlike most aircraft retains authority even at exceptionally high airspeeds. With proper timing the F4U can whip around the top of a vertical extension before an opponent can react, and can greatly improve response in the rolling scissors and the Corsair's already sparkling rate of roll. Skids and slips are highly responsive, and the F4U can easily rake its guns over an out of phase target who might otherwise believe he's out of reach.
Fighting in the F4U-1
The key to the Corsair is knowing your opponent and knowing the situation. Thus, Energy state is perhaps the most important factor to consider when flying the F4U. Her top speed is excellent, but acceleration and rate of climb in the -1 is in the bottom tier. The Corsair can fight most opponents in a low-speed turn fight, however the unexceptional climb and acceleration will make you vulnerable to other opponents in the furball. Keep the Corsair fast in multi-plane engagements, and take advantage of the F4U's high top speed and high-speed maneuverability to make quick slashing attacks. The Corsair also holds onto E very well, and can lose and catch even exceptional climbers like the Spitfire Mk.XVI and La-7 in the zoom. Diving ability is also excellent. The Corsairs can really wind it up in a dive, and her E retention allows her to hold on to a lot of that extra speed longer than most opponents. This also makes the Corsair very deceptive, as a low F4U with a ton of E can be easily overlooked by a higher opponent due to her unremarkable acceleration and climb. Use this to advantage with a sudden zoom climb under your opponent
Keep the fights between 250-350mph. This is where the Corsair excels, and she'll handily out-maneuver most opponents above 300mph. At the low end of the range drop a notch of flaps to swing the nose into a firing position. Try to avoid situations where you need more than two notches, and practice working the flaps up and down. Drop them long enough to get your nose where you want it, and get them back up again immediately to keep drag from sapping your Energy. The flaps can also almost be too effective and lead to overshooting your turn and losing the shot. Experience will teach you when to drop them and how many notches, and proper timing can haul the nose over for a shot your opponent may never expect.
Set your guns at close range. The Brownings are highly accurate and hard-hitting, but it takes volume to really deal damage. Convergence beyond 400yds is generally too far. 300yds offers an excellent balance between range and hitting power. At 200yds, the Corsair's guns are buzz-saws, and can cut through most opponents with even a one-second burst. Hold your fire until your opponent is at convergence, unless you intend to spook him into maneuvering to give you a closer shot.
The -1, has a unique consideration with fuel. She carries an additional pair of fuel tanks, one in each wing, so will carry more fuel at a given percentage than the later models. The -1 fills the main tank first, then the two wing tanks will fill. 75% internal fuel is ideal for most situations in the Main Arenas. In any case, burn the left tank dry, then the right wing down to 25% and switch over to main until empty. This helps balance the Corsair, as the extra weight in the right wing will help neutralize torque from the engine. Additionally, this functions as an excellent reserve as 25% fuel in the right wing can get you a sector in the Main Arenas with cruise settings for fuel conservation if your main tank is low or takes a hit. A drop tank can be added, however this adds a pylon to the belly of the aircraft that remains fixed when the tank is released that can shave 5-6mph off the aircraft's top speed.
Of particular note in the -1 is the views. While the rear views in all the F4Us aren't particularly good, the -1 is actually the best of the group, as the fuselage immediately aft of the cockpit has cutouts on each side. The heavy canopy framing, though not as bad as some of the German iron, leaves a lot of small blind spots to lose a target in. The view straight ahead is very poor. The -1 has a lower cockpit than the later models, so much of the forward view is obscured. Deflection shooting in the -1 leaves a significant amount to guess-work.
Fighting against the F4U-1
The Corsair is a dangerous and often underestimated opponent in comparison to widely-used aircraft such as the Spitfires. With some exceptions, anything that can out run her she will out-maneuver, and anything that out-turns her the F4U will out-run. Trying to turn with the F4U at high speeds is not recommended, as both her instantaneous and sustained turning ability at high speeds is exceptional. 190s and late-model P-38s (notably the L) may be able to fight her in a rolling engagement. Don't let the Corsair have the high ground. She accelerates well in the dive, and her zoom climb is exceptional. She can be deadly in the vertical at high speeds, and can catch and lose even the SpitXVI and La-7 in the zoom. Watch for rudder reversals at the top of vertical extensions, as the rudder can haul that big nose back around and put her guns in your face with alarming speed.
The best strategy is to try to corner the F4U low and slow. She doesn't climb or accelerate well, so if you can keep above her and prevent her from egressing or gaining altitude you can control the fight and force her to stay defensive, bleeding off vital E. However, never underestimate the Corsair's flaps. They are among the most effective in the game, and the Hog can really swing around on you at low speeds if you're not careful. She's more vulnerable in a low-speed fight if you integrate a vertical component, as she can be somewhat sluggish at the top of loops at low speeds. Beware of rudder authority as well, as even if you're out of phase the rudder is highly responsive and can skid a shot in at surprisingly high airspeeds.
NEVER overlook the threat posed by a low Corsair. The F4U hides its energy state exceptionally well, and you may think you're out of reach only to suddenly watch that F4U 5000yds below you rocket up underneath guns blazing. Corsairs are exceptional divers. They accelerate very quickly downhill, and can not only remain intact through remarkably high airspeeds, but will maintain control authority well over 500-550mph. Trying to follow a Corsair through a high-speed dive can be a gamble, as she'll out-maneuver most opponents at these speeds, and will hold together while many other aircraft begin shedding pieces. Additionally, beware the zoom on the way back up, as if she's gained enough separation and airspeed you may not catch her before hanging yourself on your prop.
Corsairs can soak up a good bit of punishment before going down, so once you get a shot you may need to keep her there for a good second or two. Snapshots will rarely be sufficient to inflict enough damage to put her down. The engine especially seems to suffer damage fairly easily, and she's most prone to losing the outer wing panels, horizontal stabilizers, and the whole rear fuselage. Taking off the outer wing panel will at least knock her out of the fight, however it's not unusual for the Corsair to deny the kill by fooling you with an apparent death spiral, only to level out a few thousand feet under you and sneak away home.
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