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The F4U-1A in World War II
Despite the proven and exceptional combat capability of the F4U-1, it became apparent there was still room for improvement. Numerous modifications and upgrades were performed both in the factory during the manufacturing process and in the field by ground crews looking to correct several perceived issues with the aircraft, as well as further improve it against increasing performance in its Japanese opponents. The results of these modifications would lead to what has now been classified as the F4U-1A.
A numerical distinction between the 1A and earlier -1 is somewhat deceptive, as the F4U's early development after the design was accepted for full production was more of a series of minor upgrades than any one definitive model version. Rather, the designation was a later one to encompass all F4U-1s after a specified BuNo that incorporated all of a specific set of design improvements. The most significant visual distinction, and the one that is generally accepted to be the definitive line between the -1 and 1A, is in the canopy and cockpit. The F4U-1A raised the pilot's seat and replaced the -1's "birdcage" framed canopy with a partial bubble canopy, retaining only two frames on either side and a distinctive metal hood over the pilot's head. As a result overall visibility was greatly increased. The difference was most significant looking out over the aircraft's long nose thanks to the raised position of the pilot. This was also a significant first step in clearing the way for the Corsair to be designated as fit for carrier use, as it partially addressed one of the Navy's chief concerns.
The cowling was slightly redesigned with the permanent removal of the top cowl flaps. Most ground crew permanently jammed this set of flaps in place because when opened the engine tended to throw oil straight back on the windscreen and blinding the pilot. The remaining flaps running the circumference of the cowling were retained. The F4U-1 possessed an open window in the floor of the cockpit which the pilot could look through. This was replaced by a metal plate in the 1A, though the cockpit would remain floorless except for the guide rails for the rudder pedals until the development of later models. The cockpit also went through a minor redesign due to the elevated pilot's position and change in the canopy frame. The glass of the Mk.8 gunsight was removed, and instead was replaced by a large sheet of glass bolted to the frame of the windscreen. Further improvements to visibility while on the ground resulted from a redesign of the tail wheel, extending the strut slightly and raising the tail more.
One improvement first introduced in later BuNo's of the F4U-1 upgraded the Pratt and Whitney R-2800-8 with the 8(W) model. This version of the R-2800 increased available horsepower through the use of water-methanol injection, boosting engine output by 250hp. The 1A replaced the Hamilton Standard prop utilized by the -1 with a more effective paddle prop, which possessed greater blade chord than the earlier type. This resulted in a significant improvement in lateral acceleration and sustained rate of climb.
Perhaps the most significant modification of the 1A was the addition of a small wedge-shaped spoiler to the leading edge starboard wing. This was introduced in an attempt to alleviate the Corsair's vicious stall characteristics by increasing drag on the starboard wing. In the F4U-1, engine torque from the big R-2800 would cause the left wing to enter a stall before the right and causing the Corsair to snap hard over to port during an accelerated stall. The intent of the spoiler was to induce the right wing into a stall at higher speeds and help balance the aircraft and ease the big fighter's tendency to spin, though some observations suggest the spoiler may have been most effective at easing the minds of inexperienced pilots. The wicked stall and spin behavior suffered by the Corsair (a characteristic not unique among high-performance propeller-driven aircraft) would never be completely remedied.
With its numerous refinements, the F4U-1A became the primary fighter of the United States Marine Corps from mid- to late-1943, through the end of 1944. However, much as with the earlier -1, tinkering by both Vought and ground crews in the combat area didn't end, and numerous refinements would continue to be made that would lead directly to the next major variant.
The F4U-1A would see combat with many Marine Corps, as well as Navy fighter squadrons, from the middle of 1943 through the end of 1944. Most F4U-1's were updated in the field, where practical, while others were transitioned over. Perhaps the two most famous squadrons to operate the F4U-1A were VF-17, the Jolly Rogers, and the legendary Black Sheep of VMF-214.
While VF-12 soon replaced their Corsairs for Hellcats, The Jolly Rogers elected to keep their F4Us instead. They completed carrier trials and were initially assigned to the USS Bunker Hill, CV-17. Their operating record from the deck of the carrier proved that the F4U could indeed be flown safely and effectively off the flat-tops, however citing the logistical issues of maintaining a squadron of Corsairs in a fleet dominated by the more docile F6F VF-17 was ordered ashore and served most of its tour of duty staging from island bases in the South Pacific. The Jolly Rogers had not seen the last of the Bunker Hill, as during supporting operations during attacks on Rabaul VF-17 helped provide air cover for the carrier while her own aircraft were engaged, landing to refuel and rearm aboard the carrier, and reaffirming that the F4U could operate as a carrier-borne fighter.
F4U-1As were also flown by VMF-214, led by Major Greg Boyington during operations beginning in August, 1943. VMF-321 Hell's Angels, VMF-121 and VMF-111 all flew the 1A from island bases throughout the Pacific. VMF-321 also flew combat operations from the decks of USS Kwajalein. Much like the earlier -1, the environment and supply and maintenance situation in the South Pacific were exceptionally hard on aircraft, and even after a few weeks of combat, many aircraft showed heavy signs of wear. Multiple squadrons assigned to one base would often share aircraft between them from a pool of whatever planes were available, and it was exceptionally rare for an individual pilot to have his own plane (the Jolly Rogers were one of the only squadrons operating in the Pacific which had this luxury). Boyington was known to intentionally select the most battered-looking aircraft on the flight line.
An F4U-1A of VMF-111 also became the only individual combat aircraft in history to receive a citation in her own "name" for her combat service. "Ole 122" completed 100 bombing missions against Japanese targets in the Pacific, logging in excess of 80,000 miles and 400 hours of flight time without having to return to base for mechanical failure.
“In accomplishing her 100 missions, Corsair No. 122 logged more than 400 hours flying time, her total hops, including tests and reconnaissance flights, reached an amazing total of 178. Built for air combat, Corsair 122 proved her versatility by accepting 1000-pound bombs slung from her belly, and without strain or protest developed into the hottest dive bomber with wings. Were there blood in her fuel line instead of 100 octane, she would be wearing the Purple Heart, for the patch on the leading edge of her wing attests the accuracy of Japanese antiaircraft fire. She has covered all the Japanese based in the Marshall Islands like the morning dew.”
The F4U-1A in Aces High II
The F4U-1A is the newest addition to the Corsair lineup, filling the time gap between the F4U-1 Birdcage, and the F4U-1D (late-1943 through the end of 1944). The 1A possesses all the strengths of the 1-series F4Us, making her one of the best non-perked fighters in the American plane set, if not the game.
The F4U-1A mounts the same variant of the massive Pratt and Whitney R-2800 radial engine as the 1D, (R-2800-8(W)) generating 2000hp under standard combat power on the deck, and an additional 250hp with WEP. She also replaces the "toothpick" propeller of the -1 with the 1D's three-bladed paddle prop. The result is a marked improvement in acceleration and rate of climb over the -1. She's the fastest of the non-perked "Hogs," capable of exceeding 410mph at altitude in level flight, a slight edge over the -1, and a difference of between 15-25mph over the 1D/C depending on altitude.
Aces High II Performance Charts
Good. The F4U-1A 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 1A is somewhat lacking for a Late War fighter, carrying at most 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 much improved in the 1A over the -1 due to the addition of the paddle prop. However she can still be a little sluggish coming over the top of a loop at low airspeeds, but especially when flaps-out 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-1A
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 are only middle of the pack. 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 1A 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 1A, like the -1, has a unique consideration with fuel. The 1A 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 1A 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.
Fighting against the F4U-1A
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 the 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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