Throughout 1943 and 1944, and into the beginning of 1945, Vought continued upgrading the F4U Corsair's "1-Series." The F4U-1, 1A, 1D and 1C, however, all shared the same core, and modifications and updates were often implemented in the field on earlier variants as they were introduced in the factory on the later models (for example 1As still in service were retrofit to carry the same wingroot pylons and four rocket tab positions used on the 1C). However the Corsair would soon receive a major upgrade.
While the supercharger-equipped XF4U-3 project provided unsatisfactory results, Vought would follow a different path with its contemporary and successor. At the heart of this new variant was an improved Pratt and Whitney R-2800-18(W) radial, replacing the earlier -8(W). This model of the engine would produce 2100 hp on takeoff, and with the use of water-methanol injection could achieve a power rating of 2450 hp. To take advantage of the increased engine power, the three-bladed paddle prop utilized since the 1A was replaced with a massive four-bladed paddle. The result was a significant increase in airspeed, rate of climb, and lateral acceleration.
The aircraft's cowling was redesigned with a distinctive chin scoop, and in addition to the exhaust stacks on the lower fuselage exhaust was vented from an additional stack on either side of the fuselage above the wings. The curved armored windscreen in most production aircraft would be replaced with a flat screen to reduce optical distortion, and the metal hood on the canopy over the pilot's head would be completely eliminated. The cockpit was completely redesigned. The "floorless" cockpit of the 1-Series Corsairs was eliminated and replaced with a floored version. The instrument cluster was revised, as was the positioning of controls for the engine, landing gear, flaps, and other secondary systems.
Armament returned to the six Browning .50cal of the -1, 1A and 1D, bringing to an end the experiment of all-cannon armament in the Corsair until the end of the war. Like the 1D, the aircraft was fitted with two main pylons inboard of the landing gear, and rocket tabs for four 5" HVARs on each wing, for a total of 8. The wing-mounted fuel tanks were eliminated, and even more of the fabric-covered wing surface was replaced with metal.
The new aircraft, designated the F4U-4, put up monstrous performance numbers. With a top speed exceeding 450 mph at level flight at altitude she was one of the fastest propeller-driven fighters of the war. Acceleration was excellent and rate of climb was boosted to nearly 4000 fpm by the uprated engine and four-bladed propeller. In combat she provided all the strengths of the previous models: excellent rate of roll, exceptional mid and high-speed maneuverability, rugged airframe and superb firepower and ordinance load. She surpassed the P-51 Mustang--widely and often considered America's finest fighter aircraft of WWII--in nearly all aspects of performance. Compared to her chief opponents in the Pacific, she completely dominated the A6M and Ki-43. She was faster than Japan's best fighter, the Ki-84, and cleanly outmatched her in vertical performance. While the "Frank" was highly maneuverable at low speeds, at mid and high speeds the F4U-4 was superior, especially with the Ki-84's tendency to suffer loss of aileron and elevator authority at higher speeds. The F4U-4 was to the best of Japan's late-war designs what the F4U-1 and F6F was to the Zero.
F4U-4s began to deploy to the Pacific during the final four months of the conflict, replacing and supplementing the 1Ds and 1Cs already in the theater. However despite her gaudy performance, the F4U-4's limited action against the all but beaten Japanese Air and Naval forces meant she would make little real impact on the Pacific war. It was perhaps this late arrival that has led the "4-Hog" to be relegated by history to a place behind the P-51 Mustang as the greatest American fighter of WWII. By the time the Corsair fought her next war the age of propeller fighters was at an end, and the F4U-4 never had a real chance to truly show her capabilities as an air-to-air combatant.
F4U-4s were deployed to both Navy and Marine squadrons, and operated from carrier decks and land bases. First Corsair ace Kenneth A. Walsh finished out the war in the F4U-4, recording his final victory in the aircraft.
The F4U-4 in Aces High III
While many aircraft are tailored to one specific job or another, the F4U-4 can do it all. Heavily perked and for good reason, she is one of the best jabo planes in the game, and is a quite capable fighter. The Mustang is often cited as the best american plane of the war, but when you compare it stat for stat, the F4U-4 wins.
The F4U-4 equips the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18(W) radial engine, generating almost 2500hp ASL with WEP engaged. This translates to an enormous speed improvement over even the 1A, capable of attaining 453 mph at her best altitude in level flight. In addition, this uprated R-2800 drives a massive 4-bladed paddle-prop to take full advantage of the increased power of the engine. As a result, the biggest deficiencies of the 1-series Hogs--acceleration and sustained climb--are virtually eliminated. The 4-Hog is in at least the Top Ten list of level acceleration, and she feels like a completely different aircraft in sustained climbs and vertical performance.
Aces High III Performance Charts
Good. The F4U-4 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 the remaining four in the secondary bank. All six Brownings carry 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.
The 4 is exceptional in ground attack. She can carry a total load-out of 2x1000lb bombs and 8x5" HVAR. The .50cal aren't remarkable strafing weapons but can get the job done. A single F4U-4 carries enough ordinance to drop a hangar. The one drawback of flying the -4 as a ground attack aircraft is the cost of losing one, especially to ground fire. The 1D, or the 1C with its much lower perk cost, may be the better choice for ground-attack sorties.
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 nothing short of exceptional compared to the 1-series Hogs. The -4's massive prop and improved engine generates a lot more power for the vertical. Much of the sluggishness at the top of vertical maneuvers experienced by the earlier variants is gone.
Not to be overlooked is the Corsair's rudder. The rudder is massive, and unlike most aircraft retains authority even at exceptionally high air speeds. 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-4
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. 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 out-distance or catch even exceptional climbers like the Spitfire Mk.XVI and La-7 in the zoom. Diving ability is also excellent. The -4 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 the unremarkable acceleration and climb of the early-model Hogs. Use this to advantage with a sudden zoom climb under your opponent. And forget all you learned about the poor acceleration and climb of the F4Us. The -4 can quickly regain any airspeed she sheds in a fight, and can much more quickly get back to altitude again.
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 -4 has much shorter legs on internal fuel than any other Corsair, as the tank is smaller and the engine is much more gas-hungry. To compensate she can carry an additional drop tank, although the weight and drag can impact her ability to maneuver in a fight. On the other hand, the -4's pylons are permanently fixed, so you don't suffer an additional drag penalty for carrying them as you do in the -1 or 1A. The best practice is to carry one or two drop tanks and 100% internal fuel. Either release the external tanks when the enemy is sighted, or hold them and use hit and run tactics until the situation calls for you to begin maneuvering, at which point you can cut them loose. If need be, you can load a single drop tank and one 1,000 lb bomb. This gives you enhanced endurance, with the ability to attack ground targets effectively. Rockets can be added, but the rocket mount stubs cannot be jettisoned and add drag, cutting into performance a bit.
The -4 is an suitable as a ground attack aircraft, though the perk price makes her somewhat less attractive in this regard. She's a stable, accurate dive-bombing platform, and packs a lot of ordinance. A dive-bombing run can be executed with a high degree of accuracy from the near-vertical beginning at 10,000-15,000ft above the target by lowering the landing gear as dive brakes, and putting the target about halfway between the bottom of the gunsight and the top of the engine cowling. By centering the target and unloading all your rockets, then switching to bombs and lining up as above will allow you to knock a hangar down with only one pass through the ack, allowing a fast hit and egress. Shallower low-level bombing runs can be executed similarly, by using your cowling as the release point. Aiming rockets is somewhat more art than science, but against soft targets such as AAA batteries, barracks and fuel, pinpoint accuracy becomes somewhat less important as splash damage from a near-miss can still take out these targets.
Fighting against the F4U-4
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 Spit XVI 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, and 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. 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 air speeds.
The F4U-4 is a MONSTER. Even if you manage to bleed her of E she can very quickly recover it again even in level flight, so she must be handled with extreme care. Vertical performance is greatly improved over the earlier models, as is sustained climb, so you're not as likely to throw her off with vertical maneuvering as you are the 1-series. This is a powerful aircraft that has all the previously noted strengths of the earlier marks, and eliminates or greatly improves on their shortcomings. This combination makes the F4U-4 in the right hands one of the most lethal fighters in the game. She's highly maneuverable at all airspeeds, can shed E very rapidly at need and regain it almost as quickly. Spit XVIs and La-7s can still lose her in a a Co-E or greater sustained climb, but this is a very dicey proposition if you've misjudged the 4-Hog's range and E-state. The only propeller fighters that seriously challenge her in running speed are the La-7, Tempest and Typhoon, but even this only occurs at low altitude. Above 15,000ft the -4 is one of the fastest props in the game, faster than the P-51D at all altitudes above 13,000 feet. Only the P-47N is faster above 27,000ft. Unless you have a significant advantage in E-state, you won't catch a -4, giving him free reign to egress and come back at you from a better position. She's just as maneuverable as the -1 and 1A, but her massive power advantage moves the F4U-4 into a different category.
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 air speed 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.
One word of note: Owing to the relatively high perk value of the F4U-4, there's a very good chance that if you run into one, you'll be facing off against a pilot who knows how to use her.
Soda's Aircraft Evaluations