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A Chorus of Corsairs

By Frederick A. Johnsen

  • Corsair
    Four of five Corsair fighters at AirVenture 2015 congregated at the Warbird ramp.

July 22, 2015Its inverted gull wing makes the Corsair instantly recognizable, even to those who don't track warbirds. Put five of the elegant fighters in a bunch at the Warbirds area of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015, and you've got a party.

The very capable naval fighter of World War II and Korea was discussed in a Monday Warbirds in Review session. Corsairs earned their greatest fame in the Pacific during the WWII.

Displayed beside the session's panelists was the refurbished Corsair from the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. This bird stands out for several reasons—it uses a scarce set of wings fitted for 20-mm cannons instead of .50-caliber machine guns, and it has a neatly crafted jump seat behind the pilot.

Cavanaugh museum staffers believe this is the only Corsair currently available for rides, for people needing to check that off their to-do list. The cost is not cheap, but neither is the upkeep of such a magnificent aircraft.

Bill Harrison moderated the discussion with Doug Jeanes, Cavanaugh Flight Museum's director, and Stuart Milson, the museum's chief pilot. Harrison described the Corsair's handling qualities as "Easier than a T-6," to which Jeanes added "Just gotta get over the long nose." The long snout pointing toward the sky gave rise to the unflattering nickname "Hose Nose," but all that is forgotten once the F4U gets its tail up and begins to fly.        

Early Corsairs had problems with landing gear bounce, due at least in part to the resilient wooden decks of WWII aircraft carriers. The fix included tweaking the oil-dampened oleo struts on the main landing gear, Jeanes said. The Corsair on display showed the characteristic look of a collapsed landing gear leg; no shiny silver strut was visible. The panelists explained that is a deliberate feature of the Corsair, allowing the gear to compress in a controlled way that absorbs shocks and diminishes the tendency to rebound.

The panelists agreed that the earlier model Corsairs with three-bladed propellers are the easiest to fly. In civilian service, many Corsairs have switched to a version of the R-2800 engine that does not use an updraft carburetor. The updraft carb could be involved in quick and attention-grabbing fuel fires on startup.

When asked by an audience member if the Corsair had torque issues when power was applied for a go-around, Milson said "This is one of the better airplanes for go-around" because so much of the vertical tail real estate is taken up by the movable rudder. Warbirds with less rudder-to-fin geometry can be trickier when handling go-around torque as power is added in low-speed flight, he said.

The Corsair excelled not only as an air-to-air fighter, but also in ground attack sorties. Some Corsairs have the capability of extending only the main gear, with flat-fronted gear doors making effective dive brakes.

The panelists described other traits of the F4U for the crowd. Harrison said that unlike a clean P-51 Mustang, when you fly a Corsair "you're going to get oil on you somewhere."

And cruising at better than 200 knots, a Corsair pilot can expect to burn 80 gallons of gas an hour on a cross-country trip.

The Warbirds in Review panel made frequent references to veterans who had been affected by Corsairs. At one point, all veterans of all eras were asked to stand up in the bleachers, to a spontaneous round of applause from the rest of the appreciative crowd.     

Warbirds in Review sessions continue twice daily in the Warbirds area during AirVenture 2015. 

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