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Gray Corsair Turns Heads in Warbirds

By Frederick A. Johnsen

July 25, 2018 - There’s a gray Corsair in Warbirds that’s proving to be a head-turning delight for AirVenture visitors. Only a few of the classic bent-wing fighters served the U.S. military long enough to get the mid-1950s switch to gray upper and white lower surfaces.

Owner/pilot John O’Connor brought his gray Corsair from Illinois, along with a truckload of armaments and a flat-screen TV to show videos that give the plane some context on the grass at AirVenture. That’s a clue to what makes John tick. He has a flair for showmanship that keeps things interesting.

His Corsair is actually a former French F4U-7, the last Corsair model built in the 1950s. O’Connor says the Dash-7 evolved from the Marine Corps’ ground-attack AU-1 model. So when it came time to paint the Corsair, he chose to honor a gray AU-1 flown by Marine ace Lt. Cdr. John Bolt in the 1950s. O’Connor laments, “There aren’t any AU-1s flying.” So he’s making one … sort of. “This was the tail end of it,” he says. Earlier Corsairs are celebrated, so why not the long-lived late models?

Right now, the classy paint scheme is the major tribute to the AU-1. This winter, O’Connor says he intends to have John Lane’s warbird shop in Idaho attach correct wing racks and dummy rockets to further enhance its status as a ground-attack AU-1. And maybe some flash hiders on the muzzles of the wing guns.

O’Connor knows some purists won’t align with his choice of markings and equipment on a Dash-7 Corsair, but that’s not stopping him. He says his Corsair evolved from the AU-1 series on the assembly line. “Many of the parts say AU-1” on the data plates, he notes.

John O’Connor returns to fiddling with the electronics needed to set up his planeside television. He wants visitors to experience more than just another airplane on the grass. While he works, a visitor motors up silently in a powered chair. He identifies himself as Dick Reinhart of nearby Appleton, Wisconsin. Reinhart’s cap proclaims an affiliation with the F4U Corsair, and he tells O’Connor he flew them in the Pacific during World War II.

O’Connor and fellow Corsair displayer Doug Partl listen intently as Reinhart tells stories about flying the Corsair in combat. “If you’re not used to the power when you advance the throttle, it’ll raise the hair on your head!” Reinhart invokes memories of his flying days that ring true today. And that’s some of the best magic at AirVenture — you never know who will sidle up with incredible stories of their flying adventures.

John O’Connor’s gray Corsair is a looker, with or without the television nearby. And it’s a work in progress.

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