Sunday, December 22, 2013

An In-depth Look at the Whistling Death ~ F4U-4 Corsair

Today's Tribute to Planes takes us to the F4U-4 Corsair that Ashten Goodenough modeled with in the Wings of Angels Project. Owned at the time by Doug Matthews, this is truly a one of a kind legend. Designed with speed in mind that plane was designed by Chance Vought with it's oversized propeller and distinctive bent gull-wing design. Oddly the size of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine required to use of a larger propeller to fit into the small frame of this plane, it proposed a problem in utilizing it aboard the Naval Aircraft carriers for which it was ordered. The dilemma was either to increase the length of the landing gear or shorten the propeller, but neither were a viable option. To lengthen the landing gear would weaken it when the plane landed on the hard deck of the aircraft carrier. To shorten the propeller would be a waste of the power of the engine.

To get around this problem, the designers came up with a novel solution – the bent ‘gull wing’ design.  This meant that the landing gear could be mounted on the lower tip of the wing bend giving it enough strength for a deck landing whilst having enough clearance for the long prop.  It was later discovered that this design also improved the aerodynamics of the plane, boosting the top speed. In order to increase the aerodynamics of the plane even further, the newly introduced technique of "spot welding" insured greater airstream flow without the protrusion of the rivets.

Yet despite all this design changes when it came to utilizing the Corsair on board the aircraft carrier there were problems they couldn't fix. One of them being the long nose of plane protruding up to 4 meters in the air posed problems for the pilot. When the plane was sitting waiting for take off with the nose pointed in the air, the pilot couldn't see anything. When they attempted to land, the pilot couldn't see the Landing Signals Officer. To make matters worse oil and fluid leaks in the engine compartment by streaking across the windshield further impairing visibility.

Until these issues were resolved the Corsair was deemed unsuitable despite being built for use on aircraft carriers and was used in land based operations for the US Marines. It was here that the Corsair truly shined gaining an impressive kill ration of 11:1, 11 kills for every one Corsair lost. The Corsairs were also sent to Britain, France, New Zealand and Australia for use during World War II.

Indeed, it was the British who managed to find a way to use the plane on their carriers, by altering the final approach landing pattern to a slow continuous curve, only aligning with the deck to touch down at the last second.  This meant the pilot could keep the Signals Officer in view up until the last moment.   They also managed to fix the problem with the fluid leakage by fixing the panels shut with wire.  This diverted the fluid streams onto the fuselage rather than the cockpit. After the carrier landing issues had been tackled it quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter-bomber of World War II.

For the US Marines and the other nations using the Corsair, the plane performed exceptionally well.  The Marines put the plane to good use in the Pacific Theatre against the Japanese, using islands as mobile bases to launch the planes from. The Japanese considered the plane to be a serious threat and speculation continues as to whether they, the Japanese, nicknamed it ‘Whistling Death’ due to the distinctive high-pitched sound made by wind through the engine vents.

A large number of Corsairs have survived to the present day, many in the hands of private collectors.  They are a common sight at air shows in America and across the world. During the flybys you can hear the distinctive sound that resulted in the plane being nicknamed ‘Whistling Death’!It was a true privilege to be able to photograph the F4U-4 Corsair and to be able to utilize it in the Wings of Angels Project.

Corsair losses in World War II were as follows:-
  • By aerial combat: 189
  • By enemy ground and ship-board anti-aircraft fire: 349
  • Operational losses during combat missions: 230
  • Operational losses during non-combat flights: 692
  • Destroyed aboard ships or on the ground: 164

Photo Credits: Michael Malak of Malak Photography, Doug Matthews, Ramona Airfield and AirShowVid.Com.

1 comment:

  1. Likely one of my favorite WWII warbird (thanks to my childhood watching "Baa Baa Black Sheep") only challenged by the P51D. Thanks for theses wonderfull pictures.