Vought XF4U-1 Corsair prototype
In February of 1938, the U. S. Navy opened design competition for a high-speed, high-altitude fighter airplane. Headed by Rex Beisel, Vought�s chief engineer, the company set out to produce the naval fighter of its day. What emerged was the XF4U-1. The most obvious innovation of this single-engine monoplane fighter, powered by a 1,800-hp Pratt and Whitney radial engine, was the inverted gull wing.
The XF4U-1 was the first fighter to exceed a speed of over 400 miles per hour with a full military load. The Corsair became one of the most famous World War II fighters with its contribution to the air and ground war in the Pacific theater.
The primary requirement stressed by the Navy in their direction to Vought engineers (who created the famous bent-wing Corsair) was speed. To this end, they designed the smallest possible fuselage around the soon to be 2,000-horsepower, 18-cylinder, twin-row, air-cooled radial Pratt and Whitney engine. Everything that could cause drag was eliminated. For the first time, �flush riveting� and �spot welding� were used throughout an airframe. Air scoops and all other unusual protuberances were prohibited. The landing gear, tail wheel, and arresting gear were not only retractable, but completely faired-in when retracted. The result was a shipboard fighter described at that time by Admiral John H. Towers as the fastest airplane in the United States.
The use of the largest diameter propeller possible, 13 feet 4 inches, posed problems as to how to store the lengthy landing gear required with the use of a conventional wing. Chief Engineer Rex Beisel came up with the inverted gull wing idea to provide the propeller clearance which allowed the use of a short landing gear that could retract aft into the bottom of the wing. This also provided the most efficient junction of the wing to the fuselage that is erodynamically possible by allowing the wing root to be at a right angle to the circular section of the fuselage, thereby minimizing aerodynamic drag. Additionally the hinge point for the wing fold was located at the low point of the gull wing which reduced the aircraft height with wings folded thereby conserving deck space and facilitating storage in the under deck hangars of the aircraft carriers.
By May 1940, Vought was ready to conduct first flights of the �Corsair.� This prototype became the first American aircraft to reach 400 mph (644kph).
The performance was so outstanding that even the U. S. Army Air Corps took notice of it, as interest was expressed by General �Hap� Arnold. The early version of the 1850-hp Pratt and Whitney engine, combined with the large diameter Hamilton Standard propeller, provided a cruise speed of 180 mph and a service ceiling of 31,000 feet. The enthusiasm produced by the performance of the XF4U-1 prompted an initial order from the U. S. Navy for 584 airplanes.
With its powerful engine, this fighter could outfly its opponents despite having heavy fuel loads, heavy armament and considerable armor protection. The F4U was one of the most useful aircraft flown during WW II, whose range, endurance and load capacity provided both fighter and bomber operational capability.
Base model: F4U
Designation System: U.S. Navy / Marines
Designation Period: 1922-1962
Basic role: Fighter
Length: 31' 11" 9.7 m
Height: 15' 2" 4.6 m
Wingspan: 41' 0" 12.5 m
Gross Weight: 8,758 lb 3,971 kg
Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney XR-2800-2
Horsepower (each): 1800
Max Speed: 354 mph 570 km/h 308 kt
Ceiling: 35,200 ft 10,728 m
Known serial numbers