February 1938, the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics published a requests
for proposals (RFP) for both a twin-engined and a single-engined
fighter. For the single-engined fighter the Navy requested the maximum
obtainable speed, and a stalling speed not higher than 70 mph (113
km/h). A range of 1,000 miles (1610 km) was specified. The fighter had
to carry four guns, or three with increased ammunition. Provision had
to be made for anti-aircraft bombs to be carried in the wing. These
small bombs would, according to thinking in the 1930s, be dropped on
enemy aircraft formations.
unusual element of the RFP was that the Navy vowed to consider designs
with liquid-cooled engines, in contradiction with a policy settled in
1927 that required air-cooled engines for shipboard aircraft. From the
viewpoint of naval aviators, liquid cooling systems had serious
disadvantages: They were heavier, more vulnerable, and more difficult
to maintain. But in the late 1930s, there was a growing conviction in
international aviation circles, that radial engines presented a too
high drag penalty. Liquid-cooled engines with their smaller frontal
area could be installed in a more streamlined fuselage. Hence the
option to accept a fighter built for such an engine, in practice the
This engine was indeed chosen by Bell for their entry in the
competition: The Bell Model 5 Airabonita, virtually a P-39 Airacobra
with tailwheel landing gear, a slightly larger wing, and a stronger
structure. As in the P-39, the engine was placed amidships, over the
wing. The pilot sat in front of the engine, with a long extension shaft
passing between his legs to drive the propeller up front. A 23 mm
Madsen cannon or a 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine-gun and two 7.62 mm (0.30
in) machine-guns were installed in the nose, the cannon firing through
the hollow propeller hub.
There was more choice in radial engines: The older Pratt & Whitney
R-1830, and the new the Wright R-2600 and Pratt & Whitney R-2800. These
air-cooled radial engines had a larger frontal area than the V-1710,
and thus generated more drag. For the R-2600 and R-2800 this was
compensated for by their power: While the V-1710 was hoped to deliver
about 1,150 hp (858 kW), the R-2800 was expected to generate 2,000 hp
(1492 kW) and more, and the R-2600 1500hp. Radial engines were chosen
by Brewster, Grumman, Vought and Curtiss. Grumman proposed a
development of the F4F Wildcat, that would be powered by the R-2600
engine. Brewster, manufacturer of the F2A Buffalo that had been the US
Navy's first monoplane fighter, offered designs with the R-2600 or
R-2800. Curtiss proposed developments of the P-36 Mohawk, powered by
either the R-2600 or the older R-1830 engine.
A Chance-Vought F4U-1D of VMF 124 U.S. Marine Squadron flown by Major
Greg Boyington - New Guinea 1943
April 1938, Vought proposed its two designs to the US Navy. One, called
V-166A by Vought and "Vought A" by the USN, was powered by the R-1830.
The other, the V-166B or "Vought B", was designed around the new Pratt
& Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine. This was an 18-cylinder,
two-row air-cooled radial. This engine would later also be installed in
the competing Grumman F6F Hellcat and in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
for the USAAF, but the new Vought fighter was the first to use this
engine. The R-2800 later acquired a reputation as a powerful and very
reliable engine. But it was also very bulky, and aircraft powered by it
tended to be big.
May 1938, the Bureau of Aeronautics evaluated the proposals. The "Vought
B" was deemed to be the best one, with a merit figure of 86.4 on a
scale from 0 to 100. Hence on 11 June, a contract was given for
development of the Vought V-166B, the fighter that would become famous
as the F4U Corsair.
evaluation committee also recommended that the "Brewster A" proposal,
rated third best, should be developed because of its alternative R-2600
engine. Because of the management difficulties of Brewster, this never
happened. Grumman received a contract to develop to F4F-3 version of
the Wildcat, and won the simultaneous competition for a twin-engined
fighter with F5F Skyrocket. Their R-2600 engined fighter was rejected,
but in June 1941 the Navy would nevertheless order two prototypes of
the F6F Hellcat, which switched to the R-2800 during development. The
Navy was also sufficiently intrigued by the Bell proposal to order a
prototype, named the XFL-1. But the Bell fighter, ranked sixth of the
competitors, was obviously not destined to enter production, and Bell
was very reluctant to invest time and money in its development. The
history of the Airabonita would be an unhappy one.
engineers of Grumman and Republic both selected to install the R-2800
in a fuselage with an egg-shaped cross-section, deeper than was
strictly required by the R-2800. This created room for a bath with
ducts under the engine. For the P-47, the determining factor was the
installation of the turbo supercharger in the aft fuselage, which
required air and exhaust ducts in the lower fuselage. The
considerations of Grumman may have been similar, because a version of
the F6F with a turbo supercharged R-2600 engine was offered to the US
Navy. Vought's Chief designer Rex B. Beisel instead opted for a
fuselage of circular cross-section, of a diameter matching that of the
R-2800. The oil cooler and supercharger air intakes would be installed
in the wing leading edges. He also avoided the hump-backed upper
fuselage of the Grumman F4F and F6F, that was designed to give the
pilot a better forward visibility over the engine. Hence, the forward
fuselage was of cylindrical shape. Construction was all-metal, and
streamlining was improved further by using a new spot-welding technique
that gave a very smooth finish.
very large propeller was required to convert the power of the R-2800
into forward thrust. A three-bladed propeller with a diameter of 13.25
ft (4.04 m) was chosen. Sufficient propeller clearance could have been
achieved by designing a long and stalky landing gear, or by making the
fuselage deeper again, thus moving the wing downwards relative to the
engine. Instead, the Vought team adopted an inverted gull wing: the
wing started with strong anhedral, i.e. a downwards slope toward the
wingtips, and then curved upwards to strong dihedral. The landing gear
was installed at the lowest point of the bend. Such a construction was
not uncommon, though usually associated with fixed landing gear, such
as on the German Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber. Inevitably, the
weight of such a construction is higher than that of a straight wing.
But apart from keeping the landing gear short and simple, it offered
the advantage that the joint between wing and fuselage was made at the
ideal angle. In that way a wing root fairing could be avoided. The
entire construction contributed to the purposeful ugliness of the
design, but it was efficient.
wing had integral leading edge fuel tanks, which were unprotected. For
storage aboard carriers, the wing folded upward outboard of the main
landing gear legs. The wheels folded backwards, turning through 90
degrees while retracting, so that they were stored flat within the
wing. The entire trailing edge inboard of the ailerons was provided
with flaps. The outer wing panels were covered with fabric aft of the
pilot sat in a large cockpit over the wing trailing edge. The view
straight forward over the engine cowling was poor, even more so than
common in single-seat fighters of the day. View too the sides was
reasonable, although the cockpit canopy was heavily framed. No
concessions were made to rearward view, the aft of the cockpit being
faired into a gently sloping fuselage decking. The tailplanes and fins
had rounded tips, and the control surfaces were fabric covered.
Armament consisted of one 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine-gun in each wing, a
12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine-gun and a 7.62 mm (0.30 in) machine-gun in
the engine cowl decking. There was also room for 20 small anti-aircraft
bombs, stored in the wings.
June 1938 the USN signed a contract for a prototype, the XF4U-1, BuNo
1443. After mock-up inspection in February 1939 construction of the
XF4U-1 went ahead quickly. First flight of the XF4U-1 was made on 29
May 1940, by Lyman A. Bullard Jr. The XF4U-1 was powered by a XR-2800-4
engine, rated at 1,805 hp (1347 kW). The first flight was not
uneventful. A hurried landing was made when the elevator trim tabs
failed because of flutter.
Early testing encountered a serious setback when project pilot Boone T.
Guyton ran out of fuel during the fifth test flight and made an
emergency landing on a golf course. The XF4U-1 was badly damaged, but
not beyond repair, and Chance Vought rebuilt it.
1 October the XF4U-1 made a flight for Stratford to Hartford with an
average ground speed of 404 mph (650 km/h). It was then the first US
fighter to fly faster than 400 mph. The XF4U-1 also had an excellent
rate of climb. On the other hand, the testing of the XF4U-1 revealed
that some of the requirements of the US Navy would have to be
rewritten. In full-power dive tests speeds of up to 549 mph (885 km/h)
were achieved, but not without damage to the control surfaces and
access panels, and in one case, an engine failure. The spin recovery
standards also had to be relaxed, as recovery from the required
ten-turn spin proved impossible without recourse to an anti-spin chute.
Much time was spent trying to improve the handling of the XF4U-1.
Numerous changes were made to the ailerons, with success, as these were
later known to be very effective. However, the low-speed handling
characteristics left much to be desired. The F4U had a troubling
tendency to drop a wing when it stalled. And this was a critical factor
for a shipboard fighter, which would have to make dangerous deck
The most flamboyant, outspoken and highest scoring Marine Corps fighter
pilot of WWII was Colonel “Pappy” Boyington, VMF-214 the “Black
Sheep”. As Squadron Leader. He operated out of Vella Lavella in the
South Pacific. Pappy’s total was 28 enemy aircraft downed. Upon his
release from 20 months as a prisoner of the Japanese he was ordered to
Washington to receive the nations highest award the Medal of Honour
from President Harry S. Truman.
Lt. Robert Hanson ( The Terror of Rabaul) VMF-215 flying out of
Vella Lavella Bouganville for a short period, VMF-215 was moved to a
new base at Torokina closer to Raboul. Lt. Robert Hanson shot down 25
enemy aircraft in just 3 months and 20 in 17 days in just six missions.
This was an accomplishment that was never equalled by any other WWII
Allied Pilot. VMF-215 produced 10 aces during the campaign against
Rabaul and shot down 137 enemy aircraft in just 18 weeks.
Ensign Ira Kempford (“Blackburns Irregulars”) VF-17 they lived
up to their name They disrupted many country social events buzzing race
tracks, official ceremonies, farmers , local citizens and were known to
run vehicles off the road while inverted. The Navy was happy to
transfer them to the South Pacific.They compiled some amazing
statistics, 8,557 combat hours, 156 enemy aircraft shot down, five
ships sunk, and produced more aces than any other Navy unit, and all
this was accomplished in just 76 days. Kempford became the fifth
highest scoring Navy ace of WWII with an official score of 17 Japanese
aircraft shot down.
Lt. Alvin J.Jensen VMF-214 after getting lost and caught in a
very severe storm he came out of the storm in a spin and inverted,
after he managed to regain control, he realized that directly below was
a Japanese airfield. He immediately attacked the airfield and in doing
so destroyed 24 aircraft, four Vals, eight Zekes and twelve Betty’s
before returning to Vella Lavella. This was described as the greatest
single-handed feat of the Pacific War. For this he was awarded the Navy
Bend-Wing Bird; Bent-Wing
Ensign Eliminator; Bent-Wing Monster; Whistling Death; Horseshoe; Super
Stuka; U-Bird, Hose Nose; Hog Nose; Sweetheart; Hog.
Engine: 2,000hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800-8 radial piston engine
Weight: Empty 8,980 lbs, Maximum Takeoff 14,000 lbs.
Wing Span: 41ft. 0in.
Length: 33ft. 4in.
Height: 16ft. 1in.
Maximum Speed at 20,000ft: 420 mph
Cruising Speed: 185 mph
Service Ceiling: 37,000 ft.
Initial Climb Rate: 3,100 feet/min.
Six 12.7mm (0.50 in) machine guns, wing-mounted.
Number Still Airworthy: