The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter aircraft that saw service in World War II and the Korean War (and in isolated local conflicts). Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. The Corsair served in some air forces until the 1960s, following the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in history (1940 - 1953). During World War II, it was the fighter the Japanese feared the most. The U.S. Navy counted an 11:1 kill ratio for every F4U shot down. The Japanese nicknamed it "Whistling Death", for the noise made by airflow through the wing root radiator air intakes.
The Corsair started life as the result of a U.S. Navy requirement for a carrier aircraft which could match the performance of the best land and carrier-based fighter planes. Designed in 1938 by Rex Beisel, the first prototype Corsair designated XF4U-1 first flew on 29 May 1940. When flown in 1940, the XF4U-1, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine, became the first U.S. single-engine production aircraft capable of 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight. It was a remarkable achievement for Vought; compared to land-based counterparts, carrier aircraft are "overbuilt" and heavier, to withstand the extreme stress of deck landings.
The Corsair entered service in 1942. Although designed as a carrier fighter, initial operation from carrier decks proved to be troublesome. Its low-speed handling was tricky due to the port wing stalling before the starboard wing. This factor, together with poor visibility over the long nose (leading to one of its nicknames, "The Hose Nose"), made landing a Corsair on a carrier a difficult task. For these reasons, most Corsairs initially went to Marine Corps squadrons who operated off land-based runways, with some early Goodyear built examples (designated FG-1A) being built with fixed, non-folding wings. The USMC aviators welcomed the Corsair with open arms as its performance was far superior to the contemporary Brewster F2A and Grumman F4F-3 and -4 Wildcat, and superior in a number of ways to the F6F Hellcat, which replaced the Wildcat.
Moreover, the Corsair was able to outperform the primary Japanese fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M "Zero". While the Zero could out-turn the F4U at low speed, the Corsair was faster and could out-climb and out-dive the A6M. Tactics developed early in the war, such as the Thach Weave, took advantage of the Corsair's strengths.
This performance advantage, combined with the ability to take severe punishment, meant a pilot could place an enemy aircraft in the killing zone from the F4U's six .50 (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns and keep him there long enough to inflict major damage. The 2,300 rounds carried by the Corsair gave over one full minute of fire from each gun, which, fired in three-to-six-second bursts, made F4U a devastating weapon against aircraft, ground targets, and even ships.
Beginning in 1943, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) also received Corsairs and flew them successfully from Royal Navy carriers in combat with the British Pacific Fleet and in Norway. These were clipped-wing Corsairs, the wingtips shortened eight inches (20 cm) to clear the lower overhead height of RN carriers. FAA also developed a curving landing approach to overcome the F4U's deficiencies.
Corsairs served with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, Fleet Air Arm, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, as well the French Aeronavale and other services postwar. It quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter-bomber of WW2. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought's manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear (as the FG-1) and Brewster (as the F3A-1). From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured by Vought, in 16 separate models.