Vought’s distinctive, charismatic F4U Corsair was numerically the most successful of all U.S. naval fighters, with 12,571 produced by Vought and by subcontractor Goodyear (whose Corsairs were designated FG and F2G). Although it had more than its share of teething troubles and underwent a fundamental redesign between the prototype’s first flight on May 29, 1940, and initial production, the Corsair served in the naval air forces of seven countries (the U.S., Britain, Argentina, El Salvador, France, Honduras and New Zealand) and remained in service until 1979, one of the last piston-engined fighters to be retired. Like the North American P-51 in the Air Force, it was the one Second World War fighter type that continued to be used by the U.S. Navy and Marines for several years after World War II. VF-17 ended up being the highest-scoring Navy Corsair unit of the war because of the head start that it got in using the Corsair, and the Navy’s highest scoring Corsair ace, Ira Kepford (16 kills), was with this unit.
The Corsair was fast and sensitive but difficult to operate from aircraft carriers. The distinctive cranked wing resulted in a steep ground angle which, combined with its long nose, resulted in poor pilot visibility forward on landing. This was fixed to some extent by increasing the height of the tailwheel strut. It also experienced violent wing drops in low-speed stalls, which can easily be fatal in carrier landings. After initial carrier qualification trials yielded disappointing results, Vought set about fixing the problems, with the result that it took until late 1944, fully a year after the Corsair was otherwise ready to enter service, before it was cleared for operation from American Carriers. In the meantime, Corsairs were used by the Marine Corps and from selected Navy squadrons like VF-17, the Jolly Rogers, which went ashore to operate Corsairs from land in Marine-like fashion.
“Corsair versus Hellcat” has been a persistent rivalry ever since the F4U and F6F were designed, with adherents on both sides as to which was the better or more important fighter. The Hellcat was unquestionably the more important carrier-based fighter during World War II, largely because it did not encounter the Corsair’s delays in being cleared for carrier deck operations. This allowed Hellcat pilots to claim many more enemy aircraft destroyed than Corsair pilots, even if many of the claims are exaggerated. The Corsair had higher performance, greater development potential and longevity, and more sex appeal.
The Corsair was developed through several versions after World War II with greater power and other specialized capabilities, including a dedicated night-fighter variant. The ultimate Corsair was the F2G, built only by subcontractor Goodyear. This version used a massive engine more than 1.5 times as large as that used by earlier Corsairs, intended to have superior acceleration to catch enemy kamikaze suicide planes before they could reach their targets. F2Gs never saw combat or any meaningful military service but were eagerly snapped up by racing pilots after the war.
The late retirement of the Corsair from both U.S. and Latin American service contributed to a relatively high survival rate after the war. Corsairs saw some use in racing, and perhaps 30 are still airworthy in the United States, with a few flying in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Museums in Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, South Korea, and Britain display static examples of the Corsair.
The Corsair’s mystique was further polished during the 1970s when NBC aired the TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (later “Black Sheep Squadron”), dramatizing the exploits of Marine fighter squadron VMF-214 and its colorful leader, Gregory Boyington. The show was heavily fictionalized, melodramatic and almost comically ill-written, but it featured exquisitely filmed flying sequences involving a revolving group of seven airworthy Corsairs (F4U-1 17799, FG-1Ds 92132, 92433, 92436 and 92629, F4U-4 97359 and F4U-7 133714) and various supporting vintage aircraft. This show exposed the American public not just to the Corsair, but to the fact that there were still World War II aircraft in operating condition, helping to raise the profile of the nascent warbird movement.
FG-1s at Keesler Field, 1948
Dick photographed these U.S. Navy Reserve Corsairs when they visited Keesler Field where he was training in 1948. Unfortunately none of the serials are legible on the negatives.
This Goodyear-built Corsair was displayed at Goodyear’s company museum in Akron, Ohio, for some years. Since the 1970s it has been displayed at the U.S. Marine Corps museums, first the Air-Ground Museum at Quantico (where these photos were taken) and now the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Corsair Mk.IV KD431
Originally allocated serial 14862, this Goodyear-built Corsair, equivalent to a Navy FG-1A, was supplied to Britain’s Royal Navy in 1944, spent time in a technical college after the war, and in the 1960s was acquired by the Fleet Air Arm Museum. It is considered to be possibly the most carefully preserved and minimally restored of all Corsair survivors.
The oldest intact Corsair is Planes of Fame‘s F4U-1, although there is an even older one undergoing restoration by the National Naval Air Museum after being recovered from Lake Michigan in 2010. The Planes of Fame Corsair, registered N83782, was recovered from a Hollywood studio that was using it as a movie prop and was restored and flying by 1977. It has worn a few paint schemes over the years, appearing in solid blue during the 1980s but currently displayed in colors it might plausibly have worn during its Navy service, the 1944 style three-tone camouflage with the final three digits of its serial number on the fuselage.
F4U-1D 50375 “Sun Setter”
The National Air & Space Museum Corsair was donated by the Navy in 1960. It has been restored in the markings of Marine squadron VMF-114 during a period when that unit served aboard the carrier USS Essex.
One of several corsairs restored in the markings of Ira Kepford, the Navy’s top-scoring Corsair pilot with 16 victories while with Navy squadron VF-17, this Corsair is owned by Lewis Air Legends. It served from the 1950s through the 1970s in El Salvador as serial 201. Registered N29VF, it secured several awards for the quality of its restoration upon its debut in 2006.
A California owner maintains Corsair N11Y in the markings of the Jolly Rogers of squadron VF-17, with a somewhat oversized pirate flag. This Corsair was retrieved from El Salvador and restored during the 1980s and 1990s, flying again in 1995.
FG-1D 67089 “Skyboss”
This Corsair went through several owners in the United States after its surplus sale from the Navy in 1958. Currently with the American Airpower Museum and registered N83JC, the plane appears regularly at airshows in the northeastern U.S. and is flown in an impressive aerobatic routine by museum pilot Dan Dameo. The paint scheme is an inaccurate pot-pourri of various elements that resembles no wartime Corsair, but it is still a welcome sight at events in the region. In the past it has worn the registrations N97GM, N4715C and N4716C.
Sold off by the Marines in 1960, this Corsair was acquired by movie pilot Frank Tallman. In the 1970s it went through a succession of owners in the midwestern U.S., appearing at airshows painted in an inaccurate overall blue with the markings of VF-17’s Ira Kepford. It was registered N9154Z and then N8297.
In the early 1980s the aircraft was acquired by The Fighter Collection and has flown with that group ever since, now painted authentically in Royal Navy makings from late in the war with the false serial KD345. Its civil registration is G-FGID.
Yet another VF-17 marked Corsair is displayed on the USS Yorktown. This machine was assigned to VMF-211 in the Philippines and may have seen combat briefly at the end of World War II. Returned to the U.S. as a trainer, it was ditched and sunk in Lake Washington near Seattle in 1947 and recovered in 1984.
Another Lake Washington recovery, this Corsair’s history included time aboard the carrier USS Intrepid before its transfer to the west coast. Now owned by the U.S. Navy, it is loaned to the Museum of Flight for display.
This Corsair served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, serial NZ5648, until 1949, then was displayed in New Zealand until 1971. Sold to the U.S. and rebuilt to fly as N55JP in the early 1980s, it then was passed to a British owner and flown (as G-BXUL) first in U.S. Navy VF-17 colors as shown here, then later in its own original New Zealand markings. In 2006 the plane was returned to New Zealand, registered ZK-COR, and now flies as a reminder of that country’s use of the Corsair.
FG-1D 92013 “Big Hog”
This Corsair was flown by a private owner in the 1970s as N1978M, then re-acquired by the Navy restored in VF-17 markings for display in the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, located at the Washington Navy Yard in the southeast quadrant of Washington DC.
FG-1D 92095 “Ruthless II”
Retrieved from service in El Salvador in the late 1970s, N67HP (formerly N62344) went to Howard Pardue, who restored the aircraft in the markings of Marine squadron VMF-111 but with his own initials on the tail, and sometimes flew a superb aerobatic routine in the aircraft.
In 1990 it was obtained by the Evergreen Air Museum, which repainted it in VF-17 markings and now has it on static display.
Displayed in Washington state from its 1958 Navy retirement through 1973, this Corsair was acquired by collector David Tallichet, registered N6897, and marked as an aircraft of VMF-214, the “Black Sheep.” The plane fell into disrepair at Chino airport for several years in the 1980s as shown in the photos below. In the 2000s it was extensively restored, registered N106FG, and took home the 2003 Oshkosh Grand Champion Warbird prize for its beautiful restoration in factory fresh Navy blue. Soon after, it was acquired by Vintage Wings of Canada and the markings changed to represent Canadian Victoria Cross awardee Robert Hampton Gray serving with 1841 Squadron aboard the HMS Formidable. It is currently registered C-GVWC.
Operated in the 1970s by Planes of Fame’s predecessor organizations, N3466G starred in the Black Sheep series but then fell into disrepair at Chino airport as shown in these photos from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Warbird collector Butch Schroeder acquired it and is having it restored back to better than new condition.
The National Naval Aviation Museum displays FG-1D 92246, which flew with civilians as N8050E and N766JD before being re-acquired by the Navy. Over the years it has had a few marking changes, at times representing Gregory Boyington’s VMF-214 aircraft and at times having other markings, but has been consistently inaccurate.
Bouncing among many owners in the U.S. and Britain since retirement from the Navy, this Corsair has been registered N4717C, N448AG, N17VW, G-CCMV and now N451FG. It has settled down with the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and wears VF-17 colors.
Owned by early collector I. N. Burchinal starting in 1963, this Corsair was registered N3440G. It was destroyed in a hangar fire in 1979.
Acquired from the Navy by Ed Maloney upon its retirement in 1958, Corsair N3470G was later acquired by Canadian Warplane Heritage and flown for many years in the markings of Robert Hampton Gray, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack on Japanese shipping in the final days of the war. Registered C-GCWX, it was a common sight at airshows in eastern Canada and the midwestern United States. The plane was sold to the Olympic Flight Museum in Washington in 1998, and in 2014 emerged from re-restoration in U.S. Navy colors, registered N72NW.
This Corsair served in El Salvador as serial 217, returned to the U.S. in 1969, and was mounted on a pole at the Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Connecticut, where Corsairs were designed and where many of them (but not FG-1Ds) were built. It is shown here in Boyington’s VMF-214 markings. In 2011, the Corsair was taken down for restoration. When refurbished, it will be placed on indoor display.
Commemorative Air Force Corsair N9964Z has been flying with the organization since 1960 and has worn a number of paint jobs. It has also been heavily damaged in landing accidents at least twice, in 1982 and 2005.
FG-1D 92471 “Marine’s Dream”
Warbird collector Tom Duffy of New Jersey owns the beautiful Corsair N773RD, the subject of a restoration completed in 2000.
The Texas Flying Legends Corsair is a spectacular restoration that was awarded the Grand Champion trophy at Oshkosh in 2010 against a strong field. it is registered N209TW and was brought back from El Salvador where it served as FAS 208.
N46RL is the latest of many registrations worn by this Corsair, which was restored by the Whittington brothers of Florida and flown in overall dark blue as seen in the first few photos below, then registered N46WB. The marks N7225C, N46LF and N70Rp have also appeared on the plane. It was refurbished after acquisition in 1999 by the Military Aviation Museum and now appears in VF-17 markings.
When first restored in the 1970s, this Corsair appeared in a mixture of VF-17 and VMF-214 (Boyington) markings as shown in the first photos below. It was acquired by the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum and given one of the best Corsair restorations up to that time, winning the Oshkosh Grand Champion Warbird trophy in 1980. In the markings of a Marine unit serving on Okinawa in 1945, it was flown regularly for some years but now is a static exhibit at the museum.
After service in El Salvador as FAS 215, this Corsair was repatriated in the 1970s and ended up with the late Robert Pond, registered N62290, who flew it regularly in the 1980s. Now with the Palm Springs Air Museum along with the rest of Pond’s collection, 92629 has not flown in some years but may fly again in the future.
Late in World War II, Vought planned an upgraded version of the Corsair with four-bladed propeller, additional power and other improvements. This was the third prototype of the new series, retained for testing through the war’s end. It is now a display at the New England Air Museum.
The National Naval Aviation Museum displays this F4U-4 which at various times has been registered N3771A and N4802X, although it has not had a civilian flying career.
Registered N713JT, this Corsair is with a Pennsylvania owner.
This Corsair had a racing career in the 1960s, and the first photos in this gallery show it in 1969 as Race 22, registered N6667. The plane was later acquired by a Texas collector who donated it to the Experimental Aircraft Association, which restored the Corsair and flew it briefly in the markings of Kenneth Walsh, who was credited with 21 aerial victories flying Corsairs for the Marines. This plane has since been retired to static display.
After a sale to Honduras went unconsummated, N5218V bounced among a few U.S. owners and was restored to fly in 1992. Since 1996 it has been part of the Jacquard warbird collection in France, registered F-AZVJ.
F4U-4 97286 “Angel of Okinawa”
This Corsair flew as N5215V in the 1980s. Shortly after it was acquired by the predecessor of Fantasy of Flight, it was damaged by a collapsing hangar roof in a 1992 hurricane in Florida. FoF has restored it to static display condition and likely will get it flying again one day.
After sitting in Arizona until the 1970s, N68HP (formerly N3764A) was restored by Howard Pardue in the markings of Marine VMF-223. Pardue flew a fine airshow routine in this aircraft, showcasing the impressive power of the late-model Corsairs, but it has not flown since incurring damage in a 1994 landing accident.
This is another Corsair that sat in Arizona for decades, having been the subject of a planned sale to Honduras that was not completed. Painted in Marine markings, the aircraft was displayed for several years at the Pima Air & Space Museum, but has now been returned to its owner, the Navy, for display at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
This Corsair didn’t make it to Honduras and was restored by Tom Friedkin in California in the 1970s, participating in the Black Sheep TV show as N97359. It spent a few years in the United Kingdom but since 1998 has been back in the U.S., registered N240CA with a Florida company.
Registered N5214V during its period of storage in the Arizona desert, this Corsair has been on display since 1975 at the U.S. Marine Corps’ museums, currently the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
N72378 served with Honduras as FAH 610. Retrieved in the late 1970s, it received a fine restoration during the 1990s and has since appeared in markings of Navy squadron VF-42 with a North Dakota owner.
The Yanks Air Museum has been working on this Corsair, N47991, for about three decades now. One of the Corsairs parked in Arizona for the never-completed Honduras deal, this aircraft will no doubt be a beautiful restoration when completed.
The serial number of the National World War II Museum‘s F4U-4, which may be a composite restoration, is not disclosed. It is to some extent disguised as an F4U-1, with an earlier engine cowling and a 1943-era paint scheme. The museum claims that the paint job represents one of the aircraft flown by Gregory Boyington’s VMF-214, the famous “Black Sheep,” bearing the number 833 on its side. There was a Corsair numbered 883 (serial 17883) in that unit sometimes flown by Boyington, but the best known “833” Corsair (F4U-1A 17833) actually was flown by ace Marion Carl with VMF-223.
F4U-5NL 121823 “Annie Mo”
The F4U-5 was a still further development of the Corsair, cleaned up aerodynamically and with still greater power and other improvements. About 500 were built, and many were converted to night fighters with the installation of a radar pod on the starboard wing. These aircraft were used in the Korean War and their most successful pilot was Guy Bordelon, with composite squadron VC-3 aboard the USS Princeton. Mainly flying dangerous low-level ground attack missions in darkness, Bordelon managed to shoot down five enemy aircraft during his Korean tour to become the only night-fighter ace of that conflict. The Lone Star Flight Museum‘s F4U-5 N43RW is generally painted as his aircraft, except that instead of the proper tail code “NP”, it wears “RW”, the initials of museum founder-patron Robert Waltrip. Bordelon’s aircraft also had its white markings tinted light blue to reduce their visibility at night.
A popular airshow performer for many years in the hands of the late Howard Pardue, this F4U-5 is now registered N54WF with a Montana owner. It served as FAH 605 in the Honduras and has previously worn registrations N3764A, N4901E, N49051 and N65HP.
Some F4U-5 night fighters wore a special low visibility paint scheme of black with red replacing the usual white markings. Red is a difficult color for the human eye to see in low light. The Flying Leatherneck Museum preserves this Corsair thus painted. This machine has been continuously in the ownership of the Navy and Marine Corps since its service days.
A regular and popular participant at the Oshkosh fly-in and other midwestern events, N179PT served in Honduras, was rebuilt with components of several aircraft in the 1980s, and today is with a Mississippi owner. It is marked as serial 122179 of Marine fighter squadron VMF-312.
After serving as FAH 602 in Honduras, this Corsair was restored in the 1980s and blown briefly before being dealt to the U.S. Marine Corps as a museum display. Most recently it has been loaned to the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, Kansas, still registered N100CV.
F4U-5 124486 “Flying Nightmare”
After Honduran service as serial 606, this Corsair was registered N49068 and displayed widely at airshows in Southern California, where these photos were taken. The aircraft was restored to represent Guy Bordelon’s aircraft, like serial 121823 above, initial with the correct “NP” tail codes with but later with the initials of owner Richard Bertea. It was later sold to an Illinois owner, badly damaged in a 2000 crash, repaired, and is now flying in Marine VMF(N)-213 markings.
The Collings Foundation F4U-5 N45NL is, not surprisingly, one of the best F4U-5 restorations. Unlike many airworthy F4U-5s which have had their radar pods removed because of its adverse effect on the plane’s handling, Collings has left theirs installed, and also often flies the aircraft with the unusual but accurate asymmetrical ordnance configuration of a drop tank on the left pylon only, offsetting the weight of the radar pod.
F4U-7 133693 “Blue Max”
The fourth major revision of the Corsair design was the F4U-7, a version optimized for ground attack and supplied mainly to the French Navy. This machine was displayed in museums in Canada and the U.S. after returning from France in the 1960s, then was put into airworthy shape by Robert Guilford of California in the 1970s. These photos show N33693 (formerly N693M and CF-VUM) in the mid 1970s. It was destroyed in a crash in 1987.
This Corsair is shown while on display at the USS Alabama Memorial, both before and after it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. It has since been repaired for display at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
F4U-7 133714 “Alberta Blue”
Corsair N33714, later C-GWFU, returned from France and participated in the “Baa Baa Black Sheep” TV series in the 1970s. It was sold to a Canadian owner who operated it in Alberta for a number of years, but more recently has returned to the U.S.
The Erickson Aircraft Collection‘s Corsair was restored in the 1970s after its return from France and was flown in the United States in refreshing French markings for a time. Like other preserved F4U-7s, it is now wearing U.S. markings even though the U.S. services never used the -7.
The F2G, with its huge 4-bank radial engine and bubble canopy, looks distinctive from any other Corsair model. This survivor was a test aircraft during the war and was retired with less than 300 hours of flying time. Initially owned by the National Air & Space Museum, it was traded away and has appeared in three or four different air museums since the 1960s. It has now settled down at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The magnificent F2G N5588N was modified for racing in 1949 as race #57. After many years in storage it was restored by Robert Odegaard in North Dakota in its original race colors, creating a sensation at airshows and fly-ins. It is now based in Arizona.
N5577N was more extensively modified for racing than 88458. It had clipped wings, no landing flaps, a smaller vertical tail, and more extensive aerodynamic cleaning up, which must have made it challenging to fly. After many years in storage it, too, was restored to flying condition by Robert Odegaard, flying in 2011. Tragically, Odegaard was killed and this plane destroyed in a 2012 crash. These photos show it at the National Air Races in 2011, where it actually competed, racing for the first time since 1949.
Super Corsair N31518
Built up from parts of several Corsairs in 1982, this racing aircraft owned by Planes of Fame used the same engine as the F2G series Corsairs. It raced in the National Air Races for several years and won the championship once, in 1985. In 1994 it caught fire during a race and was destroyed after the pilot bailed out successfully.