The Bent-Winged Bird…. Whistling Death… Those two nicknames for this iconic WWII aircraft not only conjure up its reputation as a machine to be loved by friends and feared by enemies; they also happen to reference two of the central design features that made it powerful enough and fast enough to have been the second longest-produced fighter in U.S. aviation history — after only the F4 Phantom jet. Images of War: The Vought F4U Corsair by Martin W. Bowman offers a comprehensive look at the history of the Corsair, from the drawing board to the battle records of the American, British and French squadrons that flew it, backed up by page after page of photographs.
Design and development of the Corsair began in the late 1930s. Its wings were bent into their distinctive inverted gull shape in order to accommodate the gigantic power plant the Navy wanted in its next-generation fighter. By dipping the wings right at the point where the landing gear resides, designers could win enough ground clearance to put a huge propeller on a plane the size of a fighter, while still holding the fuselage at what seemed like a reasonable angle of incline. The high-pitched whistling sound Japanese units associated with the Corsair comes from the intakes built into the leading edges of the wings — a feature that reduced drag and contributed to the Corsair becoming the Navy’s first 400+ mph fighter.
The Corsair was clearly a deadly weapon in the making, but its long nose and idiosyncratic behavior at landing speeds made carrier landings problematic. The U.S Navy therefore assigned the aircraft to land-based Navy and Marine Corps squadrons until pioneering testing and adjustments made by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm proved that devastating ship-borne deployment of Corsair units was indeed possible. By early 1945, American Corsairs had joined F6f Hellcats on the decks of fleet carriers, and by the time the War in the Pacific was done, the F4u had established a kill ratio of over 11 to 1 against Japanese adversaries (11). Five years later, when the Korean War began, Corsairs were still very much a part of the Navy’s arsenal, and they flew combat missions for another year before being fully replaced by newer jet aircraft.
True to the Images of War series, The Vought F4U Corsair makes for a compact yet quite satisfying overview of its subject. I didn’t have this book as a reference when I posted my own F4u diorama a few months ago, but I was pleased to see several images of planes from VF-17, the squadron my model represents, looking quite like what I had.