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The Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsair

Entering the design competition for a new carrier based monoplane fighter, the Chance Vought Company contracted with the U.S. Navy for a single prototype aircraft in June 1938. Chance Vought engineers set out to design the smallest possible airframe around the most powerful engine then available.

However, problems plagued the project early. The selection of a fourteen foot diameter four-blade propeller meant that the forward fuselage had to be kept well clear of the ground and carrier deck. This, in turn, required a tall fragile undercarriage -- a quality highly unsuitable for rough carrier landings. The solution was the inverted gull wing configuration, destined to become the trademark of the Corsair.

The main landing gear was repositioned at the elbow of the wing, making the gear more compact and robust as required for carrier operations. Designated F4U, the new airplane made its maiden flight on 29 May 1940 and later exceeded the 400-mph mark, the first American fighter to accomplish that feat.

With the cockpit located so far aft, pilots flying the Corsair on board carriers had difficulty with visibility when the plane was nose high, resulting in numerous take-off and landing mishaps.

This quickly prompted restriction of the aircraft exclusively to shore-based squadrons. Eventually, training improved and Corsair squadrons returned to the carrier decks later in the war.

The F4U saw extensive action throughout the Pacific Theater, flown by American Navy and Marine pilots as well as the air arms of Britain and New Zealand. Many of the highest scoring Allied aces in the Pacific flew the Corsair, including Ira Kepford and the legendary Greg "Pappy" Boyington, the top Marine ace of the War.

The end of the Pacific War did not bring about the end of F4U combat operations. The F4U-4 and -5, more advanced models of the Corsair, saw heavy action during the Korean War.

For the most part, the former served in the ground-attack role hauling bombs, napalm and air-to-ground rockets against Communist forces while the -5 variant was modified into a night fighter. Later, Corsairs saw action with the French in Indo-China and the Mid-East, and in numerous Latin American conflicts of the 1950's and '60s.

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