During World War II, Corsair production expanded beyond Vought to include Brewster and Goodyear models.
Allied forces flying the aircraft in World War II included the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Eventually, more than 12,500 F4Us would be built, comprising 16 separate variants.
In February 1938 the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics published two requests for proposal for twin-engined and single-engined fighters.
For the single-engined fighter the Navy requested the maximum obtainable speed, and a stalling speed not higher than 70 miles per hour (110 km/h). A range of 1,000 miles (1,600 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.
In June 1938, the U.S. Navy signed a contract with Vought for a prototype bearing the factory designation V-166B, the XF4U-1, BuNo 1443. The Corsair design team was led by Rex Beisel.
After mock-up inspection in February 1939, construction of the XF4U-1 powered by an XR-2800-4 prototype of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp twin-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, rated at 1,805 hp (1,346 kW) went ahead quickly, as the very first airframe ever designed from the start to have a Double Wasp engine fitted for flight.
When the prototype was completed, it had the biggest and most powerful engine, largest propeller, and probably the largest wing on any naval fighter to date.
The first flight of the XF4U-1 was made on 29 May 1940, with Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. at the controls.
The maiden flight proceeded normally until a hurried landing was made when the elevator trim tabs failed because of flutter.
On 1 October 1940, the XF4U-1 became the first single-engine U.S. fighter to fly faster than 400 mph (640 km/h) by flying at an average ground speed of 405 mph (652 km/h) from Stratford to Hartford.
The USAAC’s twin engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning had flown over 400 mph in January–February 1939.
The XF4U-1 also had an excellent rate of climb although testing revealed some requirements would have to be rewritten.
In full-power dive tests, speeds of up to 550 mph (890 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 two-turn spin proved impossible without resorting to an anti-spin chute.
The problems clearly meant delays in getting the design into production.
Reports coming back from the war in Europe indicated an armament of two .30 in (7.62 mm) synchronized engine cowling-mount machine guns, and two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each outer wing panel) were insufficient.
The U.S. Navy’s November 1940 production proposals specified heavier armament.
The increased armament comprised three .50 calibre machine guns mounted in each wing panel.
This improvement greatly increased the ability of the Corsair to shoot down enemy aircraft.
Formal U.S. Navy acceptance trials for the XF4U-1 began in February 1941.
The Navy entered into a letter of intent on 3 March 1941, received Vought’s production proposal on 2 April, and awarded Vought a contract for 584 F4U-1 fighters, which were given the name “Corsair” inherited from the firm’s late-1920s Vought O2U naval biplane scout which first bore the name on 30 June of the same year.
The first production F4U-1 performed its initial flight a year later, on 24 June 1942.
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.
(Called Corsair Mk I by the Fleet Air Arm)
The first production version of the Corsair with the distinctive “birdcage” canopy and low seating position. The differences over the XF4U-1 were as follows:
Six .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning AN/M2 machine guns were fitted in the outer wing panels, displacing fuel tanks.
An enlarged 237 US gal (900 l) fuel tank was fitted ahead of the cockpit, in place of the fuselage armament.
The cockpit was moved back by 32 in (810 mm).
The fuselage was lengthened by 1 ft 5 in (0.43 m).
The more powerful R-2800-8 Double Wasp was fitted.
150 pounds (68 kg) of armour plate was fitted to the cockpit and a 1.5 in (38 mm) thick bullet-resistant glass panel was fitted behind the curved windscreen.
IFF transponder equipment was fitted.
Curved transparent panels were incorporated into the fuselage behind the pilot’s headrest.
The flaps were changed from deflector type to NACA slotted.
The span of the ailerons was increased while that of the flaps was decreased.
One 62 US gal (230 l) auxiliary fuel cell (not a self-sealing type) was installed in each wing leading edge, just outboard of the guns.
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm received 95 Vought F4U-1s.
These were all early “birdcage” Corsairs.
Vought also built a single F4U-1 two-seat trainer, the Navy showed no interest.
(Called Corsair Mk II by the Fleet Air Arm):
Mid-to-late production Corsairs incorporated a new, taller, wider canopy with only two frames, very close to what the Malcolm hood did for British fighter aircraft, along with a simplified windscreen, the new canopy design implied that the semi-elliptical turtle deck “flank” windows could be omitted.
The designation F4U-1A to differentiate these Corsairs from earlier “birdcage” variants was allowed to be used internally by manufacturers.
The pilot’s seat was raised 7 in (180 mm) which, combined with the new canopy and a 6 in (150 mm) lengthening of the tailwheel strut, allowed the pilot better visibility over the long nose.
In addition to these changes, the bombing window under the cockpit was omitted.
These Corsairs introduced a 6 in (150 mm)-long stall strip just outboard of the gun ports on the right-wing leading edge and improved undercarriage oleo struts which eliminated bouncing on landing, making these the first truly “carrier capable” F4Us.
In British service, they were modified with “clipped” wings (8 in (200 mm) was cut off each wingtip) for use on British aircraft carriers, although the Royal Navy had been successfully operating the Corsair Mk I since 1 June 1943 when No. 1830 Squadron NAS was commissioned and assigned to HMS Illustrious.
F4U-1s in many USMC squadrons had their arrester hooks removed.
Additionally, an experimental R-2800-8W engine with water injection was fitted on one of the late F4U-1As.
After satisfactory results, many F4U-1As were fitted with the new powerplant.
F3A-1 & F3A-1D
(Called Corsair Mk III by the Fleet Air Arm)
This was the designation for Brewster built F4U-1.
Labor troubles delayed production, and the Navy ordered the company’s contract terminated; they folded soon after.
Poor quality wing fittings meant that these aircraft were red lined for speed and prohibited from aerobatics after several lost their wings.
None of the Brewster-built Corsairs reached front line units.
430 Brewster Corsairs were delivered to the Fleet Air Arm.
FG-1A & FG-1D
(Called Corsair Mk IV by the Fleet Air Arm)
This was the designation for Corsairs that were license-built by Goodyear, to the same specifications as Vought’s Corsairs.
The first Goodyear built FG-1 flew in February 1943 and Goodyear began delivery of FG-1 Corsairs in April 1943.
This was an unofficial post-war designation used to identify F4U-1s modified for Fleet Air Arm use.
The prototype F4U-1C appeared in August 1943 and was based on an F4U-1.
Intended for ground-attack as well as fighter missions, the F4U-1C was similar to the F4U-1D but its six machine guns were replaced by four 20 mm (0.79 in) AN/M2 cannons with 231 rounds of ammunition per gun.
(Called Corsair Mk II by the Fleet Air Arm)
This variant was introduced in April 1944 and was built in parallel with the F4U-1C.
It had the new R-2800-8W Double Wasp engine equipped with water injection.
This change gave the aircraft up to 250 hp (190 kW) more power, which, in turn, increased performance.
Speed was increased from 417 mph (671 km/h) to 425 mph (684 km/h).
Special night fighter variant, equipped with two auxiliary fuel tanks.
Experimental conversion of the F4U-1 Corsair into a carrier-borne night fighter, armed with five .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, and fitted with Airborne Intercept (AI) radar set in a radome placed outboard on the starboard wing.
Experimental aircraft built to hold different engines in order to test the Corsair’s performance with a variety of power plants.
This variant never entered service.
Goodyear also contributed a number of airframes, designated FG-3, to the project.
A single sub-variant XF4U-3B with minor modifications was also produced for the FAA.
New engine and cowling.
The last variant to see action during World War II.
Deliveries to the U.S. Navy of the F4U-4 began in early 1945.
The aircraft required an air scoop under the nose and the unarmoured wing fuel tanks of 62 US gal (230 L) capacities were removed for better manoeuvrability at the expense of maximum range.
The propeller was changed to a four-blade type.
Maximum speed was increased to 448 miles per hour (721 km/h) and climb rate to over 4,500 feet per minute (1,400 m/min) as opposed to the 2,900 feet per minute (880 m/min) of the F4U-1A.
Vought also tested the two F4U-4Xs prototypes for the new R2800 with fixed wingtip tanks and an Aeroproducts six-blade contra prop.
300 F4U-4s ordered with alternate gun armament of four 20 millimetres (0.79 in) AN/M3 cannon.
F4U-4E & F4U-4N
Developed late in WWII, these night fighters featured radar radomes projecting from the right wingtip.
The -4E was fitted with the APS-4 search radar, while the -4N was fitted with the APS-6 type.
F4U-4 equivalent to the -1P, a rare photo reconnaissance variant.
New engine cowling, other extensive changes.
A 1945 design modification of the F4U-4, first flown on 21 December 1945, was intended to increase the F4U-4 Corsair’s overall performance and incorporate many Corsair pilots’ suggestions.
Radar equipped version.
Fitted with rubber de-icing boots on the leading edge of the wings and tail.
Long-range photo-reconnaissance version.
Re-designated AU-1, this was a ground-attack version produced for the U.S. Marine Corps.
AU-1 developed for the French Navy.
Goodyear FG-1 with radar equipment.
Goodyear FG-1 as drone.
Turbosupercharger version converted from FG-1D.
U.S. Marines attack variant with extra armour to protect the pilot and fuel tank, and the oil coolers relocated inboard to reduce vulnerability to ground fire.
First produced in 1952 and used in Korea and retired in 1957.
Re-designated from F4U-6.
Super Corsair Variants
Goodyear F2G Corsair
In March 1944, Pratt & Whitney requested an F4U-1 Corsair from Vought Aircraft for evaluation of their new P&W R-4360, Wasp Major 4-row 28-cylinder “corncob” radial engine.
The F2G-1 and F2G-2 were significantly different aircraft.
F2G-1 featured a manual folding wing and 14 ft (4.3 m) propeller, while the F2G-2 had hydraulic operated folding wings, 13 ft (4.0 m) propeller, and carrier arresting hook for carrier use.
33 ft 8 in (10.26 m)
41 ft 0 in (12.50 m)
14 ft 9 in (4.50 m)
314 sq ft (29.17 m2)
9,205 lb (4,238 kg)
14,670 lb (6,654 kg)
Max take-off weight
14,533 lb (6,592 kg)
1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W radial engine,
2,380 hp (1,770 kW)
446 mph (717 km/h, 385 kn)
215 mph (346 km/h, 187 kn)
89 mph (143 km/h, 77 kn)
1,005 mi (1,617 km, 873 nmi)
328 mi (528 km, 285 nmi)
41,500 ft (12,600 m)
Rate of climb
4,360 ft/min (22.1 m/s)
6 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, 400 rounds per gun
4 × 0.79 in (20 mm) AN/M3 cannon, 231 rounds per gun
8 × 5 in (12.7 cm) high velocity aircraft rockets and/or