History of the Vaught F4U Corsair Plane (cont'd)
Since the landing gear had to be very strong to withstand the pounding of a
carrier deck landing, a short, stout leg was required. Also, there wouldn’t be
enough room in the wing to properly stow a longer gear. And, if the prop were
shortened, much of the horsepower of the Double Wasp would be wasted. So, Vought
engineers came up with the distinctive inverted gull-wing design which forever
characterized the F4U Corsair. This "bent wing" design allowed the
huge prop to clear the deck while providing for a short, stout landing gear.
And, as a byproduct, the wing also improved the aerodynamics of the intersection
where the wing attaches to the fuselage, boosting the top speed.
It was a very "slick" looking plane using flush riveting and a new technique developed jointly by Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory called "spot-welding". In order to make the Corsair as aerodynamically clean as possible, there was nothing protruding into the air stream. The intake for the turbo-supercharger, intercooler and the oil cooler were located in slots in the inboard leading edges of the wings. Vought designed the fuselage with a circular cross-section which fit snugly over the Pratt-Whitney engine. The F4U was the first Navy craft to have landing gear which retracted flush into the bottom of the wing, though it took some effort. Other craft had retracting gear, but there was always some bulge or part of the wheel exposed. Vought engineers designed the Corsairs wheels to swivel 90º and retract straight back to fit flat inside the bottom of the wing. Two panels then closed over the gear making a perfectly smooth fairing. The idea was to mate the most powerful engine with the smallest, cleanest possible airframe.
The XF4U-1 first went aloft on May 1, 1940 and five months later flew the 45
miles (73 km) between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut at a speed of 405
miles per hour (651.8 kph), becoming the first production aircraft to exceed 400
mph in level flight. The US Navy was very pleased with the performance of the
Corsair and, in June 1941, ordered 584 copies. Over the next 11 years that
figure would grow to over 12,500 F4Us.
Several stumbling blocks developed when carrier trials were held aboard the USS Sangamon and other carriers in late 1941. The biggest problem was the long nose. It stuck out 14 feet (4.27 m) in front of the pilot, and when the Corsair was sitting in take-off position, the nose pointed up at an angle sufficient to block forward vision to about 12º above the horizon. In carrier landings it was practically impossible to see the Landing Signals Officer once the Corsair was lined up with the carrier deck on final approach. Adding to this problem were oil and hydraulic leaks from the engine compartment which seeped past the cowl flaps and smeared the windshield, further restricting visibility.
Landing on a carrier deck required the pilot to have the plane at stall speed just as the tail-hook snagged the deck wire, but this was made very difficult by the wicked stall characteristics of the F4U. Just as stall speed was reached, the left wing tended to drop like a rock. In a deck landing this could cause the landing gear to collapse resulting in injuries to the pilot and severe damage to the aircraft. Assuming luck was with the pilot and he landed intact, the Corsair plane normally "bottomed out" the shock absorbers as it slammed down on the deck. The resulting recoil caused the plane to bounce high in the air. The tailhook itself sometimes failed to "trap" the plane by engaging an arrestor wire. If this happened on a straight deck carrier it usually meant the aircraft plowed into the planes parked forward. It was said on a straight deck carrier there were only two kinds of landings; a "trap" and a catastrophe!
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