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Walk-around: F4U-5 Corsair

Forum member Kevin Johnson (MIflyer) sent in this wonderfully detailed walk around report of an F4U-5, along with a veritable plethora of of photos. Sorry it took me so long to get it posted, Kevin!

kvein-f4u5_walkaround-44It’s hard to over-emphasize the romantic attachment that Americans have with old warbirds, especially those of WWII vintage. A lot of folks remember the 1940’s as the last time when the United States truly was united in purpose, moral direction, and a sense of patriotism. Whether that’s true or not is a topic for a different discussion, but the fact remains: we love our fast, loud, nostalgic machines. As a pilot, I attend quite a few local fly-ins and other aviation-related events, and nothing gets people out to the airport like warbirds sitting on the ramp.

At a local Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in back in August, I was surprised to find a gleaming gloss-blue Corsair parked in the grass. I always carry my camera to the airport because one never knows when a surprise visitor like this one will show up. Good modeler that I am, I set to work taking close-up photos of the airplane. In the process, I inquired with a few pilots and found out that a local businessman had recently purchased the aircraft. I sought him out and asked a few questions. Warbird owner/pilots may get treated like celebrities by airshow visitors, but I’ve found that they are unfailingly amiable and love nothing more than to talk about their airplane to a fellow pilot.

There isn’t much that I can say about the deservedly famous Corsair that hasn’t been said more eloquently by others before me. Suffice to say, it’s an outstandingly example of form following function in aircraft design, and is among the most successful warplanes ever produced: eight of the ten highest-scoring U.S. Marine Corps aces in WWII flew the F4U. Rather than relate the history of Corsairs in general, I’ll speak to some of the history and peculiarities of this specific airplane.

So, ladies and gentlemen, presenting for your viewing pleasure: one Chance-Vought F4U-5N Corsair, bureau number 123168, sixty-one years old and still flying. It was manufactured in 1947, and delivered to the U.S. Navy in October 1948. Unfortunately, not much is known about the aircraft’s initial service with the U.S. Navy, including whether or not it served in Korea. The aircraft was eventually sold and shipped south in March 1956, and flew as FAH-603 (at least one reference lists it as FAH-604) in the Air Force of Honduras. Corsairs flew their final combat missions during the 1969 “Football War” between Honduras and El Salvador, and this Corsair, along with 21 others, saw combat during that brief conflict, primarily in the ground-attack role against Salvadoran airfields and fuel facilities. The airplane was recovered disassembled from Honduras in 1978 and restored to flying condition as an F4U-5 in 1987.

How can you spot a -5 Corsair, in particular? The engine cowling is the biggest giveaway. F4U-1s and -2s have a smooth cowling and three-blade prop. F4U-3s and -4s are supercharged, and have a chin scoop for inlet air. They have a four-blade prop. The F4U-5 made the leap to the dual-supercharged version of the R-2800 engine, so it has a pair of “cheek” scoops on the cowling in place of the single chin scoop. The new engine was good for 2,450 horsepower, up from 2,100 in the F4U-4. The -5 retained the four-blade propeller. Other modifications to the F4U-5 include a 5 inch fuselage extension, metal ailerons and outer top wing panels in place of the fabric used on previous variants, and a fully retractable tailwheel and tailhook. The engine was also canted forward about 2 degrees to help compensate for its massive torque. 568 F4U-5s were built, out of more than 12,500 Corsairs of all variants. 28 Corsairs of all types are still flying today.

This airplane is marked as USMC WR/5 in the colors of VMF-312, the “Checkerboards,” and sports that squadron’s distinctive white nose markings. While aboard the USS Bataan during the Korean war, Capt. Jesse Folmar of VMF-312 became the first pilot of a piston-engined fighter to shoot down a jet, scoring a kill against a MiG-15 on 10 September, 1952. He was the only Corsair pilot to ever do so. The only prop-fighter ace of the Korean War, U.S. Navy Lt. Guy Bordelon, flew the F4U-5N.

The pilot whose name appears on this aircraft, Phillip C. DeLong, was born in Jackson, Michigan and is the Marine Corps’ thirteenth-highest scoring ace. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew nearly two hundred combat missions with VMF-212 in the Solomon Islands in WWII and VMF-312 in Korea. All of his aerial victories were in Corsairs: 11 1/6 Zeros in WWII, and 2 Yak-9s on 21 April 1951. That particular mission marked the first time that carrier-based Marine fighters tangled with enemy aircraft over Korea. He retired a full colonel in 1969.

(An interesting side note: Colonel DeLong’s son, Michael P. “Rifle” DeLong, followed his father into Marine Corps service and flew helicopters in Vietnam. He attained the rank of Lt. General, commanded the Third Marine Air Wing, and was deputy commander – under General Tommy Franks – of U.S. Central Command from 2000 through 2003, during the tumultuous period that included the September 11th terrorist attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

The strict “authenticity” of these markings on an F4U-5N is up for debate, but again, not much is known about the aircraft’s U.S. service career – some educated guessing would’ve had to take place regardless of the chosen color scheme. This is a challenge that all aircraft restoration projects have to come to terms with in their own way. Warbird owners have differing priorities: some want to recreate an exact replica of the aircraft as it was in military service, others want their plane to wear the colors of a certain pilot they know or admire, and others just pick a paint scheme that catches their fancy.

I haven’t found anything to suggest that VMF-312 ever flew the -5 variant of the Corsair, but that is by no means definitive. Photos taken aboard the Bataan in early 1952 show VMF-312 aircraft that are clearly F4U-4s. U.S. Navy records of DeLong’s aerial victories in 1951 show that he flew an F4U-4. The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida has an F4U-4 on display in VMF-312 markings that is generally similar in appearance to 123168. All issues of “hysterical accuracy” aside, this is a Korean War-vintage Corsair in Korean War-vintage markings, and it looks great. I say, when in doubt, paint it blue and put “MARINES” down the side in great big letters… but that’s just the author’s personal bias at work!

Some other things about this particular plane that you’ll notice in the photos: its late-type R-2800 engine is identifiable by the cylindrical gear reduction housing that is riveted all the way around the front. It carries four 20mm M-3 cannons in place of six .50 machine guns. This was common on Corsairs used by the USMC in the close air support and night-fighter roles, and the Marines often loaded the M-3 with high-explosive incendiary shells. The tailhook has recently been removed, although its mounting hardware is still plainly visible on the tailwheel strut. Since this aircraft is a F4U-5N, it originally carried a radar pod, although it was restored in the F4U-5 fighter-bomber configuration and no longer has radar. The aircraft does not carry rails for mounting rockets. The flight instruments and radios have been replaced with modern equipment. The gunsight has been removed from the cockpit for better visibility over the nose. The kill markings below the cockpit are very faded in comparison to the rest of the aircraft, which suggests that the kill markings are decals.

You’ll also notice that the aircraft carries a bureau number of 122179, in place of its real ID number. 122179 is another ex-Honduran aircraft that suffered a forced landing near Houston, Texas in 1984 and was badly damaged. In 1987, work began to restore 123168 to airworthiness, with a large number of parts from 122179 used in the restoration. At some point over the years, 123168’s data plate was lost, and at the time of the restoration, no one seemed to know the true identity of the airplane. Upon being registered as N179PT in October 1987, the restored aircraft took on the serial number of 122179. At the time of her restoration, the aircraft was painted as US Navy NP/9 in overall sea blue with a red lightning bolt down each side of the nose. Since then, the real bureau number has been tracked down, but none of the aircraft’s subsequent owners have been inclined to go through the bureaucratic hassles of officially changing the number with the FAA. I can’t say that I blame them. The “real” 122179 is still sitting in outdoor storage in Florida, waiting for a new owner and a very large dose of TLC.

In August 1988, 123168 was delivered to Warbirds of Great Britain, LTD at Biggin Hill, where it was operated until 1995. During this period, ownership of the aircraft remained with an individual in the US and the aircraft retained its US registration. It was briefly registered as N179NP while painted as NP/9.

The aircraft returned to the US and was purchased by Jim Read in mid-1998. Not long after purchasing the aircraft, Read had it repainted as USMC WR/5. During Read’s ownership, the aircraft was operated by the Indiana Aviation Museum in Valparaiso, and appeared at airshows across the eastern United States. It was damaged at EAA Airventure in July 1999 when Read ran it off the runway in order to avoid a collision with another aircraft, but was quickly rebuilt to airworthy condition and is no worse for the wear today.

The airplane was recently sold to an individual in the Lansing area, where I spotted it at an August EAA fly-in. Since then it’s been spotted on the ramp several more times at Lansing’s Capital City Airport, and I saw it in the air recently. Since the sale, the Corsair has been deleted from the Indiana Aviation Museum’s website, which leads me to believe that the museum is no longer operating the aircraft under its new ownership. Still, it’s wonderful to see aircraft like this being lovingly maintained and, even more importantly, flown and enjoyed. The new owner plans for the aircraft to still make regular airshow appearances throughout the Midwest – keep your eyes open!

I apologize for the lack of overall exterior shots of the aircraft – there were simply too many people in the area to get a good photo. Several more very good photos of this Corsair are available at and Happy viewing and happy modeling!

Manufacturer: Chance-Vought, 1947, delivered to the US Navy 19 October 1948.

Engine: one 2,459 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-32W
Weight: empty 8,980 lbs, maximum takeoff 14,000 lbs.
Wing Span: 41 ft
Length: 33 ft 4 in
Height: 16 ft 1 in
Max Speed: 470 mph
Ceiling: 37,000 ft
Range: 1,100 miles
Armament: 4 x 20 mm M-3 cannons. Could also carry eight 5-inch HVAR rockets, as well as drop tanks, bombs, or napalm.