Up to this point, night fighters had always carried a radar operator to assist the pilot, so the Corsair was the first to attempt the mission with the pilot using his own three-inch radar scope. The first Marine night fighter squadron was VMF(N)-514 on Roi island and the only F4U-2 squadron on a carrier was the Enterprise’s VF(N)-101.
Numerous improvements were gradually introduced on the F4U-1 production line without changing the official designation, and parallel Brewster and Goodyear aircraft reflected these changes. The first 949 F4U-1s had a low, framed “birdcage” canopy, while a new cockpit canopy and pilot’s seat raised seven inches to improve vision was introduced on Corsair #950 on August 9, 1943; these were styled F4U-lA in unofficial reports. The first 36 went to VF-17, which began a South Pacific combat tour in October 1943, based in the Solomons after being removed from a carrier. Capt. John T. Blackburn’s squadron claimed 127 victories in 75 days, considered to be the most successful Navy squadron record.
Beginning with F4U-1 #1302 on October 5, a center-line rack for a 175-gallon drop tank or 1,000-pound bomb was installed, allowing the Corsairs to become dive-bombers. With each wingtip clipped 8 inches so they could fold inside the smaller hangars on British car iers, they became the Corsair II.
The R-2800-8W with water injection for emergency power appeared with the 1,551st Vought Corsair on November 25, 1943. These engines were also standardized on the 101st FG-1, the last 86 F3A-1s, and all the F4U-1D models. Using water injection, allowed for no more than five minutes, increased F4U-1D speed with military power at sea level from 343 to 358 mph, with similar gains to 20,000 feet.
The F4U-1D and FG-1D added twin pylons under the gulled wings for two 1,000-pound bombs or 150-gallon drop tanks. The internal wing tanks were eliminated, and the last six hundred added eight 5-inch rockets. With improved landing gear, the first F4U-1D was accepted April 22, 1944, and the last of 1,685 F4U-1Ds was delivered February 2, 1945. Beginning in July 1944, Vought also built concurrently 200 F4U-1Cs armed with four 20-mm guns and 924 rounds instead of the usual .50-caliber guns.
Altogether, Vought built 4,699 F4U-1 series Corsairs including 95 Corsair Is and 510 Corsair IIs (new canopy) for the British Navy, of which 416 were actually exported, the others training British pilots at U.S. Naval Air Stations. New Zealand received another 238 F4U-1As and 126 F4U-1Ds
The Navy had closed the badly managed Brewster factory in July 1944 after 735 F3A-ls were finished, including 430 British Corsair IIIs, of which 361 were exported. Goodyear continued production until the war’s end, completing 4,007 FG-l series Corsairs, with the Royal Navy allocated 932 FG-1Ds as the Corsair IV, of which 823 were exported, and 60 more delivered for New Zealand from January to April 1945.
Three high-altitude XF4U-3s with a turbosupercharged R-2800-16 fed by a belly intake were ordered in March 1942 as F4U-1 conversions, with the first flown April 22, 1944, but the adaptation was unsuitable. Vought began the conversion of two F4U-ls to an F4U-4X configuration on May 20, 1943, and five fresh XF4U-4 prototypes and 1,414 F4U-4s were ordered January 25, 1944.
Powered by an R-2800-18W and four-bladed propeller, and recognizable by the air intake added under the cowl, the first F4U-4X flew May 19, 1944, the first XF4U-4 on September 20, and the first three F4U-4s were accepted in December. Six .50-caliber guns, 212 pounds of armor and two 1,000-pound bombs or eight 5-inch rockets were carried.
Corsair combat operations from U.S. aircraft carriers were finally begun January 3, 1945, by Marine F4U-1D squadrons VMF-124 and VMF-213 on the Essex. Additional Marine Corsair squadrons doubled the single-seat fighter strength on carriers Wasp, Bunker Hill, and Franklin. The Bennington had 35 F4U-1Ds of VMF-112 and -123, along with 37 Hellcats of VF-82, 15 Helldivers, and 15 Avengers when the battle for Okinawa opened in March. Marines were also assigned four new escort carriers to provide mixed Corsair/Avenger units for close support.
Marine successes made previous reluctance to operate Corsairs from flight decks seem timid. Navy bomber-fighter squadrons (VBF) joined the battle from the big carriers, while land-based Marine squadrons continued the ground-support role, introducing napalm bombs on April 18 on Okinawa. VBF-83’s 36 F4U-1D Corsairs replaced the Marines on the Essex and VBF-86 Corsairs went on the Wasp. By August 1945, there were 1,236 Corsairs with Navy fighter-bomber squadrons, and 874 with 34 Marine units.
Nineteen Fleet Air Arm squadrons formed on Corsairs at U.S. Navy bases from June 1943 to April 1945, and fought from Norway to Japan. New Zealand’s 13 fighter squadrons replaced their Kittyhawks with 424 Corsairs in 1944/45.
At the war’s end, Corsairs had flown 64,051 action sorties, and shot down 2,140 Japanese aircraft at a loss of 768 F4Us, including only 189 in air combat, 341 to anti-aircraft fire, 98 on ships or fields, and 230 operational. Its most successful pilots were Marines: Gregory Boyington, who flew Corsairs for 22 of his 28 victories, Robert M. Hanson with 25 victories, and Kenneth A. Walsh with 21 victories.
The F4U-4 scored its first victory on June 10, 1945, with VMF-212 and production peaked when 303 were delivered in July. By the end of August 1945, 1,859 F4U-4s had been accepted, but victory cancellations reduced contracts from 3,149 to 2,196, the rest delivered as 21 planes each month until April 1946. They were followed by 287 F4U-4Bs with four 20-mm guns, one XF4U-4N with APS-6 radar, and 11 F4U-4P photo ships completed by August 1947.
Goodyear’s contracts for 2,500 FG-4s was also canceled, but they had designed the F2G-1 with the big 3,000-hp Wasp Major and higher tail. Eight FG-ls were diverted to the XF2G-l program, the first flying May 31, 1944. A March 22, 1944, contract called for 418 F2G-ls, and ten F2G-2s with carrier gear and folding wings, the first flown October 15. But only five of each were actually accepted; one in June 1945, the rest from August 1945 to February 1946.
Faster at low altitudes than the standard Corsair, they had a bubble canopy and an intake above the engine. Four .50-caliber guns with 1,200 rounds were carried in the wings together with fittings for two 1,600- pound bombs. All F2Gs were eventually sold as surplus and some were successful as private racers.