Nicknamed the “Bent Wing Widow Maker” by pilots who wrestled her onto the decks of the World War II carriers, and “Whistling Death” by our enemies who heard the distinctive shriek created by the wing root veins as she dove inbound on the attack, the Corsair proved extremely formidable as a weapon of war. In fact, most aeronautical historians would argue the F4U was the finest prop-driven fighter plane ever to see action. In the hands of a capable pilot, the Corsair was almost unbeatable.
While the Corsair was designed to be flown from carrier decks, the bulk of the aircraft’s production went to the Marine Corps where they were flown from the forward islands of the Central Pacific, the Philippines and ultimately Okinawa. Once having gone through teething problems, typical of any new operational aircraft, the Corsair amassed a very healthy kill ratio of 11:1 over the Japanese. Although it was faster than the front-line Navy fighter at the time, the Grumman F6F Hellcat, only a handful of Naval squadrons operated the Corsair at sea, and only one squadron from land bases. The Vought Corporation produced 16 variants of the Corsair, totaling more than 12,000 units. Goodyear and Brewster added to the totals, producing variants of their own. Among those types, were a rare photo reconnaissance version, a night fighter, and the FG2 series employing the largest piston engine in production at the time, the Pratt and Whitney R-4360.
Far from being written off following WWII, the Corsair motored on with a special version, the AU-1, built for the Marines and employed as a low-level ground attack aircraft during the Korean conflict. In fact, as late as 1955, the Corsair could be found in active duty Marine Corps squadrons, and the final 94 aircraft in the series, the F4U-7 built for the French Navy, saw action in Algeria, Indo China and the Suez, before being retired in 1964. The Museum’s aircraft, a F4U-7, has been restored as an AU-1 in the markings of San Diego Padres long time announcer Jerry Coleman. Coleman flew SBD Dauntless dive bombers during World War II, and returned to the Marines to fly the Corsairs in Korea. The aircraft was built and delivered to the French in May of 1953 where it saw service in Algeria and the Suez. Returned to the United States in 1964, it was painted several times as both an F4U-4 and an AU-1. On loan from the U.S. Navy to the USS Alabama Museum in Mobile, it was severely damaged in Hurricane Katrina and returned to the Naval Museum in Pensacola for disposition. The San Diego Air and Space Museum received the aircraft from the Navy in 2008, and over a three-year period, Museum restoration volunteers restored it to its present condition.