Cock­pit Re­port: Vought F4U-5NL Cor­sair

... come true: the wickedly pow­er­ful naval night fighter that now be­longs to the man who ad­mired it as a boy

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words: Maxi Gainza Pho­tos: Matthias Dorst

Maxi Gainza fi­nally gets his hands on the mu­seum ex­hibit he'd ad­mired as a young lad − and, boy, does it go!

In flight, the Cor­sair is grace­ful and sin­is­ter at the same time, its kinked wings touched with the el­e­gance of a dou­ble-jointed swan, while the long blunt nose and sky-rend­ing en­gine growl con­jure a Juras­sic avian bent on the kill. On the ground and up close – es­pe­cially in fad­ing twi­light when the imag­i­na­tion stirs, and with folded wings to en­hance its hulk­ing pres­ence - it ex­udes the ornery men­ace of an oth­er­worldly bouncer at the ce­les­tial gates to Val­halla.

The four-bladed pro­pel­ler is 13 feet 2 inches in di­am­e­ter (two feet wider than a Mus­tang’s). That’s what it takes to har­ness the 2,400hp of the Pratt & Whit­ney R2800 dou­ble-row eigh­teen­cylin­der en­gine lurk­ing un­der the cowl­ing. It is also the rea­son for those in­verted gull wings, to min­imise the risk of tip strike on take­off with­out the need for a taller and hence weaker un­der­car­riage. The leg oleos are squashed to a frac­tion of an inch, in­ti­mat­ing the weight they carry on the ground. The mas­sive flaps, nor­mally left ex­tended on the ground, do the rest.

Scal­ing up the Cor­sair’s steep flank to the cock­pit via wide-set, spring-loaded steps and hand­holds cut into the skin, you need the agility of a rock climber and a head for heights. The fuse­lage pan­els are spot-welded, this be­ing an en­tirely orig­i­nal Chance-vought F4U-5NL model. The skin is sur­pass­ingly smooth and strong− to the point of re­sist­ing des­per­ate axe-blows in a failed at­tempt to ex­tri­cate a pi­lot downed be­hind en­emy lines in Korea.

Once in­side, the roomy cock­pit is dark as the Grim Reaper’s cloak, ex­cept for the floor­boards, with black-on-black in­stru­ments and a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of switches and vi­tal levers run­ning both sides of the seat fur­ther back than your el­bows for want of space up front. Look­ing through the ar­moured wind­screen the in­tim­i­dat­ing pro­pel­ler blades seem al­most nor­mal, but only be­cause shrunk by the per­spec­tive of its stonk­ing bazooka nose.

Strap­ping to my giddy perch ten feet off the ground there is lit­tle of the loin-gird­ing ex­cite­ment I get when buck­ling up in a Mus­tang or a Spitfire. At least not for this my first flight. I feel in­stead as if I’m sit­ting in judge­ment, loftily, god-like, of ev­ery­thing I be­hold−not that I can see much with the wings folded over the canopy and the nose block­ing the view ahead. Per­haps sit­ting in judge­ment at my own pre­sump­tion, an over-the-hill PPL with no for­mal mil­i­tary train­ing (al­beit with some time on Yaks, Spit­fires and Mus­tangs) want­ing to fly a plane with such fear­some mass and power and−po­ten­tially, since we are un­armed−such dev­as­tat­ing punch at my fin­ger­tips. The urge to climb down and go for a cof­fee hits me... How come I’ve let my­self in for this?

Blame the boy−the boy I was when I first set eyes on this same dash-5 Cor­sair in Ar­gentina. It then stood for­lornly on a plinth out­side the Avi­a­tion Mu­seum in Ti­gre on the out­skirts of Buenos Aires, its mid­night-blue streaked and faded by long ex­po­sure to the el­e­ments. My im­me­di­ate and last­ing im­pres­sion was that only gods could fly such a hunk, never mind land it on a pitch­ing straight-decked air­craft car­rier, as in­deed it had while serv­ing on the A.R.A. In­de­pen­den­cia, Ar­gentina’s sole car­rier (for­merly HMS War­rior) and, prior to that, fly­ing night com­bat mis­sions in Korea while at­tached to the US Ma­rine Corps VF513 squadron, fa­mously dubbed the ‘Fly­ing Night­mares’.

Fast-for­ward to 1994. Thanks to two re­source­ful French­men, this same Cor­sair was bought off the Ar­gen­tine Navy and shipped to France for a thor­ough over­haul, dur­ing which the wing-mounted radar na­celle was re­moved, thus im­prov­ing stalling be­hav­iour, and the orig­i­nal su­per­charger cheek in­takes at the sides of the nose cowl­ing were re­placed by the chin-mounted car­bu­ret­tor scoop of an F4U-7, as op­er­ated by the French Navy in In­dochina and up un­til the Al­ge­rian con­flict. Re­sprayed in Aeron­avale colours, it sub­se­quently en­joyed a new lease of life be­ing dis­played across Europe in the vir­tu­oso hands of Ra­mon Josa, a con­sum­mate for­mer French Cor­sair car­rier pi­lot−godly in­deed were it not for his warm hu­man­ity and sense of hu­mour. Un­til, by a happy align­ment of stars, and as if to prove my view that aero­planes choose their own­ers, it had ended up in my hands, jointly bought by Meier­mo­tors and Max Al­pha and now based in Brem­garten. To com­plete the cir­cle, we had its orig­i­nal dash-5 in­take cowl­ings put back and had it re­sprayed in its Korean War antiglare flat-black paint and red-let­ter mark­ings.

Lit­tle if any cor­ro­sion was found dur­ing over­haul in France−chance-vought didn’t cut cor­ners pro­tect­ing its car­rier­borne air­craft from the sea air− so the Cor­sair I’m now strapped into (rather than gaw­ping at from the ground, in my short trousers) is much the same as when US Ma­rine pi­lots braved Chi­nese flak and diced with ca­bles strung in their path across

By a happy align­ment of stars... it ended up in my hands

nar­row moun­tain passes while con­duct­ing low-level op­er­a­tions, mostly in the dark.

Big boots to fill. But, over the phone and in per­son th­ese last weeks, Ra­mon has talked me through every as­pect of han­dling a Cor­sair. Achim Meier, who’s al­ready done a few trips in it, has shared his own im­pres­sions while show­ing me around the air­frame in de­tail. I have sat in the cock­pit more times than I can re­mem­ber, pi­lot hand­book and check­lists in hand, and also tax­ied it out yes­ter­day just for an en­gine run, al­ways a good ex­er­cise be­fore solo­ing a sin­gle-seat war­bird. I have sore calf mus­cles and biceps to re­mind me of how hard I had to stand on the toe-brakes and hold the stick back against the pro­pel­ler slip­stream on the el­e­va­tors to hold the tail down and not creep for­ward while open­ing up to a mere 28 inches man­i­fold. So no more ex­cuses...

By now I am suf­fi­ciently fa­mil­iar with the cock­pit to ap­pre­ci­ate its well-rea­soned lay­out, and the re­as­sur­ing re­dun­dancy of its sys­tems. The en­gine in­stru­ments are placed to the left and be­low the stan­dard fly­ing ones, the un­usu­ally wide for­ward in­stru­ment panel al­low­ing for this, so no left-right eye flick­ing is nec­es­sary dur­ing busy mo­ments, as is usu­ally the case. The throt­tle, pro­pel­ler and mix­ture con­trol levers on the left shelf are neatly lined up, the ver­ti­cal-grip throt­tle be­ing the tallest. Next to it but slightly be­hind is the flap lever. It has 10° de­tents down to 50°.

Flaps are hy­drauli­cally op­er­ated, as are in­deed the un­der­car­riage, wing-fold­ing, brakes, oil cooler doors, and tail-hook op­er­a­tion – even the canopy slides open and shut on hy­draulic juice. In the rare event of a com­plete hy­draulic fail­ure

(the Cor­sair hav­ing an emer­gency elec­tri­cally-pow­ered hy­draulic back-up) you shift a small latch at the 50° full-flap mark that iso­lates the flaps’ hy­draulic cir­cuit from other hy­draulic sub-sys­tems and al­lows them to be blown fully down by an 1,800psi charge of com­pressed air at speeds lower than 110 knots. The brakes have in­de­pen­dent hy­draulic units so will carry on work­ing if else­where hy­draulic power is lost. As for the un­der­car­riage, if both the main en­gine-driven and emer­gency hy­draulic pumps fail it can still be low­ered on com­pressed air, again at speeds be­low 110 knots, as can the canopy on its own air bot­tle.

Im­me­di­ately be­hind the power levers are three lined-up tog­gle switches for oil cooler doors, car­bu­ret­tor heat­ing and cowl flaps (the lat­ter elec­tri­cally driven) all within easy reach of your throt­tle hand. And just be­hind th­ese are the trim tabs, seven in all and elec­tri­cally ac­tu­ated. A mini-joy­stick con­trols pitch and roll, as in many early jets, while a hor­i­zon­tally-laid tog­gle switch op­er­ates the rud­der trim. There is a guarded tri­mover­ride switch next to th­ese to de­ac­ti­vate the sys­tem in the event of ru­n­away trim, af­ter which you can still com­pen­sate for pitch and roll via four small press-down switches−again, sim­i­lar to the Hawker Hunter’s−the whole lot at your fin­ger­tips.

The aux­il­iary fuel pump switch sits out­board of the rud­der trim. Slide your hand fur­ther back and you hit the fuel tank se­lec­tor, and still fur­ther back (eas­ier to feel than see) the drop tanks and emer­gency bomb-re­lease lever, and the g-suit con­nec­tor−all in­op­er­a­tive to­day. But in be­tween the lat­ter two is the tail­wheel lock which is truly vi­tal. For­get to lock it for take­off and land­ing and it will most likely ruin your day.

The ig­ni­tion and en­gineprim­ing switches sit just above the right con­sole next to the bat­tery/ gen­er­a­tor three-po­si­tion switch, and above th­ese the volt-am­me­ter and aux­il­iary hy­draulic pump switch. In­board of th­ese is the ar­restor hook lever stick­ing out in its ‘up’ po­si­tion as con­spic­u­ously as the un­der­car­riage’s on the op­po­site side. The hook is me­chan­i­cally-linked with the un­der­car­riage, so if needed you must make sure to se­lect it ‘down’ be­fore low­er­ing the wheels.

On the right-hand shelf proper are the cir­cuit-breaker panel (moved from its orig­i­nal and hard-to-see po­si­tion on the shelf’s wall be­low knee-height), oxy­gen in­di­ca­tors, comms se­lec­tor, pre-oiler switch, and a mix of orig­i­nal and mod­ern avion­ics con­trols. And far­thest back, the all-im­por­tant wing-fold­ing lever, tucked be­hind your el­bow.

Achim is al­ready up, lean­ing over the low canopy sill, toes stuck pre­car­i­ously into a foothold a fair bone-bust­ing height off the ground, while Felix our en­gi­neer has plugged in the ground power trol­ley and moved for­ward to a pru­dent dis­tance with a fire-ex­tin­guisher close to hand. Achim’s calm, to-the-point man­ner is wel­come as I gather my wits in or­der to con­duct the Wag­ne­r­ian over­ture in­volved in kick­ing eigh­teen cylin­ders guz­zling a grand to­tal of 48 litres of fuel/air mix into life.

The en­gine is a newly ze­ro­houred P&W 2800CB from An­der­son in the USA, with only a few hours on the Hobbs since re­cently in­stalled. It runs ex­tremely well, so Achim tells me, con­sum­ing less than a litre of oil per hour−a rar­ity amongst ra­di­als of such size. The odds couldn’t be bet­ter stacked in my favour, so here we go.

Pre-oil for two min­utes to lu­bri­cate the cams; then crank eigh­teen blades with the mag­ne­tos off to clear out the en­gine. (We’ve al­ready pulled it through on the ground to check for hy­draulic­ing, a twoman job and quite a work­out.) Boost pump on: prime for eight sec­onds, throt­tle closed, then turn off the boost pump again. Cowl flap switch on ‘au­to­matic’, same for the oil cooler door; mix­ture at idle cut-off, prop lever for­ward to full ‘in­crease’; open throt­tle a smidgen−about 3 to 4mm− and reen­gage the starter. Count four blades turn­ing in the right di­rec­tion, and switch both mags to ‘on’ while con­tin­u­ing to prime.

Far ahead the en­gine be­gins to cough on the odd cylin­der, blow­ing back puffs of white smoke, picks a few more at ran­dom, stum­bles, pulls it­self up, mus­ter­ing ever more pots while− prompted by Achim−i con­tinue to prime ju­di­ciously, leav­ing the

throt­tle as is (play­ing it would flood the en­gine, dan­ger­ously). The ragged fir­ing stead­ies into a dis­tant bar­rage, punc­tu­ated by in­sis­tent vraap-vraaps drum­ming down the fuse­lage and whip­ping back co­pi­ous smoke, grad­u­ally clear­ing as the en­gine set­tles into a full-bod­ied chuggety-chug. Only now do I let go the primer and move the mix­ture to ‘auto-rich’, then nudge the throt­tle for­ward a frac­tion to 800rpm to even out the en­gine note and goose the hy­draulic pres­sure. Ts and Ps nor­mal− we are in busi­ness.

But first de­ploy the wings! Check­ing that hy­draulic pres­sure is up, and twist­ing around and reach­ing back, I pull the req­ui­site lever for­ward to the ‘spread’ po­si­tion. Sun­light floods into the cock­pit and the cav­ernous basso pro­fundo of the pro­pel­ler slip­stream bounc­ing off the folded wing pan­els fades as th­ese de­scend and de­ploy. Now I shift the lever out­board into the ‘lock’ po­si­tion, keep­ing a beady eye on the wing-mounted tell-tales as they sink flush with the sur­face to con­firm that the wing hinge pins have slid through their lock­ing eyes.

Felix can now reach up to remove the pitot head cover, and Achim sig­nals me to re­cy­cle the wing fold­ing, just in case. Sat­is­fied, Felix dis­con­nects the ground trol­ley and I move the power switch over to ‘bat­tery/ gen­er­a­tor’. Tak­ing a big breath, I give the Tower a call, flash my best false-con­fi­dent smile at my crew mates and as­sem­bled on­look­ers and taxi out.

The mo­men­tum of that long, heavy nose is huge as I weave it slightly to look ahead. It also dips alarm­ingly at any­thing but a gen­tle, pro­gres­sive pres­sure on the brakes, ag­gra­vated no doubt by my high van­tage point which tends to make one taxi faster− it’s worth keep­ing an eye on the GPS ground speed read­out. But yes­ter­day’s lit­tle ex­er­cise has alerted me to this and taught me how much to an­tic­i­pate the swings and fi­nesse the brakes. Oth­er­wise, the Cor­sair rolls

Tak­ing a big breath, I flash my best falsec­on­fi­dence smile...

very sta­bly on its wide un­der­car­riage.

Warm­ing up 32 US gal­lons of oil takes a while, es­pe­cially with a ra­dial, so at the hold I have to wait about five min­utes, feet hard on the toe-brakes even at a mere 1,000rpm and stick held back, while oil and cylin­der-head tem­per­a­tures creep up to the green arc. When at last I can open to thirty inches man­i­fold for mags and pro­pel­ler checks I’m in a lather, thighs and calf mus­cles on fire from strain­ing on the brakes like a rugby for­ward stuck into an un­end­ing scrum, and barely able to hold back the stick with one arm against the gale pound­ing the el­e­va­tors while I reach with my left hand to test the mag drop and the pro­pel­ler cy­cling. It’s there­fore more with relief than anx­i­ety that hav­ing com­pleted the run-up I en­ter and line up on the run­way.

Quick glance at the short­ened take­off checklist plac­arded on the in­stru­ment panel−tabs set, (pitch a touch nose-heavy on the in­di­ca­tors, ailerons neu­tral and 5° right rud­der); flaps up; wings down and locked (ob­vi­ously); fuel on: mix­ture auto-rich; pro­pel­ler fully fine; har­ness se­cured and locked; boost pump on. I roll for­ward a bit with cen­tralised rud­der to lock the tail­wheel, lightly tap­ping the rud­ders to make dou­ble-sure it has. Checklist com­plete.

To­day the wind is light and al­most down the run­way. I open the throt­tle smoothly and grad­u­ally, and soon I’m en­gulfed in a creamy roar as we gather speed. I use pe­riph­eral vi­sion to keep straight on Brem­garten’s wide run­way, but as I fly the tail up pass­ing 35-40 knots I catch sight of it be­yond the nose, cen­tre-line flash­ing un­der.

Big sur­prise: there is far less gyroscopic pre­ces­sion than I’d an­tic­i­pated from the mas­sive prop as we tran­si­tioned from tail-low to fly­ing at­ti­tude and the torque is eas­ily con­tained, maybe a lot of it ab­sorbed by the sheer mass of this air­craft. Well, I’m also not shov­ing in the power like those young red

blooded naval avi­a­tors lift­ing a max-loaded Cor­sair off a car­rier’s deck would have done. There isn’t a war on, and I have oo­dles of con­crete ahead.

Push­ing through 45 inches man­i­fold and 2,800rpm we don’t tear along like a Mus­tang, never mind a Yak-3, but rather ac­cel­er­ate in a trundling way and lift ef­fort­lessly be­fore reach­ing 100 knots and the rec­om­mended fifty inches, the wheels lin­ger­ing on the ground a heart­beat longer while the long-stroke oleos ex­tend to their stops. It’s a very smooth ro­ta­tion, those gen­er­ous, slope-shoul­dered wings mak­ing light work of haul­ing our 5,300kg into the air and estab­lish­ing us in a pos­i­tive climb. I re­mem­ber to tap the brakes to stop wheel spin be­fore reach­ing for the gear lever. Be­low my wings, the sturdy un­der­car­rige legs (so strong they can be used as dive brakes up to 300 knots!) fold back­wards, wheels ro­tat­ing 90° to fit flush in the wells, but not be­fore a heavy-duty ca­ble on each leg has pulled the oleos in as far as when the plane sits on the ground so that they do fit. Should it snap in the process, you will end with a hung gear but−as I re­call−each ca­ble has a break­ing point of over 10,000 pounds.

I power back to 42in/2,600rpm and hold 150 knots for best climb speed, wind­ing the VSI to a re­spectable 3,000fpm (less sparkling than a Mus­tang, never mind the Yak-3) trim­ming out rud­der as we ac­cel­er­ate and then flip­ping the cowl-flaps switch to ‘close’. And as my brain catches up with me, once again I’m sur­prised, in­deed amazed, by the smooth­ness of that big ra­dial en­gine. For all its eigh­teen pis­tons bang­ing fu­ri­ously away it sounds smoother than a Mer­lin V12, al­most jet-like.

Look­ing out as I bank to­wards the Rhine the view is mag­nif­i­cent through the low-silled canopy. I could ac­tu­ally keep it open and rest a non­cha­lant el­bow out, cruis­ing fash­ion, up to 260 knots, but not to­day when I feel slightly un­nerved by the sheer size of the air­craft in my hands−the lengthy nose, fat with av­gas in­side the 234 US gal­lon self-seal­ing fuel tank housed be­tween the en­gine and the cock­pit fire­wall, and the down and up­ward-slop­ing wings held to­gether at the kink−i can’t brush off the fact−by just a set of pins. I’m be­gin­ning to feel I’m in a sin­gle-en­gine bomber, ex­cept that the ailerons are sur­pris­ingly light and snappy, thanks to their com­bined springtrim tabs. El­e­va­tors and rud­der are heav­ier but not un­duly so. They firm up with in­creased speed (not so the ailerons) but they too have com­bined springtrim tabs to lighten the loads some­what. For the rest you have the elec­tric trim­mers which are very sen­si­tive, sim­i­lar to an early jet-fighter’s.

No time to waste with this fuel guz­zler. Level at 6,000 feet and throt­tling back to 32in/2,300rpm I roll into a set of steep turns left and right, feel­ing for the buf­fet. The Cor­sair turns sur­pris­ingly tightly for its mass, and I nib­ble the buf­fet at 140 knots while still pulling 3g. Eas­ing back to 23in, I can hold a 75° bank turn down to 128 knots go­ing right and 125 knots left with plenty of rud­der and aileron author­ity. Rolling out and powering back to 20in, I try a clean stall. The g-break comes at 86 knots in­di­cated with quite strong air­frame buf­fet­ing. The nose drops straight ahead as I

I am sur­prised by the smooth­ness of that big ra­dial en­gine

un­load and push up to 26in power to re­cover with just a touch of rud­der to keep the ball cen­tred.

Very well-mannered is the Cor­sair−but let’s see now with flaps. At 10° it stalls at 78 knots, again with no rolling ten­den­cies. 20° and its down to 72, with a mild roll to the left; 30° to an as­ton­ish­ing 67 knots with a more marked left wing drop but ailerons still very ef­fec­tive as I wag­gle them slightly on the re­cov­ery. The 50° full-flap stall is more dra­matic, her­alded by pretty strong buf­fet­ing, stick light­en­ing to­wards the end of its aft-travel and some de­grad­ing of di­rec­tional con­trol. It fi­nally quits fly­ing at a mind-bog­gling 65 knots, left wing drop­ping smartly and with a higher sink-rate, but the re­cov­ery is as straight­for­ward, al­beit us­ing more rud­der to coun­ter­act the torque once I’ve put the nose down and go easy re-ap­ply­ing power. In all we lose about 700 feet.

Enough for to­day. I’ll leave the aeros for the next trip, ex­cept per­haps an aileron roll or two on the way back to shape me up for the land­ing. At 220 knots, nose up 20° over the hori­zon for good mea­sure be­fore un­load­ing to zero an­gle of at­tack, the wings snap into the roll with alacrity and I’m pushed against my lap-straps and sud­denly be­come light-headed as the cen­trifu­gal force throws me out for be­ing so high above the fuse­lage’s rolling axis. So on my sec­ond at­tempt I bar­rel the ma­noeu­vre ever so slightly, and stay in my seat. As I will later learn the ailerons be­come in­creas­ingly fierce with speed, so ef­fec­tive are the spring-tabs, to the point that by 300 knots you may only use half-stick throw.

Loops, Cubans and bar­rel rolls are ma­jes­tic, I will also sub­se­quently dis­cover. The only cof­fin cor­ner to watch out for is the mas­sive ki­netic build-up if you leave the nose be­low the hori­zon just a tad too long. A good en­try speed for a 4g loop is 270 to 280 knots which will al­most every time re­ward you with the sight of stream­ers thick as fire-hoses trail­ing off your wing-tips on the pull-up, and again on the pull-out. You go over the top at around 130 knots with a 2,500 to 3,000 feet height gain. Tuck the nose over the ver­ti­cal early, so as to avoid be­com­ing a five-ton mis­sile des­tined for a fiery hole in the ground, and man­age your re­cov­ery speed on− or close to−the buf­fet nib­ble, as needs be, and you will level out with a few hun­dred feet to spare.

But back to the present and it’s time to go home. I call Brem­garten in­bound while ten miles north. Then, as­cer­tain­ing that the cir­cuit is clear, I head south along the Rhine to come round for a run-and-break for Run­way 05 at 220 knots. I break hard at the up­wind end, throt­tle back and lower 20° flaps to as­sist high al­pha in slow­ing us down. Rolling out on down­wind I lower the un­der­car­riage at 160 knots, re-trim­ming, and switch the cowl-flaps over to Au­to­matic. Quick pre-land­ing checks done and al­ready abeam the thresh­old I tip in for a curv­ing ap­proach

for bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity past the nose, mov­ing the pro­pel­ler to fine pitch and check­ing hy­draulic pres­sure stands at a healthy 1,500psi.

Rolling out on a short­ish fi­nal I ease power back a bit to es­tab­lish 100 knots as Achim rec­om­mended. It feels too fast the mo­ment I’ve low­ered full flap, so I ease a bit fur­ther to ninety, trim­ming back. The ap­proach is nice and sta­ble, of­fer­ing me a good sight of the run­way as I break the glide with 85 knots cross­ing the thresh­old. Can it be this easy, I won­der? Early-model Cor­sairs were no­to­ri­ous for their ‘springy’ un­der­car­riage which caused the aero­plane to skip over the deck wires, but in this last-of-the line type the prob­lem has long since been reme­died, as have a few others. It’s the most vice­less of the lot. Still, there is the higher round­out to judge so I ease back the power to a trickle, min­imis­ing the sink rate.

As the run­way skims un­der me, sud­denly the cowl flaps open up ahead sig­nalling ground con­tact as they only de­ploy when the leg oleos com­press on touch­down. It’s been that smooth. For once I’m not claim­ing be­gin­ner’s luck: the Cor­sair has con­sis­tently flat­tered me on land­ing for no bet­ter rea­son than it is speed-sta­ble, high­ly­con­trol­lable down to the stall and has the most won­der­ful long-stroke un­der­car­riage which ab­sorbs and dis­si­pates energy like no other. It just set­tles on the run­way, ex­cept of course if you go for a three-point land­ing into a short field and must then slam it down, car­rier style.

But the land­ing is not over. As I fly the tail­wheel down (kept locked since pre-take­off) the view ahead dis­ap­pears and I’m back flick­ing my eyes right and left to stay on course, stick firmly against my belly and play­ing the rud­der while it’s ef­fec­tive. With to­day’s light winds it’s no big deal, ex­cept for when the rud­der loses aero­dy­namic author­ity and I have to tap a brake−ever so care­fully− to stop the nose swing­ing round like a big naval gun and tak­ing me for a ride into the weeds. Cross­wind land­ings are more chal­leng­ing be­cause the wind tends to get un­der the up­wind wing, but a prompt rais­ing of flaps will help mat­ters.

We roll to a stop in about 750m. An ex­pe­ri­enced pi­lot can land in much less, but why should I try? I want this Cor­sair to go on for years and years, long af­ter my time; to wow ap­pre­cia­tive crowds and in­spire other boys to dream what once seemed to me the im­pos­si­ble dream, and to con­tinue car­ry­ing the torch for those gal­lant young avi­a­tors who flew, fought and of­ten died in such an aero­plane in or­der to help pre­serve our free­dom.

ABOVE: the ‘be­wil­der­ing ar­ray’ of levers and switches in­cludes, to­wards the rear of the port shelf, the mini­joy­stick that con­trols aileron and el­e­va­tor trim

LEFT: such is the length of the nose, the thir­teen-foot pro­pel­ler looks al­most nor­mal size from the pi­lot’s seat

ABOVE & BE­LOW: ‘dark as the Grim Reaper’s coat’, the Korean War-era Cor­sair’s black-on-black in­stru­ments are far bet­ter ar­ranged than they are in the rather haphazard ar­ray found in the WWII F4U-1. The star­board shelf ex­tends back­ward past the pi­lot’s el­bow, mount­ing cir­cuit-break­ers, light switches and – tucked right at the back and most def­i­nitely not re­quired in flight – the hy­draulic wing- fold­ing lever

BE­LOW: US car­rier air­craft in­tro­duced the ‘tail sting’ ar­rester hook, which de­ploys with the un­der­car­riage only when se­lected

ABOVE: Maxi lends scale to the five-ton­neplus F4U-5NL (a tonne heav­ier still at wartime max­i­mum take­off weight)

TOP TO BOT­TOM: Cor­sair de­signer Rex Beisel chose the ‘ben­twing’ lay­out to keep the un­der­car­riage legs as short as pos­si­ble while al­low­ing for the huge pro­pel­ler re­quired. To­day, Maxi finds the air­craft sta­ble on the ground and mild in its take­off man­ners, for all of its power. Ro­tat­ing through ninety de­grees, the main­wheels can be ex­tended in flight to serve as dive brakes

BE­LOW: ‘bent-wing bas­tard’ was one of the ironic nick­names US naval avi­a­tors be­stowed on the Cor­sair, which was never easy to deck-land. One ad­van­tage of the near right-an­gle in­ter­sec­tion with the fuse­lage is aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency

BE­LOW: ‘the only cof­fin cor­ner to watch out for is the mas­sive ki­netic build-up if you leave the nose be­low the hori­zon just a tad too long’

ABOVE: the canopy can be kept open for el­bow-on-the-sill cruis­ing at any­thing up to 260 knots

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