Ma­rine Dream

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Technically Speaking - —HEATHER GOSS

THE FIRST FIGHTER to fly with the 18-cylin­der Pratt & Whit­ney R-2800 engine, the Vought F4U Cor­sair was also, not coin­ci­den­tally, the first U.S. fighter to ex­ceed 400 mph in level flight. The engine drove a 13-foot-di­am­e­ter pro­pel­ler, a length that de­ter­mined the shape of the Cor­sair’s in­verted gull wing. The bend in the wing, which reached down to meet the land­ing gear struts, kept the fighter’s chin up and the prop blades from smack­ing the ground.

In­tended as a Navy fighter, the F4U ini­tially could not pro­vide the vis­i­bil­ity for car­rier land­ings, so early mod­els went to land-based Marines. Even­tu­ally, for ev­ery Cor­sair lost, Cor­sair pi­lots shot down 11 Ja­panese air­craft.

In one of the fiercest bat­tles in the Pa­cific, Cor­sairs flew the mis­sion they would be­come known for—sup­port- ing Marines on the ground. As U.S. land­ing craft ap­proached Iwo Jima, Cor­sairs strafed the beaches in front of them. The early dis­play of ground sup­port did not de­ter the Ja­panese, who fought for 36 days. Of the 22,000 Ja­panese de­fend­ing Iwo Jima, 18,844 died. Al­most 7,000 Marines were killed.

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