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.