Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Wings of a Corsair: A CoNA Celebration

Proof strip from
a Corsair flight.
Our photographer's wingman waves in the one snapshot
view not included in  proofstrip on the right.
As 2011, and the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CoNA) both draw to a close, I've decided to honor the grand tradition of Naval Aviation with a look back at an almost forgotten Navy aircraft, and the Naval Aviators who flew them.

Mention the name "Vought Corsair", and the distinctive gull-wing design of the F4U comes to mind to almost anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Naval Aviation - it's an association that has become so iconic, that the original Vought Corsair, the O2U of the 1920s is all but forgotten. In fact, the F4U eclipsed the O2U so completely, that when the name "Corsair" was resurrected for the Vought A-7 in the 1960s, that version was dubbed the "Corsair II", instead of the "III" that it should have been.

Almost 600 of the original Corsairs were built, and they saw extensive service with the Navy as well as a number of friendly nations. Responding to specs issued by the Navy in 1925 (only 14 years after the birth of Naval Aviation!), Vought came up with the first aircraft to be specifically designed around the new Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine; the first aircraft was delivered in 1926. Though originally conceived of as an observation aircraft, the design quickly was recognized for its versatility, and the Corsair could be deployed as a land plane or fitted with amphibious floats. In short order, the Vought Corsair owned several world speed and altitude records, which helped bring public notice - and that of the military forces of a number of other countries, who lined up to buy the planes. For their age, the Corsairs saw a long service life, with one Coast Guard aircraft remaining in service until January 1940.

In real life, the proof strip pictured at the top is a mere
inch wide.
Given the small size of the proof print, the resulting image
would naturally be expected to lack a lot of detail.

Today's set of photos (a proof-strip and a one separate snapshot) give us a remarkably personal look, through the lens of one of the crewmen, at one particular multi-ship flight of Corsairs. Both wingmen and themselves are the subjects of interest in these photos.

The memories of this flight, preserved almost by chance for posterity, ended up in a dusty album for decades, forgotten like the Corsairs themselves. But history, in this case a century's worth of Naval Aviation history, is made of nothing more that countless small moments like this, all strung together, so it seems most fitting to honor the past 100 years, and the men and women who lived it, in this way. To those who served, I am deeply grateful. To those who will write the next 100 years of Navy history, my son included, I salute you, and wish you blue skies and blue seas. AR.

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