F4U-2 Corsair (*)
In late 1941 , before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and some seven month before the first production F4U-1 made its initial flight, the Navy expressed an interest in the development of a night fighter version of the Corsair. Standard nightfighter radars of WWII were too large, heavy and complicated to be installed in single-engine, single-seat fighters. But the availability of a small radar with a limited capacity could made it possible to develop a nightfighter which would provide a degree of air cover during night operations . Although radar was still in its infancy, sets were under development that could be fitted in fighters and used for aerial intercepts at night. On the other hand , offensive systems were already being deployed that would increase the nighttime threat of reconnaissance and attack by enemy aircraft.
The initial Engineering design of the F4U-2 was complete at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A mock up was complete and ready for review on January 28, 1942. Shortly after making its initial flight, the first production F4U-1, BuNo. 02153, was modified to become the XF4U-2 prototype. Once the war began, the production of conventional fighters was so urgent that the Navy did not want to commit an assembly line exclusively to night fighters . Because Vought was heavily committed to meet schedules on other programs, arrangements were made with the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia to convert production F4U-l's to the F4U-2 configuration. A total of 34 F4U-1's were converted to F4U-2's. 32 conversions were made at the Naval Aircraft Factory and 2 were made in the field by VMF(N)-532 on Rio Island, Kwajalein Atoll. and these two were the only ones converted from the F4U-1A.
The original radar was the AIA installation, developed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Project Roger. It had a range of 6km against aircraft. For single-seat fighters a easy-to-use scope had to be developed. This took the form of a small circular scope on the instrument panel that showed two blips for the target. The first blip indicated the direction and distance of the target, and the position of the second blip relative to the first one was an indication of the relative height of the target.
Converting the F4U-1 into the F4U-2 night fighter involved the addition of this AIA radar antenna inside of a dome and fairing on the leading edge of the right wing. The small radar was added on the starboard wing, on the wing leading edge close to the wing tip. To compensate for the weight one of the wing guns was removed, and ammunition reduced. As the F4U-2 was intended for night operations, flame dampers were fitted to the exhaust stacks and the original short tail landing gear strut was replaced with the one used on F4U-1 as beginning with BuNo. 50080. A radio altimeter and an autopilot were also installed. The pilot viewed the returns from the radar on a small scope mounted in the middle of the instrument panel. Lighting was modified, and other changes were made inside the cockpit to optimize it for night flying. A radio altimeter system and a radar beacon transponder were instalIed, and the standard high frequency radio was replaced with a VHF set. This eliminated the need for either of the two antenna masts usually seen on other Corsair variants. The additional electrical equipment required a more powerful generator , and to provide cooling air for it, a small scoop was instalIed on the right si de of the forward fuselage.
The F4U-2 equipped VMF(N)-532, VF(N)-75 and VF(N)-101. VF(N)-75 became the first night fighter squadron in the Navy when it was commissioned on April 1, 1943. Af ter training, the unit departed for the Pacific and flew its first mission on October 2, 1943. Over the next few weeks, the squadron continued to develop its night fighting tactics, early operations of VF(N)-75 in New Georgia revealed considerable problems with the operating procedures, but on the night of 1 November Lt. O'Neill shot down a G4M bomber. The tactics finally developed let the F4U-2 climb towards its target from astern. This also helped to decelerate the fighter enough, to prevent it from overshooting its target.
VF(N)-101 was created by splitting of part of VF(N)-75. VF(N)-101 was the second and only other Navy squadron equipped with the F4U-2, it was the first carrier-based nightfighter unit of the USN. This was in January 1944, and made the unit the first carrier-based Corsair squadron. A limited number of night operations was flown, because of reluctance to take the risk. Nevertheless, no accidents occurred, which helped to clear the Corsair for carrier operations. During the war, it operated from the USS ENTERPRISE, CV-6, and the USS ESSEX, CV-9. To help reduce visibility at night, VF(N)- 101 applied black paint over the Intermediate Blue on the fuselage sides of their F4U-2s. they left the Intermediate Blue on the vertical tails and under the outer wing panels unchanged.
The only Marine night fighter squadron to use the F4U- 2 was VMF(N)-532 commanded by Major Everette H. Vaughn. VMF(N)-532 used their F4U-2 for night intercepts of Japanese aircraft, they also made night bombing and attacks against enemy ground targets.
The F4U-2 served the Navy and Marines until late 1944.