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The XF4U-1 prototype was first flown on 29 May 1940 with the intention of matching the smallest possible airframe to the most powerful engine available.
The F4U-1 was the main production variant of the Corsair, of these, the F4U-1A introduced the raised cockpit and clear-view canopy which became characteristic, the F4U-1C was armed with four 20-mm cannon, and the F4U-1D had a water-injection boosted engine and significant ground-attack capability in the form of 1,000-lb bombs and rockets.
Early-versions were also manufactured by Goodyear (FG) and Brewster (F3A). For photo-reconnaissance duties, the F4U-1P was developed and a night fighter variant was the F4U-2 which only saw limited service, just like the F4U-3 with a turbocharged engine.
The definitive wartime fighter variant was the F4U-4 which housed an uprated engine and a 4-bladed propeller, these were the first versions which operated from US Navy carriers in the final months of the war after observing the success of carrier-based Corsairs in the Royal Navy. Post-war versions included the F4U-5 fighter-bomber which saw service in Korea, the F4U-6 attack aircraft, and the F4U-7 built for the French.
Royal Navy aircraft corresponded to US versions as follows: Corsair Mk. I (F4U-1), Mk. II (F4U-1A), Mk. III (F3A-1) and Mk. IV (FG-1).