“Whistling Death” The Corsair

Out of all the warbirds I have spent time with over the years, there is one plane that I seem to keep coming back to and that’s the Corsair. This plane has one heck of legacy, so much so that I can honestly say that there is no way I’ll be able to write everything about this aircraft in a single blog post. The Vought Corsair (F4U) also manufactured by Goodyear (FG) and Brewster (F3A), was one of the most technologically challenging aircraft to have been designed during WWII. The original purpose was to be used as a carrier based fighter but due to landing issues to was not accepted for carrier use until late 1944 when the landing issues were solved. In late 1942 the Corsair was given over to Marine units who operated mostly off of land bases where the landing characteristics weren’t as much of a problem and who desperately needed an upgrade for the F4F Wildcat. Once the later models were delivered which solved issues with the landing approach, bird cage canopy, landing gear and tail hook, the Corsair became a mainstay for Navy and Marine operations. The Corsair continued to fly during the Korean War as a fighter bomber and flew for over thirty years throughout several countries finally being retired in Honduras in 1979.

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In 1938 the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics proposed the need for faster and better performing single and double engine fighter aircraft. The call was made for better armaments in both guns and bomb carrying capability as well as better stall speed and larger range. Vought was given the go ahead in 1939 to produce the prototype XF4U-1 BuNo 1443 which was equipped with the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp twin-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, measured at 1,850hp. It was the first airframe to have a double wasp engine equipped. The first flight was made by Lyman A. Bullard Jr. on 29 May 1940. The flight was a success except for the brief landing due to a trim tab failure. On 1 October the Corsair was the first single engine American fighter plane to fly over 400mph in level flight. The P-38 Lightning achieved the same success in January-February of 1939.

Seen above is the FG-1D Corsair and SBD-5 Dauntless Dive-bomber of CAF Dixie Wing in Atlanta, Ga. During WWII the Corsair would often provide top cover for dive-bombers as they made their attack runs during Naval battles. CAF Dixie Wing is home to one of only two surviving veteran SBD’s in the world. The SBD is of historical significance having been used throughout the Pacific theater during several major Naval battles including the Battle of Midway in which four Japanese carriers were sunk, thanks largely due to the SBD’s. While the Corsair did not come into carrier use until after Midway having these two allied planes together is a rare piece of our heritage.

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The US Navy accepted the Corsair in 1941 with a contract of 584 XF4U-1’s in April. It was a monumental achievement for Vought and would later prove to be a so massive undertaking that work would be done by Goodyear and Brewster in order to meet demands. The first F4U-1 performed it’s initial flight in June of 1942. The plane was given the name “Corsair” after one of Vought’s earlier aircraft the O2U Naval Biplane which also carried the name. The pilots that flew the Corsair had several other names for the plane including: “hog,” “hognose,” hose nose,” “bent-wing widow maker,” but the Japanese knew it as “Whistling Death.”

One of the most unique and advanced features of the Corsair it its gull wing design. It was an incredibly advanced feature that no other fighter at the time had achieved. In order to provide enough clearance for the 13ft 4in prop, the landing gear had to be long enough but the plane still had to have folding wings that weren’t too long for carrier use. The gull wing was the answer. It provided enough space without making the landing gear longer as well adding enough support for the wings to fold up. The Corsair was also the first US Navy plane to have wheels and struts to be enclosed inside the plane during flight. Oil coolers were mounted inside the
anhedraled wing next to the supercharger air intakes, with slits in the protruding wing as opposed to scoops. This allowed a more stream lined and cleaner aircraft. Each wing was also home to three .50 Caliber Browning machine guns.

Despite the achievements of the Corsair it still was unusable for Carrier operations due in part to the many complexities of the aircraft and the simplicity of the F6F Hellcat which was already in service and aboard carriers. After several changes were made to the Corsair including: removal of the birdcage canopy, fuel position, armaments in the wing, stabilizer on the port wing, tailhook assembly, armor plating for the cockpit, pilot seat being moved back 32″ and several other changes, the most notably being the approach pattern used by the British for carrier landings, the Corsair finally saw active US Navy Carrier operations in 1944. At this point the Corsair already had a fearsome reputation having been used over the previous year by Marine units on Guadalcanal against the Japanese.

Two prime examples of Pacific Theater fighters are the FG-1D Corsair and the A6M2 model 21 Zero. Both of the aircraft seen above are part of the Texas Flying Legends Museum. Both of these planes are amazingly restored aircraft with the Corsair having won Grand Champ Warbird Restoration at EAA Airventure Oshkosh a few years ago and the Zero being acclaimed by aviation historians and engineering experts as one of the most accurately restored Zero’s in the world.

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After the Navy and Marines got used to flying the Corsair both fell in love with the plane. Despite the technical issues of the advanced fighter the benefits outweighed the concerns. The Corsair proved to be not only a good fighter but also a good bomber. It was discovered by VF-17, the Jolly Rogers Marine Squadron, that with a couple of modifications the Corsair could be used as more then just a land based low level bomber. The plane was rigged with a special bracket that could release a bomb at a desired speed and height. The pilot was then able to “skip” the bomb along the water until it hit a ship. This engineering triumph led to several more of the devices being made so that the Corsair would be used in anti shipping roles as well. The Corsair would go on as a night fighter and photo reconnaissance. The planes value as a fighter/bomber was used heavily during Korea as this F4U-4, seen above, is decked out with rockets, bombs and extra fuel tank in honor of Thomas Hudner, Medal of Honor recipient in his effort to save his wingman who went down during one combat mission in Korea.

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Despite its long history of technical issues, the Corsair in a very short window of time became known as a fierce adversary. It was a well respected plane by both allied pilots that flew them and the enemy planes that flew against them. Many aviation enthusiasts know that while there are only a handful of flying corsairs in the world each one is quite the the sight. Since there is so much more history to this plane, I think I leave it here with a definite to be continued.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, D4, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Celebrating VJ Day

My apologies for the tardiness of this well deserved blog post. During the excitement of Photoshop World I had forgotten to get this post finished. Today is a very important day and thankfully as I have been reading online many news outlets have picked up the story today and made to sure to pay tribute and honor to those that fought in WWII because today is the 70th Anniversary of VJ Day. VJ Day of course standing for Victory Japan, the day that it was announced that the war in the Pacific was over, Japan had surrendered. Now due to time zones, it was August 15th in Japan that they officially surrendered and it was September 2nd that the official treaty was signed on the USS Missouri. It was August 14th however that the news broke across the U.S and the Pacific Islands. It is August 15th that the day is honored in the UK and September 2nd is the day that it is recognized by the U.S.

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In honor of this day I thought an image of two of the most iconic aircraft to fight against one another in the Pacific theater wold be appropriate. Both of these aircraft are part of the Texas Flying Legends Museum. This A6M2 Model 21 Zero and FG-1D Corsair were adversaries between 1943-1945. Dozens of pilots became aces as they fought one another in fierce aerial battles. Many planes and pilots were lost during these encounters. Today they are seen as part of our history and our heritage.

A Quick Aviation Tip

There are a lot of little things that go into each photography and sometimes it’s hard to remember all of them when you’re trying to actually shoot. Well here’s a quick tip that can make a difference. When working with aircraft in flight you don’t always have to keep the camera plumb to the earth. You can rotate the camera to exaggerate the attitude of the plane. It takes some mental adjustment to remember to do this while flying because there is so much else going on but it can be quite useful to get a little bit different image.

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The First Flight of the Corsair

The great thing about working with aircraft is all the knowledge that comes with it. In order to capture better photographs you have to learn about the planes and use that history. Well today is another special anniversary, one of several this year, it’s the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the Chance Vought Corsair. The Corsair was one of the most difficult planes to get into service that the allies had. It took years of research and test flights to accommodate the Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engine with the bent wing design. The Corsair was originally designed for use on aircraft carriers but due to the long nose and problems with carrier landings the corsair went to marine based units on the islands on the pacific before use on frontline carriers. After much work at the Vought facility by test pilots like Boone Guyton, the Corsair was updated and made available for carrier use.

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The Corsair became a staple for Navy and Marine units in the Pacific. While it was delivered to the Navy in 1942 tests proved it not ready and Marine units in February of 1943 started using the plane as a frontline fighter. It served throughout the rest of the war faithfully for the men that flew it. Like most planes being built in the United States, demand for the plane was so high that Vought had to license the design to Goodyear creating the designation of FG instead of Vought’s F4U. The three blade and four blade prop is indicative of the early planes and later planes built. There are few Corsairs left flying in the world but like most warbirds they are worth going to see. If the Mustang is the iconic fighter in the European theater then it’s safe to say that the Corsair is the iconic allied fighter in the Pacific.

TFLM in DC

I apologize for being a little tardy these last couple of weeks with my aviation weekly blog post but I figured with this last trip to DC why not make that the subject for this week. I had the great fortune to be working with the Texas Flying Legends Museum for the entire week documenting the event. It was an amazing experience that required all the knowledge that I had obtained from the previous years working in aviation to make happen what was asked of me. The end result was over 20,000 images and hours of video footage all from one week. But if there was one event that it was important to record all of that footage, it was this one.

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This trip literally started for me four days prior to having to show up for in Florida to meet the crew. It was a mad scramble getting everything ready before I had to ship out but once there in Florida with the pilots and the planes it was pure enjoyment mixed with a whole lot of work. One of the best example of this was the amount of air to air time I had with the other planes. We flew in a five ship to DC with the other fighters and C-53 coming on their own. The B-25 Betty’s Dream was the main photo platform but with all the time available and the need to include the B-25 in the shots in order to get a better overall story, I switched over to the TBM for a while to shoot. It’s amazing what a difference there is when flying across the country in these older planes is like compared to commercial. It’s hard to describe because it’s not like just a quick flight up and then back down. It really makes you feel like you’re flying back in time.

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Once we were at Culpeper, the fighter base where all the planes were kept except for the B-29, B-24 and B-17, it was a couple of days of practice flights combined with talking with the other pilots. It’s amazing the community that exists amongst this amazing group of people and the stories are just amazing. Culpeper is home to a healthy community of homebuilt aircraft one of which we had the fun of seeing is a WWI fighter being restored and the owner, Andy, fired up the engine for us. It was bloody loud but way cool! Along with some of the homebuilt crowd that were there witnessing what was going on were some veterans. Now at the memorial on that Friday there was said to be over 400 veterans. We had a far less amount at Culpeper but when you get the chance to just one of them, then thats all it takes.

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Friday was the big day and after much consideration with how the planes were flying, Dad and myself along with some friends all went down to the WWII memorial to watch the planes fly over the national mall. Since we had so little time with each formation it made more sense to be on the ground to photograph the one area that needed the most coverage, the people. They said that over 30,000 people attended that day and that’s pretty impressive considering it was a workday. I can honestly say from watching in my seat and from the conversations that were had, it was an amazing spectacle. The formal presentation was moving and the speakers they had during the presentation were great. For all the events and airshows I had been too this was by far the best. It’s hard to say that considering all that I have been too but it truly was a powerful event.

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Then, as soon as it had begun it was already time to head home. It’s hard to believe where that whole week had gone but Saturday was upon us and it was time to fly back to home base. Now the one element that was against us the whole trip was the weather. Oddly enough one of the very best days that we had was that Friday at the ceremony. Flying too DC there was rain and flying back there was rain and by the time we had gotten to Fargo there was even snow. It’s another one of those challenges when flying across the country that has to be dealt with but it comes with the territory in Spring time.

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The fleet ended up flying in multiple groups to best utilize speed and fuel consumption in working around the weather. One of the main home bases for the Texas Flying Legends Museum is in Minot, ND and that’s where the planes were headed for maintenance after months of flying in airshows. TFLM was one of the major sponsors of the Arsenal of Democracy bringing in eight aircraft. They finished the formations on May 8th with the missing man solute in honor of those that did not make it back. The Texas Flying Legends Museum have always believed in Sacrificing Above Self and they proved that with the back to back flying they have done this Spring in order to bring these great planes around the country for everyone to witness.

Merging HDR images in ACR

I’ve been using Adobe Camera Raw for years and I truly enjoy the flexibility and speed of the program. With Adobe’s latest update, the option to merge to HDR and make panos in ACR has allowed for a whole new aspect of speed and quality. Well I wrote about making Panos a couple weeks ago so I figured it was time to say something about merging to HDR.

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HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and usually occurs when the range of light is greater then seven stops and the camera can’t record everything in one frame. In order to capture all the information you have to merge multiple images together ranging from dark to light. In order to make a better image you have to use images with no blinkies and strong darks. Then in ACR, just like when merging images into a Pano, you select all the images you want to use and then go to the botton on the top left and click merge to HDR. It’s really that simple. Then you can make any adjustments you want in ACR that you usually do. While in Charlottesville Airport on our way to DC last week, we were working hard to stay ahead of the weather. The god beams were on the other side of the planes and it made for some great photography.

Flying Back Home

This past week has been one heck of an amazing week! It was such an honor to be a part of the Texas Flying Legends Museum and to have the privileged of documenting the 70th anniversary of VE Day in Washington DC. Going into this project I knew it was going to be a huge challenge with the amount of the coverage that it would take to tell the story and then to put it all together for an inspirational and memorable presentation. I have my work cut out for me still with 900GB of video and images to go through but I can’t wait!

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I’m going to be posting more this week about the ceremony and all that went into it but for starts I figured I’d go with where it all ended. This was the flight back yesterday morning from Fargo, ND to Minot, ND which is one of the main bases for TFLM. We were trying to stay ahead of the weather the whole way back Saturday and Sunday and we caught a little bit of it on Sunday. It actually got so cold it was snowing at one point. This was taken out of the left side of their B-25 Betty’s Dream of their TBM, F4F Wildcat and FG-1D Corsair. Flying formation is always a challenge even more so when there is weather. I wasn’t calling formation changes during any of this because of the weather this was how they were flying comfortably.

Those Rainy Day Projects

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this in February but we’ve had so many rainy days over the last few weeks that it has made shooting rather difficult. I truly don’t like it when the skies are grey as I have talked about so often but it does provide a silver lining. The one major downside of taking on new projects all the time is getting caught up on images in the spare time. Well sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s not. With aviation, it really is not! Plane pictures take longer to process then anything else. Not because of serious changes being made but just the shear attention to all the little details. The flip side is, it can be really worth it in the end.

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There are two main reasons why it is important to keep up with processing. The first one is the reason that every photographer hopes for, someone wants to buy an image. If you get asked for that image, you better have it ready. Going searching for it isn’t a good way to do business. That brings up the second reason; if you have a trip where you take thousands of images, how are you going to remember everything that you took? You can’t, I can’t. That’s why it is has to get done, so that way your best images are in an easy to reach place when needed.

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Now for myself I have a simple system. Depending on how close together my trips are I tend to do one of two things. I either get all the images done at once or I get a handful of my best ones done and go back for the others later. There isn’t always time to get everything done right away, that doesn’t mean images aren’t needed right away for blogs, articles and the people behind the event. Those areas have to be addressed fast, the rest can wait. In the end everything gets done, and those rainy, not wanting to go out days really help with that.

The FG-1D Corsair

It’s funny when you have an image in your mind looking a certain way, and then you go into Photoshop to finish it and doesn’t look good the way you had envisioned. Well that’s the story with these two. I had originally intended for them both to be black and white, I keep trying to find plane shots that look good converted, but after going through Nik SilverEfex Pro it just didn’t work. I think that’s funny because you always hear people saying that you need to have the image in your mind before you take it. That doesn’t always work.

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Anyways this a great aircraft that i have blogged a little about before. This is the FG-1D Corsair. Back in 1943 and the Pacific Theater was in full swing with the agile Zero out flying many of our aircraft, the Gull Wing Design fighter was being test flown. It was proven to be one of the best fighters, bombers, reconnaissance, night fighters, and escorts in the Pacific. It became so popular and beloved by the Navy that high orders started to come in and the Vought Plant had to start having the Goodyear Plant start making them. They in turn changed the designation number. This is in fact a rarer plane not only due to that fact but also due to certain mechanical differences. One of the most obvious being the three bladed prop. It’s part of the Flying Texas Legends Collection.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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