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CorsairFest

There's a lot more to the F4U than its past association with black sheep.

Allan McCartney, who flew his third combat tour with the Black Sheep, brought the mood of the symposium back full circle. "I've flown a lot of airplanes for the Marine Corps," he said. "I've brought four [Corsairs] back that were so badly shot up that [the maintenance crew] just pushed them off the side of the runway and used them for spare parts. I love the Corsair."

Affection for the airplane was late in coming when it entered the fleet to post a mixed record. Fast and rugged, it was also hard to land aboard carriers, and its accident rate caused the Navy to transfer it to the Marines, who flew the airplane from the beach. Later models fixed problems that had limited forward visibility over the long nose, and carrier landings became less of a challenge. A Navy History Office summary says its aerial combat record was 2,140 aircraft destroyed against 189 losses.

The Black Sheep said this will be their last reunion. In contrast, Jack Holden said his squadron, VMF-312, is a "very closely knit group. I think we will continue to have a reunion until the last man stands."

At the airshow the following day, retired Navy pilot Dale Snodgrass, call sign "Snort," flew the solo Corsair demonstration in the airshow, and his routine was mesmerizing. Snodgrass starts a long turning dive from 3,000 feet and ends up at about 25 feet above the ground, doing an airspeed of 320 knots-about 370 mph. "That airspeed gives the famous Corsair whistle," he says. The distinctive sound comes from air entering the oil cooler intakes mounted in the roots of the F4U's hallmark feature: inverted gull wings. The wings were built that way so the main gear legs could be designed short and stout while providing the huge prop ground clearance. 

In low passes back and forth across the airfield, Snodgrass trades airspeed for altitude and back again without inflicting high G loads, respecting the machine while pleasing the crowd. At the finish, there's a long, low, fast swooping pass for the cameras.

During the performance, Snodgrass is way too busy to think about the airplane's history. "But I tell you, when I walk around it...that's when it touches me," he says, his voice lower and softer. "My father flew Corsairs at the end of World War II. I just appreciate the privilege of being in an airplane like that." He also appreciates the generosity of owner Jim Read, who lets him "have the keys to such a precious piece of equipment."

Read flew Skyraiders in the Marines, then retired to civilian life as a banker. Success afforded him the option of returning to flying upon retirement. When he called warbird dealer Mark Clark to inquire about a P-51, he learned that a Corsair was for sale. He bought the airplane from renowned warbird collector Doug Arnold in England. It was shipped to the United States and flown to Indiana, where Read took his first flight in it.

"I assumed that the Corsair...would be more difficult to fly, and I was totally wrong," said Read. He particularly enjoys the Corsair's control authority and response at low airspeeds. "At 90 knots, you can just take the stick and go all around with it," he said, as if twirling an imaginary baseball bat in a big circle, "and it just kinda wallowed. I thought, Wow, I can't believe this! It's so easy!"

Easy to fly or not, owning the Corsair is a responsibility Read takes seriously. "I want to keep it flying and I want to keep it safe and I want to keep it in one piece," he says. When it's not flying, his F4U-5 is on loan to the Indiana Air Museum in Valparaiso.

Read's Corsair sported the paint scheme of Marine squadron VMF-312, perhaps the most distinctive one associated with F4Us: white checks alternating with traditional navy blue. First Lieutenant John J.E. Holden designed the color scheme in June 1943, and it has become the most enduring squadron motif in history. Both the squadron and the checkerboard pattern survive today.

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