There's a lot more to the F4U than its past association with black sheep.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, January 2003
(Page 2 of 3)
Ed Harper was lucky to be sitting anywhere 55 years later. Harper had likely been hit with a .51-caliber armor-piercing anti-aircraft round, which collapsed one lung and nicked his spine, paralyzing his legs and leaving "a hole in his back where you could put your fist," according to John Bolt, another pilot on the raid. Slumping in and out of consciousness, Harper was guided home by his wingmen and only barely managed to land the stricken Corsair.
William Heier struggled during his two minutes with the microphone to come to grips with something he couldn't quite bring himself to recount-perhaps an aspect of war more heinous than heroic. In closing, Heier found a path to vindication. "We could have done a lot worse," he said.
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."