There's a lot more to the F4U than its past association with black sheep.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, January 2003
(Page 3 of 3)
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.
Holden was in attendance, and his comments echoed those of every pilot lucky enough to fly a Corsair. "If anyone were to ask me to name the finest [American] fighter during World War II-unequivocally-the Corsair. I've never flown a P-51, and I'm sure some of those boys would give you some argument. But the Corsair could be a fierce fighter and a loyal companion at the same time, and the Corsair never, even under difficult circumstances-like flying with an oil pressure gauge that read zero-did it let me down."
Late in the day, as the airshow was winding down, the public was shooed from the row of parked Corsairs, and the pilots gathered for a quick briefing before mounting up. Soon, word came from ground operations director Arlene Samuelson, and one by one the ground crew signalled "Start engine." The massive propeller blades initially struggled to turn but soon spun into a blur, blowing a curl of smoke away from big blue cowlings, and the Corsairs taxied out in staggered order to match the planned takeoff sequence. One by one, they took off from the east end of the airport, tails floating up as they gained speed. They retracted the gear, gathered more speed even as they climbed, and entered their element. Then each one returned to beat up the airfield in a round-robin lazy trail formation.
There were five Corsairs flying together on that day, the most just about anyone could remember seeing at one time since Korea. Four of them finally formed up in a classic finger four, and, from stage left, made a pass over the runway. The announcer was silent, letting everyone appreciate the sight and the sound. Passing by in steady formation, they were soon lost in the sun. There was nothing to do, really, but try to memorize it all.