|Tamiyas U-Bird Times Four
By Tom Cleaver
The Corsair was the first carrier-based fighter that was faster than most of its land-based opponents, and was the first American fighter to fly at a speed faster than 400 m.p.h. when the prototype cracked that magic barrier in 1940; when introduced into combat, it was the first United States naval fighter that could outperform the redoubtable Japanese "Zero," which had dominated Pacific air combat to that point. The airplane quickly gained the nickname of "U-Bird," since it was unmistakable at any distance with its inverted-gull wing, designed to give its 16' prop enough clearance without having inordinately long landing gear
The early Corsairs were found to be less than suitable for operation on aircraft carriers, with overly-stiff landing gear that promoted bounces and a tendency to "float" just before touchdown that easily ended with a landing in the crash barrier. As is usual with things the U.S. Navy orders that turn out to be less than expected, the airplane was fobbed off on the Marines, with whom it eventually became immortal.. First flying from land bases in the Solomon Islands, the Corsair set an enviable war record from the time it first entered combat in early 1943 until the end of the war; when the Kamikaze put the Admirals in an uproar, it was USMC Corsair squadrons that went aboard the fast carriers and racked up over half the total wartime kills scored by the airplane in the last 8 months of the war.
When Tamiya brought out their F4U-1/2 Corsair two years ago, everyone quickly agreed that - outside a few very minor points - the company had produced the most accurate F4U Corsair kit made in any scale. From the engineering of the kit assembly, it was obvious that the rest of the early Corsairs, the F4U-1A and F4U-1D, could not be far behind.
It took another two years for the F4U-1D kit to show up, but it was again well worth the wait. I suspect this was due to the fact Tamiya knew release of the F4U-1A/D would eat into sales of the first kit. Out of the box, it is possible to make a mid to late production F4U-1D with a minimum of effort. The cockpit is probably the best Tamiya has done in any of their releases, and the only complaint I have heard from anyone is due to the lack of ordnance to hang under the wing of this fighter bomber.
My only complaint about the kit was that it is difficult to do an F4U-1A, since the kit has the smaller-diameter propeller of the F4U-1D, and also does not have the centerline tank carried by this variant, even though that item was included in the F4U-1 kit, though it was never carried by that variant.
However, it is not hard to do the earlier Corsair. In fact, it is not even close to hard, assuming the modeler possesses an unassembled Accurate Miniatures TBM-3 kit; this kit has the inaccurate early-style prop, which is perfect for the F4U-1A, while the later F4U-1D prop of the Tamiya kit is the correct prop for the TBM-3. Mix and match here, and then have at it. And if the modeler kept the centerline tank he didn't use on his F4U-1, then he is home free on this.
For all four of these models, I used information about interior cockpit color supplied by Larry Webster, one of the acknowledged experts about USN interior paint. As you can see from the accompanying photo, I painted the cockpit interior "Interior Green" from the side consoles up for the F4U-2, and Corsair II and IV, with Yellow Zinc Chromate for the "hell hole." For the F4U-1D, which by serial number was a late-production aircraft, I painted the cockpit above the side consoles black. Since the British Corsairs came from the same production lines as their USN counterparts, both Larry and I concluded I would be on safe technical/historical ground if I assumed that the interiors were painted the same for both.
The one really hard part of assembling Tamiya's Corsair is doing the wing in the lowered position. The spar that is given does not have any groove or other placement guide, past the entry hole in the wing bulkhead, and there is plenty of opportunity for misalignment if time is not taken here to have things lined up before running any glue down the join line.
The modeler must exercise real care here, to be sure the alignment of wing stub and outer wing is correct. It is hard to see minor misalignments at this stage, but they will show up once that wing is painted!
When it came to painting the overall Glossy Sea Blue models, I used Gunze-Sanyo's "Midnight Blue," H-55. Thinned about 60-40, this paint goes on well and leaves a nice semi-glossy coat. There is one thing to remember when doing a monochromatic paint scheme, be it something like this or natural metal: any imperfections in assembly or surface smoothness will stand out to the viewer like sore thumbs. There is much to be said for a multi-color paint scheme, since it can distract the viewer's eye from minor imperfections.
NAVY AND MARINE CORSAIRS:
F4U-1D (Out of the box):
The first of the new Corsairs I built was an almost-out-of-the-box F4U-1D; I say "almost" because I decided to arm this airplane with rockets and a bomb from the spares box, to make up for the lack of this underwing ordnance in the kit as produced.
The Corsair has to be the penultimate Tamiya "shake 'n' bake" kit when it comes to construction, and I did nothing out of the ordinary so far as assembly was concerned, other than using the ProModeler F4U-1D instrument panel from their decal sheet, and the seat belts. When I use decal seat belts, I apply them to masking tape, which I then cut out when the decal is dry and has adhered to the surface. This way, the seatbelt can be posed in a more realistic fashion than is possible applying it directly to the seat.
For markings, I used the old SuperScale sheet, which has "Dorothy June" of VMF-551, aboard USS "Cape Gloucester" in the summer of 1945. "Cape Gloucester" was one of several CVEs with all-Marine air groups aboard for ground support of the Okinawa invasion and what would have been the invasion of Kyushu that fall, had the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not intervened.
When doing the final finish, I "weathered" the model by applying a slightly uneven coat of flat finish, since sea air corroded even this paint scheme; leaving it glossy would make it look much more like a model than a miniature reproduction. I gave a light spray of Sea Grey mixed with brown to simulate exhaust stains on the underside of the wing and fuselage, and kept paint chipping to a minimum, other than along the upper wing next to the fuselage, which is a notorious area of wear and tear on Corsairs as servicing crews tried to keep their footing on the steep angle of the wing. (Believe me, I have worked on one of these airplanes as a restorer, and if there is any place you will fall off, this is it!) I also sprayed a light wash of rubbing alcohol with semi-gloss black over the forward fuselage aft of the engine and the upper surfaces of the stub wings to give the effect of oil and exhaust staining that happens when a radial engine is running with the cowl flaps open.
The F4U-1D was essentially the Corsair the Navy had wanted at the outset when it ordered the airplane from Vought. I think that Tamiya's kit represents the airplane very well.
F4U-2 NIGHT FIGHTER:
The F4U-2 is an interesting airplane. Essentially an F4U-1 with a hand built radar set in the housing on the starboard wing, it was the first single-seat radar-equipped night fighter to see operational service. When LCDR Chick Harmer took the first detachment of four from VF(N)-101 aboard the U.S.S. "Enterprise" in January 1944, this marked the first shipboard use of the Corsair by the U.S. Navy, and it was the version the service had declared "unfit for sea duty," no less!
Tamiya's birdcage Corsair provides everything the modeler needs to create this first shipboard night fighter, in the form of the radome, exhaust shrouds, and radar altimeter antennas. There are positioning holes in the right wing, and under the fuselage for the radome and antennas. The only thing the modeler needs to remember to do is to blank out the outer starboard machinegun and its ejection port under the wing.
The kit decals provide markings for a VMF(N)-532 night fighter on Saipan in 1944. This is interesting, because the airplane is still painted in the early war blue-grey/light grey camouflage, with late war markings. However, I liked the markings for VF(N)-101, with their tri-color camouflage, with the fuselage intermediate blue overpainted black.
I also painted this Corsair the way many F4U-1s were, with zinc chromate wheel wells and wheel door interiors, and also the section of the wing visible when the flaps were dropped.
Markings were simple, since the aircraft merely carried national insignia and their designator on the vertical fin and rudder. These national insignia were smaller than the standard insignia on day Corsairs, but the insignia for the VMF(N)-532 airplane in the kit was too small for a VF(N)-101 fighter, when compared with photographs in "Corsair In Action" and "F4U Corsair in Detail & Scale." I ended up using national insignia from a SuperScale TBF Avenger sheet, which came out looking perfect.
Since the lower surfaces of this Corsair are white, I went to town with the exhaust and oil stains that are found on the lower surfaces of Corsairs. Again, I applied most of the paint chipping to the upper surface of the wing stub.
FLEET AIR ARM CORSAIRS:
To say that the Fleet Air Arm loved the Corsair is putting it mildly. The FAA was the poor stepchild of the RAF, and until 1939 had to make do with airplanes designed by people who either knew nothing about naval operations or were extremely conservative in their ideas of what was acceptable on a carrier deck. When the FAA saw the Corsair, one of the fastest fighter airplanes in the world, and capable of meeting any land-based opponent on equal terms, the service couldn't get enough of them. With 2,012 Corsairs of four sub-types, the aircraft had the distinction of being the most widely used U.S. airplane in the Royal Navy during World War 2
The most obvious visual difference between FAA and USN/USMC Corsairs is the eight inch "clip" taken off the wings of the FAA aircraft, to allow them to be struck below in the more confined hangar decks of British carriers. This gave the Corsair an improved sink rate, which partially eradicated the airplane's tendency to "float" on landing. By the time the U.S. Navy brought Corsairs aboard the fast carriers in the fall of 1944, the FAA had been operating theirs at sea for over a year.
Interestingly, it was FAA Corsairs that scored the first kills for carrier-based Corsairs of any air arm, when three Zekes were claimed by 1830 Squadron from HMS Illustrious, while 1833 Squadron from the same carrier claimed two Zekes and a Ki-21 Sally, and 1838 Squadron from HMS Victorious claimed a final Zeke on 25 July 1944 while covering a naval strike on Sabang Island in the Indian Ocean.
When the Corsairs joined the British Pacific Fleet in January 1945, striking Palembang on their way from Ceylon to Australia, 47 Wing aboard Victorious was led by a very interesting pilot. Major Ronnie Hay of the Royal Marines, who had scored a kill while flying a Skua off Norway in 1940 and seven more in Fulmars in the Mediterranean in 1941 and 1942, became the only Royal Marines ace of the war and was now the leader of 47 Wing.
The Corsair II was the Fleet Air Arm's equivalent of the Chance-Vought F4U-1A, with the clipped wingtips, and was the version which saw the most combat, starting in April 1944 with the Tirpitz strikes. Since the F4U-1A/Corsair II did not have a major ordnance-carrying capability, these Corsairs provided top cover to the strikes they accompanied, and operated strictly in the air superiority role. When I first saw the Aeromaster sheet with Ronnie Hay's airplane on it, I picked it up immediately. This would be my first FAA Corsair project.
Having swapped props with an Accurate Miniatures TBM-3 kit, I was ready to go on this. Just to be different from most of my Tamiya Corsairs, I used the closed cowling gills part.
Tamiya's early F4U-1A canopy is a bit suspect in shape. From certain angles, the canopy bars look distinctly curved, which I have never seen in any photograph of this version of the Corsair. I think what it is, is that Tamiya used the same basic shape as was used for the blown hood of the late production F4U-1D. The F4U-1A canopy is not as "blown" as the later one is. I think that in the future if I do any more F4U-1As, I will use the Squadron vacform canopy for the F4U-1A; while designed for the Arii/Otaki kit, in the open position any fit problem will not be apparent.
Aeromaster kindly provides a top and side view of the FAA camouflage pattern of Dark Sea Grey/Slate Grey upper, with Sky lower surfaces. I used Tamiya Dark Sea Grey XF-54 and used Field Grey XF-65 as Slate Grey, with a special mixture of Tamiya Sky with a bit of "Sky Grey" to make it less green. Again, to simulate the masking mattes used to paint British aircraft, I marked off the slate grey areas with drafting tape which had thread along the painting edge to lift it and allow sufficient overspray to keep an overall smooth surface.
The British Far Eastern Fleet Corsairs were quite weathered from the sun and sea around Ceylon by the time they accompanied the fleet to the Pacific in early 1945. Indeed a photograph of an HMS Victorious Corsair II shows it weathered almost totally flat, which is how I did this model. After weathering with paint chips on the upper stub wing and around the gun bays, etc., a put on three coats of Dullcoat, achieving the totally flat look I wanted. I then sprayed a heavy wash of gloss black mixed with rubbing alcohol to get the slight sheen the photograph showed of the oil spray and exhaust streaks on the forward fuselage and inner wings.
HMS Formidable brought the Corsair IV to the British Pacific Fleet in late April, 1945, the final Corsair variant to see service with the FAA in World War II. Operated by 1841 Squadron, the Corsair IV was a Goodyear-built FG-1D, and was equivalent to the early-production F4U-1D.
There is, naturally, only one Corsair IV to do, that one being the airplane flown by LT Robert Hampton Gray, RCNVR. A veteran flight commander in 1841 Squadron who had set the standard for close-in anti-shipping attacks over Norway in 1944, former art student Gray led 4 other Corsairs on an anti-shipping strike off Honshu on 9 August 1945. Set on fire during his approach, Gray nevertheless closed to within 50 yards of his target, and was killed in the subsequent explosion when his target blew up. Gray became only the second British naval pilot of the war to receive the Victoria Cross.
My friend Scott Spencer, webmaster of the FAA-SIG page, sent me a photograph of Gray's airplane, from which I was able to determine that it was the early-type Corsair IV, with the older, larger propeller, and the earlier canopy. I also was able to determine that this airplane only had the radio mast aft of the cockpit - that is something one should check when doing Corsairs, since there are any number of possibilities when it comes to radio masts and antennas.
The airplane was shot overall with Gunze Sanyo Midnight Blue, as was the F4U-1D constructed earlier, and I did the markings with an Arrow Graphics sheet I have had in the decal dungeon for several years, awaiting such an opportunity. For those who do not have this excellent sheet, Aeromaster's other British Pacific Fleet Corsairs sheet has Gray's airplane as one of the alternatives.
When doing the drop tank for this airplane, I made certain to paint it Sky, since almost all the British Corsair drop tanks were painted thus. One should also consider this if using the centerline tank on an American F4U-1D; almost all photographs of F4U-1Ds aboard the fast carriers show them with white F4U-1A tanks.
Tamiya's Corsairs offer the modeler plenty of value for the money, and are easy enough to construct that you will want to do more than one. With the plethora of Corsair markings on the aftermarket sheets - I think Aeromaster now has about six Corsair sheets, and SuperScale has three I can think of right off - there are lots of markings alternatives for those who want to do the U-bird. My hope is that Tamiya will not stop with the early Corsair, but will go on to give us an F4U-4, F4U-5, AU-1 and F4U-7.