WHISTLING DEATH – Solomon Islands & The Vought F4U Corsair

Living History Day

F4U (3)

On the first Saturday of every month, the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California holds a ‘Living History Day’. The Air Museum focuses on a specific event or a specific aircraft, and honors those who have participated in these events, those who have flown the aircraft, and the aircraft itself.

On August 3rd, the event was centered on the F-4U Corsair and its role in the Solomon Islands. Every one of the 400 chairs set out for the event was filled, and over 1000 people visited the museum throughout the day. In addition, Disney representatives attended the event to promote their soon to be released animated movie ‘Planes’, where one of the planes is a F4U Corsair named ‘Skipper’. There was also a trailer for the new movie being shown in the museum’s forty-five seat theater.

Guests were treated to a distinguished panel of Lieutenant Bob Bell and Aviation Photojournalist Thomas Cleaver. The panel was moderated by Aviation Historian Kevin Thompson. LT. Bell spoke about a few of his favorite memories in the Corsair, as well as recounting what he went through in US Navy Flight School. Thomas Cleaver went more in depth about the Corsair’s involvement in the Solomon Islands Campaign, and the modifications that were made over the years to improve firepower, pilot visibility, and overall design improvements.

The first prototype of the Corsair was known as the XF4U-1, and was the first US single engine fighter to exceed 400 miles per hour. The Corsair was originally developed as a carrier based fighter to replace the FM2 Wildcat for the war in the Pacific, however, after several mishaps aboard carriers, the Navy decided to hand the Corsair over to the Marine Corps and rely more on the F6F Hellcat. While the Corsair’s performance was better than the Hellcat’s was, it had a difficult time landing aboard carriers due to the early ‘birdcage’ canopy (which limited visibility), and had the tendency to bounce upon touchdown, causing it to miss the arresting cable or nose over altogether. The Corsair was still used extensively throughout the rest of the war in the Pacific by the Marine Corps as a land based fighter, most notably in the Solomon Islands. There was nothing in the Japanese inventory that could match the Corsair’s performance and quickly grew a fearsome reputation. The F4U earned the nickname ‘Whistling Death’ by the Japanese from the sound it would make during high speed flight, or as it would go into a dive. The Corsair was later made famous by the TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” which focused on Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and the Black Sheep Squadron, VMF-214.

After the conclusion of the panel, there was a ‘members only’ raffle held, with one lucky museum member winning a ride in the Planes of Fame’s own F4U Corsair. The Planes of Fame’s F4U-1A is currently the oldest airworthy Corsair in the entire world. The Corsair took off a little after twelve noon, and made almost 10 passes in a figure eight pattern over the crowd before returning to the cheering of the aviation fans that had gathered. This raffle is held at every month’s ‘Living History Event’, but you only get a raffle ticket if you are a museum member. The money you pay for a membership goes to keeping the museum running, and keeping these great aircraft where they belong, in the air. As a bonus, you get a chance every month to win a ride in one of the museum’s vast amount of restored aircraft during the Living History Event and free admission for one day of the museum’s annual air show. The next Living History Day is on Saturday, September 7th. The event will focus on “Test Pilots”. The N9MB Flying Wing will be on display, and will perform a flight demonstration at noon.

For more information on becoming a member, upcoming Living History Days, the annual air show, or anything else related to the Planes of Fame Museum, please visit the museums website at http://planesoffame.org/ .

I’d like to thank Lieutenant Bob Bell, Thomas Cleaver, Kevin Thompson, Harry Geier, and the entire Planes of Fame staff for their hospitality, and putting on yet another wonderful event showcasing America’s aviation history.

Steve Lewis

Steve is a Southern California based photographer living in the Los Angeles area.

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