Thursday, 9 October 2014

Royal Navy Corsairs

In 1939, the Fleet Air Arm entered the war with a considerable number of aicraft carriers, whose fighter squadrons were,  however, equipped with outclassed and obsolete fighters such as the Fairey Fulmar and Blackburn Roc.  

Naval versions of Hurricanes and Spitfire were soon developped to give naval aviators fighters able to match the enemy. Sea Hurricanes and Seafires possessed all the performance characteristics of their RAF equivalents, but they inevitably lacked the two most important features of a naval fighter - range and robust structure.
The aiframe could not cope with the rough deck landings, resulting in poor serviceability rates and lots of accidents. Their range was not adequate for over-water operations, even with the adoption of drop tanks.

The Royal Navy's only solution was the purchase of American fighters. They came in the shape of Martlets, Hellcats and especially Corsairs. The latter had been rejected by the US Navy for carrier operations - see article - but the Fleet Air Arm was determined to make it fully operational on its vessels. In June 1943, pilots from 1830, 1831, 1833 and 1833 Naval Air Squadrons were sent to the US for their Corsair training.

Familiarization with the Vought fighter was not easy, as it had been for US Navy pilots. The Corsair's high stalling speed, poor visibility and bouncing characteristics caused again many accidents. It was soon found out it was impossible to carry out a standard landing approach, flying abeam of the vessel in the opposite directions, turning perpendicular to the carrier's course and then turning again for the final approach. 

A new method was implemented, where the pilots were landing the Corsair in a stalling turn all the way to deck, thus improving their visibility. The fighter was flown just above stalling speed, judging the rate of descent so that by the time the deck had been reached, the throttle could be chopped and the aircraft would "drop" on it.

Thus the Corsair No. 1830, 1831, 1833 and 1834 NAS were declared operational on HMS Victorious and Illustrious, and many more squadron followed them.

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