Saturday, May 31, 2014

Airport's Corsair looks to 75th anniversary: Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR), Connecticut

STRATFORD -- For the past six years, a team of about a dozen volunteers have been engaged in restoring the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair that used to sit atop a pedestal in front of Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

Now they're facing a deadline of sorts. A year from now -- June 29, 2015, to be exact -- the 75th anniversary of the Corsair's first flight will be celebrated, and the restoration team believes the plane will be worthy of display by then.

"It's not going to be easy," said Andrew King, who heads the restoration effort taking place in two of the buildings that used to be the Army Engine Plant in Stratford's south end. "There are 10 other Corsair restoration projects going on right now, so the supply of parts has pretty much dried up."

But King says he's confident that the old war bird will be put together again for the 75th anniversary celebration. Many of the parts, he said, have to be fabricated from scratch.

King is also director of the Connecticut Air and Space Center, which is not only restoring the Corsair, but several other aircraft as well. Its latest undertaking is a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter. It's an early variant, powered by a pair of radial engines, and it's believed to be the last helicopter that Igor H. Sikorsky flew.

As for the Corsair, it still doesn't look like much. The fuselage has been painted with mustard yellow primer and its wings and engine have been detached because they're undergoing separate restorations.

Landing gear, including the tail wheel, have been rounded up from an aircraft boneyard in Texas (It lacked landing gear when it was on display). A critical and badly corroded structural spar that, in essence, keeps the wings from falling off, has been replaced.

"We're always looking for parts -- and money," he said.

The Corsair's wings, engine and a few other parts are in Building 53. The fuselage and the rest of the plane is in another building in the Avco complex that was used as a tool shed and storage.

Three year ago, the aircraft's huge Pratt & Whitney R-2800 "Double Wasp" 18-cylinder radial engine looked like a rusty boat anchor. Today it sits on an engine stand looking like it did when it left P&W's East Hartford plant in the 1940s.

Meanwhile, work on the cockpit is progressing. A seat is being upholstered and the instrument panel is nearing completion. One of the most difficult parts to find, restorers say, is the inch-thick bulletproof glass that was mounted just inside of the forward-facing windshield. Since it's difficult to see through see through it, it's always tossed out after the plane's combat days are over.

King's plan is to eventually display the Corsair in the airport's Curtiss hangar, itself an artifact of the early days of aviation. Built in 1929, it was visited by Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.

The F4U Corsair prototype made its maiden flight on May 29, 1940, with Lyman A. Bullard Jr. at the controls at what was then Bridgeport Airport. Deliveries to the Navy began in July 1942. On May 29, 2015, King hopes to celebrate with a fly-in of at least a half-dozen Corsairs. It's believed that fewer than 40 remain airworthy.

The Corsair, considered a symbol of Connecticut's industrial might, was mounted on a pedestal at the airport in July 1971. It was removed on July 22, 2008, because corrosion had weakened the war bird to the point where it was in danger of falling off.

During World War II, the Chance Vought Division of United Aircraft built 3,250 Corsairs, and each one was wheeled across Main Street to be flown out for eventual deliver to the Pacific Theater. Hundreds were churned out every month at the height of the war.

The Corsair has a special place in the state's aviation history because it was almost entirely produced here, with an engine from Pratt & Whitney and propellers from Hamilton Standard.

Named after the sailing ships of the Barbary pirates, the F4U Corsair was the first U.S. fighter to fly faster than 400 mph. Although designed as a carrier-based fighter, it usually was based on the tiny inlands of the Pacific Theater because it was a difficult plane to land on a carrier deck owing to poor forward visibility. For that reason, it was more commonly flown by Marines, as opposed to Navy pilots.

Despite this handicap, it quickly became the fighter most feared by the Japanese, with a claimed kill ratio of 11 to 1.

By the end of World War II, it was used also as a fighter-bomber, and was key to the victories at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Marshall Islands.

Story and photo gallery:

No comments:

Post a Comment