Saturday, July 19, 2014

Uncle Charlie flew a P-40, but never flew a Corsair

 “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience:
    this is the ideal life.” Mark Twain

 “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
   J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter

My wife’s Uncle Charlie Miles, who served with the US Air Force in China during World War II, was once asked by a curious relative what airplanes he flew in the war. 

He replied, “Everything we made.”

Uncle Charlie’s claim was not a boast. In Chungking, China where he was stationed, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Forces fought a desperate struggle for survival against Japanese forces advancing from the east and the south. Meanwhile, Mao Tse-tung’s Communist forces controlled the northern mountains.

US airmen in support of the Nationalist Army had to fly whatever plane was needed for the mission. This included the reliable C-47 cargo plane that flew “The Hump” bringing precious gasoline and ammunition over the Himalayan Mountains. It also included the fearsome P-40 fighter that kept the Japanese at bay while Chinese forces regrouped.

After going down the list of planes he flew, Uncle Charlie was asked if he flew the vaunted Corsair, the first fighter in the Pacific whose speed exceeded 400 mph.

Not one to miss a beat Charlie said, “Damn it, that’s a Navy plane.”

Vought F4U Corsair

In The Vought F4U Corsair was developed early in 1938 for the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers, which needed to combine a small compact body with the most powerful engine and a low stall speed. When it appeared in the Pacific in late 1942, the Corsair was the fastest plane in the skies. Its distinctive W-shaped wings were immediately recognizable to friend and foe. The Japanese Zero pilots nicknamed the plane “Whistling Death” because of the sound it made when diving for the attack.

Initially, the plane was flown by Marine pilots and appeared in action over the skies of the Solomon Islands. Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and his squadron flew Corsairs. With this success, Navy pilots soon adopted the Corsair as their own. 

In the course of its more than 64,000 missions, the Navy Corsair downed 2,140 enemy planes while losing only 189 Corsairs to the enemy, an 11:1 ratio unmatched in air combat history.