Birdcage Corsair Restoration Update

The Corsair's rear fuselage. This area required a good deal of restoration, as the fuselage broke a few feet beind the cockpit during the crash. Unique to the variant, early -1 Corsairs had a life raft storage compartment in the turtle decking. You can see the panel lines in the fuselage immediately to the rear of the scalloped rear view cockpit window. (photo by Joel Edwards)
A closeup of the Corsair’s engine accessory bay, showing the intercoolers and their ducts. (photo by Joel Edwards)

It is now just over seven years since F4U-1 Corsair Bu.02465 rose to the surface of Lake Michigan following a retrieval effort sponsored by Chuck Greenhill. As with many other Lake Michigan aircraft salvage operations, the experts at A & T Recovery were behind this successful endeavor. The Corsair had slumbered at the bottom of Lake Michigan for seven decades, following a landing accident aboard the training carrier USS Wolverine on June 12th, 1943. Her pilot at the time, Ens Carl Harold “Harry” Johnson survived the ordeal almost unscathed, though sadly lost his life later that year in an aerial collision over Hawaii.

This Corsair, the world’s only substantially original survivor of the earliest breed of production Corsairs, has been under restoration at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida since she arrived there in November, 2010. While the museum has no official timeline on when the aircraft will be ready for display, a lot of work has taken place in the intervening years, with most of the major structural elements now complete. Recently, Joel Edwards visited the museum’s restoration shop and took a great series of images which he agreed to share with us, and we thought our readers would love to see them too. Many thanks indeed to Joel for this update!

The Corsairs freshly primed engine bay cowlings are in the foreground to the left. The left hand outer wing panel is on the stand just behind, with the rear fuselage on another stand behind it. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The Corsair’s rear fuselage. This area required a good deal of restoration, as the fuselage broke a few feet beind the cockpit during the crash. Unique to the variant, early -1 Corsairs had a life raft storage compartment in the turtle decking. You can see the panel lines in the fuselage immediately to the rear of the scalloped rear view cockpit window. (photo by Joel Edwards)
A closeup view of the tail feathers. The interesting ‘salmon colored’ primer seems unique to Vought, but they discontinued its use in favor of the more typical yellow/green zinc chromate most of us are familiar with by the time later models of Corsair were in production. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8 engine, complete with its restored cowling and cowl flaps. The early Corsairs were unique in having cowl flaps around the complete circumference of the engine, however, the top two flaps were faired over in later models because engine oil could breeze through the gaps and make windscreen visibility a problem. In fact, in the field, many of the early Corsairs had their top two cowl flaps wired shut to deal with this serious problem. (photo by Joel Edwards)
Another view of the Corsair’s QEC (Quick Engine Change) unit, complete with its engine mount. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The repaired starboard outer wing panel. Unlike later Corsairs, the -1 ‘birdcage’ and ‘-1A’ variants had fuel tanks in the outer wing leading edges just outside the gun bay. These tanks were mostly empty when this Corsair ditched, and the immense water pressure collapsed the structure as it compressed the air inside the tanks. You can see a fair bit of repair work just past the gun tubes in the wing leading edge as a result. Vought deleted these fuel tanks in later Corsairs, as the swivel joints at the wing fold connecting the tanks to the main fuselage unit could prove unreliable. Having unresealable, wet-wing fuel tanks right beside the gun bays wasn’t exactly a practical idea either! (photo by Joel Edwards)
Another view of the Corsair center section on its jig. The large gap in the wing-to-fuselage join at the leading edge is where the oil cooler and air intake enclosure goes. You can more clearly see the intercoolers and associated duct work in the engine bay in this image. The intercoolers are used to cool the air coming from the engine’s supercharger. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The Corsair’s cockpit canopy sliding section waiting patiently in its shipping crate for its turn in the reassembly process. Unique to the initial variant of production Corsairs, the heavily reinforced structure was likened to a bird cage, hence this model of F4U-1 is often referred to as a ‘birdcage’ Corsair. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The restored pilot’s seat on its mounting rack sits on a trolley above other components which include the large oxygen bottle and its mounting structure beside it. You can just see the CO2 emergency gear blow-down bottle poking out behind the O2 bottle. The pilot’s seat back armor plate panel is on the bottom of the rack alongside a pair of hydraulic components. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The partially repaired tail cone sits atop the Corsair’s starboard outer wing panel. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The Corsair’s oil coolers. (photo by Joel Edwards)
The power plant modifications plate on the engine bay’s firewall. (photo by Joel Edwards)
Another view of the Corsair’s center section. (photo by Joel Edwards)

Many thanks again to Joel Edwards for his marvelous images!

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