The world’s sole surviving Brewster-built Corsair took to the skies again for the first time on July 4th – the perfect day for this moment! This is a remarkable day which many thought might never happen considering the aircraft’s tumultuous journey towards resurrection; dating back to her December 1944 crash in the fetid swamps of North Carolina near MCAS Cherry Point, through the airframe’s recovery by Lex Cralley in the early 1990s, followed by his protracted legal battles with the United States Navy over salvage rights, and then a painstaking, seven-year restoration under new ownership with Ezell Aviation in Breckenridge, Texas.
Stew Dawson had the privilege of taking F3A-1 Bu.04634 aloft on her first flight which, according to reports, went very well. He had originally been scheduled to fly her last weekend, but had to postpone the flight due to a minor stomach ailment. In the coming days, the F3A will undergo a series of small adjustments as is typical following a test flight, and then fly off the requisite ten hours before she will be fully certified for normal operation.
The F3A’s first post-restoration flight is a major milestone, not just because of the variant’s rarity, but also because this Corsair is the first ever example to fly with a completely new-build main spar and spot-welded fuselage. The Corsair’s main spar has long been a major sticking point in the restoration of the type, because it is so complex and hard to remanufacture that most previous restorers deemed it financially infeasible to do so, thus limiting the maximum number of airworthy Corsairs to the available number of viable main spars. But modern technological advances, coupled with the dramatic increase in value that these aircraft command, we can expect to see more Corsairs with brand new main spars take flight in the coming years. In fact at least half a dozen are already underway with partially or fully new-build spars as we speak.
Hopefully we will see the F3A at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 in late July, where she would likely vie for top honors with Tom Reilly’s North American XP-82 Twin Mustang, also scheduled to make her first post-restoration flight in the coming days.
Many, many congratulations are due to Ezell Aviation for a superlative restoration, to Jim Slattery who funded the project, and of course to Lex Cralley, for his efforts in recovering the aircraft and the tenacity to overcome the many obstacles thrown in his path by those attempting to smother his dream. Thanks to Jay Miller for providing the photos published in this article.
For those wishing to learn more about this fantastic restoration, Warbird Digest will be publishing a feature-length article on the F3A’s restoration this August in Issue #80 of the magazine. This feature will come replete with an armada of fantastic air-to-air images captured exclusively for the magazine by Scott Slocum, one of the world’s finest air-to-air photographers. Be sure to subscribe now to ensure your access to this article in what has become the definitive vintage military aviation magazine on the planet.
Love the Corsair? Check out issue #77 of Warbird Digest Magazine featuring an in-depth article on FH&CAM’s combat veteran Corsair. Click on the cover to purchase this issue.