Vought F4U-1 ‘Birdcage’ Corsair – Restoration Update – October, 2021

Skins assemblies on the 'Birdcage' Corsair's center section are now undergoing final-fitting and riveting, as can be seen here on the starboard wing stub with assembly VS-15589 clecoed in place. (photo via Vultures Row Aviation)
Aircorps Art Dec 2019


Over the past couple of years, we have been following the restoration of an extremely rare ‘birdcage’ variant of the Vought F4U-1 Corsair (BuNo.02449) undergoing restoration to flying condition at Vultures Row Aviation in Cameron Park, California. Quite a lot has taken place since our last update in September, and we thought our readers would be interested in seeing some photographs describing the latest efforts.

An overview of the Vultures Row Aviation workshop showing the various Corsair projects underway at Vultures Row Aviation. Not everything here has been done in house, but it is an amazing sight to behold. The wings in the foreground belong to Jim Tobul’s F4U-4 “Korean War Hero”. That aircraft is presently flying with metalized wings, but these more appropriate, fabric-covered examples will be returning to the airframe in due course. (photo via Vultures Row Aviation)

Work is continuing on the center section, which is progressing very nicely now as you can see in the images above, but of significant importance, the aircraft’s Pratt&Whitney R-2800-8 Double Wasp engine recently made its first trial runs on the test cell at Anderson Aeromotive in Grangeville, Idaho. The R-2800-8 was the first production model for the Double Wasp’s B-series and produced in relatively small numbers (fewer than 4,000 units). ‘Birdcage’ Corsairs used this early variant of the famous powerplant, which is now almost as rare as the aircraft itself. The earlier engine is significantly different to the far more available R-2800-8W which most later variants of the -1 Corsair used, with a primary variation indicated by the ‘W’ suffix which refers to Water Injection. To inhibit detonation at maximum power settings, a pilot could inject a water-methanol mix into the engine, thus allowing greater performance (for short bursts). Obviously, this was a desirable feature giving pilots an edge over their opponents, so the earlier, non-water injected engines were soon rendered obsolete during wartime. As a result, the R-2800-8 is now a very rare engine indeed, and  it is likely that Vultures Row’s example will be amongst the first of its kind to power an aircraft since soon after the end of WWII. As such, it will be a real treat to hear this engine run; it has a unique howl which you will be able to appreciate in the videos further down this page.

Vultures Row describes their efforts to resurrect this long-forgotten variant of the Double Wasp as follows: “It’s taken years to acquire all of the correct parts for this unique engine. Lots of NOS [New Old Stock] parts… never run cylinders that still have the original P&W paint at the base. [There are] also NOS internal clutch parts only used on this version and NOS baffles with original inspector and part number stamps.”

Commenting on the images of the engine above, Vultures Row also remarked: “Notice also the copper braided NOS spark plug wires and the early version primer system feed from a spider… not injected into the carb [but] rather injected into the cylinders directly. We also have a NOS [magneto] harness and have made all new placards that attach to the blower section for the clutches and other items. It’s as perfect in every aspect as it can be for an 80 year old engine.” You will note also that the unpainted fastener hardware on this engine has the early style silver-colored CAD I cadmium plated finish which was typical for the period, rather than the more-available gold-colored CAD II finish which most aviation-grade fasteners wear these days. While this may seem like an insignificant detail, it does lend the project additional authenticity, which is what Vultures Row is striving for. We feel sure that our readers will appreciate this endeavor.

The first engine run features in the rather blurry video below, captured from within the test cell. It is apparently the first time this engine has run in 78 years!
The second engine run appears below. So far the team has run the engine for about two hours, with another four, trouble-free hours to go before the engine is ready to ship. You will hear the distinct sound this non-water-injected Double Wasp exudes more clearly in this video, which also features the change in engine note when the operator engages the low speed setting on the two-stage supercharger around the sixteen second mark… it is a unique kind of howl, which is sure to engage air show audiences!



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