Flying the F4U Corsair
SECTION II: Mano a Mano, 1 vs. 1 Match-ups
The following covers plane vs. plane tactics. Planes that present the largest threats qualitatively and quantitatively will be discussed at length.
F4U Vs KI-84 "Frank"
The KI-84 was the most numerous, and certainly among the most dangerous of the F4U’s potential opponents in the Air Warrior Pacific Arena. Because of its excellent speed, maneuverability and (initially at least) firepower, the KI-84 is currently the most popular plane in the Pacific.
Many people point at the KI-84’s list of attributes, and for these reason avoid the F4U because of its lower maneuverability and speed in level flight. To defeat a foe, it is essential to know his strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own.
The F4U’s strengths as compared to the KI-84:
Climb rate: It bears repeating - the F4U climbs better than the KI-84. On average the F4U climbs about 700ft/min better, and the higher the altitude the bigger the disparity becomes. An F4U can elude a KI-84 with its patented 3k/m climb provided that the initial energy state is roughly equal at the beginning of the maneuver. The faster the F4U’s initial speed, of course, the better the chance to evade. Also a gentle turn while climbing will cause the KI-84 to lose energy faster than F4U.
High Altitude performance: KI-84’s performance drops off pretty fast above 20k, and its gets down right terrible over 30k. The F4U keeps its performance up to decent specs up till around 35k. The KI-84’s level speed advantage disappears at around 24k if the Air Warrior plane statistics are to be believed. Indeed, once the Hog’s high altitude supercharger kicks in (19k), I’m usually confident I can meet virtually any KI-84 threat. The high altitude arena is definitely the Hog’s stomping ground, and any KI-84 that ventures to those altitudes pursuing a "slow" and "unmaneuverable" Hog is playing with fire. The first law of fighting KI-84’s in an F4U is: stay high! The second is: Stay fast!
Diving performance: The F4U dives much better that the KI-84 and doesn’t compress as quickly. Often the F4U can simply out dive the KI-84 by nosing down into an ultra high speed dive and cranking the IAS well over 400 knots. At that speed the KI-84 can do little more than fly straight and pray to keep the wings on. Once the KI-84’s airspeed has gotten up to that speed the F4U uses its high speed capability to simply turn gently away, and the KI-84 will be unable to follow because its controls are almost frozen.
If the KI-84 is near gun range a descending curving dive is a good tactic. First the KI-84 will bleed energy faster, and also the turning F4U will present only a long range deflection shot. Its easy to line up on a target flying straight even at extreme range. A deflection shot will at least make the KI-84 pilot work for his kill, and with the KI-84’s sluggish response at high speed it unlikely that the KI-84 will be able to get a gun solution.
High Speed Maneuver: The F4U handles well at high speed and bleeds energy slowly. The KI-84 can shed its wings rather abruptly at high speed, if it pulls too many G’s. Also, the faster it gets, the faster it bleeds energy, especially when pulling some sort of G load. The F4U can use these factors both offensively, and defensively. These factors are very important in a defensive situation. Even if the KI-84 get the "drop" on the F4U, the F4U, if he has some sort of altitude to play with, should have good chance of giving the KI-84 the slip before getting pulled into a stall fight where the KI-84 has a big edge.
Roll Rate: The F4U rolls better than the KI-84, and the faster airspeed the bigger the disparity becomes. When in a defensive situation with the KI-84 in gun range a descending "corkscrew" is an excellent tactic to shake the KI-84. A continual broad series of descending barrel rolls. These should not be so tight as to present the KI-84 with a small target area, or too wide as to give the KI-84 a reasonable chance at a deflection shot. Also a descending set of scissors moves also does the trick at times. Almost any move which involves a roll will leave the KI-84 gasping for breath at high speed.
When to engage the KI-84?: When judging your initial "advantage" over a targeted KI-84, it is usually good to be cautious. Despite what I have stated in the previous paragraphs, the KI-84 is not to be taken lightly. If the energy state looks pretty equal I usually avoid KI-84’s with a climbing extension, hoping to re-engage on more favorable terms. An F4U can attack from the position of advantage, forcing engagements from an equal or inferior energy state is folly.
When dueling a KI-84 the F4U should be very mindful of the vertical. Climb, climb always climb! The more experience I get with the F4U, the more I use of the vertical. After making a gun pass use a climbing turn (chandelle) to stay above the KI- 84. These should be gentle energy conserving turns which hoard energy. The key to beating a KI-84 is to make him squander energy in high G evasive maneuvers while the F4U makes gun passes from above at high speed.
This is easier said than done of course, but the general concept should always hold true. When fighting a KI-84 one on one separation is one of the last factors I consider. The long sweeping maneuvers need to milk the F4U’s trumps over the KI-84 will generally lead to a good deal of separation between you and your target, and give you more time to stay above the KI-84. For this reason I leave the KI-84 on a very long tether. I prefer a vertical tether, but I will take a horizontal one if I have to. If the target decides to disengage with a dive, the hog can out dive it easily. Generally the KI-84 wants to keep the fight close and tight, while the F4U wants a high speed long sweeping battle.
KI-84 pilots usually obsess about pursing the "slow" and "unmaneuverable" Hogs. This obsession can be used against them. A good ploy when being pursued by a KI-84 is to drag him higher and higher. When a reasonable altitude is gained, the F4U can consider going on the offensive once the KI-84 is well below, struggling to match the F4U’s climb rate. Suckering the KI-84 into cutting his airspeed to nothing while pursuing a turning climb towards him and then pouncing is a standard tactic.
On many occasions I have had KI-84’s pursue my climbing Hog two or more sectors. KI-84 pilots are probably imprinted at birth with the desire to pursue Corsairs forever! The higher you get the more the KI-84’s advantages erode. As you approach 30k you can safely turn the tables and trounce the KI-84, which is now sluggish and slow. If I am feeling particularly grouchy that day I might go on the offensive again quite a bit earlier.
Very high altitude engagements is an area where many Air Warrior pilots have little experience. Generally, trying to stall fight at those altitudes only get you killed, since planes just can’t turn on a dime at those altitudes. The fight will almost always revolve around who uses his energy better. The F4U’s great energy management ability and good climb rate make it very dangerous in the sweeping combats which predominate at high altitudes. The F4U is virtually tailor made for this environment.
When to disengage? When the energy level is assessed as equal its time to consider disengaging. The KI-84 is too dangerous to press an attack on equal or inferior terms in most cases. Climb away and fight again another day. Being pulled slowly into a stall fight is not what you had in mind, and you don’t want to have to pull out the various defensive maneuvers out of your bag of tricks unless absolutely necessary!
F4U vs. Zero
Historically, the F4U was designed with one major purpose. It was designed to shoot down the Japanese Zero. The designers at Chance-Vought succeeded beyond their expectations. The F4U is the deadliest Zeke killer in the Pacific, so much so in fact that a major mistake is required on the part of the Hog driver for the Zeke to have half a chance of shooting him down. One-on-one, this is very one sided match up in favor of the F4U. The F4U can use its advantages in speed and climb rate to literally Boom and Zoom the Zeke to death. The quick turning Zeke may be able avoid many passes, but will eventually be worn down a steady barrage of high speed passes. The virtually limitless ammo load of the Corsair makes it very unlikely that the Zeke will run the attacker out of ammo.
The Zeke of course is the king of the "Lead Turners" in the Pacific, and the F4U driver must be mindful of them, as being the only practical change that the Zeke pilot has of getting a reasonable shot. A head-on "jousting" contest is certainly bad for the Zeke since his ammo load and durability are both well below that of the Corsair. Hoping for a lucky randomized critical hit on a head on pass not the percentage play on the part of the Zeke driver, but one that many Zeke drivers take because they realize that no other shot may present itself. There are three major ways of dealing with a lead turning Zeke.
The first of course is to just be going fast enough that any lead turn is virtually meaningless because you will be out of range by the time the Zeke completes his lead turn.
Secondly, it is often wise to turn slightly to either side either side after the merge, since the Zeke pilot will have to then have to complete his Immelman and also then adjust for your change in course. During the Immelman the Zeke pilot will lose sight of you ever so briefly as he switches views, and that is all the disorientation you need. Once the Zeke has completed his lead turn the follow on adjustment is usually all the time a Corsair needs to be safely out of range.
If the Zeke pilot starts his lead turn too early, the F4U can simply try to follow up the lead turn for an immediate kill. If no gun shot presents itself, the F4U will simply continue going straight up knowing that the Zeke is going to have to come out of the vertical well before the F4U because of its lower speed and poor zoom climb ability. Then the F4U can again "repeat as necessary" another bounce from on-high.
F4U vs. F6F Hellcat
I would judge the F6F Hellcat as much, and in some cases more of a threat to the F4U than the KI-84. I generally am less thrilled to see an enemy F6F above me than an enemy KI- 84. Some may find that assessment surprising, but let me explain my reasoning. The Hellcats versatile set of flight characteristics, in addition to its good maneuverability make it tough opponent for the F4U provided it gets above the F4U. The F4U’s clearly superior speed however leaves the F6F seeing nothing but tail lights and dust on most other occasions. The Hellcat’s climb rate, roll rate and high speed handling allow it to match the F4U fairly closely in most of those areas. It bleeds energy at a higher rate then the F4U, but its initial dive is fast and stable. The F6F will max out its dive speed faster than the F4U however.
These comparisons make it clear that the F6F is a threat to the Corsair, but only if it starts with an energy advantage. Most of the patented moves that the Hog can perform to outmaneuver planes like the KI-84 at high speed will not work on the Hellcat. Sheer brute speed is the best defense sometimes. Going into a gentle turning power dive when the time opportunity presents itself may be only way that the F4U can elude the Hellcat. The gentle turn provides the Hellcat plenty of opportunity to bleed energy as well as making a gun solution more difficult. It may not be a pretty or aesthetically pleasing, but it works.
Fighting the Hellcat from the position of advantage presents its own set of problems. The Hellcat is a tough plane to bring down, being very durable, and the F4U pilot is going to have to apply a lot of "pings" to finish it off. Also the Hellcats good climb rate and excellent turn rate over 200 knots make it rough for F4U to stay well above the F6F and get into position for rear quarter shot if the Hellcat pilot knows what he is doing. Often these kind of fights can be reduced in head-on and deflection shot grudge matches, in which its a toss-up who will win in the end. The Hellcat and Corsair carry the same ammo load, and the sturdy Grumman design can take just as many hits as the Hog. The percentage play is to disengage in such cases of course, but that is not always an option when the fighting blood is full up.