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HOW A WAR VETERAN FG-1D CORSAIR WAS RESTORED

The restoration of an FG-1D Corsair for the Warbird Heritage Foundation recalls not the type’s combat career, but its role in training new US Navy carrier pilots. David Leininger reports

Living in a suburb of Chicago, Paul Wood grew up watching the aircraft from Naval Air Station Glenview streak across the sky. When, decades later, he had a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair restored to flying condition, it was fitting that he decided to use its colour scheme to salute the Illinois base. The result is among the finest examples of the breed airworthy today.

The Warbird Heritage Foundation-operated FG-1D Corsair BuNo 92050/N194G over Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, with Stuart Milson at the controls.
The Warbird Heritage Foundation-operated FG-1D Corsair BuNo 92050/N194G over Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, with Stuart Milson at the controls. DAVID LEININGER

In fact, this Corsair was built only 350 miles away in Akron, Ohio, one of just over 4,000 FG-1s turned out by Goodyear’s facilities. BuNo 92050 was rolled out on 12 May 1945 and delivered to Naval Air Facility Columbus, Ohio two days later. A week after that, it was transferred to NAS San Diego, California. With the war in the Pacific still ongoing at this point, 26 June saw 92050 being assigned to Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (Forward) 20, abbreviated to CASU-F-20, at Roi in the Marshall Islands. There followed moves to two other such units, established to support deployed naval aircraft operations by providing service and maintenance: CASU-F-35 at Eniwetok, again in the Marshall Islands, on 10 August and the Guam-based CASU-F-12 on 14 September.

Returning to the USA via transport ship at the conclusion of World War Two, on 29 May 1946 the Corsair went to NAS Seattle, Washington, its home to November 1947. The aeroplane arrived at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, on the 15th of that month and went into overhaul on 2 December. It remained in the Assembly and Repair Pool until 10 May 1948, when 92050 was allocated to NAS Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the next six years, it saw service at a variety of air stations, including NAS North Island and Marine Corps Air Station El Centro, both in California, as well as NAS Dallas, Texas, NAS Salem, Oregon and, once again, NAS Seattle.

When Robert Mitchum returned to campaign ‘Race 94’ at Reno in 1970, after its 1967 failure, the Corsair had undergone many changes including having the wings clipped by 36in, a new engine fitted and numerous weight-saving measures.
When Robert Mitchum returned to campaign ‘Race 94’ at Reno in 1970, after its 1967 failure, the Corsair had undergone many changes including having the wings clipped by 36in, a new engine fitted and numerous weight-saving measures. VIA JACK COOK

BuNo 92050 was struck off the navy’s inventory in September 1954, having logged 1,491 hours of flight time. It spent six years in storage prior to being sold as surplus in 1960, a civilian airworthiness certificate being issued for a ferry flight to Longmont, Colorado. Three hops were required to get the Corsair to its destination. Jim Colbern took ownership during 1962, but the machine was not in his possession long, for in 1963 it was acquired by Robert Mitchum’s Aero Enterprises. Registered as N6604C, the FG-1D moved to Bloomfield, Colorado. Mitchum subsequently had the registration changed to N194G.

His Corsair sat dormant until 1967, when he decided to enter the fighter in the unlimited class of the National Championship Air Races at Reno, Nevada, as ‘Race 94’ Big Hummer. On arrival at Reno’s Stead Field, it experienced a major engine failure. Smoking heavily, Mitchum made a dead-stick landing on the runway. The cause was three blown cylinders. His crew swapped out the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, but were not able to finish the change before the qualifying deadline. The Corsair sat idle during the 1967 races, unable to compete.

Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation.
Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation. VIA DAVID STAFFELDT

‘Race 94’ returned in 1970. This time, Mitchum brought with him a very different Corsair, for N194G had undergone a number of changes in preparation for that year’s air races. The heavy, rugged airframe was modified and lightened, weight-saving measures such as removal of the wing-folding mechanisms, generators and a list of other unnecessary parts shedding pounds from its mass. The R-2800-8W engine was replaced with an R-2800-CB17 from a Douglas DC-6B. The standard three-blade propeller was removed, and in its place a four-blade prop from a Douglas Skyraider was mated to the powerplant.

Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation.
Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation. VIA DAVID STAFFELDT

Mitchum campaigned his Corsair at Reno for three years, the 1972 races being his best showing. Having qualified 25th at an average speed of 367.50mph, in heat one he flew to a fourth-place finish at an average speed of 363.09mph. The Unlimited Gold Race saw Mitchum and Big Hummer coming fifth at an average of 341.99mph. After that, he returned N194G to Bloomfield where it was put into store until 1977, its racing days over.

Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation.
Scenes from the recent restoration in the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois: the R-2800-CB17 engine freshly installed after overhaul by Anderson Aeromotive, an aileron rebuilt by Marc Stamsta of Max Aero, and a port wing panel mounted to a jig at Ezell Aviation. VIA DAVID STAFFELDT

James Axtell purchased N194G that January, but it would remain in storage for 22 years. Then in 1999 the aircraft was loaned to the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. Axtell’s Corsair was a permanent fixture until 2012, when it was purchased by Corsair Historic Military Aircraft, to be maintained and operated by the Warbird Heritage Foundation. The acquisition was made with the goal of returning 92050 to its original configuration and flying condition. The foundation estimated it would take three to five years to complete, but that was before the monumental task of gathering all the original components was realised. It lasted more than six years.

BuNo 92050 was briefly stationed at NAS Seattle, Washington’s auxiliary field, NAAF Salem, Oregon, in May 1954.
BuNo 92050 was briefly stationed at NAS Seattle, Washington’s auxiliary field, NAAF Salem, Oregon, in May 1954. VIA JACK COOK

Sam Taber, the owner of Tab-Air, was one of those involved. He states, “Parts acquisition was tough. For instance, a three-bank hydraulic selector, cowl flap, oil and intercooler door valve took six years to locate and obtain”. Dozens of items were needed to return N194G to stock configuration. They included, but were not limited to, the oil cooler exit doors and linkage, wing-folding mechanisms, generator, and the cowl flaps and linkage. The outer wing panels, ailerons, air inlets, cowling, exhaust system, flaps and oil cooler inlets all had to be rebuilt to their original standard. The four-blade Aero Products propeller was replaced with the original three-blade unit, and the engine was sent out for a complete overhaul. Parts and assemblies were obtained from Aero Tech, Airpower Unlimited, Anderson Aeromotive, Avionics Place, Chris Copp, Lex Cralley, Ezell Aviation, Dan Haines, Shawn Kinsey, Dan Kumler, Kent McMakin, Max Aero, Maxwell Aircraft, Roush Aviation, Sam Davis, Tab-Air, Tromblay Tool, Chris Wawro, Sam and Shari Taber and Charlie Wixom.

DAVID LEININGER

After eight years, and thousands of working hours, all the components eventually came together during final assembly. With the build-up progressing, the Corsair’s colour scheme was selected, and it was at this stage that Paul Wood — owner and Chicago native — chose to honour NAS Glenview.

Opened in 1923, Glenview was the largest primary training facility for the US Navy during World War Two. During that time some 9,000 aviation cadets received initial flight instruction there, while more than 17,000 aviators were qualified for carrier landings through different units. Glenview’s proximity to Lake Michigan meant would-be carrier pilots could perform take-off and landing certifications using two paddle-wheel steamers that had been converted into aircraft carriers. Together, these vessels, USS Sable (IX-81) and USS Wolverine (IX-64), logged more than 135,000 carrier landings by the end of the war. Many US Navy and US Marine Corps aircraft were, however, lost to Lake Michigan during these and other training operations. Post-war, Glenview was reconfigured as a Naval Air Reserve base.

DAVID LEININGER

BuNo 92050 was rolled out of the WHF hangar at Waukegan, Illinois in February 2021 and the Pratt & Whitney engine burst into life for the first time since the early 1970s. Then, on 9 March 2021, Mike Schiffer pointed the Corsair down the runway, pushed the throttle forward and released the brakes. At the appropriate moment, Schiffer pulled back on the stick and the FG‑1D climbed skyward for the first time in nearly 50 years. The initial flight lasted almost 30 minutes. With this completed, Stuart Milson continued the flight test programme, putting nearly 15 hours on the airframe. It went smoothly with very few ‘squawks’.

With landing gear extended and flaps down, the Corsair could be on approach for a practice carrier landing, just as these aircraft performed on missions out of NAS Glenview in period.
With landing gear extended and flaps down, the Corsair could be on approach for a practice carrier landing, just as these aircraft performed on missions out of NAS Glenview in period. DAVID LEININGER

Both Milson and Scott ‘Scooter’ Yoak pilot the WHF Corsair. “It is a very balanced aircraft”, Yoak says. “Chance Vought and Goodyear built an extremely well-rounded aircraft. This Corsair needs little to no trim when flying”. Milson adds, “The FG-1D is simply a nicer-flying version over the F4U”. The Goodyear aeroplane is lighter than the Chance Vought equivalent and the difference is very noticeable. “Boy, she is fast”, comments Yoak. “The big wings and large ailerons give the Corsair an exceptional roll rate”. ‘Scooter’ owns — and has logged thousands of hours in — a North American P-51 Mustang, and concludes, “If I was in a dogfight with myself in both the Corsair and Mustang, below 15,000ft, I would win 10 out of 10 times in the Corsair.”

The immaculate Corsair restoration was duly recognised by the awards judges at Oshkosh last summer.
The immaculate Corsair restoration was duly recognised by the awards judges at Oshkosh last summer. DAVID LEININGER

Although this Goodyear-built airframe did not see combat, it did maintain the flying proficiency of many naval aviators, arguably just as important a role. It took an army of restoration and Corsair experts to return it to flight, looking as good as it did during its time in the Naval Air Reserve. The effort to restore BuNo 92050 to stock condition was recognised at EAA AirVenture 2021, when the aircraft was honoured with the Judges’ Choice: Fighter award.

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