F4U Corsair – “Whistling Death”

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Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 4, 2018 5:46 p.m.

 

The design inspiration for the new terminal at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport (FBMA) is the World War II – Korean Era airplane: the F4U Corsair. Selected because of its relevance to the FBMA, this design has proved to be both controversial and inspirational to many local citizens and members of the aviation community.

The Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport began its life in 1942 as a training facility for Navy pilots destined to fly the F4U Corsair. The plane was in continual production between 1942-1952, even though the Navy eliminated the Fernandina training facility at the end of World War II.

The airplane has been called one of the Navy and Marine Corps’ best fighter aircraft. It is a propeller driven aircraft, recognizable because of its inverted gull wing design. It could exceed 400 mph.

Because of its heavy engine, the plane required a long nose, which placed the cockpit far back in the fuselage, impeding pilot visibility. According to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the plane also exhibited adverse stall characteristics at slow approach speeds and a tendency to bounce on landing. These factors delayed introduction to carrier service, leaving it to Marine land-based squadrons to introduce the aircraft to combat in February 1943.

Among the notable squadrons that flew the airplane from island airstrips were Fighting Squadron (VF) 17, nicknamed the Jolly Rogers, which shot down 152 Japanese aircraft, and Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 214, the famed Black Sheep commanded by Medal of Honor recipient Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. Eventually, the aircraft’s problems aboard ship were solved, the solutions in some cases attributed to British Royal Navy pilots who flew export versions of the Corsair. This allowed for assignment of Navy and Marine Corps squadrons to aircraft carriers in the latter part of World War II.

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Corsairs piloted by American Naval Aviators shot down 2,140 Japanese aircraft in World War II. It has been said that the sound the aircraft made when flying close support missions in the Pacific Theater inspired the Japanese to call the plane “Whistling Death.”

Marine Captain Jesse Folmar

The plane continued service into the Korean War. Marine Captain Jesse Folmar flew a most unusual mission in the skies over Korea, becoming the first piston-engine pilot to down a MiG-15 jet in air-to-air combat.

All told, three manufacturers (Vought, Brewster and Goodyear) delivered more than 12,500 F4Us in 13 production versions during the period 1942-1952, the longest production of any World War II fighter. The aircraft also flew in the military forces of six foreign nations, including France, which employed them in the campaigns in French Indochina [later Vietnam].

At one time, the Friends of Fernandina Aviation (FOFA) had a goal to erect a detailed model of the Corsair as a monument to the plane’s role in the Fernandina Airport’s history. But that plan has been shelved. According to FOFA President Mickey Baity, “It was problematic finding someone to construct a display aircraft; there was no real aircraft available and too hard to maintain if we could even source one.”

But Brian Echard, President and CEO of the new Fixed Base Operator (FBO), whose operation will share the new terminal along with the city, has found a way to showcase the F4U Corsair. Echard has invested $75,000 to have a model built that will hang from the ceiling of the new terminal. This model will belong to the city and remain for aviators, visitors and students to appreciate in the years ahead.

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Although not a certainty, there may be a fly-in of an actual Corsair when the new terminal is dedicated in July.  The Fernandina Observer  has been tracking construction progress.

Click here to see the F4U Corsair in flight.

You may read much more about the F4U Corsair online. Earl Swihnart has written a comprehensive article on the plane. You may also visit the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL to see the plane on display.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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6 Responses to F4U Corsair – “Whistling Death”

  1. Chris Whelan says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Betsie Huben says:

    Local history aside – when I think of all the things the city taxpayer’s money could and should be spent on, the added expense involved in designing and constructing the airport terminal to look like a WWII airplane is not one of them.

    • Dave Lott says:

      Betsie, while I agree with you that the design and related cost is a luxury and could be used for other airport improvements, the funding of the terminal building is being done primarily outside the use of any City general funds. There is a loan being made from the general fund to cover the shortfall of the FAA and FDOT grants, but the airport enterprise fund will pay all the principal and interest back. As a normal course, the airport does not use any of the General funds as it is self-sufficient with its own revenue sources which by federal regulation must be used solely for aeronautical purposes. Over time, the City has benefited greatly from the airport with land being provided for the soccer and baseball complex as well as the golf course.

    • Dale L. Martin says:

      This misunderstanding again requires clarification: NO City property taxes are being used for this project. The City funds used for this project are SOLELY derived from leases, rents, fuel payments, and special event revenues generated at the Airport- nothing from City property tax revenues. In other words, if you have not purchased aviation fuel or rented a hangar, NONE of your City dollars support this project. Additionally, with the exception of the competitive Department of Economic Opportunity grant funds (awarded because of State support for the project), all funds spent on this project are restricted to AVIATION use at the Airport- the funds cannot be used for beaches, streets, Marina, public safety, etc. The financial impact of this project (and, in fact, ALL Airport operations) on City property taxes is ZERO: the Airport, in contrast to the City Marina and the City Golf Course, is completely self-sustaining through leases, rents, fuel payments, special event revenues, and aviation grant funding from the FAA and the Florida Department of Transportation. Finally, the loan secured to complete the funding is, in fact, not from the General Fund, but rather an actual bank loan which will be repaid through Airport revenues, not City tax dollars. If you desire additional information, please contact me.

  3. Betsie Huben says:

    Okay – so here is where I am so perpetually confused.
    City tax dollars DO fund the general fund.
    But that is NOT where the shortfall loan is coming from.
    What is/was being used as the collateral for the bank loan to cover the shortfall?

    • Suanne Thamm says:

      From Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin:
      Public (government) financing is different than private financing: no collateral is provided. What is offered as security for the loan is future Airport revenues. The loan document states:
      “(C) Debt service on the Note will be secured by the Pledged Revenues as provided herein. The Pledged Revenues are not pledged or encumbered to pay any obligations of the Issuer other than the Refunded Note, which will be retired immediately upon the issuance of the Note. The Pledged Revenues will be sufficient to pay the principal and interest on the Note herein authorized, as the same become due, and to make all deposits required by this Resolution. However, in the event the Pledged Revenues are insufficient to pay debt service on the Note, the Issuer has covenanted herein to budget, appropriate, and deposit an amount
      of Non-Ad Valorem Revenues sufficient to make such payments.
      (D) The Issuer shall never be required to levy ad valorem taxes or use the proceeds thereof to pay debt service on the Note or to make any other payments to be made hereunder or to maintain or continue any of the activities of the Issuer which generate user service charges, regulatory fees, or any other Non-Ad Valorem Revenues. The Note shall not constitute a lien on any property owned by or situated within the city limits of the Issuer.”

      In summary, City tax dollars simply are not and cannot be utilized to pay for the debt service related to the terminal building.

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