Today I ventured into Classic Jets Fighter Museum to see the restoration of a rare bird indeed, the oldest known surviving Vought F4U Corsair fighter from World War Two. This particular example, F4U-1 (Bu.02270) is one of only two early “birdcage canopy” Corsairs in existence and is said to be the 124th example produced by Vought. I hadn’t seen this restoration project since 2011 and much progress has been made since then.
Back in 1944 this F4U-1 was part of the sharp edge of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMF-321) “Hells Angels“. On May 5th, 1944 pilot Captain James Vittitoe USMC was returning from a training mission when low on fuel, he and two other pilots in F4U’s had to force land into a salt water lagoon near the island of Efate in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in the South Pacific (Vittitoe survived and lived on until 1994). The guns and any reusable parts from the Corsair were removed following the forced landing and then there it sat in shallow water for the next 65 years heavily exposed to the elements, vandalised and often raided by souvenir hunters.
By 2009 just the centre section, the corroded engine and the entire wing remained in salvageable condition (the rest of the fuselage had been cut away by someone years before hand and was long gone). Bob Jarrett the director of Classic Jets Fighter Museum luckily stepped in to recover the wreck.
The remaining components of the F4U-1 were cleaned up and a few months later once a settlement was reached with the land owner where the wreck sat, and the applicable paperwork for the Vanuatu Cultural Centre to export the Corsair was dealt with, it was shipped to Parafield Airport in Adelaide, South Australia where the long restoration process began to return it to static condition (parts from other wrecks and international sources are going into the restoration along with newly fabricated components to replace those too badly corroded away or lost to time). Much hard work has obviously been done to get the Corsair to the fantastic state you see today and it is expected to be completed in 2019, 10 years after it was recovered!