“I have always loved the Corsair,” said restorer Matt Nightingale from his California Aerofab facility at Chino Airport. “It ranks right up there with the P-40.” Readers of Air Classics know that Matt has been responsible for returning many examples of the famed Curtiss fighter back to the air. “I got my start with the P-40 way back in 1993. That is when P-40C 41-13357 arrived at Fighter Rebuilders. I was just a kid at the time, but I knew I really liked that plane. Courtesy of Steve Hinton, I got my start on learning how to restore a fighter with the P-40C that had come out of Russia and was owned by Stephen Grey’s The Fighter Collection. Compared to some of the other projects since then, this aircraft was amazingly intact. It had crash-landed after a fight with Luftwaffe fighters in 1943 and then just stayed in a very cold climate near Archangelsk until rediscovered and removed to England and then Chino. I learned a tremendous amount by being able to help with the P-40C and I had a real sense of pride and accomplishment when it made its first post-restoration flight on 3 September 1998.” Since then, Matt has gone on to establish his own restoration facility, restored more P-40s, a French Hawk 75, an incredibly rare P-36 and, as can be seen in the last issue, a variety of OV-10 Broncos are now going through his shop. In-between these aircraft, there have been all sorts of other exciting projects with one of the most unusual being the “Yakfire.” This was a Yak airframe that received extensive modifications so it would look a bit like a Spitfire and an actor could sit in the rear seat and be filmed as if he was “flying” the fighter during shooting of the movie Dunkirk. “I recently had the chance to obtain a Vought F4U-1 — it was not a particularly easy process but I knew that if I did not get this airframe then future chances of restoring an early Corsair would be very limited.”
Matt is certainly correct about that. There was a time during the early portion of the Warbird Movement when an airworthy example of the famed “bent-wing bird” was worth considerably less than a similar P-51D Mustang. All that has certainly changed. Corsair airframes, and associated spare parts, are now very difficult to come by and that is interesting since the Corsair remained in production longer than any other WWII fighter. Photographs taken during the late 1950s show literally hundreds of Corsairs in storage at NAF Litchfield Park in Arizona and being offered for sale but there were few buyers and most went to the smelters — along with tons of spare parts and components. In fact, if it weren’t for the recoveries during the 1970s of Corsairs operated in Latin America, then today’s Corsair fleet would indeed be very limited. “Compared to a P-40 or a P-51, the F4U is a really complex aircraft to restore,” states Matt. “There is nothing easy about the Corsair — especially that huge main spar which looks like it should be part of a bridge!” Over the past decade, restorers have advanced the ability to remanufacture certain components including the spar, which was once thought too complex to make it worthwhile, and rear fuselages. Matt is lucky to have the majority of this original airframe — and it is an aircraft with an exciting history. In the coming months, we will have regular updates on the F4U-1 restoration, its history, and how it came to Chino Airport.
Photo Credit: Air Classics Magazine