The image above is the US Navy’s Legacy Flight from the 2017 Cleveland National Air Show. CAF Dixie Wing’s FG-1D Corsair leads a F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators. Traditionally, this is always a highlight of an airshow for me when a warbird flies formation with a current military aircraft. I was exhilarated at the time since the combination of a Corsair and Super Hornet was something I rarely witnessed – along with the fact that two of my favorite aircraft were together. What I failed to recognize when I took this image is the history it captures. At the time, this photo represented the US Navy’s first strike-fighter, the Corsair, and their current strike-fighter, the Super Hornet.
What is a strike-fighter? Some official definition may exist, but the general idea is that a strike-fighter is an aircraft primarily designed for fighting other aircraft in air-to-air combat but also has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance such as bombs, rockets or other munitions when needed.
The genesis of the strike-fighter idea was born out of boredom and necessity. The VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” were a land based F4U Corsair unit deployed to the Solomon Islands. The Jolly Rogers led by Lt. Commander Tom Blackburn along with sister USMC F4U squadrons, RNZAF P-40s and USAAF P-38s eliminated the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft. The Japanese realized the Solomon Islands were lost and pulled what remained of the air fleet back to defend mainland Japan. With no aerial opposition, the fighter sweeps became hours of boredom for the fighter pilots. However, the ground battle still was long from over. Since a fighter plane escort of bomber aircraft was no longer required, Blackburn along with other members of VF-17 came up with a plan…carry a bomb and help the guys on the ground.
At the time, this was a radical idea. Aircraft were designed for a specific purpose – fighter, dive-bomber, torpedo and bomber. The aircraft did not have wiring for wing or fuselage mounted ordinance. Work was initiated and a rough bomb rack and cockpit wiring were installed. After a few modifications, a bomb rack that could safely carry and deliver a bomb was complete. Blackburn sold the idea to his superiors and the idea was tested out operationally.
This innovation and idea was eventually approved for all Corsair units. Engineering from the original VF-17 design was modified and incorporated into manufacturing at Chance-Vought and Goodyear. These modifications included permanent wing and fuselage wiring to allow external ordinance.
Ultimately, that decision to allow a fighter to carry bombs has permanently changed Naval Aviation. In the immediate future, F6F Hellcats were modified to carry bombs and rockets similar to the F4U-1/FG-1 Corsairs. Nearly every Navy/USMC fighter aircraft since has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance.
The fleet is now beginning to deploy the F-35C along with the USMC F-35B, the next generation of strike-fighters. The F/A-18 and F-35 will continue the strike-fighter duties for the next several decades.
Only about 45 years separate the Corsair and Super Hornet.