La Ferté Corsair back in the air

Baptiste Salis getting airborne from La Ferté-Alais in newly restored F4U-5NL Corsair F-AZEG.
BEN DUNNELL

Korean War veteran Chance Vought F4U-5NL Corsair BuNo 124724/F-AZEG, owned by the Salis family’s Casques de Cuir (Leather Helmets) collection, made its maiden post-restoration flight at La Ferté-Alais south-west of Paris on 9 May. Baptiste Salis was at the controls. The aircraft had last flown in 2003 and had been under active restoration since 2008.

This night fighter was taken on charge by the US Navy on 26 September 1951 and assigned to composite squadron VC-3 ‘Blue Nemesis’, home-based at Moffett Field, California, the following April. With that unit, BuNo 124724 was sent to the Korean theatre in December 1952 aboard the USS Valley Forge for an initial six-month operational tour, the unit primarily conducting nocturnal interdiction and radar intercept sorties. It returned to wartime duty from August- November 1953, this time on the USS Boxer.

Little is known about the remainder of its US Navy service, but at some point the airframe was placed in storage at Naval Air Facility Litchfield Park, Arizona. It re-emerged in March 1956 when 10 surplus Corsairs — a mixture of F4U-5, F4U-5N and F4U-5NL models, the latter distinguished from the standard -5N by virtue of added winterisation equipment — were supplied by the US government to the Honduran Air Force. From 14-18 July 1969 the Corsair fleet participated in the last air combat action seen by the type when Honduras was attacked by El Salvador, resulting in the so-called ‘Soccer War’ — so named because of clashes resulting from a World Cup qualifying match between the two countries. BuNo 124724 was involved in the brief campaign, conducting air-toground sorties against Salvadoran forces.

The Honduran F4Us were retired in favour of North American F-86 Sabres during 1970. Eight of the nine airworthy survivors, which had been stored at Tegucigalpa, were acquired in 1979 by Hollywood Wings, a company formed by Jim Nettle to sell them on to collectors. Most went straight to their new owners, but Hollywood Wings kept BuNo 124724 until 1983. Registered N4901E, it was passed to Terry Randall and John Rourke of Tulsa, Oklahoma, then to Phillip Bass of Fairhope, Alabama and Ralph Parker of Wichita Falls, Texas. The latter painted the Corsair back into its VC-3 colours, which it still wore when bought by Jean Salis. In April 1986 the fighter was shipped to Amsterdam and flown from there to its new home at La Ferté-Alais. It continued to be a regular airshow performer there and elsewhere in Europe until the early 2000s.

The markings of VC-3 have been reapplied in the course of the F4U’s recent restoration, albeit with the codes and titles in blue rather than white. Baptiste Salis piloted the Corsair on its return to display flying at the La Ferté-Alais show on 19-20 May (see report on pages 104-105), and it is hoped to be present at several other major shows this summer. It is now the sole airworthy Corsair in France.

The run-up to the La Ferté event was a notably busy period for the Casques de Cuir, as the association’s Fokker DrI replica F-AYDR — the ex-Robs Lamplough aeroplane, formerly registered G-ATJM — was also reflown after a programme of restoration work. Bruno Marlière was at the controls when the ‘Dreidecker’ took to the air on 15 May.