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MAIN STREET NEWS, Old Saybrook, CT

Cover:  Corsair Taking Flight

Flying High

Connecticut Corsair enters the next stage

By Jennifer McConnell

MSN Staff

Inside Connecticut Corsair’s hangar at the Chester Airport are myriad of assorted parts belonging to what will someday become an air worthy Corsair aircraft.  Spare parts are stored on shelves and hang from the ceiling to save floor space.  Two fuel drop tanks are suspended from hooks fastened to the hangar ceiling, as do oil tanks, a few windshields, tail control surfaces, and so many more needed parts.  A fuselage was purchased two years ago.  But the main attraction is a 2500 lb completely restored Pratt & Whitney radial piston engine.  Hovering above it are two 500 lb bombs, the kind dropped from Corsairs during WWII.  The only difference is these are hollow.

The F4U Corsair was designed and built in Connecticut by United Aircraft Corporation.  The Corsair is the only WWII fighter built entirely in one state.  It is instantly recognized throughout the world due to its incredible history and distinctive shape, most notably its inverted gull wings.  Some 12,671 were built between 1940 and 1952, and fewer than 100 Corsairs exist in the world today.  In May 2005, the Corsair was declared Connecticut’s Official Aircraft and for Craig McBurney, that just makes his project even more important.

Craig McBurney of Connecticut Corsair now has enough parts taken from ten different airplanes to re-build an F4U Corsair.  Since 1991, McBurney has been scouring the country looking for and collecting parts to recreate a Corsair.

“That came from a horse barn in Idaho.  It was intact after 50 years.” McBurney said pointing to a Corsair canopy.

Nearby, floor to ceiling shelves are chuck full of inner wings and outer wings, and twisted metal pieces.  To the untrained eye, these parts appear to have no other use then to become scrap metal or at best a sculptural oddity.  But each piece has a purpose as a model or template or spare part.  If the twisted and crinkled, time eaten metal is of no use, then still perhaps the rods, and the fittings, the clips or castings that are intact and perfectly functional can be salvaged.

“This saves us money” McBurney said.  Though he has been given plenty of in-kind sponsorship:  Whelen Engineering has provided logistical and facility support and will design and install a _____ lighting system for the Corsair, the rebuilding of the Corsair has been for the most part self-funded.  However, Connecticut Corsair is still looking for a title sponsor.

McBurney has always had a _______ for airplanes.  His passion for flying and particularly Corsairs, was ____ _____ after watching a 1970’s sitcom called Baa Baa Black Sheep starring Robert Conrad as Pappy Boyington the squadron leader of a group of fighter pilots stationed on an island in the Pacific.  At the age of 18, McBurney joined the Air Force to learn to fly.  He was a gunner on a B-52.  In 1993, after leaving the Air Force, he took a position with a museum where he maintained and flew B-24s.  During this time he witnessed the slow, part by part, restoration process of rebuilding a Corsair.

The hangar was empty when he moved in and 90% of the contents are recycled.  He brought in power, and built the office from the recycled materials.  His offices looks like a movie set built to look like a WWII pacific theatre operations hut.  It is painted army green.

McBurney ___________________ engineering drawings of the Corsair parts and photographs he uses as a guide to recreate parts.  Unfortunately some of the drawings are unreadable.  Working with the CT Center for Advanced Technology and Bolton Works in E. Hartford, he can now _____ a part, or even a piece of it, where it can be scanned by lasers and the image imported into an AutoCAD computer program.  The images are then emailed to a machine shop where they are _____ to exact specifications.

McBurney formed Connecticut Corsair so that he could restore, and someday fly, the classic WWII war plane.  Since no one was going to give McBurney the opportunity to fly one of the rare planes, and buying one outright at a cost of $2 million was out of the question, he bought a wrecked plane.  Like a giant puzzle, McBurney began methodically and meticulously removing the ____ pieces to put it back together.  McBurney admits, with a sheepish smile, that as a kid he liked to take things apart, although his was not always great at putting them back together again.

And while McBurney continues his painstaking task of rebuilding a Corsair, Connecticut Corsair is building a full motion simulator for the Corsair so that anyone who has ever had a desire to fly a Corsair can don a pair of _____ goggles and experience flight and sound as if really sitting in a Corsair.  And with ____ 2,450 horsepower behind the plane, McBurney said the simulator will feel like the real thing.

“It sounds like a pack of Harleys,” Said McBurney.
The simulator will _____ and vibrate like a Corsair.”  McBurney wants to take people back in time to where people gave up everything to get the job done during WWII.

“When you see this airplane on the ground, or at the museum, the step back in time in unforgettable.”

A prototype of the stimulator made of plywood was exhibited at the Chester Fair to the delight of many, including WWII veterans, local _____ contractor workers, as well as State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Rob Simmons.  It was a successful day at the Chester Fair with an outpouring of support from the community.  Most who visited the booth did not realize that the Corsair had been built in CT.  For McBurney, this reinforces the idea that the Corsair is a state aircraft.  McBurney expects the simulator to be ready in the next six months.  He hopes to take the simulator on the road to trade shows and when it is not touring the country, it will be available at the Chester airport.

Connecticut Corsair expects it will be at least another three to four years or longer before completion of a project that began as a passion and a dream.  At present, the major components have been shipped around the country to a handful of machine shops to be restored.  For example, the wings were sent to Idaho, the tail section to North Dakota.  But the final assembly of the plane will take place at home at the Chester Airport hangar.

Once the restoration of the Corsair is complete, McBurney plans to take the Corsair on a nationwide tour to promote the state of Connecticut.  McBurney said, “You have to enjoy the journey – you have to be passionate about it.  I feel like I’m re-creating history for the state of CT.”

For more information and images of the F4U restoration, please visit www.connecticutcorsair.com or you can contact Craig McBurney by email: craig@connecticutcorsair.com.

Photo 2:  At left, Craig McBurney of Connecticut Corsair stands alongside a model of a Corsair at the Chester Airport.  McBurney hopes to complete the re-building of his Corsair within six years.

Photo 3:  Craig McBurney stands in front of the Corsair cockpit simulator at the Chester Fair.  The simulator mock up was constructed with the invaluable ______ from Len Buffinton of Buffinton Custom Homes and Daryl Retzke of the Lee Company.  The display propeller, ______ _____ years ago, has been signed by individuals who had worked on or flown Corsairs or in some cases their children and grandchildren.  At the Chester Fair, two Pratt Whitney employees signed the propeller in memory of their fathers.

 

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Last modified: September 18, 2012

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