When most people hear the name Corsair, they think of the World War II warbird as just that — in its military capacity. Few would think of the airplane being used as a Reno racer, but that’s exactly how N194G was flown in the 1970s.
Now owned by the Warbird Heritage Foundation in Waukegan, Illinois, the FG-1D Corsair is undergoing a meticulous restoration back to its original Navy configuration. This has been an intensive process, since countless modifications were made and parts removed during the airplane’s conversion to a racer.
“[A previous owner] clipped the wings, took the wing-fold mechanisms out, redid the intakes at the wing root, lowered the profile of those,” said WHF Founder Paul Wood. “He put an aerodynamic stinger on the tail, put a big, four-bladed Skyraider prop on it. … Just a whole bunch of stuff to try to make it a fast Reno racer. It just didn’t work out that well. What he accomplished was he made the airplane fairly unstable to fly, and didn’t really increase the speed that dramatically and it never was very successful being a racer.”
Paul had Sam Taber, owner of Tab-Air in East Troy, Wisconsin, sign on to restore the airplane to its original military design as a trainer serving Naval air stations around the United States. Sam, EAA 96340, said the further he stripped down the airplane, the more he discovered just how far the Corsair’s previous owners had gone to reduce weight and gain speed. Not only was all the military hardware removed, including gun and radio mounts, nearly every component that was not involved with making the Corsair fast was taken out.
“They went so far as to pull the generator,” Sam said. “They only ran with batteries.”
Perhaps the most challenging part of this restoration is that none of those parts were saved. Sam said he’s been turning to any source possible to find parts, from military specific details to basic components that help fold the Corsair’s wings.
Also modified in the ’70s were the Corsair’s air inlet components, located at the wing roots. Scott Dennison, EAA 783603, was put in charge of the sheet metal work required to rebuild those parts. In a coincidental nod to the Corsair’s racing history, Dennison has previously done work on Indy cars.
“The technology that they used during the war to build these aircraft is very similar to the technology we used to build Indy cars back in the ’70s for Mario Andretti and guys like that,” Scott said. “It’s the same sheet metal bending and riveting and forming.”
Four years into the restoration, the Corsair’s fuselage has now been bolted back together, and much of its wiring and hydraulics work is complete. The wings have been restored to their full length and recovered, and only need some work on the ailerons and gun doors. But even with many of these big visual milestones checked off, Sam said Tab-Air still has a lot of work to complete.
“It seems like you can see the finish line and it just keeps getting pulled farther and farther away,” he said. “Sometimes we will have more time involved with a nonvisual stinking little component than we will hanging an engine.”
Although everyone involved is eager to get the project done and see the airplane fly, Sam said it’s easy to form a bond with the airplane and working on such historic aircraft is hard to beat.
“It’s remarkable, the power and the way it looks and sounds,” he said. “That’s the cool machine part. But the soul of the airplane is, to me, what’s really making that thing so special. It represents every guy out there that saw one fly overhead or squeezed the trigger on it, or girls who pushed a rivet into it.”
To pay homage to the Chicago area’s local World War II history, once the Corsair is complete it will be ceremonially delivered at the Glenview Naval Air Station. The station served as a training base during World War II for various airplanes to fly out of and practice aircraft carrier landings on Lake Michigan.
“The people who flew in World War II, they’re dying very quickly,” Paul said. “It’s a way to sort of pay tribute to them as the greatest generation. We like to be able to do that when we can.”