Cheers and tears filled a hangar in west Dallas Saturday afternoon as hundreds of retirees from Vought Aircraft gathered to greet an old friend and see the rebirth of the company icon, and F4U Corsair fighter plane. Many gathered there either designed, helped build or actually flew the airplane that became the symbol of victory in the Pacific war.
"The Corsair was one of the most significant aircraft of World War II," said W.A. Hap Chandler, a former Vought test pilot and retired Navy Captain with 1200 hours in the F4U. "The Japanese called it 'Whistling Death' for a good reason, it killed their Zero."
Thousands of the gull-winged fighters rolled off the assembly line at Vought in the 1940's. But this one was special.
"You're in Corsair Country," yelled Hank Merbler, president of the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation.
Dozens of former Vought employees spent thousands of hours over the span of four years rebuilding and restoring the plane from a wrecked hulk . They scavenged parts from around the world and what they could not find, the artisans re-fabricated from the original plans.
Former Vought CEO Paul Thayer, a former test pilot and World War II Ace who shot down six Zeros from the seat of a Corsair, brought the crowd to its feet when flicked a button on a hoist to raise an American Flag that revealed the powerful propeller and massive engine on the shiny new 65-year-old air plane.
"She's beautiful," said 97-year-old Jim Cosgrove, a retired Vought aircraft inspector, who used to give Corsairs their final flying papers after they came off the assembly line in west Dallas.
Ed Cvetko, former Vought Aero Products President and one of the volunteer leaders of the Vought restoration team, never quit smiling as he described how fellow retirees lovingly toiled over this project. "What we could not find, swap for or get donated we rebuilt from scratch," said Cvetko. "Some of these guys are real craftsmen, artists, parts we could not find they re-fabricated from scratch using original Vought plans."
The proof is in the cockpit, original down to the handles and rivets. The sleek dark blue Corsair, emblazoned with "Navy" on one side and "Marines" for the pilots of two services that made the F4U famous, is restored beyond museum quality and ready now for many other non-Vought admirers to see.
"The gang would like to see the Corsair stay around here," said Dick Atkins, historian for the Vought Retirees Club. "We want her to go on display at a museum where we know she will be inside, protected from the elements."
"After all, she's not an outside girl any more, but she sure is pretty!" said Atkins.