Friday, June 28, 2013

F4U-2 Color Scheme

The F4U-2 was (with a couple of exceptions) modified by the Navy from production Vought F4U-1 "birdcage" corsairs to be a night fighter.
The airplanes came from the factory in a blue-gray over light gray paint scheme. They were subsequently repainted by the Navy in the tri-color paint scheme before they were deployed.

Basically, the tri-color scheme required painting the top of the fuselage, wings, and horizontal tail non-specular sea blue; the bottom of the fuselage, wings (with an exception for that portion of the wings that folded upward) and horizontal tail non-specular white; and the vertical tail, the sides of the fuselage, and the bottom of wings that folded upward non-specular intermediate blue. The sides of the fuselage could be painted intermediate blue by either of two methods, A) by blending the non-specular sea blue and white so that the result on the side of the fuselage that was vertical approximated intermediate blue or B) by painting the side of the fuselage intermediate blue and blending it into the top and bottom color "without noticeable demarcation".

This is a head-on comparison of the factory blue-gray/light gray scheme (on an F4U-1 modified with the R-4360 for evaluation) versus the tri-color scheme:
Note that it's hard to believe from this picture that the vertical fin on the left is blue-gray and the one on the left is intermediate blue or that the bottom of the fuselage on the left is light gray and the one on the right is non-specular white.

This is an example of the Norfolk-type scheme:
 NASA Langley Image #EL-2000-00231 dated 31 July 1943

For a discussion of the Norfolk scheme, see

There is an excellent illustrated article on the development of the F4U-2 and VMF(N)-532 operations by Richard Abrams in the Spring 1973 issue (Volume 18 Number 1) of the American Aviation Historical Society Journal. It is clear from the pictures that the -532 Corsairs were painted in a Norfolk-type scheme before deployment but over time the demarcation of colors and the colors themselves faded. (It appears that any F4U-2 with the side number 2XX is from -532.)

However, many illustrations (and some models) show F4U-2s over painted with black along the sides of the fuselage. Abrams states unequivocally that this was not so, although he may only have been sure about the initial paint scheme in general and VMF(N)-532 in particular. The existence of a non-standard scheme was probably based on these pictures of VF-101(N) F4U-2s being readied for take off from Intrepid. The paint scheme doesn't correspond to either the Norfolk scheme or the production Vought scheme.

Steven Eisenman has noted that there is an area of intermediate blue between the top and bottom colors on the cowl and aft fuselage, just much lower than usual on the Corsair:

Note that the vertical tail is almost certainly intermediate blue but the sides of the fuselage look darker than the top of the fuselage. Some have speculated that the sides of the fuselage were painted black, but if that were accomplished to reduce the visibility of the airplane at night, then surely the vertical tail would have been toned down as well. One possible explanation for the darker color on the sides is that it was the result of a repaint following the removal of the red surround on the national insignia with the original sea blue having faded. However, that doesn't explain the complete lack of color differentiation on the cowling. Another is that the method A was used to paint the side of the fuselage without bothering to blend the sea blue and white very much...

Dave Hansen notes that the F4U-2 pictures above were the VF(N)-101 detachment aboard Intrepid. The squadron decal on the right side of the fuselage just below the windscreen was removed when a VF(N)-101 detachment went aboard Enterprise. He also reported that these airplanes had received the additional armor plate atop the very rear of the canopy.
In his opinion, the side of the fuselage was freshly painted semigloss sea blue. For his 1/32 Tamiya build, see


  1. Great info as always, Tommy! I have a question about the aircraft on the left in the second image. What is it? It looks like a prototype for the F2G? I thought that a -1A was used for the prototypes...



  2. It's not well known that Pratt & Whitney did the first R-4360 conversion using a production F4U-1, BuNo 02460...

  3. The paint scheme may be "graded tone" in which the top color N.S. sea blue was hazed on over a white base coat to approximate intermediate sea blue. Notice the difference in tone between the intermediate sea blue painted vertical stab and the tone on the cowl. This graded tone paint application tended to leave a narrower swath of the approximation of intermediate sea blue color and tended to be a bit darker in tone depending on its application. For example:
    Pat D

  4. Hi Tommy,

    Here's a post from Dana Bell to Hyperscale regarding the Graded scheme. The specification language is in the next comment because the entire post exceeds the character limit

    Dana Bell
    Graded USN Camouflage - save this!
    Sun Jan 30, 2005 19:04

    Hi all!

    Over the last few weeks, there've been a number of questions about the US Navy's 3 (actually 4) tone paint scheme of 1943. The question about the color on fuselage sides is addressed in Navy Specification SR-2c, which allowed the N/S Sea Blue to be feathered down the fuselage sides to gradually transition into Insignia White. (See paragraph D-3b(7)(A) below.)

    However, there was also a second paragraph, D-3b(7)(B), which called out the Intermediate Blue sides and THIS was the instruction that most manufacturers, depots, and units followed. The ability to gradually blend two colors of such high contrast would have been well beyond the ability of most painters - or modelers for that matter. Slight changes in thickness of the paint - either through application or weathering - would have resulted in major changes in fuselage colors and a very mottled appearance.

    I don't say it never happened, but it would have been a VERY rare camouflage application.

    Here's all of the camouflage language in SR-2c, just now copied for your enjoyment.



  5. Continuation of Dana Bell's post from previous comment........

    D-3b. Detail Requirements of Basic Camouflage Scheme.
    D-3b(1). All horizontal airfoil surfaces viewed from above shall be finished in semi-gloss sea blue color.
    D-3b(2). All horizontal airfoil surfaces viewed from below shall be painted non-specular insignia white color.
    D-3b(3). The leading edge of the wings shall be counter-shaded between the two colors using non-specular insignia white and non-specular sea blue. The non-specular sea blue should extend back on the top surface approximately 5% of the wing chord. De-icer boots shall be treated in a similar manner using material conforming to specification M-529. (See Figure 26.)
    D-3b(4). When aircraft have wings that fold so as to expose under surfaces to visibility from above, these visible surfaces shall be finished with intermediate blue color.
    D-3b(5). Upper hull or fuselage surfaces extending down to a line the tangent to which is approximately sixty degrees from the horizontal shall be painted non-specular sea blue. (i.e., upper points of tangency). (See Figure 27.)
    D-3b(6). Lower hull or fuselage surfaces extending up the side to a 1ine the tangent to which at any point is not more than thirty degrees from the horizontal shall be painted non-specular white color. (i.e., lower points of tangency). (See Figure 27.)
    D-3b(7). The vertical or curved surfaces of the hull or fuselage between the non-specular sea blue color of upper surfaces and the non-specular white color of lower surfaces shall be graduated in tone from the non-specular sea blue to the non-specular white by means of either of the following methods:
    (A) By blending the two colors over. The intervening area in such a manner that there is a gradual transition in tone without noticeable demarcation between the colors. In any case the tone of those curved surfaces, where they approach vertical, should be approximately that of the non-specular intermediate blue.
    (B) By the use of non-specular intermediate blue over the intervening area, blending into the two adjacent colors in such manner there is gradual transition without noticeable demarcation between the colors.

    On small fighters method (A) is preferable. On large flying boats method (B) will probably be found to be more practicable. (See Figure 27.)

    D-3b(8). The areas of the hull or fuselage normally in the shadows cast by the horizontal airfoils to be counter-shadowed from non-specular white color at the airfoil root by gradually darkening the tone until the paint is the same co1or as adjacent fuselage areas. In no case, however, shall pure non-specular white extend beyond lines tangent to the leading and trailing edges of the airfoil at the airfoil root which are fifteen degrees from the horizontal, (i.e., lines forming an acute angle with the wing). (See Figure 22.)
    D-3b(9). Vertical surfaces of the rudder assembly and vertical fin shall be painted non-specular intermediate blue.
    D-3b(l0). Engine nacelles.-Nace11es shall be finished in the same manner as indicated in paragraph D-3b(5), {6) and (7) (A).
    D- 3c. Special Camouf1age Scheme.
    D-3c(1). Night Camouflage - material conforming to the requirements of specification M-52l may be used for temporary night camouflage.