She started her life simply as F4U-4 Corsair Bu. 97288, being accepted by the US Navy in the 1940’s. By 1959 she had been mothballed in Arizona and was purchased by the one and only Bob Bean. Bob was refitting Corsairs to be shipped south of the border to Honduras.
In 1960 she joind the Fuerza Aérea Hondureña or Air Force of Honduras and became known as FAH 612. There she served for 18 years until she was purchased by another famous Corsair legend, Howard Pardue. She was registered N4907M. She swapped hands a few times and in the end, she came home to Stratford, Connecticut to the Sikorsky Memorial Airport. Joseph L. Bellantoni, of Port Chester, NY, realized a long time dream and purchased his Corsair on June 5, 1980. In just over a year she would lie broken in two at the same Airport.
In July of 1980, CASC member Jim Collings captured many of the images you see here. She appears in her original Honduras Air Force paint.
Additional photos have been contributed by John Marganski. Todd White has donated several shots that show her as she looked in the spring before the June 1981 accident. Note the repainted tail and nose.
On Sunday June, 7th 1981 FAH 612 crashed at KBDR during the AIR TRANSAT 81 race.
OLD CORSAIR CRASHES; PILOT CRITICALLY INJURED
By GARY J.M. McTROTTES
An old war bird died Sunday in the salt marshes of Stratford, 37 years after she had rolled off the assembly line at Chance Vought Aircraft Inc. of Stratford, about three miles from her final resting place.
Pilot Joseph Bellantoni, 51, of Port Chester, N.Y., the owner of the vintage World War II F4U Corsair, was critically injured Sunday at 11:15 a.m. when the aircraft he had spent over a year restoring crashed into the Great Meadows adjacent to Sikorsky Memorial Airport, Stratford.
Bellantoni was taken to Bridgeport Hospital by Ace Ambulance Service of Fairfield. He is in critical condition in the neuro-intensive care unit with massive head injuries.
Bellantoni, in an earlier interview with the Bridgeport Post, said: “I was very lucky to find a Corsair that was made Chance Vought Aircraft in such good condition; I wanted to return it to where she was built . . . where she will be taken care of.
Bellantoni had found the aircraft in Honduras, Central America. Several witnesses of Bellantoni’s take off said the aircraft was running smoothly when it taxied down the runway and began to climb.
The. plane was about 75 feet off the ground when it apparently banked to the left and appeared to circle back towards the airport. The landing gear reportedly was still down when the aircraft dove into the tidal marshes near Lordship Boulevard, and broke apart.
Bellantoni, his helmet ripped from his head, was found lying face down strapped into his seat. Dr. Edward Luchansky of Fairfield, a senior medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, was one of the first to reach Bellantoni. Luchansky and a crew from Ace Ambulance Service of Fairfield were on standby as part of a medical team for AIR TRANSAT 81, the Paris-to-Bridgeport-to-Paris air race over the weekend.
The crash wasn’t connected with the AIR TRANSAT 81 race.
Jeff Zelany, emergency medical technician and the owner of Ace Ambulance Service of Fairfield, and his wife, Doreen, also an emergency medical technician, along with Luchansky responded to the crash site. Rescue crews had to struggle through knee-deep mud to get to the scene.Bridgeport firefighters under the command of Acting Assistant Fire Chief Ercole Spinelli lifted Bellantoni on to a portable stretcher.
Members of the Stratford Eagle’s Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol, on duty for the AIR TRANSAT 81, provided security at the crash site along with Stratford police.
Nicholas Mainiero, airport manager, said this was the first crash of an aircraft on the “clean zone” of the airport since World War II.
Bellantoni has been a pilot for 13 years, but apparently had been certified to fly the Corsair for less then a year.
Bellantoni’s plane was a collector’s item. The 400-mile-an-hour fighter is regarded as one of the most beautiful planes of its time. It was one of only 10 to 12 Corsairs in flying condition in the country.
Reprinted from the Bridgeport Post June, 8th 1981.
Still in Our Memories
On July, 16th 2014 we received an email interview from John Marganski, who worked at AVCO and was an eye witness to the accident.
“The crash is still very fresh in my mind. I was working as a Gauge Crib Attendant at AVCO in 1981 (went out the door in Nov.1997), and had left the plant for lunch at The Windsock. As I parked, I saw that the Corsair was being readied for flight and announced that as I placed my lunch order.
Someone shortly later yelled that the Corsair was taxing to the end of the runway. I went out onto the back porch to watch. I saw the takeoff roll from its start. The takeoff ran from my left to right. Just before the a/c was centered relative to me, it became airborne and initiated what I immediately knew was too steep of an angle of climb.
The port wing dipped, leveled, but the pilot seemed to pull into an even steeper climb- I clearly saw the top of his white helmet. I doubt that the Corsair was much over 100 feet in the air and seemed to lose all forward momentum.
The port wing then dipped again and the Corsair entered into a sharp left turn, wing almost perpendicular to the ground and it was losing altitude. It passed out of sight behind the terminal building. An eyeblink after passing out of sight, an enormous splash of mud appeared behind and continued to the left of the building- well above the terminal roof-line.
I saw an undercarriage leg (painted white) with the tire still attached tumbling thru the air, just above the splash. No-one in the restaurant believed me when I yelled that it’d crashed until the sirens of the emergency vehicles started wailing.
When I returned to my parking spot at the shop, I could see flashing lights across the West lot at the Meadows. Not a very good thing to recall.
The following is Mr. Marganski’s personal opinions and views of the incident
Once the wheels left the ground, I had the impression that the plane was not under control. I disagree strongly with the witness who believed that the pilot was attempting a go-around. The Corsair was at near knife-edge flight and falling as it turned left.
I flew model planes as a kid, was an airport rat and had taken numerous rides and a few flying lessons – I knew that that pilot was in serious trouble. IIRC, the FAA report mentioned that the aircraft was severely out of trim – it’s trim tabs etc were still set in the flight condition for it’s 2 drop tank ferry flight.
A rumor going around was that George Endhorning (owner/operator of Passion Wagon) and another warbird owner, whose name I do not recall, had offered the Corsair pilot training time for fighter plane operation and were politely refused. ” – John Marganski
It should be noted that Joseph Bellantoni had adequate trainer time to be qualified to fly the Corsair but former Airport Manager, Nick Mainero offered the same version regarding the plane being way out of trim and suggesting that a more qualified Corsair pilot run the plane though its paces.
The wreckage has changed hands several times over the years and now we understand that Tim McPherson, of Page, ND, is planning on a restoration.
We honor the memory of Joseph Bellantoni for both trying to save and preserve a Stratford built F4U-4 Corsair and having the dream. It was a great loss to his family and the warbird community.
We would like to thank:
Scott Rose who runs the Warbird Registry for the information of her history
Jim Collings, Tim White and John Marganski for the use of their photos.