by Adam Estes
The Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, Minnesota, has just announced that will display F4U-4 Corsair BuNo 97388 through a loan agreement with owners
Bureau Number 97388 was taken on strength with the US Navy on April 26, 1946 and delivered four days later on April 30. The first two years of its service life would see it being assigned to several Naval Air Stations on the West Coast, such as Tillamook from June 1946 to October 1947, Santa Ana until March 1948, and San Diego until October of that year, when it was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 225 (VMF-225) at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. June of 1949 would see 97388 sent to join VMF-212, which was in Japan at that time. Though the aircraft’s recorded history with VMF-212 contains no specific dates or locations for which exact bases in Japan it served at, the squadron would become involved in air operations at the outset of the Korean War. In the first two months of the conflict, it is highly probable that 97388 took part in combat missions launched from Japan to stem the tide of the initial North Korean advance into South Korea. Its time in combat would be cut short, however, as the aircraft would be sent back to the US in August of 1950 for overhaul and maintenance at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island before it would be reassigned to Fleet Air Service Squadron 3 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia. The following month, on September 14, BuNo 97388 would be assigned to VF-42. This posting would see the Corsair flying from NAS Oceana and NAS Jacksonville before being taken on a tour of the Mediterranean aboard the light carrier USS Saipan (CVL-48) from May to June of 1951, before being sent to NAS Cecil Field, Florida two months later. After a final deployment with VF-42 at NAS Oceana from November 1951 to May 1951, 97388 would undergo maintenance and overhaul at NAS Quonset Point until January 1953, when the aircraft was used primarily for reserve training at NAS Olathe, Kansas and NAS Grosse Ile, Michigan. In June of 1956, the aircraft was sent into storage at NAS Litchfield Park, Arizona before being decommissioned the following month.
After sitting outdoors at Litchfield Park, the aircraft was purchased by aircraft trader and pilot Bob Bean on November 25, 1957, who registered the Corsair as N5211V. One year later, Bean would later arrange for a trade between himself and the Honduran Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Hondureña, FAH) where 10 Corsairs (including 97388) would be shipped to Honduras in exchange for four P-38 Lightnings and four P-63 Kingcobras. In the FAH, 97388 would be identified as serial number 610, and while other Honduran Corsairs would later see combat in the Football War against El Salvador in 1969, FAH 610 had been struck off charge at the FAH Air Base at Toncontin International Airport in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, serving a source of spare parts to keep the other Corsairs flying.
FAH 610 would remain at Toncontin until 1978, when it was one of seven Honduran Corsairs returned to the United States by George Heaven & Jim Nettle of Hollywood Wings in Long Beach, California. By this point, the airframe was more a collection of parts then an airplane, and would require extensive restoration work to bring back into the skies. It would be stored in Long Beach until 1981, when it was purchased by Earl Ware of Jacksonville, who then kept the fuselage remains in his backyard, along with three other incomplete Honduran Corsairs (These being FAH 611 (USN BuNu 97382), FAH 617 (BuNo 97059), and FAH 692) until it was sold in 1982 to famed warbird restorer and pilot Gerald “Gerry” Beck of North Dakota, who would go on to spend the next 16 years meticulously returning 97388 back to airworthy condition at his shopTri-State Aviation in Wahpeton. When completed, 97388 emerged from the workshop in the markings it wore when assigned to VF-42.
After making its first post-restoration flights in 1998, Beck and 97388 would appear at EAA Airventure later that year. Over the years, 97388 would make appearances at numerous airshows and was a regular at the Fargo Air Museum in Fargo, North Dakota during the offseason, though it would later become a yearlong resident of Fargo as Beck focused on his “homebuilt” P-51A “Precious Metal II”. With the tragic death of Beck in 2007, his wife Cindy retained the Corsair and would ferry it back from Fargo to Wahpeton for refurbishment. Once completed by Tri-State in December of 2016, 97388 would be displayed at the Wings of the North Air Museum in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and was a feature of museum events such as AirExpo. With the unfortunate news of the museum’s public closure and ongoing search for a new home, Cindy and Whitney Beck have now decided to loan the Corsair to the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum. Given the wide variety of aircraft at Fagen’s expanding museum, it is indeed fortunate that 97388 has a secure home to continue flying the Midwestern skies. For more information about the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum, visit www.fagenfighterswwiimuseum.org.