Monday Minute - The Right Tool for the Job

Last week I followed a conversation between two guys who flew in Korea. One was a Marine fighter pilot who flew an aircraft known as "Whistling Death" by the Japanese during WWII. The F4U Corsair was a supremely capable fighter aircraft, used by the Marines and Navy, with a kill ratio of 11 to one. It also was the longest running piston engine fighter in U.S. military history. It could out fly, out climb, out dive, and out turn any enemy aircraft.

The large propeller, over 13 feet in diameter, took advantage of the 2,000-horsepower, Pratt &Whitney Double Wasp radial engine. Due to the huge propeller, the wings were bent to get the carrier-strong landing gear closer to the ground. Because of its design and location of engine cooling vents, the plane made a screaming whistle as it dove down at high speed. The Japanese rightly feared the sound as a Corsair dove from the sky down to the ground to support Marines with its six .50 caliber machine guns.

The other pilot flew a Douglas A-1 Skyraider, a heavily armored attack aircraft that provided superior ground support, similar to today's A-10 Warthog. Able to carry a larger bomb payload than the four-engine, B-17 Flying Fortress, it was called the "Flying Dump Truck." The engine had so much torque that when landing on a carrier, if the plane was waved off and the pilot then applied too much throttle, the plane could rotate around the propeller, and crash into the carrier's deck or into the ground.

Douglas Skyraider.jpg

Trying to compare these aircraft, and calling one better than the other, is pretty silly in my mind. They were designed for very different missions. The highly maneuverable Corsair was more vulnerable when supporting ground troops, yet it was a brilliant fighting machine. The Skyraider could carry enormous ordnance (8,000 lbs) and place it precisely on enemy targets like no other aircraft could, usually up close and personal. The Flying Dump Truck delivered. Some believe the evolving variations of the Skyraider made it the best attack bomber ever built.

I can easily make the same argument with cruising boats. Performance, accommodations, and cost...pick which two you want, because you can't have all three. A passagemaker for crossing oceans needs to be more seaworthy and capable of carrying more stores, fuel, accommodations, and provisions than a boat headed up to the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. And it is going to be expensive and not particularly well suited for some cruising waterways. Can you imagine a Nordhavn 62 in the Erie Canal? I can't.

An offshore sailboat specifically designed for a bluewater circumnavigation, such as a Hallberg-Rassy 55, also isn't likely the best choice for someone only planning to cruise the Chesapeake Bay during light-air summers. I know a guy who did the Great Loop in 57 days, and his Island Pilot was all about performance and speed. For him it was the right boat, the right tool, for the job.

Fully embracing one's realistic goals should match the design parameters and characteristics of any boat under consideration. To not do this is fairly common, unfortunately, and there are a whole lot of people out there with vastly more capable and larger boats than they really need. They could have bought a boat that cost a lot less money, had fewer staterooms, and while perhaps less capable, was better suited to the realities of where they were going.

During the Korean War, one Marine A-1 Skyraider shot down a Soviet-built biplane. No other air victories were recorded for this aircraft in that conflict, which speaks to the job that aircraft was designed to perform. A couple of Skyraiders did take out a North Vietnam MiG-17 in Vietnam, but this was not its role.

The F4U Corsair, on the other hand, shot down over 2,100 enemy aircraft in the Pacific during WWII. That, folks, is awesome.

Pick the right tool for the job. Same goes for your cruising boat.

BTW, If you are interested in reading a great true story involving the F4U Corsair in Korea, I highly recommend Devotion by Adam Makos. Steve Zimmerman suggested it over dinner and I really enjoyed this true story about a couple of Navy pilots.

Have a great week.