Monday, July 7, 2014

F4F Wildcat

F4F Wildcat

F4F-4 Wildcat    Grumman

                                carrier-based fighter
                                Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp
                                14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine
                                Two-stage supercharger
                                1,200 hp

Armament:         0.50 caliber mg x 6 / wings
                                Browning:           high velocity
                                                           750 – 850 rounds per minute
                                113kg / 250 lb. bombs x 2 / underwing racks

Wingspan:           11.6m / 38 ft
·         Square wingtips
Wing area:           23.9m2 / 260 sq ft
·         Improved center of gravity
·         Better stability
Length:                   8.8m / 28 ft 9 in
Height:                    3.6m / 11 ft 10 in

Empty:                  2,626kg / 5,785lb
Max takeoff:          3,610kg / 7,952lb

Max speed:               512kph / 318 mph @ 5,913m / 19,400 ft
Ceiling:                  10,638m / 34,900 ft
Range:                    1,239km / 770 miles

F3F predecessor to Wildcat

Grumman removed wing to make F4F monoplane

The original F4F design would be an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor, the Grumman F3F.  The F4F was also to be a biplane but the Navy thought differently.  It was 1936 and the future need for speed meant planes must shed the overhead redundant wing.  Grumman quickly lost the second wing but, unfortunately for them, Brewster Aeronautical had the jump in monoplane design.  A 1937 fly-off competition revealed significant handling problems with the Grumman entry and the Navy choose Brewster’s F2A Buffalo to be the first-line fighter for the fleet.  Still, the Navy wasn’t happy with the choice they had to make.  The Buffalo was merely satisfactory in performance.  Additionally, there were production delays and continuous difficulties with Brewster management.  While Brewster got the production contract in 1938, Grumman was awarded funds to continue development of their XF4F.  The Navy saw potential in the Grumman aircraft and their continued interest in the F4F indicated their misgivings with the Brewster Buffalo.    

1939 test flight makes F4F fleet fighter

Upgrades include armor and more guns

The following year, 1939, the Navy tests the XF4F-3.  The upgraded Grumman entry has an additional three hundred horsepower, making it faster than the Buffalo.  The tail is redesigned and the wings are enlarged giving the plane overall improved performance.  The Navy orders 78 of these Grumman aircraft, effectively replacing the Brewster program.  Improvements continue, most significant were those prompted by combat experience with the British version of the Grumman fighter – the Martlet.  Armament was increased from four to six guns in the wings in 1941.  Armor was added to protect the pilot, fuel tanks became self-sealing and the wings were made to fold back which added an additional fifty percent in storage capacity – an enormous improvement to a carrier’s offensive punch. 

Navy's fighter during early years of war

Narrow landing gear would be a problem

By now the F4F was officially known as the Wildcat.  It would be the Navy’s frontline fighter for the difficult first year and a half of the war in the Pacific.  Pilots would praise it for its heavy armament and sturdy structure.  It was the kind of plane that could bring you home despite being heavily damaged.  It was forgiving.  It was successful.  Still, it couldn’t beat a Zero in a one-to-one dogfight.  The fast and nimble Japanese A6M Zero was normally too elusive to train in your sights.  The most effective counter to this Mitsubishi fighter was using hit-and-run tactics while having a wingman protecting your tail.  Come in quick, smoke the bombers being protected by Zeros, then clear out and play defense, working in tandem with another pilot.  A Zero lingering on your tail to set up a shot is vulnerable to being hit by the heavy firepower of your partner.  The Zero’s Achilles’ heel was its light, unarmored construction.  A rapid stream spewing from six .50 calibers would quickly break the aircraft apart – end of threat.

Butch O'Hare: 5 bombers in one day

Bobbing decks make for tricky landings

By the end of 1943 the new Grumman F6F had replaced the Wildcat as the fleet’s frontline fighter.  Still the Hellcat continued to be produced.  It was manufactured by General Motors and it was designated the FM.  The final version, the FM-2, was produced until August, 1945.  Its ability to take off on very short runways made it the choice for small aircraft carriers.  More than 4,700 of these aircraft were built and they were available for a wide range of activities including anti-submarine operations. 

Wingman helps overcome Zero performance

Combat input from Martlet improved F4F design

The Grumman F4F Hellcat will always be remembered for its significant contribution to naval engagements in the Coral Sea, at Midway and in supporting the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Landing gear hand-cranked by pilot

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