Grumman F4F Wildcat

The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy in 1940. Although first used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only United States Navy or Marine fighter in World War II 1941–42 in the Pacific Theater besides the brief appearance of the F2A Buffalo. With a top speed of 318 mph (512 km/h), the Wildcat was outperformed by the more nimble 331 mph (533 km/h) Mitsubishi Zero, but its ruggedness and tactics such as the Thach Weave resulted in an air combat kill-to-loss ratio of 5.9:1 in 1942 and 6.9:1 for the entire war.

Lessons learned from the Wildcat were applied to the faster F6F Hellcat which could outperform the Zero on its own terms. The Wildcat continued to be built throughout the remainder of the war to serve on escort carriers, where larger and heavier fighters could not be used.

Grumman fighter development started with the two-seat Grumman FF biplane. The FF was the first US naval fighter with landing gear which retracted, but left the tires visibly exposed although flush on either forward fuselage side. The F2F and F3F were single-seat biplane fighters which established the general outlines and landing gear configuration of what would become the Wildcat. In 1935, while the F3F was still undergoing flight testing, Grumman started work on its next fighter biplane, the G-16. The Navy favoured the monoplane Brewster F2A-1, ordering development early in 1936, but placed an order for Grumman's G-16, with the navy designation XF4F-1 as a backup in case the Brewster monoplane failed.

It was clear to Grumman, however, that the XF4F-1 would be inferior to the Brewster monoplane, so Grumman abandoned the XF4F-1, designing a new monoplane fighter, the XF4F-2. The Wildcat would retain the fuselage-mounted, hand-cranked landing gear with its relatively narrow track. In service, this would lead to distressingly common landing accidents when the landing gear did not fully lock into place. This unusual main landing gear design was originally designed by Leroy Grumman for Grover Loening in the 1920s and used earlier on all of Grumman's fighter biplanes (from the FF-1 through the F3F) of the 1930s and on the J2F Duck amphibious flying boat.

Even this new monoplane fell short against the Buffalo. The XF4F-2 was marginally faster, but the Buffalo was otherwise judged superior and was chosen for production. Grumman's prototype was then rebuilt as the XF4F-3 with new wings and tail and a supercharged version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine. Testing of the XF4F-3 led to an order for F4F-3 production models, the first of which was completed in February 1940. France also ordered the type, powered by Wright R-1820 "Cyclone 9" radial engines, but France fell before they could be delivered and they ultimately went to the British Royal Navy, which named them "Martlets", using their own naming system early in World War II. Both the British aircraft and the US Navy's F4F-3, with an armament of four .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns, joined active units in 1940.

Although the Buffalo was the Navy's first monoplane fighter, it would prove disappointing in combat and be withdrawn early in World War II. The name "Wildcat" was officially adopted on 1 October 1941. The Wildcat's successor was the F6F Hellcat, a complete redesign which dropped Grumman's distinctive, exposed main landing gear arrangement. First flying in 1942, the Hellcat outclassed the Zero almost completely, surprising many Japanese pilots at first that often mistook the outlines for the older, slower Wildcat. The Navy would also introduce the F4U Corsair first to land and later to shipboard use which could match the top speed of the fastest land-based planes.

General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.76 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft (11.58 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 10 in (3.60 m)
  • Loaded weight: 7,000 lb (3,200 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)

  • Maximum speed: 331 mph (531 km/h)
  • Range: 845 mi (1,360 km)
  • Service ceiling: 39,500 ft (12,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,303 ft/min (11.7 m/s)

  • 4 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) AN/M2 Browning machine guns
  • 2 × 100 lb (45 kg) bombs and/or 2 × 58 gal (220 L) drop tanks

** Grumman F4F Wildcat - Warbird Fare

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