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Grumman F4F Wildcat

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Serving with the United States Navy and the Fleet Air Arm, under the designation Martlet, the Wildcat would be the first US built fighter serving with British forces to shoot down a German aircraft during the Second World War. The Grumman F4F Wildcat also played a pivotal role in the defence of Wake Island during Japanese attacks in December 1941.

Quick Facts
Grumman F4F Wildcat side profile image
First flight
2nd September 1937
Entered service
October 1940
Total built
Over 2,700

Front view
Sorry, no view photo available
Side view
F4F Wildcat side view photo
Rear view
Sorry, no view photo available

During 1936 the United States Navy required a new carrier-based fighter and despite ordering a prototype of Brewster's Model 39, designated XF2A-1, which would become the first monoplane fighter of the USN, a prototype of Grumman's biplane was ordered, designated XF4F-1. However this prototype was cancelled after a earlier Grumman F3F biplane was performing almost at the level predicted for the XF4F-1 and Brewster's design was showing good promise. Instead the USN ordered a monoplane prototype from Grumman on the 28th July 1936, designated XF4F-2.

The XF4F-2 with a 1,050-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine flew on the 2nd September 1937, with a maximum speed of 290 mph and despite proving to be faster then Brewster's aircraft, it wasn't as good in other areas and on the 11th June 1938 Brewster's XF2A-1 went into production, known as the Brewster F2A Buffalo. However instead of scrapping Grumman's aircraft it was returned to Grumman and further development was ordered.

A new designation of XF4F-3 was given to the aircraft and with a more powerful Twin Wasp engine, featuring a two-stage supercharger, and other modifications including a bigger wing span, the aircraft flew in March 1939. These changes were found to have improved the aircraft's performance, and before the test programme had ended a second prototype with further changes had been tested and achieved a maximum speed of 335 mph. As a result on the 8th August 1939 the United States Navy ordered 78 production aircraft.

With the gathering storm clouds in Europe, Grumman offered their new aircraft to other nations, and received orders from both the French and Greek Governments. Powered by a 1,000-hp Wright R-1820 radial engine, these first Wildcats were to serve with the French Navy, but due to the fall of France by this time, the British Purchasing Commission took over the order and asked for a small increase in the amount of aircraft to be supplied. This aircraft was named by the British as the Martlet I. Serving with the Fleet Air Arm, first equipping No. 804 Naval Air Squadron who would score the types first aerial victory on the 25th December 1940. Shooting down a Junkers Ju 88 over Scapa Flow. This meant No. 804 Naval Air Squadron were the first to use a US built fighter serving with the British services to shoot down a German aircraft during the Second World War (1939 - 1945).

Over 1,000 Martlets, as it was known until 1944 when it was re-designated to its original name of Wildcat, served with the Fleet Air Arm throughout the Second World War. During March 1945 the Grumman F4F Wildcat would score its last victories whilst with the Fleet Air Arm, when four Messerschmitt Bf 109s were shot down by a number of Grumman Wildcats.

The first F4F Wildcat to serve with the United States Navy differed from the prototype by being powered by a R-1830-90 engine with a single stage supercharger, not the two stage supercharger that had powered the prototype, and by December 1940 was equipping Navy squadrons. Development of the aircraft progressed and in May 1941 the prototype XF4F-4 flew, like the B-17 Flying Fortress, this aircraft benefited from combat experiences of Martlets serving with the Fleet Air Arm. These changes included more armour, self sealing tanks, folding wings and an increase in armament to six guns from the original four .50 machine-guns. This new version was starting to be delivered during November 1941, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor a number of USN and United States Marine Corps squadrons were equipped with the Wildcat.

It was during the defence of Wake Island, which was attacked during December 1941, that the Wildcat would show it was a formidable opponent against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it was also able to take more damage than the unarmoured Zero. With eight aircraft destroyed on the ground, the remaining four Grumman F4F Wildcats put up a courageous defence of the Island.

Until 1943, when replaced by more advanced aircraft, the F4F Wildcat was involved in all signification action in the Pacific, seeing service in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, during operations in Guadalcanal and in North Africa. The F4F-7, a long range reconnaissance aircraft, with no armament and a bigger fuel tank, was to be the last production version, and by the time production had ended over 7,500 Wildcats had been built. General Motors would build the majority of these designated as FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcats.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
XF4F-1 Biplane prototype.
XF4F-2 Monoplane prototype.
F4F-3 331 mph 845 miles 37,500 ft four 0.50-in machine-guns
F4F-3 side profile image
F4F-4 318 mph 770 miles 39,400 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
two 100lb bombs
F4F-7 309 mph 3,700 miles 28,300 ft Photo reconnaissance
XF4F-8 Two prototypes serving as the basis for the General Motors FM-2.


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See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

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