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Grumman F6F Hellcat

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The Hellcat would provide the United States with a fighter capable of taking on the Japanese Zero. Proving a success in service over 12,000 examples would be built. The Grumman F6F Hellcat would also serve with the British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm.

Quick Facts
Grumman F6F Hellcat side profile image
First flight
26th June 1942
Entered service
16th January 1943
Total built

Front view
F6F Hellcat front view photo
Side view
Sorry, no view photo available
Rear view
F6F Hellcat rear view photo

With the Grumman F4F Wildcat in operational service and feedback being received from both their Allies and United States Navy pilots, including combat reports against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Grumman set to work on an improved fighter aircraft which led to the birth of the Hellcat. Whilst the cosmetic appearance to its predecessor was obvious a number of major changes separated the two aircraft. One of these saw the Wildcat's mid-wing layout replaced with a low wing layout that provided a couple of benefits in relation to the landing gear. Firstly the landing gear was now able to be housed in the wing and secondly the landing gear could be placed further outboard resulting in a much more stable undercarriage. After evaluating the new design the United States Navy placed an order on the 30th June 1941 for four prototypes of the aircraft with a different powerplant for each. The XF6F-1 powered by a two-stage turbocharged 1,700-hp Wright R-2600-10 Cyclone 14, XF6F-2 with the turbocharged R-2600-16 engine, XF6F-3 with a two-stage turbocharged 2,000-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp engine and the XF6F-4 powered by the R-2800-27 and two speed turbocharger. The first of these prototypes to fly was the XF6F-1 which flew on the 26th June 1942.

The need for more fighters to reinforce the Wildcats in service took on a greater importance when during the Battle of Midway Douglas TBD Devastators of VT-8 were all shot down with only one pilot surviving with VT-6 Devastators nearly succumbing to the same fate. This lead to the decision to install the most powerful engine available at the time, the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10, into the first Hellcat airframe and a little over a month later, after the first prototype flight, on the 30th July 1942 the XF6F-3 made its first flight. However the decision had been taken before any prototypes had flown to order the aircraft as the F6F-3 Hellcat, which would have six 0.50-in machine-guns as standard armament.

When production of the Hellcat started the similarity's between the Wildcat and Hellcat would pay off as workers on the Wildcat were able to switch over to building the Hellcat with minimal fuss and on the 4th October 1942 the first production aircraft flew and another ten were built by the end of 1942. The 16th January 1943 would see the Hellcat begin to equip United States Navy Squadron VF-9 which was stationed aboard USS Essex (CV-9) although it was VF-5 stationed aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10) which was the first to meet the Japanese in combat on the 31st August 1943 just fourteen months after the first prototype flight.

The Grumman F6F Hellcat went from strength to strength with 2,500 delivered during 1943 enabling F4F Wildcat squadrons to upgrade to the new type quickly and the Hellcat would serve alongside the Vought F4U Corsair when this aircraft entered service with the United States Navy during 1944. Despite the success of the F6F-3 version of the Hellcat, which included the F6F-3N night fighter, Grumman introduced the F6F-5 which flew for the first time on the 4th April 1944 and entered USN service shortly after. This featured the same powerplant as the F6F-3 but due to the introduction of a water injection system, which could increase power by 10% for short periods, was known as the R-2800-10W. The new Hellcat could also carry either two 1,000lb or six 5-in rocket projectiles and later production models would have two 0.50-in machine-guns, one in each wing, replaced with 20-mm cannons. A number of these were also converted into night fighters designated F6F-5N.

The Grumman Hellcat would also see service with the Fleet Air Arm and the F6F-3 was originally called the Gannet Mk I before reverting back to its original Hellcat name later and equipped No. 800 Naval Air Squadron with whom it would first see action with the Fleet Air Arm stationed aboard HMS Emperor (D98) during December 1943. Although most of the Fleet Air Arm Hellcats would serve in the Far East with the British Pacific Fleet, with twelve squadrons equipped with either the Mk I or Mk II (F6F-5) by VJ Day. Two night fighter squadrons, Nos. 891 Naval Air Squadron and 892 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Eglinton, were set-up with the Hellcat Mk NF.II night fighter though these would not see service during the Second World War (1939 – 1945).

When production of the Hellcat ceased in November 1945 12,275 examples had been built and the aircraft remained in service with the United States Navy, including its display team the Blue Angels and three F6F-5s performed the teams first display on the 15th June 1946, for a few years after VJ Day but was eventually replaced by the Grumman F8F Bearcat.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
XF6F-1 1,600-hp Wright R-2600-10 Cyclone 14 powered prototype.
XF6F-2 XF6F-1 prototype with a new turbocharged R-2600-16 engine before a R-2800-21 engine was installed.
F6F-3 388 mph 1,085 miles 35,500 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
F6F-3 side profile image
XF6F-4 F6F-3 powered by a 2,000-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp engine.
F6F-5 380 mph 1,530 miles 37,300 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
and either two 1,000lb bombs or
six 5-in rocket projectiles
XF6F-6 2,100-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W engine installed in a pair of F6F-5s.


Click on a photo to view a larger version.

See This Aircraft

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

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