F6F Hellcat, Grumman

F6F Hellcat Photo by Herve Champain

The F6F design began as a development of the F4F powered by the R-2600 engine, but soon evolved into a much larger and more capable aircraft, with the R-2800 engine. The F6F was designed and put into service in a very short period, assuring the ascendance of the USN over the A6M 'Zero' from the second half of 1943 onwards. It was credited with 76% of all aircraft destroyed by USN carrier fighters. In line with Grumman tradition, the F6F was a rugged aircraft that lacked easthetic appeal. Typical features were a tail-down attitude in level flight, because of the engine trust line, and the biggest wings fitted to a WWII fighter. Some were converted into unmanned flying bombs, used in Korea. In 1954 the aircraft retired from the U.S. fleets as a night-fighter. A total of 12275 built.

Type: F6F-5 Hellcat
Country: USA
Function: fighter
Year: 1944
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1620 kW Pratt&Whitney R-2800-10W Double Wasp two-row radial engine with supercharger.
Wing Span: 13.06 m
Length: 10.24 m
Height: 4.11 m
Wing Area: 31.03 m2
Empty Weight: 4152 kg
Max.Weight: 6991 kg
Fuel capacity: 946 L (250 US gal) internally; up to 3x 150 US gal in external drop tanks
Max. Speed: 611 km/h
Rate of climb: 17.8 m/s
Ceiling: 11400 m
Max. Range: 2100 km
Armament: 6 * 12.7 mm Browning M2 machine guns, 1814 kg payload.

F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat started development as an improved F4F Wildcat, but turned into a completely new design sharing only family resemblance to the Wildcat but no parts. The Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were the primary United States Navy carrier fighters in the second half of World War II.

The Hellcat was also used by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm where it was initially known as the "Gannet" (continuing the British tradition of alliterative aircraft names such as Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and even the unfortunate Brewster Buffalo and Short Seamew) However, this name was discontinued in early 1944 and the Hellcat name used instead. After the conclusion of the Second World War, the Hellcat was found to be the most successful aircraft in naval history, destroying over 4700 aircraft with the U.S. Navy and some 800 more with the U.S. Marine Corps. The aircraft was then rapidly phased out of combat service, finally retiring as a night-fighter in composite squadrons in 1954, at least with U.S. fleets. The Grumman F6F Hellcat will be remembered for being a safe, reliable, and by it's crew much loved plane.

Hellcat Development

A successor to the F4F Wildcat, the F6F was originally to be given the Wright R-2600 Cyclone engine of 1,700 hp (1,268 kW), but the Hellcat was given the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) after British combat experience with the Wildcat indicated better performance was necessary.

The contract for the prototype XF6F-1 was signed on June 30, 1941. The first, Cyclone-equipped prototype flew on June 26, 1942, and the first Double Wasp-equipped aircraft on July 30, 1942. The first production aircraft off the line flew on 3 October 1942; the type reached operational readiness with VF-9 on USS Essex in March 1943.

Hellcat Construction

Like the Wildcat, the Hellcat was a tough, straightforward aircraft, designed for ease of manufacture and ability to return safely to the carrier with severe damage. 212 lb (96 kg) of cockpit armor was fitted to aid pilot survival, as well as a bullet-resistant windshield and armor around the engine oil tank and oil cooler. Self-sealing fuel tanks further reduced susceptibility to fire and often allowed damaged aircraft to return home. It was so structurally strong that it could soak up more damage than other planes that had more armor and not fall to pieces. It was described by one Navy pilot as "tough, hard-hitting, dependable - one hell of an aircraft".

The family resemblance to the earlier aircraft was strong, but the Hellcat wasn't just a bigger, heavier, faster Wildcat. Instead of the Wildcat's narrow-track undercarriage retracting into the fuselage by hand, the Hellcat had hydraulically-actuated undercarriage struts set wider and retracting backward into the wings. The wing was low-mounted instead of mid-mounted. It also had the greatest wing area of any World War II fighter with 334 square feet. The first operational Hellcats were designated F6F-3's.

Armament consisted of the same six 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns with 400 rounds each, as later Grumman-built Wildcats; later aircraft gained three hardpoints to carry a total load in excess of 2,000 lb. (900 kg) bombs. The center hardpoint also had the ability to carry a single 150 U.S. gallon (568 L) disposable drop tank. Six 5 inch (12.7 mm) HVAR's (High Velocity Aircraft Rocket) could be carried; three under each wing.

The next and most common variant was the F6F-5 which featured improvements such as all-metal control surfaces, replacement of rear windows with armour, improved visibility through the windshield as well as numerous other minor advances. Another improvement of the F6F-5 was its ability to carry either the standard armament of four 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns, or a new, more powerful fit of a pair of Hispano 0.79 in. (20 mm) cannon carrying a minimum effective load of 220 rounds each along with two pairs of 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns; each armed with 400 rounds. All production F6F-5's had the ability to be fitted with the different armament fits, but only F6F-5N night-fighters, equipped with radar, ever used the latter gun fit.

Two F6F-5's were fitted with the 18-cylinder 2,100 hp (1,567 kW) Pratt and Whitney R-2800-18W two-stage blower radial engine which was also used by the F4U-4 Corsair. The new Hellcat variant was fitted with a four-bladed propellor and was called the XF6F-6. The aircraft proved to perform better than the F4U-4 in many respects but was less diligent than the F4U mainly in the classes of top speed and rate of roll. The F6F-6 did not enter service as the P & W R-2800-18W was reserved for the less numerous F4U.

The last Hellcat tolled out in November 1945, the total production figure being 12272, of which 11,000 had been built in just two years. This impressive production rate was credited on the sound original design, which required little modification once production was underway.
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