Grumman F8F Bearcat explained

The Grumman F8F Bearcat (affectionately called "Bear") was an American single-engine naval fighter aircraft of the 1940s. It went on to serve into the mid-20th century in the United States Navy and other air forces, and would be the company's final piston engined fighter aircraft. Modified versions have broken speed records for propeller-driven aircraft, and are popular among warbird collectors.

Design and development

The Bearcat concept was inspired by the early 1943 evaluation of a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 by Grumman test pilots and engineering staff.[1] After flying the Fw 190, Grumman test pilot Robert Hall wrote a report directed to President Leroy Grumman, who then personally laid out the specifications for Design 58, the successor to the Hellcat. Design 58 closely emulated the design philosophy of the German fighter, although no part of the Fw 190 was copied. The F8F Bearcat stemmed from Design 58 with the primary missions of outperforming highly maneuverable late-model Japanese fighter aircraft such as the A6M5 Zero;[2] a later role was defending the fleet against incoming airborne suicide (kamikaze) attacks.[3]

Work on the Grumman G-58 Bearcat began in 1943 with the intention to provide the U.S. Navy with a high performance derivative of the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The specifications called for an aircraft able to operate from the smallest carrier, primarily in the interceptor role. The F6F's Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine was retained but compared to the Hellcat, the Bearcat was 20% lighter, had a 30% better rate of climb and was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster. To achieve this, the range was necessarily sacrificed.[4]

In comparison with the Vought F4U Corsair, the initial Bearcat (F8F-1) was marginally slower but was more maneuverable and climbed more quickly. Its huge 12 ft 4 in Aero Products four-bladed propeller required a long landing gear (made even longer by the mid-fuselage position of the wing), giving the Bearcat an easily-recognized, "nose-up" profile. The hydraulically operated undercarriage used an articulated trunnion which extended the length of the oleo legs to lengthen when down, much as the earlier Republic P-47 Thunderbolt had done several years earlier; as the undercarriage retracted the legs were shortened, enabling them to fit into a wheel well which was entirely in the wing. An additional benefit of the inward retracting units was a wide track, which helped counter propeller torque on takeoff and gave the F8F good ground and carrier deck handling.[5] For the first time in a production Navy fighter, a bubble canopy offered 360° visibility.

The target loaded weight of 8,750 lb/3,969 kg (derived from the land-based German aircraft) was essentially impossible to achieve as the structure of the new fighter had to be made strong enough for aircraft carrier landings. Structurally the fuselage used flush riveting as well as spot welding, with a heavy gauge 302W aluminum alloy skin.[5] Armor protection was provided for the pilot, engine and oil cooler; weight saving measures include restricting the internal fuel capacity to 160 gal (606 l) [5] (later 183)[6] and limiting the fixed armament to four .50 cal Browning M2/AN machine guns, two in each wing.

As a weight-saving concept the designers came up with detachable wingtips; if the "g"-force exceeded 7.5 "g" then the tips would snap off, leaving a perfectly flyable aircraft still capable of carrier landing. While this worked very well under carefully controlled conditions in flight and on the ground, in the field, where aircraft were repetitively stressed by landing on carriers and since the wings were slightly less carefully made in the factories, there was a possibility that only one wingtip would break away with the possibility of the aircraft crashing.[7] This was replaced with an explosives system to blow the wings off together, which also worked well, however this ended when a ground technician died due to accidental triggering. In the end the wings were reinforced and the aircraft limited to 7.5 g.[8]

An unmodified production F8F-1 set a 1946 time-to-climb record (after a run of 115 ft/35 m) of 10,000 ft (3,048 m) in 94 seconds (6,383 fpm). The Bearcat held this record for 10 years until it was broken by a modern jet fighter (which still could not match the Bearcat's short takeoff distance).

Operational history

The F8F prototypes were ordered in November 1943 and first flew on 21 August 1944, a mere nine months later. The first production aircraft was delivered in February 1945 and the first squadron, VF-19, was operational by 21 May, but World War II was over before the aircraft saw combat service.

Postwar, the F8F became a major U.S. Navy fighter, equipping 24 fighter squadrons. Often mentioned as one of the best-handling piston-engine fighters ever built, its performance was sufficient to outperform many early jets. Its capability for aerobatic performance is illustrated by its selection for the Navy's elite Blue Angels in 1946, who flew it until the team was temporarily disbanded in 1950, during the Korean War. The F9F Panther and McDonnell F2H Banshee largely replaced the Bearcat in USN service, as their performance and other advantages eclipsed piston-engine fighters.

Other nations that flew the Bearcat included the French Air Force and Royal Thai Air Force. French aircraft saw combat service against the Viet Minh in the First Indochina War as fighter-bombers in the early 1950s.[9] They were used to support French Forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, operating at the edge of their combat radius, but failed to prevent the French defeat that brought about the end of the war.[10] Upon its creation in 1955, nearly 70 surviving aircraft passed to the Vietnam Air Force.[11]

Air racing

Bearcats have long been popular in air racing. A stock Bearcat flown by Mira Slovak and sponsored by Bill Stead won the first Reno Air Race in 1964. Rare Bear, a highly-modified F8F owned by Lyle Shelton, went on to dominate the event for decades, often competing with Daryl Greenamyer, another famous racer with victories in his own Bearcat ("Conquest I", now at the Smithsonian's NASM]) and holder of a propeller-driven aircraft world speed record in it. Rare Bear also set many performance records, including the 3 km World Speed Record for piston-driven aircraft (528.33 mph/850.26 km/h), set in 1989, and a new time-to-climb record (3,000 m in 91.9 seconds (6,425.9 fpm), set in 1972, breaking the 1946 record cited above).[12] [13] [14]

Pilots associated with the F8F Bearcat

Grumman's project pilot for the Bearcat series was legendary test pilot Corky Meyer, who also had this role on the Grumman F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F9F Panther, XF10F-1 Jaguar, and the F11F Tiger series. Meyer was head of Grumman Flight Operations at Edwards Air Force Base from 1952–1956.[15] [16]

Another famous name is associated with the type; when asked his favorite aircraft to fly, Neil Armstrong's immediate and unequivocal answer was "Bearcat". Armstrong had flown the type in 1950 during his Navy Advanced Training, field qualifying in it at age 19.[17]

Variants

G-58A/B
  • Two civil aircraft. The first was owned by the Gulf Oil Company for the use of Major Alford Williams, the second one was used by Grumman as a demonstrator aircraft.
    XF8F-1
  • Prototype aircraft, two built.
    F8F-1 Bearcat
  • Single-seat fighter aircraft, equipped with folding wings, a retractable tailwheel, self-sealing fuel tanks, a very small dorsal fin, powered by a 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp radial piston engine, armed with four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, 658 built.
    F8F-1B Bearcat
  • Single-seat fighter version, armed with four 20 mm cannons, 100 built.
    F8F-1B Bearcat
  • Originally designated F8F-1C, redesignated as F8F-1B, 126 built.
    F8F-1D
  • F8F-1s converted into drone control aircraft.
    F8F-1(D)B Bearcat
  • Unofficial designation for export version for France and Thailand.
    F8F-1E Bearcat
  • F8F-1 conversion night-fighter prototype, APS-4 radar.
    XF8F-1N
  • F8F-1 conversion into night fighter prototypes.
    F8F-1N Bearcat
  • Night fighter version, equipped with an APS-19 radar, 12 built.
    F8F-1P Bearcat
  • F8F-1 conversion photo reconnaissance conversion.
    F3M-1 Bearcat
  • Planned designation for F8F aircraft constructed by General Motors.
    XF8F-2
  • F8F-1 conversion with engine upgrade, revised engine cowling, taller tail.
    F8F-2 Bearcat
  • Improved version, equipped with a redesigned engine cowling, taller fin and rudder, armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) cannons, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W radial piston engine, 293 built.
    F8F-2D
  • F8F-2s converted into drone control aircraft.
    F8F-2N Bearcat
  • Night-fighter version, equipped with an APS-19 radar, 12 built.
    F8F-2P Bearcat
  • Photo-reconnaissance version, fitted with camera equipment, armed with two 20 mm (.79 in) cannons, 60 built.

    Operators

    Survivors

    Thailand

    On display
    Under restoration

    United Kingdom

    Airworthy

    United States

    Airworthy
    On display
    Under Restoration

    Vietnam

    On display

    References

    Notes
  • Citations
  • Bibliography
  • External links

    Notes and References

    1. Meyer 1998, p. 42.
    2. Maloney 1969
    3. http://broadcast.illuminatedtech.com/display/story.cfm?bp=92&sid=7974 "F8F Bearcat."
    4. Swanborough and Bowers 1991, p. 241.
    5. Scrivner 1990, p. 4.
    6. Scrivner 1990, p. 7.
    7. Scrivner 1990, p. 14.
    8. Meyer, Corwin W. "Clipping the Bearcat's wing." Flight Journal, August 1998, p. 1. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
    9. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1zi26_the-war-in-indochina-goes-on-121953_news "The war in Indo-China goes on."
    10. Manevy 1993, pp. 278–280.
    11. http://wp.scn.ru/en/ww3/f/802/17/0 "AVIA Camouflage Profiles: Grumman F8F Bearcat."
    12. http://www.RareBear.com "Lyle Shelton's "Rare Bear."
    13. http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/performance/q0023.shtml "Aircraft speed records."
    14. http://www.airrace.com/New%20speed%20records.htm "Speed records from archives of the Society of Air Racing Historians."
    15. Dittmeier, Chris. "Grumman test pilots." www.GrummanPark.org. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
    16. Meyer, Corwin. Corky Meyer's Flight Journal: A Test Pilot's Tales Of Dodging Disasters-Just In Time. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58007-093-0.
    17. Hanson, James R. First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-74325-751-0.
    18. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-94956.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 94956."
    19. http://www.rtaf.mi.th/museum/BLDG5-2.HTM "Building 5: Helicopters and last propeller fighter."
    20. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-95342.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 95342."
    21. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-122120.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122120."
    22. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-121714.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121714."
    23. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=14HP "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 90446."
    24. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=9G "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 90454."
    25. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=58204 "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 95255."
    26. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=818F "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121679."
    27. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=1DF "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121748."
    28. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=800H "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121752."
    29. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=2209 "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122095."
    30. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=747NF "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122614."
    31. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=14WB "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122619."
    32. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=777L "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122629."
    33. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=8TF "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122637."
    34. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=7825C "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122674."
    35. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=3025 "Grumman F8F Bearcat/N3025."
    36. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=N700A "Grumman F8F Bearcat/N700A."
    37. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-121646.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121646."
    38. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-121710.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121710."
    39. http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=4752Y "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 95356."
    40. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-95338.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 95338."
    41. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-95369.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 95369."
    42. http://www.warbirdregistry.org/f8fregistry/f8f-121488.html "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121488."