The G-50 (as Grumman called it) Hellcat was designed to be the U.S. Navy carrier fighter replacing the F4F Wildcat. The older F4F had demonstrated the need for a fighter surpassing the Japanese Zero. The Hellcat provided an improved rate of climb, more speed, and most important, the turning circle necessary to stay with a Zero in a dogfight. A certain similarity in appearance marked the newer plane and its predecessor, but there was no comparison in performance, as Zero pilots soon learned. Equipped with electrically operated flaps and gun charging mechanisms, the Hellcat carried double the ammunition load of the Wildcat. Able to fly at 376 m.p.h., the Hellcat teamed with the equally new Corsair F4U to establish U.S. Naval Air superiority over the Pacific. In June 1944 the Americans attacked the Marianas Island Japanese stronghold. On June 19 the largest air battle of the Pacific war took place between Hellcats and every type of airplane the Japanese could fly against the American invasion fleet. Four successive waves of enemy fighters and bombers were beaten back by the Hellcat pilots at a loss of 26 American fighters. 336 of the enemy went down in what is recalled as "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." A comparison of the Hellcat and Zero indicates how Japan lost the lead in carrier fighter superiority. The Hellcat had a range of 483 miles over the Zero and could fly 30 m.p.h. faster. What is truly remarkable is that this was accomplished with nearly twice the weight of the lightly built Japanese plane.
Destined to become the most significant fighter in the US Navy's armory during World War II, the F6F Hellcat, on which work began during 1941, was a logical extrapolation of the same design team's F4F Wildcat. At that time the first monoplane fighters werealready in service with the Navy, and pilot experience was becoming available to Grumman designers. This, and some feed-back of information on air lighting in the European war theater, helped to shape the new design, which the Navy ordered on June 30, 1941. Two prototypes were covered by the initial contract; respectively powered by a 2,000 hp Wright R-2800-10W and a supercharged R-2800-21, they were to be designated XF6F-1 and XF6F-2. Subsequent developments and design changes led to a change of designation to XF6F-3 for the first prototype before its first flight, and the second eventually appeared as the XF6F-4.
Construction of the XF6F-3 proceeded rapidly in the Bethpage, Long Island, factory and the first flight was made by Selden A. Converse on June 26, 1942. Large production orders had been placed in May, and the first production F6F-3 followed the prototype only five weeks later, making its first flight on July 30, 1942. Deliveries began early in 1943, with VF-9 receiving the first aircraft aboard the USS Essex only 18 months after the first experimental contract had been signed. Operational use of the Hellcat began on August 3], 1943, when VF-5, flying from USS Yorkto4'n, took part in an attack on Marcus Island. The standard aircraft carried an armament of six 050-in guns in the wings with 400 rounds per gun, and a drop tank under the fuselage.
Re-equipment of Wildcat squadrons proceeded rapidly during 1943 and by mid-1944 the Hellcat and its Chance Vought contemporary the Corsair had become standard US Navy equipment throughout the Pacific. in June 1944, Hellcats achieved a major victory against Japanese forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The night-fighter Grumman F6F-5N showing the starboard wing radome. (Gn.117operational success. Production by that time, in a new Grumman plant built for the purpose, had totalled 4,423 F6F-3s; in addition, there were 205 F6F-3N night fighters with APS-6 radar in a pod under the starboard wing, and 18 F6F-3Es similarly equipped with APS-4 radar.
During 1944 deliveries began of a new Hellcat version, the F6F-5, with a number of detail refinements and improvements. The R-2800-IOW engine (with water injection) was retained, but the cowling was modified, and the windshield was also improved. Provision was made for 2,000 lb of bombs under the centre section and six rockets under the outer wings, and 20 mm cannon usually replaced the inner machine guns on this model. Production of this version totalled 6,436, plus 1,189 F6F-5Ns with APS-6 in the pod on the starboard wing. The Royal Navy received 252 F6F-3s and 930 F6F-5s which it operated as Hellcat I and Hellcat II respectively.
Official statistics show that US Navy carrier-based Hellcats were credited with the destruction of 4,947 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat, with another 209 claimed by land-based Navy and Marine units, almost 75 per cent of all the Navy's air-to-air victories. Production ended in November 1945 with a grand total of 12,275. For an aircraft built in such large quantities, the Hellcat underwent remarkably little design development, and few variants reached the hardware stage. As already noted, the original second prototype eventually appeared in March 1943 as the XF6F-4 with an R-2800-27 engine. Two XF6F-6s were also built, with 2,100 hp R-2800-18W engines; the first of these flew on July 6, 1944.
The F6F-5s and F6F-5Ns remained in service for a number of years after the war's end with Navy and Reserve units, and some were modified with cameras as F6F-5 Ps. A number also became F6F-5Ks as target drones for missile tests and some of these were used in little-publicized operations by Guided Missile Unit 90 during the Korean War. Based on the USS Boxer this unit launched six attacks with explosive-laden F6F-5Ks against North Korean targets, the first on August 28, 1952, with Douglas ADs flying as control aircraft.
Base model: F6F
Designation System: U.S. Navy / Marines
Designation Period: 1922-1962
Basic role: Fighter
Length: 33' 7", 10.2 m
Height: 13' 1", 3.9 m
Wingspan: 42' 10", 13.0 m
Wingarea: 334.0 sq ft, 31.0 sq m
Empty Weight: 9238 lbs, 4189 kg
Gross Weight: 15413 lbs, 6990 kg
No. of Engines: 1
Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W
Range: 945 miles, 1521 km
Cruise Speed: 168 mph, 270 kph
Max Speed: 380 mph, 611 kph
Climb: 2980 ft/min, 908 m/min
Ceiling: 37300 ft, 11368 m