Grumman F8F Bearcat
|An F8F Bearcat war bird over Fly Navy Day 2016|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||21 August 1944|
|Primary users||United States Navy|
United States Marine Corps
French Air Force
Royal Thai Air Force
The Grumman F8F Bearcat is an American single-engine carrier-based fighter aircraft introduced in late World War II. It served during the mid-20th century in the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, and the air forces of other nations. It was Grumman Aircraft's last piston engined fighter aircraft.
Design and development
The Bearcat concept began during a meeting between Battle of Midway veteran F4F Wildcat pilots and Grumman Vice President Jake Swirbul at Pearl Harbor on 23 June 1942. At the meeting, Lieutenant Commander Jimmie Thach emphasized one of the most important requirements in a good fighter plane was "climb rate".
Climb performance is strongly related to the power-to-weight ratio, and is maximized by wrapping the smallest and lightest possible airframe around the most powerful available engine. Another goal was that the G-58 (Grumman's design designation for the aircraft) should be able to operate from escort carriers, which were then limited to the obsolescent F4F Wildcat as the Grumman F6F Hellcat was too large and heavy. A small, lightweight aircraft would make this possible. After intensively analyzing carrier warfare in the Pacific Theater of Operations for a year and a half, Grumman began development of the G-58 Bearcat in late 1943.
In 1943, Grumman was in the process of introducing the F6F Hellcat, powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine which provided 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW). The R-2800 was the most powerful American engine available at that time, so it would be retained for the G-58. This meant that improved performance would have to come from a lighter airframe.
To meet this goal, the Bearcat's fuselage was about 5 feet (1.5 m) shorter than the Hellcat, and was cut down vertically behind the cockpit area. This allowed the use of a bubble canopy, the first to be fitted to a US Navy fighter. The vertical stabilizer was the same height as the Hellcat's, but increased aspect ratio, giving it a thinner look. The wingspan was 7 feet (2.1 m) less than the Hellcat's. Structurally the fuselage used flush riveting as well as spot welding, with a heavy gauge 302W aluminum alloy skin suitable for carrier landings. Armor protection was provided for the pilot, engine and oil cooler.
The Hellcat used a 13 ft 1 in (3.99 m) three-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. A slight reduction in size was made by moving to a 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m) Aeroproducts four-bladed propeller. Keeping the prop clear of the deck required long landing gear, which, combined with the shortened fuselage, gave the Bearcat a significant "nose-up" profile on land. The hydraulically operated undercarriage used an articulated trunnion which extended the length of the oleo legs when lowered; 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.
The design team had set the goal that the G-58 should weigh 8,750 pounds (3,970 kg) fully loaded. As development continued it became clear this was impossible to achieve as the structure of the new fighter had to be made strong enough for aircraft carrier landings. Ultimately much of the weight-saving measures included restricting the internal fuel capacity to 160 US gallons (610 l)(later 183 US gallons [690 l]) and limiting the fixed armament to four .50 cal Browning M2/AN machine guns, two in each wing. The limited range due to the reduced fuel load would mean it would be useful in the interception role, but meant that the Hellcat would still be needed for longer range patrols. A later role was defending the fleet against airborne kamikaze attacks. Compared to the Hellcat, the Bearcat was 20% lighter, had a 30% better rate of climb and was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster.
Another weight-saving concept the designers came up with was detachable wingtips. The wings were designed to fold at a point about 2⁄3 out along the span, reducing the space taken up on the carrier. Normally the hinge system would have to be built very strong in order to transmit loads from the outer portions of the wing to the main spar in the inner section, which adds considerable weight. Instead of building the entire wing to be able to withstand high-g loads, only the inner portion of the wing was able to do this. The outer portions were more lightly constructed, and designed to snap off at the hinge line if the g-force exceeded 7.5 g. In this case the aircraft would still be flyable and could be repaired after returning to the carrier. This saved 230 pounds (100 kg) of weight.
The design was completed in November 1943 and an order for two prototypes was placed on 27 November 1943 under the BuAir designation XF8F-1. The first prototype flew on 21 August 1944, only nine months after the design effort started.[a] The initial flight test demonstrated a 4,800 feet (1,500 m) per minute climb rate and a top speed of 424 mph (682 km/h). Compared to the Vought F4U Corsair, the Bearcat was marginally slower but more maneuverable and climbed more quickly.
Testing demonstrated a number of problems, notably a lack of horizontal stability, an underpowered trim system, landing gear that could be extended only at slow speeds, an unreliable airspeed indicator, and a cramped cockpit. The test pilots also requested that six guns be installed. The stability problem was addressed on the second prototype by adding a triangular fillet to the front of the vertical stabilizer. The extra guns could not be incorporated due to weight and balance considerations.
The Navy placed a production contract for 2,023 aircraft based on the second prototype on 6 October 1944. On 5 February 1945 they awarded another contract for 1,876 slightly modified aircraft from General Motors, given the designation F3M-1. These differed primarily in having the R-2800-34W engine and a small increase in fuel capacity.
Deliveries from Grumman began on 21 May 1945. The end of the war led to the Grumman order being reduced to 770 examples, and the GM contract being cancelled outright. An additional order was placed for 126 F8F-1B's replacing the .50 cal machine guns with the 20 mm M2 cannon, the US version of the widely used Hispano-Suiza HS.404. Fifteen of these were later modified as F8F-1N night fighters with an APS-19 radar mounted under the starboard wing.
An unmodified production F8F-1 set a 1946 time-to-climb record (after a run of 115 ft [35 m]) of 10,000 feet (3,048 m) in 94 seconds (6,383 ft/min [32.43 m/s]). The Bearcat held this record for 10 years until it was broken by a jet fighter (which still could not match the Bearcat's short takeoff distance).
In 1948 Grumman introduced a number of improvements to produce the F8F-2. Among the changes were a modified cowling design, taller vertical fin, and the slightly more powerful R-2800-30W engine producing 2,240 hp (1,670 kW). A total of 293 F8F-2s were produced, along with 12 F8F-2N night fighters and 60 F8F-2P reconnaissance versions.
Production ended in 1949, and the first units began to convert off the type that year. The last Bearcats were withdrawn in 1952.
The F8F prototypes were ordered in November 1943 and first flew on 21 August 1944, a mere nine months later.[b] The first production aircraft was delivered in February 1945 and the first squadron, Fighter Squadron 19 (VF-19), was operational by 21 May 1945, but World War II was over before the aircraft saw combat service.
One problem that became evident in service was the snap-off wingtips not working as expected. While they worked 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. This was replaced with an explosives system to blow the wingtips off together, which also worked well, but this ended when a ground technician died due to an accidental triggering. In the end, the wings were reinforced and the aircraft limited to 7.5 g.
Postwar, the F8F became a major U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps fighter, equipping 24 fighter squadrons in the Navy and a smaller number in the Marines. Often mentioned as one of the best-handling piston-engine fighters ever built, its performance was sufficient to outperform many early jets.[c] Its capability for aerobatic performance is illustrated by its selection as the second demonstration aircraft for the navy's elite Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron in 1946, replacing the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The Blue Angels flew the Bearcat until the team was temporarily disbanded in 1950 during the Korean War and pressed into operational combat service. The F9F Panther and McDonnell F2H Banshee largely replaced the Bearcat as their performance and other advantages eclipsed piston-engine fighters.
The first combat for the F8F Bearcat was during the French Indochina War (1946–1954) when nearly 200 Bearcats were delivered to the French forces in 1951. When the war ended in 1954, 28 surviving Bearcats were supplied to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force and entered service in 1956. The Vietnamese Bearcats were retired in 1960, replaced with Douglas A-1 Skyraiders and North American T-28 Trojans as the Vietnam War (1957–1975) continued. F8Fs were also supplied to Thailand during the same time period.
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 piston-engined 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 metres [9,800 ft] in 91.9 seconds (6,425.9 ft/min [32.644 m/s]), set in 1972, breaking the 1946 record cited above).[d]
- 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 (1,600 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 AN/M3 20 mm cannons, 100 built.
- F8F-1C Bearcat
- Originally designated F8F-1C, redesignated as F8F-1B, 126 built.
- 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 night-fighter prototype carrying APS-4 radar.
- 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.
- 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 cannons, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W radial piston engine, 293 built.
- 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 (0.79 in) cannons, 60 built.
- 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 and was flown by Roger Wolfe Kahn.
- 122120 – Tango Squadron, Foundation for the Preservation and Development of Thai Aircraft.
- On display
- 90454 – privately owned in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
- 95255 – based at Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio, Texas.
- 121748 – privately owned in Houston, Texas.
- 121752 – based at Historic Flight Foundation in Spokane, Washington.
- 121776 – privately owned in Wilmington, Delaware.
- 122614 – based at Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio, Texas.
- 122619 – based at Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio, Texas.
- 122629 – based at Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio, Texas.
- 122637 – privately owned in Houston, Texas.
- 122674 – based at Commemorative Air Force (Southern California Wing) in Camarillo, California.
- G-58 Gulfhawk (two civilian built Bearcats)
- G-58A – based at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California.
- G-58B – based at Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, California.
- On display
- 121646 – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
- Under Restoration
Data from F8F Bearcat in Action
- Crew: 1
- Length: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
- Wingspan: 35 ft 10 in (10.92 m)
- Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.22 m)
- Wing area: 244 sq ft (22.7 m2) 
- Aspect ratio: 5.02
- Airfoil: root: NACA 23018; tip: NACA 23009
- Empty weight: 7,650 lb (3,470 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 13,460 lb (6,105 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W Double Wasp 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 2,250 hp (1,680 kW)
- Propellers: 4-bladed constant-speed propeller
- Maximum speed: 455 mph (732 km/h, 395 kn)
- Range: 1,105 mi (1,778 km, 960 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 40,800 ft (12,400 m)
- Rate of climb: 4,465 ft/min (22.68 m/s)
- Wing loading: 42 lb/sq ft (210 kg/m2)
- Power/mass: 0.22 hp/lb (0.36 kW/kg)
- Guns: 4 × 20 mm (.79 in) AN/M3 cannon
- Rockets: 4 × 5 in (127 mm) HVAR unguided rockets
- Bombs: 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- Focke-Wulf Ta 152
- Hawker Sea Fury
- Supermarine Seafang
- Mitsubishi A7M
- Nakajima Ki-84
- Vought F4U Corsair
- Boeing XF8B
- List of fighter aircraft
- List of aircraft of World War II
- List of United States Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962)
- List of military aircraft of the United States
- List of United States naval aircraft
- One account states the first flight on 13 August.
- Grumman's project pilot for the Bearcat series was noted test pilot Corwin F. "Corky" Meyer.
- Neil Armstrong had flown the type in 1950 during his navy advanced training, field qualifying in it at age 19. After his retirement as test pilot and astronaut, an interviewer asked him what was his favorite aircraft to fly. His immediate and unequivocal answer was "The Bearcat".
- Note that Shelton's claim to be the "fastest propeller-driven aircraft in the world" does not acknowledge faster turboprop aircraft such as the Russian Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" bomber. Other sources credit "Rare Bear" as the fastest "piston-driven" aircraft.
- Grandolini, A. (July–August 1997). "Indo-Chinese Fighting 'Cats: Grumman's Superb Bearcat in Vietnam". Air Enthusiast. No. 70. p. 21. ISSN 0143-5450.
- Ewing 2004, pp. 182, 308.
- Scrivner 1990, p. 4.
- Scrivner 1990, p. 7.
- "F8F Bearcat." Archived 2006-10-07 at the Wayback Machine U.S. Naval Air Museum. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- Swanborough and Bowers 1991, p. 241.
- Meyer, Corwin W. "Clipping the Bearcat's wing." Flight Journal, August 1998, p. 1. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- Gunston 1988, p. 48.
- Francillon 1989, p. 243.
- Thruelsen, Richard (1976). The Grumman Story. Praeger. p. 213.
- Dittmeier, Chris. "Grumman test pilots." www.GrummanPark.org. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- 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.
- Scrivner 1990, p. 14.
- Hanson 2005, p. 78.
- "Blue Angels: Historical Aircraft - 60+ Years of Aviation Excellence". Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- Francillon 1989, pp. 252–253.
- Grandolini, A. "Indo-Chinese fighting: 'Cats: Grumman's superb Bearcat in Vietnam." Air Enthusiast, No. 70, July–August 1997, pp. 12–21.
- "The war in Indo-China goes on." The News Magazine of the Screen: Warner Pathé News, 12/1953. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- Manevy 1993, pp. 278–280.
- "AVIA Camouflage Profiles: Grumman F8F Bearcat." Wings Palette. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- "Lyle Shelton's "Rare Bear." www.RareBear.com. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- "Aircraft speed records." www.AeroSpaceWeb.org. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- "Speed records from archives of the Society of Air Racing Historians." Archived 2006-12-21 at the Wayback Machine www.AirRace.com. Retrieved: 18 August 2010.
- Hardy 1987[page needed]
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122120." Archived 2013-12-15 at the Wayback Machine Tango Squadron. Retrieved: 16 Dec 2013.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 94956." Archived 2011-06-06 at the Wayback Machine Royal Thai Air Force Museum. Retrieved: 11 April 2012.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121714." Archived 2012-04-18 at the Wayback Machine The Fighter Collection Duxford. Retrieved: 11 April 2012.
- "FAA Registry: N9G." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N58204." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N2209." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N1DF." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N800H." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121752." Historic Flight Foundation. Retrieved: 14 July 2014.
- "FAA Registry: N68RW." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122614." Lewis Air Legends. Retrieved: 13 January 2020.
- "FAA Registry: N747NF." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122619." Lewis Air Legends. Retrieved: 13 January 2020.
- "FAA Registry: N14WB." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122629." Lewis Air Legends. Retrieved: 13 January 2020.
- "FAA Registry: N777L." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N8TF." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 122674." CAF Southern California Wing. Retrieved: 12 January 2018.
- "FAA Registry: N7825C." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman G-58A Gulfhawk." Planes of Fame Air Museum. Retrieved 25 August 2022.
- "FAA Registry: N3025." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman G-58B Gulfhawk." Palm Springs Air Museum. Retrieved: 25 August 2022.
- "FAA Registry: N700A." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121646." National Air & Space Museum. Retrieved: 12 September 2022.
- "Grumman F8F Bearcat/Bu. 121710." National Naval Aviation Museum. Retrieved: 11 April 2012.
- "FAA Registry: N4752Y." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- "FAA Registry: N818F." FAA.gov Retrieved: 19 July 2021.
- Scrivner 1990, p. 31.
- "WWII Aircraft Performance". www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org. Retrieved 2019-09-05.
- Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
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- Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. "Grumman F8F Bearcat". WW2 Fact Files: US Navy and Marine Corps Fighters. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1976, pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-356-08222-9.
- Gunston, Bill. Grumman: Sixty Years of Excellence. London: Orion Books, 1988. ISBN 1-55750-991-3.
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- Maloney, Edward T. Grumman F8F Bearcat (Aero Series Vol. 20). Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, 1969. ISBN 0-8168-0576-8.
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