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F8F Bearcat

Deck Fighter


F8F Bearcat

In 1943, the Grumman manufacturing facility was busy producing large numbers of F6F-3 Hellcat for the Pacific War. However, at the same time, the development of a new fighter with better characteristics began. The competing companies - Boeing and Curtiss offered projects heavier than Hellcat fighters. At the same time, test pilot "Grumman" Bob Hall was sent to England, where he conducted comprehensive tests of the captured "Focke-Wulf" FV-190. The test results were immediately reported to Leroy Grumman, the president of the company.

As a result, it was decided to design a light aircraft with optimal characteristics. According to the president, it should be small and very maneuverable. And on July 28, 1943, the specification for a new carrier-based fighter was signed.

As a result, Project 58 appeared with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 "Double Wasp" engine, NACA 230 wing profile. For the first time, a revolutionary lantern was used for carrier-based fighters, which provided the pilot with excellent visibility in all directions. Project 58 was led by William T. Schwendler, who has already contributed to Widecat and Hellcat.

On November 29, 1943, the Navy signed a contract with the firm to build two prototypes under the designation XF8F-1. As a matter of fact, the competition did not work out. Competitors clearly could not compete with Grumman. The Curtiss XF14C-1 turned out to be weaker in maneuver and climb, and the huge Boeing XF8B-1 was difficult even to call a fighter.

Grumman built these two aircraft in record time: for example, the first prototype was rolled out of the hangar on August 21, 1944.

It clearly had its own unique beauty, which was only emphasized by short wings and a "forehead" barrel-shaped fuselage with a "drop" of the cockpit. The main structural material of the aircraft is the new 302W aluminum alloy, which ensures very high skin cleanliness. The semi-monocoque fuselage had an armoring of the cockpit, engine and oil system units. Improved methods of strength calculations have made the aircraft light enough. Particular attention was paid to the wing, which was designed for a maximum operational overload of 9 units. The designers managed to significantly reduce the weight of its structure due to the use of a new concept of "enhanced safety tips", based on the latest achievements of that time in the field of strength theory and materials science.

The most interesting moment was the shooting of the wingtips (the so-called safetywing tips) when the permissible overload was sharply exceeded. At the same time, the wingspan decreased by about 2 meters, and therefore the available lift, overload and air load on the wing decreased sharply, which prevented the wing from breaking or spontaneous folding. The remaining area was enough for the pilot to get out of the battle and sit down safely.

At the request of the customer, the first XF8F-1 received the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22W. and the second is the improved R-2800-30W. However, the -30W engine had not yet been built and both XF8F-1s received the R-2800-22W and the Aeroproducts Model A642-G1 four-blade propeller.

On August 21, 1944, Bob Hall lifted the XF8F-l prototype (BuNo 90460) into the air. However, the first flight was short due to the fact that the pilot had problems with handling. The reason was found quickly. The hot air coming out of the oil coolers on the upper surface of the wing created a powerful air stream that fell on the empennage. The radiator exhaust vents were moved under the wing, and the fighter became more obedient.

In the very first sorties, the prototype demonstrated a speed of 424 mph (about 680 km h), and in terms of climb rate the aircraft had no equal among American carrier-based fighters - in one minute the XF8F-1 gained almost one and a half kilometers of altitude.

Tests of the second prototype XF8F-1 began on December 2, 1944. However, in March 1945, the first XF8F-1 prototype was lost in a crash.

Despite this nuisance, testing of the second prototype continued intensively. Already in June 1944, the Navy placed an order for the production of the first batch of 23 aircraft. Soon, according to tradition, the new "Grumman" fighter received a "cat" name - "Birkat" ("Wolverine"). The second contract provided for the delivery of 2000 F8Fs under the designation F8F-1 at a rate of 100 vehicles per month. The first baptism of fire of the aircraft was to be Operation OLYMPIC (landing on the Japanese Islands), scheduled for November 1945.

According to the same plans, the production of "Hellcats" was to be gradually phased out in order to begin a full-fledged production of "Birkats" from January 1946. A sub-contractor was also found - Eastern Aircraft, which produced 77% of all Avengers and 79% of Wildcats during the war.

Under the sub-contract signed on February 5, 1945, it was supposed to produce 1876 Birkats (under the naval designation F3M-1). However, due to the end of the war, the contract was terminated in August 1945.

F8F-1 Following the triumphant procession of two XF8F-1s, Grumman began construction of the first batch, the first of which (Bu No 90437) left the production shops on December 31, 1944. The new aircraft was designated F8F-1. The aircraft of this batch received numbers from BuNo from 90437 to 90461. 90460 and 90461 were XF8F.

The new F8F-1 has received several changes compared to prototypes. So, the scope of the stabilizer was increased by 12 inches, a small forkil appeared, and under the hood there was now an R-2800-34W motor, which had 300 hp. more power than the motors of the 22nd and 30th series installed on the prototypes. At the request of the customer, the volume of fuel tanks was increased by 104 liters and amounted to 824 liters. All fuel tanks were sealed. Already during the construction of prototypes, the requirement was introduced for the possibility of suspension under the wing of two 454 kg bombs or additional fuel tanks. This mission was completed on the second pre-production F8F-1, which received two underwing Mk.51 holders. and one more, the same, under the fuselage. In addition to bombs and tanks, Mk containers were tested on underwing holders. 1 with two 12.7mm machine guns each, as well as a 298mm Tiny Tim missile. Despite their success, the latter two suspension options did not catch on. More successful was the installation of 5-inch (127 mm) AR or HVAR missiles on four Mk.9 launchers (from the fourth aircraft), which was subsequently used on most serial Birkats.

Captain Robert M.Edler carried out the "run-in" of the aircraft on the ship. who landed his F8F-1 on the deck of the CVE-30 "Charger" on February 17, 1945. This last phase of aircraft testing was also successful.

Of course, like any new car, Birkat had its own "nuances". So, the landing gear retracted too quickly and with a shock. Buffering was observed when operating speed limits were exceeded, and the pilot was advised to use the brake flaps on the underside of the wing to absorb the shaking. There were also peculiarities of the reaction to the "dacha" of the rudders.

As a result, the aircraft's good landing characteristics were confirmed and it was recommended for deployment on aircraft carriers of all classes, including small escort (CVE).

The last batch of 10 F8F-1s (BuNo from 90450 to 90459) was sent to NAS North Island and NAS Santa Rosa airbases, where the pilots of two squadrons, VF-18 and VF-19, underwent retraining.

F8F-1 Specification
Crew 1
Wing span, m 10.82
Wing area, m² 22.673
Length, m 10.24
Height, m 8.43
1 × PE Pratt Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp, power h.p. 2100 л.с.
Weight, kg:
Empty 3,322
Loaded weight 4,387
Gross weight 5,779
Fuel, l 700
Maximum speed at altitude, km/h 680
Maximum speed over ground, km/h 615
Rate of climb, m/min 1,710
Service ceiling, m 10,575

Armament. F8F-1: four 12.7mm Cplt-Browning machine guns with 300 rounds per machine gun. F8F-1В four 20mm Ford cannons with 205 rounds per cannon.

Suspended armament: 4 supersonic NAR HVAR with a caliber of 127 mm and 2 bombs of 450 kg each under the wing pylons or 1 bomb of 725 kg instead of PTB. PTB with a capacity of 568 liters, under the bomb pylons it is possible to suspend two PTBs of 757 liters each.

In service. The first unit to receive Birkats was VF-19. The squadron proved itself to be successful during its "mission" to the war aboard the Lexington. The pilots flew the F6F Hellcat. It included several experienced pilots - so Lieutenant Bill Masoner shot down 12 Japanese aircraft. On August 16, 1945, a unit aboard the light aircraft carrier CVE-27 "Langley" sailed from the United States to the shores of Japan. But the Birkats did not get to fight. August was the last month of the war.

VF-18 was sent to NAS North Island AFB after their aircraft carrier Interpid (CV-11) was hit by two kamikazes on November 25, 1944 and was incapacitated for two months. The squadron pilots received several vehicles from the first batch of F8F-1 for retraining.

In view of the end of the war, the squadron was not sent to the front, being transferred on November 17, 1945 to the NAS Norfolk airbase.

The formation of new squadrons on the "Birkats" was suspended by the post-war reduction of the armed forces. So, by November 1946, only nine squadrons were rearmed. In the same month, there was a reorganization of the naval squadrons, during which VF-18 became VF-18A. The prefix "A" stood for "Strike," and while "L" stood for "Light," based on the Independence-class aircraft carriers.

The pilots were happy with their cars, and many of them have kept fond memories of the plane forever. The floor is given to Captain Gordon Firebauch, commander of the VF-5A squadron in 1946-1947. armed with Birkats: “I think this is the best plane I have ever flown. I commanded a dozen green pilots, whose total flight time did not exceed 400 hours, and the four-month ocean voyage passed without difficulty, which testifies to the flying qualities of the F8F. "

F8F-1B. In 1944, at the Joint Fighter Conference, training battles were held between various types of fighters -P-47D and P-47M "Thunderbolt", P-51D " Mustang ", F4U-4" Corsair "and F8F-1" Birkat ". Five army, five naval and 12 test pilots took part in the battles. During the Conference, a significant drawback of the aircraft was revealed - weak small arms in the form of four .50 "Browning" and a small cockpit area.

Strictly speaking, this fact was not a discovery. It was pointed out during prototype testing, but it was not until after the war that it was taken to eliminate it.

As a result, the fleet command ordered the modernization of two F8F-1s with the installation of two 20mm MZ cannons instead of four machine guns. Such a gun weighed almost twice as heavy as the M2 machine gun. The company practically redesigned a wing, in which two cartridge boxes were installed. It is by these access hatches that cannon Birkats can be distinguished. The new modification was designated F8F-1B.

The prototype for the new series was the serial F8F-1 with registration number 90440. In March 1946, the first production vehicles appeared.

On new machines, as a result of the modification, the horizontal maneuverability of the aircraft was reduced, in particular, the angular rates of roll worsened.

It is very significant that in the design of the MZ it was possible not only to achieve high muzzle power and good firing range, but also to increase the reliability of the weapon - frequent machine gun failures worried the F8F-1 pilots. Tests have shown that the cannon fires more than 10,000 rounds per failure.

From March 1946 to January 1948, Grumman built 226 F8F-1Bs. Every fourth Birkat was an F8F-1B.

Photo Description
Drawing F8F2 Drawing F8F2
F8F2 F8F-2P at NAS Pensacola, 1949, aircraft of this modification can be distinguished by a single 20-mm cannon in the wing.
F8F3 Known as "Beetle Bomb" "Bircat" on NAS Glenview in 1948. This aircraft was painted completely Glossy Orange-Yellow with blue lettering and a zero number. The plane held out in the group even after the main team began to fly on the "Panthers".


  • F8F "Bearcat" / War in the air # 146 /
  • Encyclopedia of Military Equipment / Aerospace Publising /
  • Carrier-based fighters of the Second World War / Ivan Kudishin /
  • American military aircraft of the Second World War / ed. David Donald /