Crash course in WW2 fighter flying - F4F Grumman Wildcat - Kermit Weeks - Part 1

Ever dreamed of flyning a WW2 fighter? Long time aircraft enthusiast Kermit Weeks shows you how to fly an F4F Grumman Wildcat in a few easy steps! 🙂

 

F4F Wildcat
F4F Wildcat

The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy (as the Martlet) in 1940. First used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II in 1941 and 1942; the disappointing Brewster Buffalo was withdrawn in favor of the Wildcat and replaced as units became available. With a top speed of 318 mph (512 km/h), the Wildcat was still outperformed by the faster 331 mph (533 km/h), more maneuverable, and longer ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But the F4F's ruggedness, coupled with tactics such as the Thach Weave, resulted in an air combat kill-to-loss ratio of 5.9:1 in 1942 and 6.9:1 for the entire war.

Lessons learned from the Wildcat were later applied to the faster F6F Hellcat. While the Wildcat had better range and maneuverability at low speed, the Hellcat could rely on superior power and high speed performance to outperform the Zero. The Wildcat continued to be built throughout the remainder of the war to serve on escort carriers, where larger and heavier fighters could not be used.

I would still assess the Wildcat as the outstanding naval fighter of the early years of World War II ... I can vouch as a matter of personal experience, this Grumman fighter was one of the finest shipboard aeroplanes ever created.

—Eric M. "Winkle" Brown, British test pilot

 

Grumman fighter development began with the two-seat Grumman FF biplane. The FF was the first U.S. naval fighter with a retractable landing gear. The wheels retracted into the fuselage, leaving the tires visibly exposed, flush with sides of the fuselage. Two single-seat biplane designs followed, the F2F and F3F, which established the general fuselage outlines of what would become the F4F Wildcat. In 1935, while the F3F was still undergoing flight testing, Grumman started work on its next biplane fighter, the G-16. At the time, the U.S. Navy favored a monoplane design, the Brewster F2A-1, ordering production early in 1936. However, an order was also placed for Grumman's G-16 (given the navy designation XF4F-1) as a backup in case the Brewster monoplane proved to be unsatisfactory.

It was clear to Grumman that the XF4F-1 would be inferior to the Brewster monoplane, so Grumman abandoned the XF4F-1, designing instead a new monoplane fighter, the XF4F-2. The XF4F-2 would retain the same, fuselage-mounted, hand-cranked main landing gear as the F3F, with its relatively narrow track. The unusual manually-retractable main landing gear design for all of Grumman's U.S. Navy fighters up to and through the F4F, as well as for the amphibious Grumman J2F utility biplane, was originally created in the 1920s by Leroy Grumman for Grover Loening. Landing accidents caused by failure of the main gear to fully lock into place were distressingly common.
An early F4F-3 with prop spinner and cowl guns.
The overall performance of Grumman's new monoplane was felt to be inferior to that of the Brewster Buffalo. The XF4F-2 was marginally faster, but the Buffalo was more maneuverable. It was judged superior and was chosen for production. After losing out to Brewster, Grumman completely rebuilt the prototype as the XF4F-3 with new wings and tail and a supercharged version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 "Twin Wasp" radial engine. Testing of the new XF4F-3 led to an order for F4F-3 production models, the first of which was completed in February 1940. France also ordered the type, powered by a Wright R-1820 "Cyclone 9" radial engine, but France fell to the Axis powers before they could be delivered and the aircraft went instead to the British Royal Navy, who christened the new fighter the "Martlet." The U.S. Navy officially adopted the aircraft type on 1 October 1941 as the "Wildcat." Both the Royal Navy's and U.S. Navy's F4F-3s, armed with four .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns, joined active units in 1940.

 

F4F Wildcat
F4F Wildcat

On 16 December 1940, the XF4F-3 prototype, BuNo 0383, c/n 356, modified from XF4F-2, was lost under circumstances that suggested that the pilot may have been confused by the poor layout of fuel valves and flap controls and inadvertently turned the fuel valve to "off" immediately after takeoff rather than selecting flaps "up". This was the first fatality in the type.

Even before the Wildcat had been purchased by U.S. Navy, both the French Navy and the British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) had ordered the Wildcat, with their own configurations, via the Anglo-French Purchasing Board.

The F4F Wildcat (known in British service as the "Martlet") was taken on by the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as an interim replacement for the Fairey Fulmar. The Fulmar was a two-seat fighter with good range, but at a performance disadvantage against single-seater fighters. Navalised Supermarine Spitfires were not available because of the greater need of the Royal Air Force. In the European theater, the Wildcat scored its first combat victory on Christmas Day 1940, when a land-based Martlet destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber over the Scapa Flow naval base. This was the first combat victory by a US-built fighter in British service in World War II. The type also pioneered combat operations from the smaller escort carriers.

Six Martlets went to sea aboard the converted former German merchant vessel HMS Audacity in September 1941 and shot down several Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor bombers during highly effective convoy escort operations. These were the first of many Wildcats to engage in aerial combat at sea.
A Fleet Air Arm Wildcat in 1944, showing "invasion stripes"
The British received 300 Eastern Aircraft FM-1s as the Martlet V in 1942/43 and 340 FM-2s as the Wildcat VI. In total, nearly 1,200 Wildcats would serve with the FAA. By January 1944, the Martlet name was dropped and the type was identified as "Wildcat."

In March 1945, Wildcats shot down four Messerschmitt Bf 109s over Norway, the FAA's last victory with a Wildcat.

The last air-raid of the war in Europe was carried out by Fleet Air Arm aircraft in Operation Judgement, Kilbotn on May 5, 1945. Twenty eight Wildcat VI aircraft from Naval Air Squadrons 846, 853 and 882, flying from escort carriers, took part in a successful attack on a U-boat depot near Harstad, Norway. Two ships and a U-boat were sunk with the loss of one Wildcat and one Avenger torpedo-bomber.

 

F4F Wildcat
F4F Wildcat

 

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