|F4F-4 landing on USS Ranger, October 15th 1942|
The F4F Wildcat was the main US Navy fighter from 1941 to the end of 1942, when it was replaced
by the F4U Corsair amongst US Marines fighting units, and a few
months later by the F6F Hellcat amongst US Navy units.
- Role: single-seat naval fighter
- Conception: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
- Production: 7,251 planes built from 1940 to 1945 by Grumman (F4F), then Eastern Aircraft (FM)
- First flight of prototype: XF4F-2: September 2nd, 1938.
Against its main opponent, the A6M Zero, the Wildcat suffered from
a bad power to weight ratio, and average manoeuverability.
However, with armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, it was much more resistant to gunfire than its Japanese
The US Navy / US Marines obtained a victory/loss ratio of 6.9 to 1 with the Wildcat,
a very succesful fighter despite its weaknesses.
- In 1937, to replace the ageing Grumman F3F biplanes in US Navy service, Grumman proposed the XF4F-1
biplane design; but Grumman stepped back when they realised that the top speed required by the Navy, 482 km/h (300 mph),
was beyond reach.
- Grumman then proposed the XF4F-2 monoplane, powered by a 1,050 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-66;
but teething problems (mainly engine overheating) led the US Navy to choose Brewster's offer instead:
the XF2A-1 Buffalo.
However Grumman's fighter was promising, and the Navy encouraged Grumman to improve the plane.
- After a crash during a test flight, the XF4F-2 was rebuilt as the XF4F-3, with a new P&W engine:
the 1,200 hp XR-1830-76 prototype.
- Finally ordered by the US Navy, the F4F-3 was the first production version;
it was powered by a 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 Twin Wasp,
14-cylinder, two-row radial engine, with a two-speed, two-stage mechanical supercharger and armed by four
12.7 mm (.50 cal) guns. VF-4 (on the USS Ranger) and VF-7 (on the USS Wasp)
were equipped with the new fighter before the end of 1940. 285 planes were built.
|An early F4F-3 of the USS Ranger, in colorful pre-war markings of early 1941|
- As the more reliable Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 became available, it was introduced on the F4F-3
production line. These late production F4F-3 had a new air intake and redesigned cowl flaps.
- An export version of the F4F-3, the G-36A was ordered by France. Export of the P & W
R-1836-76 was not allowed, so the engine was changed to the Wright R-1820-G205A, and the equipment was
modified to French standards. When France fell under the German blitzkrieg, the planes were still in
production; so they were modified to British standards and delivered to the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA)
as the Martlet Mk.I.
- To avoid a slowdown in deliveries of the F4F-3 because of possible delays in production of the
P & W engines with two-stage superchargers, the US Navy asked Grumman to try the R-1830-90 engine,
with a single-stage, two-speed supercharger.
This XF4F-6 prototype led to the production F4F-3A; 95 were built between March and May of 1941.
30 F3F-3As built for Greece were taken over, after the German invasion of Greece, by the FAA as
the Martlet Mk.III.
- Inspired by the
Nakajima A6M-2N 'Rufe',
the single F4F-3S Wildcatfish was a floatplane conversion of the F4F-3.
|The Wildcatfish during sea trials at NAS Norfolk, Virginia in June 1943|
Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat
Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 Twin Wasp radial
empty: 2,674 kg (5,895 lb) - with full load: 3,975 kg (8,762 lb)
Six 12.7 mm (.50 cal) wing-mounted guns
Max speed: 507 km/h (315 mph)
Ceiling: 10,400 m (34,120 ft)
- Built specifically for Britain, the Martlet Mk.IV differed from the F4F-4 by its powerplant,
the Wright R-1820-40B Cyclone.
- The XF4F-5 prototype was powered by the Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone engine with a single-stage supercharger.
- The XF4F-6 prototype was powered by the P & W R-1830-90 with single-stage, two-speed supercharger.
- Based on the F4F-3, the F4F-7 was a very long-range photo-recon version, able to fly for 5,950 km (3,700 miles) !
21 were built.
In 1942, Grumman lacked the industrial facilities to continue building the F4F fighter and
Avenger torpedo bomber and start producing the new F6F Hellcat.
Production of the F4F and Avenger was therefore transferred to the
Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors, the F4F becoming the FM and the TBF becoming the TBM.
- The FM-1 differed from the F4F-4 by having only four guns. 1,060 were built, including 312
Martlet Mk.V for the Fleet Air Arm.
- Based on Grumman's XF4F-8 prototype for a lighter Wildcat, with a taller tail and a Curtiss
engine with a redesigned exhaust system, the FM-2 became the most numerous of all Wildcats:
production of the FM-2 was 4,777, including 340 Wildcat Mk.VIs for the FAA, which had
decided to drop the British-specific Martlet nickname.
The last 1,400 late-production FM-2 had rocket launcher stubs.
The FM-2 was normally used by "composite" squadrons (VC) alongside the
TBM Avenger, leaving the front-line fighter role to the
F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair.
Eastern Aircraft FM-2 Wildcat
Curtiss R-1820-56W radial
empty: 2,513 kg (5,542 lb) - with full load: 3,728 kg (8,221 lb)
Four 12.7 mm (.50 cal) wing-mounted guns
Max speed: 515 km/h (320 mph)
Ceiling: 10,850 m (35,600 ft)
|FM-2s of VC-4 return to USS White Plains (CVE-66), June 24th 1944|
Stof's notes about this plane in iMOL's WarBirds
The opinions expressed below are only my own, and nothing more...
The F4F will shine in scenarios against early Japanese planes, when its rugged construction and better control at
high speeds will make it a worthy opponent.
- The F4F has a strong firepower for an early war plane.
- The Wildcat, like most Gruman designs, is a tough plane with a strong resistance to enemy fire.
- The lighter FM-2 offers good turning abilities.
- Very few ammunition, bad rear view, and sluggish control response because of its bad power to weight ratio
make the F4F-4 an unwise choice for the general arena.
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(Plane pictures from Squadron/Signal "F4F Wildcat in action")