Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat

As World War II came to an end new designs were still being pushed into service.  Several of these came very close to seeing action and beg questions of how they would have fared.

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Let’s take a brief look at one Navy type that came closer than most.

In June of 1942 Grumman executives met with Navy fighter pilots who had flown their Wildcat against the Imperial Navy’s best.  One significant discovery was that rate of climb and maneuverability were considered the most serious deficiencies.

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So Grumman took a good look at what they could do.  A replacement for the Wildcat was already in the pipeline; the F6F Hellcat would add lots of power and be a superior aircraft in almost every way.  But rate of climb and maneuverability were not among its greatest virtues.  So Grumman started on a type that would use the same R-2800 engine, the best engine currently available, but would reduce air frame weight and size by 20%.  This would be more of a pure interceptor. Range and load carrying were among the traits sacrificed.  But climb would be phenomenal, and maneuverability would be much improved.

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This aircraft, the F8F Bearcat, was accepted and pushed into production quickly by the Navy.  Summer of 1945 the first squadron equipped with the type, Fighting 19 (VF-19)  was based ashore on Oahu for several months while preparing for deployment.  In August of that year they were assigned to the USS Langley and set sail for the war zone.  The Japanese surrendered while the Langley was en route.

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Two late war Grumman products. The F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat.

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This example is from the Hobbycraft kit, with decals cobbled together from a variety of sources.  It represents an aircraft based in Hawaii that summer of ’45.  All aircraft in Hawaii at that time had large yellow “buzz numbers” applied; apparently exuberant pilots flying too low and close to civilian properties were the major concern of Hawaiian air defense command at this time.  The “K” part of the number would identify this aircraft as part of the Langley air group.

Fighting 19 lined up post war.

Post war, the Bearcat served with the fleet for about five years.  In 1946, right as the Navy’s aerial demonstration team was taking the name “Blue Angels” they adopted the Bearcat to replace their Hellcats.  And civilian Bearcats went on to the air race circuit where they battled Mustangs and Hawker Sea Furys to be the fastest planes in the world.

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Serious “what if” territory. Had the war continued into 1946 it is possible these types would have faced off.

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Mild “what if”. The Bearcat was being rushed to the war zone precisely because its high rate of climb would have been helpful against the Kamikaze threat. Had the invasion of Japan gone forward it is likely Bearcats would have been called on to chase down such types as the Ki-115 Tsurugi.

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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4 Responses to Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat

  1. John says:

    Not a complete list but also too late to fight were the F7F Tigercat, the AD Skyraider and the P80 Shooting Star.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah John there were a lot that just missed. If I remember correctly, a Marine squadron of Tigercats was actually ON Okinawa when the bombs were dropped but hadn’t been declared operational yet.
      And P-80s had been deployed to England and Italy before VE Day, but only th couple in Italy flew some quasi-operational sorties before the end.

      But every country had some new, cutting edge types that just missed action.

  2. Theresa says:

    I liked that the premiere aerial fighter pilots were slated for this plane.

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