Grumman F4F-3S Wildcatfish

Japan may have been the only nation with a fully successful float-plane fighter, but others tried.

Let’s look at a US Navy attempt.

The F4F-3S program got started from seeing firsthand how successful a float-plane could be. The Japanese A6M2-N could provide fighter cover at any remote location, that meant they could chase off enemy scout planes and long range bombers. It was obvious to Navy planners that such an aircraft could fill a particular role. And through 1942 there was much uncertainty about how available aircraft carriers and airbases would be. A number of types were tested on floats, but as the Navy’s main fighter at the time it was obvious to try the Wildcat.

In October 1942 an F4F-3 Wildcat was sent to Edo Corporation to have floats fitted. The conversion was finished in February 1943. A twin float design was chosen, and extra rudders (linked to the main rudder) were added to the horizontal tail surfaces. These were to compensate for the extra surface area of the floats and provide yaw stability and control.
Flight testing in March showed that yaw stability was still inadequate so an extra fin was added on the lower tail surface. Testing also showed that the type was sturdy and capable of dealing with typical harbor conditions. Which led to an order to Edo for 100 more such conversions, which is what leads to this being a “prototype” even though its designation wasn’t tagged as one.

Even if floats are, by definition, not very heavy; its plain to see they might be draggy!

Of course this later order was never filled, there was only the one “Wildcatfish”. What happened? Let’s start with looking again at the date. March 1943. the F4F-3S had a top speed of 241 mph, in 1943. The Navy was sorting out operating details on how to use all the Hellcats and Corsairs coming off the assembly lines. You can guess how much enthusiasm there was for a Wildcat on floats that couldn’t even work up to 250 mph.
Plus dozens, ultimately over 100 escort carriers were nearing completion. And the SeaBees and other construction units were showing they could build an airfield at most localities in a matter of weeks.
The F4F-3S went from filling a need to being pointless in record time.

But the Wildcatfish does have a legacy that’s relevant to this day, something literally out of sequence and rarely noticed. In early 1941 the Navy had ordered Grumman to work on a long-range photo-recon variant of the Wildcat. Starting with the basic Wildcat airframe they designed a new wing. It was a longer, non-folding wing that carried 555 gallons of fuel internally. Added to the standard tankage this gave the F4F-7 a 3700 mile range. The Navy ordered over 100 of this sub-type. 21 were delivered and saw some service in the Solomons campaign. But with a solid wing it took too much space in a carrier hanger and operations showed it wasn’t really a pressing need. So the Navy canceled the program and directed the remaining 100 aircraft be completed as F4F-3 and be delivered to Edo to have floats attached.
Again the timing makes this interesting. This was late 1942 and Grumman was wrapping up F4F-4 construction and all future Wildcats would be built by General Motors. The earlier F4F-3 was mostly the same, except for a solid (non-folding) wing that was lighter and simpler to build. Basically this was the fastest way to let Grumman clear their shop space and dedicate themselves to F6F Hellcat construction.
Those 100 F4F-3s would be the last Wildcats built by Grumman, and they were sent straight to training units as fighter transition trainers. Today, there is a total of 7 F4F-3 Wildcats, 1 flyable, known to exist. Five of them, including the flyable example, are from that last batch of 100. Apart from being the last built, they were not deployed to the War zone. And several were lost in the Great Lakes, which are frigid cold and helped preserve the aircraft for decades until they were reclaimed.
Its worth mentioning too, that the flyable F4F-3 is the only Wildcat flying with an R-1830 engine (the others are all FM-2s with R-1820). So to really get the look and sound of Wake Island, Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal; its the only thing flying. I’ve seen it at several airshows, to me its about the most moving sight in the sky.

The inspiration for the Wildcatfish.
The F4F-3 is not exactly “svelte” to begin with…

This is the Hobbyboss kit. Perhaps another odd choice by that Chinese company, but I’m glad for it. Its nice to do something different with a particular favorite like the Wildcat. It is mostly a trouble free build, the float specific parts were maybe engineered to a lower standard than the base kit (fit is less precise) but not a huge difference.

Fighters intended for 1943 production. The F4F-3 has about the half the horsepower of the Hellcat or Corsair.
Photo taken (on film) at the Dayton airshow nearly 20 years ago, it is now at the foot of our stairs leading down to the “Dave Cave” (Errr, the photo not the plane). Beautiful restoration of a Lake Michigan Wildcat. I believe we saw this one while under restoration at the Air Zoo. I’m not sure if its the same F4F-3 currently listed as “flyable”, such status does change over time.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; 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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14 Responses to Grumman F4F-3S Wildcatfish

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Very interesting subject and build.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I remember seeing this plane in William Green’s small books in the 1960s. I will look it up. He had done 10 books, but never pursue this series…
    Sad!

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I have sent you the scanned page Dave.

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby IV and commented:
    You never get tired of reading Plane Dave’s blog.

  5. jfwknifton says:

    I’m pretty certain that there was a Spitfire with floats and the Bristol Bolingbroke Mk.III which was based on the Blenheim bomber rather than the fighter.

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

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