New Wings Over America

Grumman Hellcat F6F

When President Roosevelt presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Lt "Butch" 0'Hare early in 1942 for shooting down some Jap planes, he asked: "Butch, what kind of a fighter plane do you need to beat the Japs?"

Replied Butch instantly: "Something that will go upstairs faster."

Recommendations to this effect were immediately dispatched to Washington by outstanding Navy fighter tacticians and the answer to their prayers came back in the form of the Grumman F6F Hellcat — successor to the famed Wildcat F4F which accounted for the greatest percentage of downed Zeros — a 10-to-1 ratio of superiority over the enemy.

Still strictly on the "hush-hush" list, little information concerning the machine has been released at the time of this writing. The ship was publicly declared to have seen active combat for the first time in the Navy's raid on Marcus Island September 1st, 1943.

The design of the Hellcat was begun in the Spring of 1942. Using steel from the old Second Avenue elevated structure in New York City and from the World's Fair pavilion, the Grumman Company erected a building for Hellcat production while the Navy was wondering where Grumman could get the necessary materials to do so. Ground was broken in August and first jigs were installed by October. Grumman employees were already building Hellcats while construction workers were still finishing the erection of the plant. The first production model rolled off the assembly line in November and a squadron of planes was delivered before the plant was actually complete! Since that time, Grumman has quit production of the Wildcat although the F4F is still being built in the five plants of the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors Corp. Some Hellcats have been delivered to the British Royal Navy, in which the Wildcat has been their standard shipboard fighter.

The Hellcat is described as the first American fighter plane to be produced from plans drawn entirely from the experiences of the war. In appearance the new plane roughly resembles the Wildcat, with its characteristic Grumman square wing tips and hydraulically operated folding wings for compact stowage aboard aircraft carriers.

Navy fliers call the Hellcat a pilot's dream. It has everything — greater speed, climb, maneuverability, range, and firepower — all vastly improved over the Wildcat's features. And, having been in production for months, it is out in the Pacific in quantity. It is the plane that will "go up stairs faster." President Leroy A. Grumman said the Hellcat is "by far the best plane we've ever built".

Although much larger than its famous predecessor, the Hellcat can turn inside the Wildcat in a dog fight. It carries considerably more ammunition and in addition, is designed to give the pilot complete visibility for gunnery work. The visibility is achieved by having the engine cowling pitched down to allow the pilot to see over the plane's nose in training the guns. Another advantage, common to the Wildcat and Hellcat, is the location of the pilot's cabin. It is perched where the belly of the ship is largest around, and therefore is at the highest point of the top line of the fuselage.

The Hellcat has a different landing gear — wider than the F4F's, which was incorporated to increase its stability on landing and takeoffs from carrier decks. It is also designed to carry a belly tank for still greater range. According to company officials, the F6F can fight efficiently at any altitude up to the sub-stratosphere. Equipment includes an improvement on the self-sealing fuel tanks and, like the F4F, it has a bullet-proof windshield and armor plating behind the pilot except that it is arranged a bit better.

A study of the photograph shows that the wing construction differs from that of the F4F. In the Hellcat, the center section panels project out of the fuselage sides and the wing panels raise in dihedral angle. It will be recalled that the angle of the wings on the F4F started right from the fuselage attachment. The engine cowling is deeper, giving the nose of the ship the barrel-like appearance of the P-47 Thunderbolt. No specific mention has been made of the power of the engine in the Hellcat. The Wildcat was powered with a Pratt & Whitney 1,200-hp engine and by virtue of greater speed, larger overall dimensions and weight, it may he assumed that the F6F has either an 1,800- or 2,000-hp P & W double-row Wasp engine.

Company officials decline to be drawn into a specific comparison of the Hellcat with other planes, except to say that it could "play" with the Army's P-47 in dogfights. The Thunderbolt is built at the nearby Republic Aviation Corporation plant at Farmingdale, LI, where dogfighting is the principal diversion of the test pilots of the two companies.

Based on this note of activity, the reader may judge quite accurately for himself as to the probable horsepower and top speed of the Hellcat. When the first 2,000-hp Thunderbolts arrived in England, they bore tags attached to their instrument panels reading, "Please do not fly this ship faster than 427 miles an hour." No idle boast, but the Hellcat is that fast and faster though just how fast no one seems to know — or at least cares to say.

Douglas C-47 Amphibian

The workhorse of Army air transports has gone to sea. The need for a float-equipped job such as the Douglas became more and more apparent as a result of difficulties encountered in attempting to rescue pilots forced down at sea and washed up on tiny coral reefs and islands in the Pacific.

Using specially-designed Edo floats, Material Command engineers converted the C-47 (commercial version DC-3) into a plane which can alight on the water, taxi to shore, and climb out on dry land under its own power. First tests conducted on Long Island Sound, NY and additional testing at Wright Field, OH, have proved the ship to be both air- and sea-worthy on its large amphibious flotation gear, and the ideal answer to the rescue problem.

The new amphib. may prove also to be the landing of this type machine on snow and ice in Arctic climes. Landings of large-size planes under such conditions have been made before but not as routine landings and further experiments this winter may show the C-47 to be suitable for this purpose, too.

According to Wright Field engineers, the floats used on the C-47 are among the largest of their kind ever built. The floats used on the German Blohm & Voss 139 are larger but they do not carry retractable wheels. The C-47 floats measure more than 41' long, are 5' high, and have a maximum width of 5'.

Handling characteristics of the C-47 as a result of the float attachment and slight modification is relatively minor. The ship's center of gravity has been moved forward slightly and the landing is accomplished much in the same manner as that of a tricycle landing gear job. The load limit is not appreciably affected although the speed has been somewhat reduced due to the extra weight and drag created by the floats.

The wheels on the floats retract in the same manner as they do on the landplane version of the same ship — that is they move up and slightly back into slots at the bottom of the pontoons. Small water rudders attached to the rear of each float are lowered when the ship is ready to alight on the water, are operated by a brake pedal, and are retracted by a device which is attached to the tall wheel lock. A few modifications in the fuselage were required in order to attach the huge floats. More recent designs of the seagoing Douglas C-47 have utilized the center bulkhead of each pontoon as an auxiliary fuel tank which are capable of carrying 300 gallons of fuel. With the 600 gallons of extra fuel, the range of the ship is greatly increased.

This article was originally published in the February, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 1, pp 36-37.
The original article includes 3 photos: 1 F6F, 2 C-47.
Photos are not credited.