Grumman F4F Wildcat

The career of Wildcat, one of the most famous American planes of the Second World War, started quite unusually. When entering the competition for a new aircraft for the US Navy in 1935, Grumman engineers designed a biplane that resembled the earlier F3F-3 already in service. The Navy, however, preferred monoplanes, which had just been prepared by competitors. Grumman was thus forced to redesign its XF4F into a monoplane. This machine entered the competition in 1938, with the Brewester XF2A and Seversky XNF-1 aircraft as opponents. Due to the constant problems with overheating of the engine and the crash of the prototype, the jury selected the XF2A, later known as the Buffalo, for mass production.

At this point, Wildcat's story might have ended.
However, experts from the Bureau of Aeronautics decided that the Wildcat has better development prospects and its improved version may be better than the Buffalo. The company was commissioned to build a prototype of the next version of the XF4F-3, which during the trials turned out to be better than the serial Buffalo. As a result, a contract was concluded for the production of aircraft under the designation F4F-3. This version was also ordered by Great Britain under the name Martlet. It was in Europe that the F4F-3 was first used in combat. On December 25, 1940, two Martlets of 804 Squadron shot down a Ju 88 bomber over the British fleet base at Scapa Flow. It was twelve months before the Americans first used the Wildcats in combat. It took place on December 8, 1941 over Wake Island.

From the beginning of the war in the Pacific, Wildcats took part in all the activities of aircraft carriers of the American fleet. On February 20, 1942, the USS Lexington was about to attack the Japanese base of Rabaul. While approaching the island, the carrier was attacked by 9 Betty bombers. Only 2 Wildcats from the VF-3 squadron stood up for defense. Fortunately, the pilot of one of them, Lt. "Butch" O'Hare shot down 5 bombers and foiled the attack. O'Hare became the US Navy's first ace of aviation.

During the first fights, the Wildcat turned out to be a formidable opponent for Japanese planes. However, it was less maneuverable than Japanese fighters. Therefore, the Wildcat pilots, avoiding the risk of being shot down, did not engage in a wheel fight, using the higher speed and diving to quickly enter and exit the air duel. They only complained about the undercarriage, which was retracted and extended by hand - in the cabin it was necessary to make 29 turns of the lever. Due to the complex structure of the undercarriage, there were jams and jammed joints.

As the plane took up a lot of space in aircraft carrier hangars, work began on a version with foldable wings. The Grumman plant developed a hydraulic system for folding the wings backwards along the fuselage. This reduced the span of the aircraft from 11.58 m to 4.36 m.

However, the armament was increased to 6 12.7 mm rifles. The stock of ammunition was 240 rounds per barrel, while in the F4F-3 450 rounds. Cabin armor has also been added. All this put a serious strain on the plane. To reduce its weight, the hydraulic wing folding system was replaced by a manual system. The plane could be equipped with two additional 58 gallon fuel tanks.

The new F4F-4 entered service in May 1942. They were received with mixed feelings. Pilots complained of a reduced rate of climb, slower speed, heaviness and a lack of adequate ammunition. The advantage of the F4F-4, however, was a strong, compact design, very resistant to enemy fire and damage. The increase in weight reduced the performance of the Wildcats, while the performance of the Japanese machines gradually improved. This forced the US Navy to commission the successor to the Wildcats. It was a F6F Hellcat fighter, also from the Grumman factory.

Wildcats were transferred to land squadrons stationed on the Pacific islands. The fiercest battles took place over the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon archipelago. It was in the second half of 1942. The struggle for Guadalcanal, in which the best Japanese pilots took part, decimated 4 US Marine Corps fighter squadrons. The Japanese were constantly losing many more planes than they shot down themselves, but they kept attacking day after day, consistently weakening the American forces. During this time, the Wildcat pilots achieved a large number of victories. October 16, 1942 Lt. Col. H. W. "Indian Joe" Bauer, commander of the VMF-212 squadron, shot down 4 out of 9 bombers that attacked the airport. October 23 Capt. Joe Foss of a VMF-121 shot down four "Zero" planes and repeated the feat three days later.

During the next battles for the islands in the Pacific, the Wildcats in land squadrons were replaced by F4U Corsair planes. However, even that did not mean the end of the Wildcat service. At that time, the Americans formed groups of escorting aircraft carriers as part of the landing force. The Navy needed a light fighter specifically for the operations of these ships. Grumman proposed a new version of the Wildcats F4F-8, in which everything was done to reduce the weight of the plane. The design was approved by the US Navy. However, due to the heavy workload of Grumman's plants, production was transferred to Eastern Aircraft Co. This company had already produced the license F4F-4 under the designation FM-1, and the designation FM-2 was adopted for the F4F-8.

FM-2 operated from the decks of the aircraft carriers escorting together with the Avengers. Their tasks included air defense of landing forces, supporting landing troops and anti-submarine patrols.
The FM-2 was an easy-to-pilot fighter, ideal for less experienced pilots. Although less heavily armed and had poorer high altitude performance than the F4F-4, it had better climb and maneuverability.

The FM-2 fought until the end of the war, taking part in the invasions of Iwo-jima and Okinawa. However, the ten years since the creation of Wildcat brought major changes to the design of aircraft. After the war, jet fighters were needed.

Collectively, the Grumman and Eastern Aircraft Co. produced 7,251 Wildcats, including 4,777 in the FM-2 version. These aircraft achieved a kill-to-loss ratio of 6.9: 1 in American service, and 5.3: 1 in British service. They made a large contribution to the final victory of the Allies.

Specifications of the F4F-3A
Span - 11.58 m
Length - 8.76 m
Curb weight - 2366 kg
Maximum weight - 3119 kg
Speed max. - 502 km / h
Range -— 1328 km
Rate of climb - 741 m / min
Service ceiling - 10 454 m
Engine: Pratt Whitney R-1830-90, 895 kW
Armament: four 12.7 mm rifles.