Grumman F4F Wildcat

Meanwhile Greece, fighting the Italian army, sent a purchasing commision to the USA with the intention of obtaining fighter aircraft. They immediately bought 30 F4F-3As (BuNo 3875-3904) which were dispatched to Athens by sea in March 1941. Before the planes reached their destination Greece was attacked by the Germans, which made the delivery impossible. Ownerless, they were taken to Gibraltar by the British, who named them Martlet Mk.III and later gave them serial numbers, probably from the AX group.
The remaining F4F-3As were handed over to the US Navy, which quickly field-modified them. Starting in September 1941 the cockpits had built in armor, as in the F4F-3 version. Following the outbreak of war other modifications were incorporated. Self-sealing fuel tanks, additional cockpit armor, machine gun breech heating mechanism. The telescopic gun sights were replaced with N2A reflex sights. The last planes were built by Grumman in June, 1943.

G-53. In the spring of 1942 one F4F-3 (BuNo 5262) was equipped with duplex flaps along the span of the wing. The destruction of the prototype (designated G-53) in an accident put an end to the project.

F4F-3P. The war in the vast expanses of the western Pacific revealed a need for a fast reconnaissance plane. It was only natural in field conditions to adapt the Wildcat for this purpose – the new plane was designated F4F-3P. The only modification was a photo camera with a focal length of 30 inches (762 mm) mounted at the bottom of the fuselage on the right (behind the cockpit). The lens was covered with a metal flap opened by the pilot with a small lever. It is not known with certainty how many planes were modified in this way, but there were at least ten, numbered BuNo: 1849, 1852, 1856, 1865, 1867, 1870, 1871, 1875, 1880 and 1894.

F4F-3S. In mid-1942 the Americans received an unpleasant surprise during the fighting for Guadalcanal, the Japanese Imperial Navy having modified its impressive Mitsubishi “Zero” fighter into the A6M2-N “Rufe” seaplane. The Americans never openly admitted it, but perhaps envied the Japanese their idea, while fearing that fighter operations might be hampered while airfields were being constructed. They elected to try it on their standard naval fighter – the F4F‑3 Wildcat.
The Edo Aircraft Corporation, based on Long Island, was an ideal contractor for such modifications as it had extensive experience in float construction. In early October 1942 they received one F4F-3 (BuNo 4038). The new design was designated
F4F-3S and given the unofficial name Wildcatfish. Initial studies suggested that the Wildcat required two floats – not one, as was the case of the “Rufe”. The undercarriage was removed, the wells covered with metal sheets and small stabilizing fins were mounted near the tips of the tailplane. The plane was test-flown on February 28th, 1943 by Frank Kurt. A week later NAS Anacostia received the prototype. During tests the pilots complained about directional stability, so a stabilizing fin was added under the tail (similar to that fitted to the A6M2-N, although larger).
The aircraft proved to be very slow (388 kph), but the Bureau of Aeronautics nevertheless planned to construct 100 F4F-3S’s from the cancelled F4F-7 series. In the end the program was abandoned as American construction battalions proved up to the task of building airfields on captured islands in double-quick time. The planes, which were already in various stages of construction, were converted back to F4F‑3 standard and sent to training units.

F4F-4. The policy of the Bureau of Aeronautics to ensure improvements to Grumman’s fighter were at the manufacturers cost, began to work with the Martlet Mk.II. In a document form March 1941 the US Navy also requested two additional machine guns and folding wings, with the wing fold operated by a hydraulic mechanism instead of manually.
The XF4F-4 prototype was the last plane of the F4F-3 series (BuNo 1897) with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 engine, equipped with six machine guns in the wings and an Mk.8 telescopic gun sight. It was first test-flown on 15 March 1941. At the beginning of the following month it was sent to a few combat units for operational testing.
Strangely, the pilots were not happy with the increased firepower. The plane’s weight had increased, impacting on maneuverability and climbing speed. Ammunition was limited from 1800 (in the F4F-3) to 1440 rounds. All further deliberations were cut short by the outbreak of the Pacific War. It was decided that the plane would be ready for service after replacing the heavy hydraulic folding mechanism with a much lighter “British” one, i.e. a manual one. The engine casing was also slightly altered by re-positioning the carburetor air intake.
The US Navy’s acceptance of the F4F-4 version for mass production was greeted with great enthusiasm at the Grumman plant. Americans were determined to avenge Pearl Harbor with even the humble factory worker spurred to great efforts of production. Soon almost 200 aircraft/month were rolling off the lines. The first of 1168 of the new version were completed on 7 November 1941 but it wasn’t until late May the following year that F4F-4’s began to arrive at combat units in numbers.
The problem of unwanted additional armament was solved. Due to frequent reports from combat units the Bureau of Aeronautics ordered that the armament be reduced in the field to four half-inch machine guns with a supply of 450 rounds per barrel.
Another creative innovation was the brainchild of pilots of the Guadalcanal-based VF-6, who slung auxiliary 159-liter fuel tanks under their F4F-3s and F4F-4s. At a request from the Bureau of Aeronautics, Grumman designed a mechanism for two jettisonable fuel tanks (220 liters each), attached under the fixed part of the wings. They were used then in theFM-2s.

Grumman Wildcat MkIV with British serial number JV579, named “That Old Thing” of 846 Sqn FAA. Squadron planes operated in June of 1944 during Overlord Operation from HMS “Trumpeter” and “Tracker”. Camouflage Extra Dark Sea Grey/Dark Slate Grey – upper surfaces and Sky – bottom ones. Fuselage strip in the same color. [Painted by Zygmunt Szeremeta]


F4F-4A. A variant with a Pratt & Whitney R‑1830-90 engine and folding wings which was never proceeded with.
F4F-4B. The next order placed by the British was designated F4F-4B. It had a single row, nine-cylinder Wright R-1820-40B radial engine rated at 1200 hp; a double-speed, single-stage supercharger and an uncuffed Hamilton Standard propeller. It was easily distinguishable by its narrower dimensions, slightly bigger diameter, absence of a supercharger air intake, and a single, wider cooling flap on the engine cover. A total of 220 F4F-4B’s were constructed – in Britain they were known as the Grumman Martlet Mk.IV.

F4F-4P. A reconnaissance version similarly equip­ped to F4F-3P but with folding wings. Only a few were constructed.

XF4F-5. The third and fourth serially produced F4F-3’s (BuNo 1846 and 1847) were equipped with GR-1820-G205A (R-1820-40) engines and designated XF4F-5. Their maximum speed of 492 kph proved inadequate. Later the planes were tested with a Wright R-1820-54 engine with a turbo supercharger (BuNo 1846) and a Wright XR-1820-48 engine with a double-stage supercharger (BuNo 1847).


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