Grumman F6F Hellcat


The most severe loss suffered in Friday’s operation was only realized by the participants after the last F6F had landed. For some time there was some uncertainty, but LtCdr Schrader would not return. After analyzing the participants’ accounts it was realized that he had been shot down by a stray AA salvo over the Japanese seaplane anchorage.
The last victim of that fateful Friday was Ensign Lee. He and his F6F-5, which had ditched near the “Hornet” just after dark, were never found. The darkness, responsible for the disappearance of Leon Lee, soon engulfed another victim. Lt Helgerson’s F6F-5N, maneuvering on board of the “Hornet”, rolled off its deck. The Hellcat sank immediately and the pilot had no chance of survival. He became one of five people lost by VF-11 on October 13th, 1944. As a compensation for these losses, the squadron reported 19 confirmed aerial victories. Won both in offensive operations and during CAP duties.

Crash on USS “Solomons”. Hellcats from this carrier did not manage to fight over Pacific. [Via Andre R. Zbiegniewski]

Nuts and Bolts
At the beginning of 1936 Leroy Grumman’s aircraft production plant, created six years earlier, moved for good to a location near Bethpage (Long Island). The times were favorable for the development of the company, registered as the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. The US economy, which had just gotten out of a big crisis, the civil war in Spain, the Italian “pre-emptive strike” in Abyssinia, the re-militarization of Germany…
All those were good reasons for the development of American military technology. The section of the economy neglected for years, especially on the part of the airforce. Grumman’s early products – according to world standards of the time – could not be considered satisfactory, nor mass-produced. The first construction to change all this was the F4F Wildcat.
At the outbreak of the Pacific war, the engineers from Bethpage had already been working for five months on Wildcat’s successor. The new fighter, powered by the same engine as the F4U Corsair, was to be a “reserve project in case of a failure or delay in the Corsair program”. The US Navy BuAer’s faithful decision turned out to be justified. The F4U’s appearance on the decks of American carriers was delayed. During the crucial period of its absence it was duly replaced by engineer Bill Schwendler’s brainchild.
His work on a simple improvement of the Wildcat didn’t seem to lead anywhere at first. It would take more than just a “Wildcat-DeLuxe” to satisfy the customer’s demand. Cosmetic improvements couldn’t change the firepower, range, armor or speed of the F4F. It was necessary to make significant structural changes to achieve all this.
In the dramatic December of 1941, a prototype called “Design No 50” was in its last phase of construction. It was then given designation XF6F-1, in accordance with the US Navy system. The first confrontations of American naval fighters with their Japanese counterparts were not promising at all. Many of Wildcat’s features, such as its rate of climb and maneuverability, were far from satisfactory. In order to allow for the new fighter to use a larger engine than the F4F, it was decided that every part of the plane should be enlarged. Among other things it was hoped this would also increase the new fighter’s endurance. Besides the constructors it was BuAer’s design director, LtCdr. Jackson who played a decisive role in creating the final design. Such features as speed and firepower were to be guaranteed by the new engine. The only difference between the F6F and F4F, visible at first glance was the increased forward visibility. This was achieved by redesign of the engine compartment and its casing. The result – an optimized naval fighter with improved performance, simplified maintenance in field conditions and a sturdy airframe, necessary to withstand rough deck landings and combat damage.

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The F6F Hellcat was a single-seat, single engine mid-winged, all-metal monoplane fighter, with fabric covering only the control surfaces. Its fuselage of semi-monocoque construction, was based on 21 formers and 20 longerons, covered with “flush riveted” aluminum sheeting.
The Hellcat’s oval fuselage consisted primarily of an engine compartment containing a power plant, fuel and oil pumps, a compressor, transmission gear, fire extinguishers, an 83-liter oil tank, and an interstage air and oil cooler with a thermostat regulating the cool air inflow.

Section of F6F-3 from VF-5 division. August of 1943. [Via Andre R. Zbiegniewski]


The engine compartment was closed from the back with a fire-wall connected with the main wing spar. At the same level as the fire-wall, by the rear edges of the engine cover, were located hydraulically powered flaps regulating the airflow.