F6F Hellcat, U.S. Carrier Fighter

Aerial photograph of F6F Hellcat carrier fighter

U.S. Navy. Via Wikipedia Commons

Three-view diagram of F6F Hellcat carrier

U.S. Navy.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat


Dimensions 42’10” x 33’7” x 13’1”
13.06m by 10.24m by 3.99m
Folded wingspan 16'2" (4.93m)
Wing area 334 square feet
31 square meters
Weight 9042-12,186 lbs
4101-5527 kg
Maximum speed       376 mph (605 km/h) at 17,300 feet (5300 meters)
335 mph (539 km/h) at sea level
Cruise speed 168 mph
270 km/h
Rate of climb 54 feet per second
16.5 meters per second
Service ceiling       37,500 feet
11,400 meters
Power plant One 2000 hp (1491 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp 18-cylinder two-row radial engine driving a 13'1" (3.99 m) Hamilton Standard Hydromatic three bladed propeller
Armament 6 Browning M2 0.50 machine guns (400 rounds per gun) in outer wings
Range 1080 miles at 200 mph on internal fuel
1740 km at 322 km/h on internal fuel
Fuel 250 gallons internal plus 150 gallons in centerline drop tank
946 liters plus 568 liters in centerline drop tank
Production At Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York.
Total production:
  4403 F6F-3
  6681 F6F-5 (from 1944-4)
  1189 F6F-5N
All production types:
  1942-9 to 1942-12: 10
  1943: 2545
  1944: 6139
  1945: 3578.
Variants The F6F-5 had Mark 57-1 racks for two 1000 lb (450kg) bombs or two 100 or 150 gallon (379 or 568 liter) drop tanks. Later production also had pylons for 6 5" rockets. The power plant on the -5 was the R-2800-10W with water injection power boost to 2250 hp (1680 kW). A few –5s replaced two of the 0.50 machine guns with 20mm cannon (200 rounds per gun).

The F6F-5E was a night fighter with APS-4 radar. This was a rather clumsy stopgap that was superceded by the F6F–3N and –5N with the more suitable APS-6 radar.

The F6F-5P was a photoreconnaissance version  that retained its armament.

The F6F Hellcat was the replacement for the Wildcat as the principal carrier-borne fighter of the U.S. Navy. It was a war-winning aircraft, being largely responsible for sweeping the Zero from the Pacific skies. Indeed, its design was refined on the basis of test flights of a Zero that was recovered intact near Dutch Harbor in June 1942, when the Hellcat was in the prototype stage.

Design work began in June 1941 and was rushed to completion, the prototype making its first flight on 26 June 1942. The original concept was of a "super Wildcat" updated with a much more powerful engine but otherwise modified as little as possible. However, this required larger wings and fuselage and a different propeller to take full advantage of the increased engine power, and the design team soon realized (and persuaded the Navy) that a completely new design was required. The Double Cyclone on the prototype was replaced with the Double Wasp within a month and the first production aircraft were completed in October 1942. Deliveries began in January 1943 and the Hellcat saw its first combat in August 1943. By then the aircraft had already equipped fifteen squadrons.

The Hellcat was superior to the Zero in every respect save low-speed maneuverability, which its designers had concluded was the least important performance characteristic of a modern fighter. It was much more rugged, being even more heavily armored than the Wildcat, and it carried almost twice as many rounds per machine gun as the Wildcat. It was not as fast as the best U.S. land-based planes, but had a better climb rate and maneuverability. It had replaced the Wildcat on American fleet and light carriers by mid-1944. Early models suffered a high rate of tire failure during carrier landings, either due to poor quality tires or tired pilots who landed too violently, but the bugs were worked out and about 75% of air-to-air combat kills by U.S. Navy pilots in the Pacific War were scored from Hellcats.

The Hellcat's armament was six 0.50 Browning machine guns with an ample loadout of 400 rounds per gun (compared with just 240 rounds per gun for the 6-gun versions of the Wildcat.) There was a selector switch for each pair of guns, which were aimed using a Mark 8 reflector gunsight, and there was a port for a gun camera in the inner left wing. However, the gun camera was often omitted, because it was subject to such severe vibration that the footage was often nearly useless. Some commanders also fered that cameras encouraged pilots to do dangerous things, such as chasing a crashing enemy aircraft to film its demise rather than keeping up their situational awareness.

Pilots admired the Hellcat's sensible instrument layout and good visibility, the latter aided by the high position of the pilot's seat and a rearview mirror in the upper canopy. They also appreciated the armor protection, which included two sets of plates in back of the pilot, another set of plates under the nose protecting the oil system, heavy bullet-resistant glass in the canopy, and the huge Double Wasp engine itself. Smaller plates of armor behind the instrument panel covered the gap between the top of the engine and the bullet-resistant canopy. The aircraft retained fabric-covered control surfaces, which saved weight and which were thought to be less affected by battle damage, since bullets and shrapnel passed through leaving only small punctures.

The ability of the F6F-5 Hellcat to operate as a fighter-bomber was important during the final months of the war, when the kamikaze threat became serious enough that most of the aircraft complement of American carriers had to be devoted to fighters. The aircraft could carry two 1000 lb (454 kg) bombs or a pair of drop tanks. Later production F4F-5s also had pylons for six 5" HVAR rockets. In the final months of the war, the Hellcat sometimes carried a pair of "Tiny Tim" antishipping missiles, though these were more often used against hardened ground targets than the few surviving Japanese ships. There were even experiments with carrying a single centerline torpedo.

The F6F-5P was a photoreconnaissance version of the Hellcat that retained its full armament and could blend in with conventional Hellcats on a strike mission. However, it suffered noticeably in performance from the heavy camera mounted behind the pilot. The camera was aimed by the pilot putting the aft wingtip of his left wing on the point he wished to photograph, and the pilot activated the shutter with a cockpit control.

About 1200 Hellcats were supplied as Lend-Lease to the British, who operated the F6F-3 as the Hellcat I and the F6F-5 as the Hellcat II.

Photo Gallery

Hellcats in flight

U.S. Navy

Hellcat night fighters

U.S. Marine Corps

Deck load of Hellcats

U.S. Marine Corps

Hellcat undergoing maintenance


Hellcat armed with HVAR rockets

U.S. Navy

Hellcat armed with HVAR rockets

U.S. Navy

Hellcat armed with HVAR rockets

U.S. Navy


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