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  • In the summer of 1943, a Grumman team under Bill Schwendler began work on what might be called a "hot rod" derivative of the Hellcat, the "G-58", using the same P&W R-2800 engine but with a lightweight airframe, the idea being to produce a fighter that could outfly lightweight Japanese fighters. Two prototypes were ordered in late November 1943 and assigned the designation "XF8F-1". Initial flight of the first was on 31 August 1944, only nine months later, the pilot being Bob Hall. Trials of the "Bearcat", as the aircraft was named, revealed excellent performance, though some changes had to be made, for example fit of a tailfin dorsal extension to handle yaw instability.
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    The Navy had placed an order a batch of 23 evaluation / initial production "F8F-1" Bearcats even before the prototype flights. First service deliveries were in February 1945 and the type entered fleet service in the spring of that year -- but it was too late to see combat. With the end of the war in August 1945, production orders for thousands of Bearcats were cut back, with plans for second-source production as the "F3M-1" by General Motors' Eastern Aircraft division dropped.

    A total of 769 Bearcats was delivered as F8F-1s, including the 23 initial production machines but not the two prototypes. A single unarmed "G-58A" was also sold to a civilian customer, who flew it as the "Gulfhawk 4" at airshows, while Grumman retained a single G-58 demonstrator.

    * The Bearcat had a broad resemblance to the Hellcat, but it was very different in detail and it is unclear how much parts commonality there was between the two machines. Like the Hellcat, it was a barrel-shaped aircraft with a low-mounted wings fitted with guns. However, it had an empty weight about 20% less and featured a clearly distinctive all-round vision bubble canopy, being the first operational US Navy fighter with such a feature. It also differed from the Hellcat in having the main gear pivot in the wings and retract towards the fuselage. The wingtips folded up; the Bearcat featured "safety wingtips", in which a wingtip would shear loose at high gee stresses and prevent the entire wing from giving way, permitting the wing to be designed to lower stress limits.

    The fuselage skin was thicker, featuring flush rivets and spot welding to reduce drag. The armament was reduced to four 12.7 millimeter Brownings to cut weight. While the ultimate intent was to go to the "E" series Double Wasp engine, with a variable speed supercharger, lack of availability meant that the "C" series engines had to be retained for the time being:

    The prototypes were powered by the R-2800-22 with 1,565 kW (2,100 HP).

    Early production F8F-1s featured the R-2800-22W with water-methanol injection, providing short-term boost power of 1,790 kW (2,400 HP).

    Production F8F-1s were fitted with the improved R-3800-34W with the same power ratings.

    The Double Wasp drove a four-bladed Aeroproducts propeller with a diameter of 3.84 meters (12 feet 7 inches); the prototypes had used Hamilton Standard props.

    GRUMMAN F8F-1 BEARCAT:
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    spec metric english
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    wingspan 10.82 meters 35 feet 6 inches
    wing area 22.67 sq_meters 144 sq_feet
    length 8.43 meters 27 feet 8 inches
    height 4.16 meters 13 feet 8 inches

    empty weight 3,320 kilograms 7,320 pounds
    max loaded weight 5,780 kilograms 12,740 pounds

    max speed at altitude 680 KPH 425 MPH / 370 KT
    service ceiling 11.855 meters 38,900 feet
    range, no drop tanks 1,780 kilometers 1,105 MI / 960 NMI
    _____________________ _________________ _______________________

    Internal fuel supply was 694 liters (183 US gallons). An external fuel tank with a capacity of 585 liters (150 US gallons) could be carried on a centerline pylon, while a 379 liter (100 US gallon) external tank could be carried under each wing. A 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bomb could be carried under each wing as an alternative store, with two stubs outboard on each wing for 45 kilogram (100 pound) bombs or HVAR rockets as well. Photographs also show Bearcats carrying two big 29.2 centimeter (11.5 inch) "Tiny Tim" unguided rockets in trials. Total external stores load was 1,090 kilograms (2,400 pounds).

    * In service, the Bearcat suffered from engine problems early on, and the safety wing tips turned out to be more trouble than they were worth. Eventually they would be eliminated, the wingtips being brought up to the same standard of reinforcement as the rest of the wing. However, pilots were enthusiastic about the Bearcat. It was well faster than the Hellcat and could easily outclimb it, and in fact could also outclimb the powerful F4U Corsair -- though the Corsair was more maneuverable.

    Pilots were not particularly happy about the light armament, and so a hundred Bearcats were completed with four 20 millimeter cannon instead of four 12.7 millimeter Brownings under the designation of "F8F-1B" (initially "F8F-1C"). These machines were rolled out in parallel with the F8F-1, with 226 built. Two "XF8F-1N" prototype night fighters with AN/APG-19 radar in an underwing pod were rebuilt from F8F-1s, leading to the production of a small batch of 13 "F8F-1N" night fighters, also as updates.

    Development of the type "E" Double Wasp engine had been protracted, but after being trialed in two "XF8F-2" prototypes -- both conversions -- it was finally introduced into production with the "F8F-2" in early 1948. The F8F-2s were powered by a water-injected R-2800-30W engine -- despite the lower suffix number, it was a more advanced model than the early R-2800-34W -- providing 1,678 kW (2,250 HP) takeoff power. The F8F-2 also featured 20 millimeter cannon armament as standard, plus a taller tailfin.

    365 F8F-2s were delivered, along with 12 new-build "F8F-2N" night fighters and 60 "F8F-2P" photo-reconnaissance machines, featuring cameras plus twin 20 millimeter cannon. However, by the time they were in service the Navy had realized by that time that jets were the way of the future -- mock combat of an F8F-1 versus a Lockheed P-80 on loan to the Navy from the Army Air Forces in the spring of 1946 had proven the P-80 could fly rings around the F8F-1 -- and the Bearcat was seen strictly as an interim solution, until jets like the Grumman F9F Panther and F2H Banshee got into service.

    * A total of 24 Navy and Marine squadrons flew the Bearcat in the immediate postwar period. It was the mount for the Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team from 1946 to 1950. The Bearcat was out of first-line service by the beginning of the Korean War in 1950; it didn't see any combat service in that war because the Navy and Marines judged the F4U Corsair to be a better close-support aircraft. The Bearcat lingered in US military service in the training and, as the "F8F-1D / F8F-2D", drone controller role into the mid-1950s.

    variant built mod notes
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    XF8F-1 2 Initial prototypes with R-2800-22 engine.
    F8F-1 769 Production machines with water-injected engine.
    F8F-1B 226 F8F-1 with 20 millimeter cannon.
    XF8F-1N - 2 Night fighter prototypes with AN/APG-19 radar.
    F8F-1N - 13 Production night fighters.

    XF8F-2 - 2 Prototypes for F8F-2.
    F8F-2 365 R-2800-30W engine, taller tailfin.
    F8F-2N 12 F9F-2 night fighter.
    F8F-2P 60 Recce F8F-2 with cameras, two cannon.

    G-58 1 Company demonstrator.
    G-58A 1 Civilianized F8F-1.

    F8F-1/2D - ? Drone controller conversions.
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    TOTAL: 1,436
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    F8F-1s and F8F-1Bs were passed on to the French Armee de l'Air for use in the close-support role during the French war in Indochina in the 1950s. When the French pulled out, some of the Bearcats were passed on to the South Vietnamese Air Force and served into the early 1960s. Bearcats were also passed on to the Royal Thai Air Force, also operating into the early 1960s.

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    As usual right click & save as for details.
    Regards Duggy
     

  • Hmmm.... "G-22344" looks like it had a run-in with a Buick Roadmaster or something smile

    I thought I had a fairly thorough collection of F8F pics, but there are several here that I've never seen before. And the detail and clarity featured in many of them are superb. Makes me want to build a template.

    Thanks for yet another excellent resource.
     

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