Last of the line of
piston engined carrier based fighters which Grumman initiated with the
FF of 1931, the Grumman FBF Bearcat was designed to be capable of
operation from aircraft carriers of all sizes and to serve primarily as
an interceptor fighter, a role which demanded excellent
manoeuvrability, good low-level performance and a high rate of climb.
To achieve these capabilities for the two XF8F-1 prototypes ordered on
27 November 1943, Grumman adopted the big R-2800 Double Wasp that had
been used to power the F6F and F7F, but ensured that the smallest and
lightest possible airframe was designed to accommodate the specified
armament, armour and fuel.
First flown on 21
August 1944, the XF8F-1 was not only smaller than the US Navy's superb
Hellcat, but was also some 20 per cent lighter, resulting in a rate of
climb about 30 per cent greater than that of its predecessor. Grumman
had more than achieved the specification requirements, but also crowned
this by starting delivery of production aircraft in February 1945, only
six months after the first flight of the prototype.
A cantilever low-wing
monoplane of all-metal construction, the initial F8F-1 had wings which
folded at about two thirds span for carrier stowage, retractable
tailwheel landing gear, armour, self-sealing fuel tanks and by
comparison with prototypes, a very small dorsal fin had been added.
Powerplant of these production aircraft was the Pratt & Whitney
R-2800-34W and armament comprised four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns.
initiation of the prototype's test programme in 1944, the US Navy
placed a contract for 2,023 production F8F-1s, and the first of these
began to equip US Navy Squadron VF-19 on 21 May 1945. This squadron,
and other early recipients of Bearcats, were still in the process of
familiarisation with their new fighters when VJ-Day put an end to World
War II. it also cut 1,258 aircraft from Grumman's contract and brought
complete cancellation of an additional 1,876 F8M-1 Bearcat fighters
contracted from General Motors.
When production ended
in May 1949, Grumman had built 1,266 Bearcats: 765 of the F8F-1; 100 of
the F8F-1B, which differed by having the four standard machine guns
replaced by 20 mm cannon; 36 of the F8F-1N variant equipped as
night-fighters; 293 of the FBF-2 with redesigned engine cowling, taller
fin and rudder, plus some changes in detail design, and adoption of the
20 mm cannon as standard armament; 12 of the night-fighter F8F-2N; and
60 photo-reconnaissance F8F-2P aircraft, this last version carrying
only two 20 mm cannon. In late post-war service, some aircraft were
modified to serve in a drone control capacity under the designations
F8F-1D or F8F-2D.
By the time production
ended, Bearcats were serving with some 24 US Navy squadrons, but all
had been withdrawn by late 1952. Some of these, with a modified fuel
system, were supplied to the French Armee de l'Air for service in
Indo-China under the designation FSF-ID. One-hundred similar F8F-IDs
and 29 F8F-1Bs were also supplied to the Thai air force.
A total of 1,265
Bearcats were delivered, including two civilian G.58's. Although too
late for wartime service, F8F's served the USN until 1956. The Blue
Angels operated Bearcats between 1946 and 1949. France, Thailand and
South Vietnam operated surplus USN F8F's.ory
By late 1943, the
Grumman F6F Hellcat had entered service with the U.S. Navy in the
Pacific and had proved itself more than a match for Japan's Mitsubishi
A6M Zero. The Navy realized, however, that an even higher performance
design would eventually be needed to replace the Hellcat.
Curtiss and Boeing each
submitted designs, designated the XF14C and XF7B respectively, both of
which were much larger and heavier than the Hellcat. The Curtiss design
was to be powered by a new Lycoming XH-2740-4 24-cylinder,
liquid-cooled engine, initially rated at 2,200 hp, but the engine was
not produced. A Wright R-3350-16 of 2,300 hp with turbo-supercharger
was then fitted in the XF14C-2. Empty weight of the Curtiss was over
10,500 pounds. The Boeing XF8B-1 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney
XR-4360-10 28-cylinder, four-row radial of 3,000 hp, then the world's
largest aircraft engine, and was even heavier, with an empty weight of
over 14,000 lbs.
favored a lighter and more manoeuvrable design more like the German
Focke Wulf Fw 190, of which a captured example was flown by Grumman
test pilot Bob Hall in England. The resulting Grumman design, the
XF8F-1, weighed only 7,017 pounds empty and was sometimes described as
the smallest airframe built around the most powerful, fully-developed
engine, a real "hot rod."
Powered by a Pratt &
Whitney R-2800-22W engine, the first Bearcat prototype flew in late
August 1944. Besides the P&W R-2800 engine, the design also retained
the Hellcat's successful NACA 230 airfoil for the wings. After minor
modifications, including the addition of a dorsal fin, the first
production F8F-1s began armament tests and carrier qualification trials
in early 1945. By May of 1945, the Bearcat was cleared for operational
service, with very few flight restrictions over its wide speed range. A
total of 654 F8F-1s were delivered, all fitted with the 2,100 hp (1566
kw) R-2800-34W engine.
The Bearcat was the
first U.S. Navy fighter to feature a full "bubble" canopy, giving
excellent all around vision. It was also fitted with so called "safety
wing tips," the outer 40 inches of which were designed to break off
cleanly if the wing was overstressed in a dive or other manoeuvre.
After several non-combat incidents where one or both wing tips tore off
and the aircraft landed safely, this feature was eliminated from later
As soon as enough of
the new fighters had been produced, two squadrons, VF-18 and VF-19,
were equipped with F8F-ls. Their training was expedited in order to get
the new fighter into service against Japanese 'kamikaze' suicide
attacks in the Pacific. The Bearcat-equipped VF-19 was onboard the
carrier USS Langley, en-route across the Pacific, when the war ended on
Aug.16, 1945. There is little doubt that if the war had continued, the
Bearcat's fantastic climb and acceleration would have been invaluable
in combating the kamikaze menace.
The final production
Bearcat was the F8F-2, introduced in 1947 with a more powerful
R-2800-30W engine of 2,250 hp (1678 kW) and an automatic variable speed
supercharger. The greater power required an extra foot to be added to
the vertical fin, and F8F-2s carried a heavier armament of four 20 mm
cannons. The F8F-2P was a photo-reconnaissance version, fitted with up
to three cameras in the fuselage. By 1956, the last Bearcats were taken
out of service and stored or scrapped, having been replaced by jets,
including Grumman's own F9F Panthers and Cougars.
As a final
demonstration of the Bearcat's fantastic climbing ability, an F8F is
reported to have set the record for a climb to 10,000 feet from a
standing start in 91 seconds. It is said to have held this record for
almost three decades, until finally beaten by an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The author witnessed a maximum performance takeoff by a civilian
Bearcat in the late 1960s, and the airplane went straight up and out of
The Bearcat was the
last, and perhaps the best, piston-engine fighter produced for the U.S
Navy, and was a fitting culmination to Grumman's World War II line of
splendid "Cats". Even today the Grumman F8F Bearcat is a favourite
amongst the Nevada Air Racers owing to its outstanding speed and
XF8F-1: two prototypes
ordered on 27 November 1943.
F8F-1: production model
with folding wings.
G.58: designation given
to two aircraft built solely as civilian models.
F3M-1: were to be built
by General Motors but the wars end saw their cancellation.
F8F-1B: armed with four
20 mm cannon instead of the four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns.
F8F-1N: 36 aircraft
converted as night fighters.
redesign and 20 mm cannon became standard.
F8F-2N: 12 aircraft
converted as night fighters.
F8F-2P: 60 photo
reconnaissance aircraft with only two 20 mm cannon.
designated post war target drone control aircraft. F8F-1D was also the
designation given to aircraft sold to the Armee de l'air.
Beercat (Armee de l'Air)
Engine: 2,100hp Pratt &
Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial piston engine
Weight: Empty 7,070 lbs.,
Max Takeoff 12,947 lbs.
Wing Span: 35ft. 10in.
Length: 28ft. 3in.
Height: 13ft. 10in.
Maximum Speed at 19,700ft:
Cruising Speed: 163mph
Initial Climb Rate: 4570
feet per minute
Range: 1,105 miles
Four 20mm cannon
Hardpoints for two 1,000lb bombs,
or four 127mm (0.5in) rockets, or two 150-gal fuel tanks
Number Built: 1,266
Number Still Airworthy: