Profile Publications No. 107 The Gruumman F8F Bearcat

An F8F-I landing on the U .S.S. Tarawa (CV-40) during VF-20A's carrier qualification programme. “This is the first real fighter I’ve flown!” Attributed to a combat experienced Navy fighter pilot after his initial inflight a Grumman XF8F-I Bearcat, these words are typical of the enthusiastic response to the Navy's newest Grumman infighter the late stages of the Second World War. Formal evaluations and performance figures generally support this reaction. While the Bearcat was just a little too late to demon­strate in combat that it measured up to the promise of these opinions and figures, there is little evidence to indicate that it would not have done so. The story of the Bearcat began in the summer of 1943. Grumman’s production lines were turning out large quantities of F6F-3 Hellcats these saw their first combat inaction August. Design engineering for the large, heavily armed, twin engine XF7F-1 was essentially complete, with construction of the initial airplanes well along. The Hellcats represented a considerable improvement over the earlier Grumman Wildcats, which were still the only fighters onU.S. Navy carriers in combat. And the new F7F promised much needed further improvements in range, firepower and speed. These two types were respectively repre­sentative of those going into action and being develo­ped for the Navy at that time, with some emphasis on high altitude fighters with supercharging. Against this background, and the characteristics of Japanese aircraft with their extremely clean aerodynamic design, minimum weight, and resultant highspeed and manoeuvrability, Grumman engineers and designers under Chief Engineer William Sch- wendler worked up their design 58 to fill a major gap in the current and future U.S. carrier type fighters: a minimum weight interceptor, with maximum per­formance in the low and medium altitude ranges. The goal was a fighter similar in size to the Wildcat, but having superior speed, rate of climb and manoeuvring incapability the low/medium altitude range to any of the carrier infighters service or underdevelopment. It was desired to provide the same pilot protection as that in the Hellcat, but the armament was reduced to four-50 cal. guns, these being considered adequate to destroy the less rugged and less protected Japanese aircraft. Maximum carryover of Hellcat design features was a basic consideration, with retention of its good features and correction of any deficiencies. To provide minimum drag, heavier skins with flush rivets and spot welding were used in the new design. (Photo:Ed W ischnowski) One unusual feature was the incorporation of Safety WingTips. Based on experience with other aircraft, it was felt that provision of a “weak” point in the wing tailor structure would insure that the structure would fail at the desired point if the airplane was inadvertantly overstressed. On the new design, this was applied to the outboard portion of the wings, a chordwise section was incorporated just outboard of the centre aileron hinge which would fail at the 9g design load with reduced span the wing root structure would carry much higher g-loads. Enough aileron would remain to give safe roll control. This provision also allowed some reduction in structural weight since the inboard wing section wasn’t designed to carry the design margin of loads that would have been necessary with normal wing design. All possible improvements in aerodynamic design were incorporated such as in powerplant cowling and cooling and leading edge air intakes, but theN A C A 230 series airfoil used on the F6F was con­tinued. Landing gear retraction of the wing mounted main gears was inboard. A bubble canopy was incorporated. As proposed to the Bureau of Aero­nautics, design 58 was intended as a medium altitude fighter-interceptor, with rate of climb and rate of roll twice that of the Hellcat, and an increase of some 50 m.p.h. in maximum speed. It was intended to use the newly designed P &W“E ”series R-2800 engine. Among Navy fighter pilots who had flown the Boeing F4B and Grumman F2F/F3F biplane infighters the thirties and who now had responsible positions in BuAer, the new design found a most receptive response. With a minimum of changes (but con-Note absence o f dorsal fin in this flying view o f the XF8F-1. (Photo: viaL C D R .B.Reams) 3
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