The Grumman F6F Hellcat was descended from the earlier F4F Wildcat, but was a completely new design, sharing only a slight resemblance to the Wildcat. The F6F was a carrier-based as well as a land-based fighter. The design was strongly influenced by the Navy’s need for a powerful fighter to counter Japan’s air superiority in the Pacific – a dominance due principally to their A6M Zero fighter. The F6F was very maneuverable, and it had good pilot visibility as well as excellent armor plating. Powered by the reliable Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engine, the Hellcat was equipped with six 50 caliber machine guns, making it a match for any fighter of World War II. In fact, Hellcats claimed more than 5,000 confirmed victories over enemy aircraft during the war, resulting in a 19:1 kill ratio. Superior to the fabled Japanese Zero in virtually every way, except for rate of turn at low speed, the Hellcat was the platform upon which naval aviation swept the skies of enemy air power from 1943 to 1945.
In island-hopping campaigns across the Pacific, Hellcats proved invaluable. Invasions were spearheaded by waves of F6Fs conducting fighter sweeps over enemy airfields, destroying planes that could threaten transports and landing craft. As troops went ashore, combat air patrols scanned the skies for aerial attackers while other Hellcats supported Marines and soldiers by hitting ground targets. Indeed, while it was in aerial combat the F6F achieved lasting fame; it was also a capable air-to-ground platform, with Hellcat pilots unleashing more than 60,000 rockets on land targets and enemy shipping during the war.
The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation produced 12,275 Hellcats during World War II, at peak production rolling one off the assembly line every hour, around the clock. Reaching the fleet, these aircraft logged a total of 110,162 combat sorties during the war. Fittingly their flights came as part of a wave of carrier planes that flew over the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) in Tokyo Bay, as Japanese government and military officials signed the instrument of surrender on her deck.
In the postwar years, Hellcats flew primarily in the training command and squadrons of the Naval Air Reserve, with some converted to radio-controlled drones to support the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Loaded with explosives, some of these drones were also launched against targets during the Korean War. The first Blue Angel team formed in 1946, flew the F6F-5 Hellcat.
The Museum’s grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is a truly unique airplane, though it never flew in combat. It was the first variable stability aircraft to undergo testing at Patuxent River, Maryland and Moffet Field, California test centers. The aircraft moved from Moffet Field to NAS Miramar, and in May 1979 was presented to the Museum. It is displayed in the authentic battle markings of a plane assigned to the USS Yorktown (CV-10).