When the United States Navy (USN) adopted the Grumman F3F series, it took on its last biplane-arranged fighter before moving on to more modern monoplane forms. 147 of the type were produced by Grumman who was establishing itself as a regular USN contributor with a relationship that would last well into the Cold War years. Manufacture spanned from 1936 into 1939. First flight of an F3F prototype was on March 20th, 1935 with service introduction following in 1936. While on hand at the start of World War 2 (1939-1945), the F3F did not see combat service in the grand conflict for the line was removed in 1941 as a frontline system - the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came in December of that year and thus followed the official American entry into the war. Formal retirement of the F3F series arrived in 1943, its successor being the Brewster F2A "Buffalo" series detailed elsewhere on this site.
The F3F came about as an improved form of the preceding F2F biplane fighter. The earlier design showcased issues with stall/dive recovery and general stability which led the USN to offer Grumman a shot at a slightly redesigned model under the "F3F" designation. The prototype, therefore, took on the "XF3F-1" designation and it carried on use of the Pratt & Whitney "Twin Wasp Junior" radial piston engine of 700 horsepower and used a similar biplane wing arrangement with open-air cockpit. Of note is that its general form mimicked that of the next-in-line for Grumman fighter - the classic F4F "Wildcat" monoplane of World War 2 fame.
The F3F - company model "G-11" - featured dimensional changes over that as seen in the F2F. Its fuselage length was increased some to counter the stability issues and its wing surfaces were enlarged. The new design was extensively tested for dive recovery but one of these tests ultimately led to a crash of the prototype - fatal to the company test pilot - when the XF3F-1 broke up in flight. This forced a revision of the design which included reinforced members for increased durability and produced a second flyable prototype. Again the aircraft was lost, this time unable to recover from a spin action, though the test pilot was able to bail out in time. The airframe, despite crashing, was salvaged and rebuilt to fly again during June of 1935.
With the tests behind it and appropriate action taken to rectify emerging issues, XF3F-1 was ordered as the "F3F-1" through an initial 54-strong batch order. The first aircraft arrived in late-January of 1936 and was assigned to USS Ranger. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) followed the USN in its use of the F3F series.
Standard armament fitted to the F3F consisted of a single .30 caliber Browning M1919 machine gun in the engine cowling (port side) paired with a .50 caliber Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) in the engine cowling (starboard side). The F3F was also given an inherent bomb-carrying/delivery capability, able to haul 2 x 116lb conventional drop bombs into combat.
As a private venture, Grumman engineers fit the new Wright XR-1820-22 "Cyclone G" supercharged radial of 850 horsepower into a prototype and successfully tested the system which interested the USN enough to place an order for 81 units under the "F3F-2" designation (company model "G-19") during July of 1936. The finalized operational models carried the Wright R-1820-22 "Cyclone" radial of 950 horsepower and the new engine fit forced a revised frontal section which promoted a stouter appearance for the aircraft. Despite the changes, the F3F-2 proved itself a faster model of airplane when compared to the original F3F-1.
Grumman did not end its work on the F3F for the "XF3F-3" was developed from the F3F-2 to further the line some more as subtle refinements (a revised cowling, curved windshield structure) were introduced. A large propeller unit was also fitted and small structural changes instituted to produce the new service mark - "F3F-3" - and 27 of these new fighters were taken on by the USN. The end of the line came when the USN shifted to monoplane fighters though the F3F continued in a training role into late 1943 before being given up for good.
Beyond the military versions were some civilian-minded developments. The G-22A "Gulfhawk II" was a twin-seat demonstrator of 1938 outfitted with a Wright R-1820 "Cyclone" engine of 1,000 horsepower - one was built. The G-32/G-32A "Gulfhawk III" was a similar offering and completed in two examples. The G-32 aircraft operated for a time under the USAAF banner as the "C-103" in the pilot training ferry role.
By the time of World War 2, the Grumman F4F "Wildcat" was entrenched as the primary USN fighter. This was bettered by the upcoming F6F "Hellcat" and saw Grumman fighters reached their piston-powered pinnacle before war's end with the arrival of the F8F "Bearcat".
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 147 Units
Grumman - USA
- Navy / Maritime
23.13 ft (7.05 m)
31.99 ft (9.75 m)
9.35 ft (2.85 m)
3,307 lb (1,500 kg)
4,795 lb (2,175 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Grumman F3F-3 production model)
1 x Wright R-1820-22 "Cyclone" 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 950 horsepower driving a three-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
264 mph (425 kph; 229 kts)
33,202 feet (10,120 m; 6.29 miles)
994 miles (1,600 km; 864 nm)
2,800 ft/min (853 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Grumman F3F-3 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
1 x 0.30 caliber Browning M1919 Medium Machine Gun (MMG) in engine cowling (port side).
1 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) in engine cowling (starboard side).
2 x 116 lb conventional drop bombs carrier underwing (one to a wing).
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Grumman F3F-3 production model)
F3F - Base Series Designation
G-11 - Company Model for F3F-1
XF3F-1 - Initial prototype; Pratt & Whitney R-1534-84 "Twin Wasp Junior" radial engine of 700 horsepower fitted.
F3F-1 - Initial production model; 54 examples
G-19 - Company Model for F3F-2
XF3F-2 - Prototype of F3F-2 series; fitted with Wright XR-1820-22 Cyclone G radial of 850 horsepower.
F3F-2 - Wright R-1820-22 Cyclone engine of 950 horsepower fitted; 81 examples.
XF3F-3 - Prototype based on F3F-2 model; revised engine cowling and windscreen.
F3F-3 - XF3F-3 production model; 27 examples
G-22 "Gulfhawk II" - Civilian demonstrator; Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine of 1,000 horsepower fitted; single example.
G-32 / G-32A "Gulfhawk III" - Civilian demonstrator; two examples completed.
C-103 / UC-103 - USAAF designation of in-service G-32 aircraft.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry. The rating is out of a possible 100.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (264mph).
Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
Grumman F3F-3 operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
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