The F6F Hellcat was the successor to - and a logical evolution of - the capable F4F Wildcat series of carrier-borne aircraft fielded by the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater of World War 2. In the conflict, the Hellcat served under the banners of the USN, United States Marine Corp and Britain's Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. The system featured a powerful Pratt & Whitney brand engine, multiple heavy caliber machine guns and the ability to carry conventional bombs and air-to-surface rockets all the while operating from the mobile flattops of the aircraft carriers. The aircraft was known to make aces of most pilots who flew her and total topped 12,275 examples of various models, 11,000 of those appearing in a short 24 months of production.
Design of the F6F followed closely the lines of the F4F. Where the F4F was originally intended as a biplane design - and therefore developed the stout look to the fuselage - the F6F was entirely a monoplane fighter from the start. The cockpit was situated just above the low-mounted large wings (as opposed to the mid-mounted ones found on the F4F) and forward in the design, though just aft of the engine placement, and offered up adequate visibility through a framed canopy. Power came from the mighty Pratt & Whitney R-2800 series radial piston engine delivering some 2,000 horsepower and providing speeds in excess of 375 miles per hour. The engine cowling dominated the front of the design while a conventional single-vertical tail surface rounded out the empennage. Landing gear were unique in that they retracted in a backwards fashion.
As with the F4F before it, the F6F featured 6 x 12.7mm (.50 caliber) heavy machine guns in pairs of threes to a wing with 400 rounds to a gun. Additional and optional armament came in the form of air-to-surface explosive rockets (a strike role which the Hellcat excelled at) and conventional drop bombs as needed. A fuel tank could be carried in the centerline fuselage position for improved range. The flexibility and firepower inherent in the system provided a one-two punch when paired with the equally devastating Vought F4F Corsair fighters. The success of the F6F was noted and a nightfighting variant appeared with radar by 1944 and identified by the use of "N" in their designations (as in F6F-3N).
The F6F first flew as the XF6F-1 prototype I June of 1942. The further-developed XF6F-3 prototype was selected to be the initial production model and featured the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp two-stage turbocharged engine. The initial production model became the F6F-3 and was available en force by January of 1944. Shortly thereafter, production was switched to the refined F6F-5 model with the new Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W ("W" indicating "water-injection") radial piston engine and other aerodynamic and structural refinements along with provisions for underwing munitions.
The Hellcat appeared operationally for the first time in August of 1943 with the Second World War in full swing. She proved her worth, taking part in some of the greatest airborne confrontations in the Pacific - from the Caroline Islands to the Battle of the Philippines (June 19-20, 1944) and beyond. The British received their 252 Hellcat F6F-3 and F6F-5 models under Lend-Lease. No fewer than 75 percent of all enemy aircraft in the entire conflict were at the hands of Hellcat pilots, credited with some 5,156 total kills in the war for a mind-boggling kill ratio of 19:1. 307 Hellcat pilots were made aces thanks to the fine machine. The aircraft were duly noted for their role in supporting Task Force 58 to which some 400 Japanese aircraft were destroyed in a single week.
The F6F series soldiered on in the post-war world, being fielded by French, Argentine and Uruguayan forces. The French used them in anger in their Indo-China conflict while the series as a whole would be used up until the early 1960's. The last use of F6F's for the Americans came in the Korean War when six remotely-controlled Hellcats were used as giant aerial bombs on targets in North Korea.
The appearance of the F6F most assuredly changed the tide of the war in the Pacific in favor of the Americans - and the rest of the free world for that matter. The system was noted for its toughness and responsiveness and the kill tally reflected the benefits of the platform. In the end, the F6F lived up to the name of legendary warbird and became one of the single most important reasons that the war in the Pacific turned out the way it did.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 12,272 Units
Grumman Corporation - USA
Argentina; France; United Kingdom; South Vietnam; Uruguay; United States
- Ground Attack
- Close-Air Support (CAS)
- Navy / Maritime
33.79 ft (10.3 m)
42.65 ft (13 m)
12.99 ft (3.96 m)
9,059 lb (4,109 kg)
12,597 lb (5,714 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat production model)
1 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W Double Wasp air-cooled radial engine developing 2,000 horsepower driving a three-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
380 mph (611 kph; 330 kts)
37,300 feet (11,369 m; 7.06 miles)
944 miles (1,520 km; 821 nm)
3,410 ft/min (1,039 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
STANDARD (F6F-3, F6F-5):
6 x 0.50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine guns in wings (three guns to a wing).
2 x 20mm automatic cannons.
4 x .50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine guns.
2 x 11.75 (298mm) "Tiny Tim" unguided rockets underwing.
6 x 5-inch (127mm) HVAR unguided rockets underwing.
8 x 250lb drop bombs (F6F-5).
4 x 500lb drop bombs (F6F-5).
2 x 1,000lb drop bombs (F6F-5).
1 x 2,000lb drop bomb.
1 x Mk 13-3 series torpedo underfuselage centerline.
Up to 4,150lb of externally-held drop ordnance.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat production model)
YF6F - Prototype Designation
YF6F-1 - First prototype to fly
YF6F-3 - Third Developmental Prototype and selected as base production model.
F6F-3 - Official production designation based on YF6F-3 variant.
Gannet Mk 1 - Early British designation for F6F-3 (later redesignated as Hellcat Mk 1).
F6F-3E - Special radar equipment installed.
F6F-3N - Dedicated Nightfighter Variant
F6F-5 (Hellcat Mk III) - Refined airframe; Radial engine with water injection system for power-assisted takeoffs and combat.
F6F-5K - Explosive-laden remotely piloted attack drones used in the Korea War.
F6F-5N (Hellcat NF.Mk II) - Nightfighter variant.
F6F-5P - Photographic Reconnaissance Variant
Hellcat Mk II - British Designation for F6F-5.
Hellcat NF.Mk II - British Designation for F6F-5N nightfighter.
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 (380mph).
Graph average of 300 miles-per-hour.
Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
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