Curtiss SBC Helldiver (1933)

Curtiss SBC Helldiver (1933)

USN aviation USN Carrier Dive Bomber 1935-1940 (257 built)

Curtiss biplane dive bomber

The Curtiss SBC Helldiver was a two-seat scout/dive bomber from Curtiss-Wright and the last military biplane of the USN, introduced from 1937. Although a biplane, it was a modern and very strudy, reliable model seeing service on USS Saratoga, Yorktown and Enterprise in 1938-1940 before being gradually replaced in 1940-41 by the SBD Dauntless. Some models saw service in the French Armée de l’Air and RAF in 1940-42, the latter used as the Cleveland Mark I. The SBC-4 was used as late as 1943 by the USMC and it was only retired in 1945, used as a trainer.

Design development of the first “Helldiver”

Controversy in the USN’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) in 1930 raged on for what concerned two-seat fighter planes over the monoplane configuration AND retractable undercarriage. In 1931, the Navy issued Design Specification No.113, a requirement for a high-performance fighter with fixed undercarriage and the Wright R-1510 engine, alternative to the Pratt & Whitney’s R-1535. No less than seven companies answered with a proposal. Eventually two were retained: Douglas, presenting with its XFD-1, and Chance Vought, with its XF3U-1. Both were two-seat biplanes, so in doubt the Navy asked Curtiss to provide another prototype of a monoplane, technically more advanced.

On 30 June 1932, BuAer norified Curtiss its latter proposal was accepted. Soon, a contract was signed to design a two-seat monoplane. But Curtiss model had both a parasol wing AND retractable undercarriage, powered by the 625 hp Wright R-1510-92, a 14 cylinder 2-row radial engine driving a two-blade metal propeller. The prototype designed XF12C-1 was soon prepared for its first flight.

Design Development

XF12C-1 (Curtiss M73)

Curtiss XF12C-1 prototype
So the Curtiss parasol model was very modern for the time, with an enclosed glassed-cockpit, all-metal with only the wings, rudder, elevators and flaps fabric covered.
It was initially given the Wright R-1510-92 engine but soon that was proven a bad match, the model was anemic. Thus, the company soon tested and proposed to the Navy the 775 hp (578 kW) Wright R-1670, 14-cylinder doubled row radial, but again the latter proved unsatisfactory. Both were essentially prototypes engines and suffered from reliability issues, so much so that eventually they never went into production.

The more trusted 700 hp (522 kW) Wright R-1820-80 9-cylinder double row was eventually installed and the prototype XF12C-1 first flew in 1933. It was design for aircraft carrier use and thus, had its parasol wing folding back along a central hub. It also had an exposed tail hook to land. After July 1933 more flights and tests took place. By September 1934, the model was to be used as a drive bomber, but the parasol wing proved ill-suited for the task. The air resistance was just too much. Since cantilever monoplanes were still science fiction at the time, Curtiss proposed to remodel the prototype as a biplane. At least the two planes would be smaller in size and support each others in a dive.

XS4C-1 (M73)

The Curtiss M73 was however not complete redesign of the original prototype as a biplane, but just rejected both as a dive bomber and fighter, and instead on 7 December 1933 it was redesignated as the XS4C-1, as cout, re-engined with a 700 hp (522 kW) Wright R-1820-80 radial and two-blade propeller for more endurance. It became a scout aircraft but still capable to carry a 500-pound (227-kilogram) bomb.

XFBC-1 (M73)

As bomb rack tests were concluded in a satisfactory manner in January 1934, the designation scout bomber (SB) was introduced and the M73 was redesignated XSBC-1. From early 1934 the new monoplane multiplied flight tests but also resume dive-bombing tests. On 14 June 1934 the prototype crashed, unsurprisingly due to to wing failure close to New York’s Curtiss plant. Completely destroyed, the root cause of the failure was reported bu Curtiss, proving one again that the biplane solution was preferrable.

XSBC-2 (M77)

Thus, Curtiss redrawn the prototype with staggered wings and mad this paper proposal to the Navy. Curtiss-Wright ensured that if the new model would have no folding wings at least it would have a shorter span and leading edge slots with only the lower wing given full span flaps. Again, it was an all-metal model with control surfaces still covered in fabric. It had the 14-cylinder radial Wright XR-1510-12 rated for 700 hp (522 kW). And it was mater this time to a constant speed Curtiss Electric three-blade propeller.
This new prototype also had an enlarged canopy and for better stability when diving, an enlarged vertical fin and rudder. It also kept the same retractable tail hook and undercarriage of the previous model 73. The Curtiss model 77, called by the Navy XSBC-2, started competitive tests against the Great Lakes Aircraft’s XB2G-1 and the Grumman XSBF-1, but the XSBC-2 won and earned a contract, signed by the Navy in April 1935. The definitive protype XSBC-2 made its first flight on 9 December 1935.

As part of the explanation of how the USN was fielding dive bomber biplanes in 1941, two years had been lost by the insistence of the navy staff to keep a monoplane configuration, with changing requirements and priorities, from fighter to scout, scout-bomber and dive bomber. Still, after these two years, Curtiss has been working on th biplane and knew it was going to win the new competition.

XSBC-3 (M77)

The Wright XR-1510-12 engine however was now the faulty part of the design, untested, it proved unreliable. Tests were plagued by issues unti Curtiss made a re-engined proposal, which was accepted. By March 1936, the 14-cyl. twin-row Pratt & Whitney R-1535-82 (rate for 700 hp (522 kW)) with the same three-blade propeller became the XSBC-3. This time, all tests were successful and spotless. The Navy, eager to have its dive bomber after nearly three years of waiting, immediately planed an order.

Production Models

SBC-3 (Model 77A)

Curtiss SBC-3 from scouting squadron 3 visiting NRAB Oakland in 1938
And thus, the XCBC-3 became the SBC-3 in production, and again, differed from the prototype by its new engine: The 83 ordered in August 1936 were delivered with the much powerful (825 hp/615 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1535-94, also a 14-cyl, 2-row model. The SBC-3 started to be delivered from 17 July 1937.
Something which as until then almost an afterthought was its armament: Two MGs. One right-side forward-firing 0.30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun (doubling its role as a fighter) and for close defence and a tail gun on a flexible mount in the rear cosckpit, under the cover of the turtleback.

Also technology went on in between and the best way to deliver a bomb was not firmly established as a displacement swing placed under the belly, centerline to carry and deliver under the propeller’s arc a 500-lb (227-kg) bomb or 45-U.S.-gallon (170-liter) fuel tank. The 83 SBC-3 were not followed as Curtiss was already proposing a better version, which had to be tested first:

XSBC-4 (Model 77B)

Already on the production line, the 73th SBC-3 was held to be re-engined with the much more powerful Wright R-1820-22 a 9-cylinder single-row but which developed 950-hp (708 kW). It was driving a three-blade Hamilton Standard propeller. The modified model was redesignated XSBC-4 and its forward light MG was replaced by the more impressive 0.5-cal. (12.7-mm) Browning M1920 on the right side. It was possible thanks to the shorter engine. It retained the same rear 0.3-cal. Brownng M1919A4 in the rear cockpit on an improved flexible mount, and the better performances allowed the SBC to now carry the largest aviation ordnance on disposal, a 1,000-lb (454-kg) bomb, with its swing fork redesigned and made larger. A second SBC-3 was also designated XSBC-4 was kept for further tests during the SBC-4 production as Curtiss was confident the Navy would accept the upgrade.

SBC-4 (M77B)

A formation of SBC-4s from NRAB New York (Naval reserve) in formation 1940

The final evolution of the SBC was also the largest production batch: 124 production were ordered on 5 January 1938, deliveries starting in March 1939, until April 1941. In between, the war has started and Curtiss, examined by a French and later a British commission, were in turn ordered, porting the final count when production ceased in early 1941 to 257 machines. With a nearly 1000-hp engine and 1000-Ibs bomb, the rugged biplane (made for carrier use) still was one of the world’s best dive bomber still in 1940.

Indeed, the Vought Vindicator was the alternative model also introduced on US Aicraft Carrier, and albeit of the same generation, the Vought model was produced earlier and has a monoplane cantilever configuration. In total from 1933 to 1938, development of this model took a staggering six years. By that interval, aeronautocal tech went through many iterations and innovations, as tactics changed along the way. Only it’s good overall performances made the Curtiss M77 a fine design, close in general philosophy to the Grumman FF and F2F, F3F fighters.

Final design

The SBC in its early like production version was a modern, all-metal and two-seat scout-bomber biplane. The monoplane prototype had “Y”-type interplane struts, the biplane had “I” Type. Since it came in production relatively late, it became de facto the last combat biplane purchased by the Navy. The two crewmen were the forward seating pilot and rearwards seated radio operator which doubled as gunner, both protected in tandem cockpits, with sliding canopies. The fuselage was made of steel frames, with stressed aluminium skin sheating.

There was a turtledeck behind the rear cockpit which could be folded down, allowing the gunner to raise and fire his machine gun. In noormal conditions it was raised up to reduce drag and improve stability. The wings, rudder, elevators and flaps were all fabric covered as customary at the time. The main landing gear could be fully retracted, into wheel wells designed by Grumman, both located in the fuselage forward of the lower wing. The tail wheel could also be retracted into the fuselage. So apart the biplane configuration, this was really a modern aicraft by all measures.

Forward and aft sections of the cockpit (NARA/ONI)

The pros and cons of the biplane formula were well known: Lof of lifting capacity, superior agility, lower landing speed. Its disadvantages were a lower structural integrity for high speeds, and limits in dive speeds, as well as reduced visibility (at least in the low-mounted variant, as the prototype has a parasol wing, for excellent visibility). Overall, the biplane configuration and speed limitations did not hampered much its use as diver bomber.


Pratt & Whitney R-1535-94 (SBC-3)
Also called the “Twin Wasp Junior”, this engine as derived from a serie starting with the model 11 developing 750 ch (559 kW) in 1932. The model 94 825 ch (615 kW), and the configuration was of 14 cylinder in a double row radial configuration of two seven(cylinder rows, interleaved for better air cooling of the rear serie. Its capacity was 25,2 L with a 131,8 mm cylinder course and weighting 493 kg.

Wright R-1820-22 (SBC-4)
The famous “Cyclone” serie became a world famous engine in the early 1930s, also licenced by Hispano-Suiza in France, Lycoming Canada, and Shvetsov in USSR. This model was famously used by the Douglas DC-1, DC-2, DC-3, DC-5, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Curtiss P-36 Hawk, GM FM-2 Wildcat, Douglas SBD Dauntless. The early R-1820-1 developed 575 hp (429 kW) and the final R-1820-G205A developed 1,200 hp (890 kW). The model 22 was an early model which developed 950 hp (710 kW).


As describes above, the SBC-3 was given two light M1919 Browning machine guns: One on the right side, synchronized with the propeller as it fired forward, and the second on a flexible mount aft, manned by the rear gunner/radio/navigator. The bomb load was a single 500-lb (227-kg) bomb alternative to a 45-U.S. gallon (170-liter) fuel tank.
The SBC-4 was more powerful and allowed the replacement of the Browning 0.3 cal. LMG by a Browning M1920 HMG or 0.50-caliber (12.7-mm). It was forward of the pilot, firing through a recess but it’s unclear if a jamming could be resolved by the pilot underway. The range and ammunition impact was several fold greater and increased the chances of the Helldiver to really cause havoc on lightly-built Japanese aircraft. No change for the rear gunner, but the bomb load, thanks to the extra output, could be double, with a 1000 Ibs (454 kg.) bomb.

⚒ Specifications SBC-3 1938

Dimensions: L 28 ft x Wsp 34 ft x H 10 ft 5 in (8.574 x 10.36 x 3.18 m)
Wing area 317 sq ft (29.5 m2)
Airfield NACA 2212
Weight, empty 4,552 lb (2,065 kg)
Weight, gross 7,080 lb (3,211 kg)
Propulsion Wright R-1820-34 radial engine, 850 hp (630 kW)
Propeller 3-bladed constant-speed propeller
Speed, max. 234 mph (377 km/h, 203 kn) at 15,200 ft (4,600 m)
Speed, cruise 175 mph (282 km/h, 152 kn)
Ceiling 24,000 ft (7,300 m)
Climb Rate 1,630 ft/min (8.3 m/s)
Range 405 mi (652 km, 352 nmi)
Wing load 28.5 lb/sq ft (139 kg/m2)
Power/mass 0.282 kW/kg (0.172 hp/lb)
Armament: MGs 2 × 0.30 in (8 mm) Browning M1919 (? rounds)
Armament: Bombs 1 × 500 lb (227 kg) bomb/fuel tank
Payload: 1 × 58 US gal drop tank
Crew: 2: Pilot, gunner/navigator

The Curtiss SBC in Action & Operators

United States Navy Use

Nice color photo of a freshly arrived SBC-3 aboard an unknown carrier, yet to identify. (see the sources below)
The first SBC-3s arrived on 17 July 1937, scheduled for Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5) aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5) to start carrier qualifications. However, was still not commissioned until 30 September 1937 and had to perform her sea trials first. Meanwhile the planes trained on land. On 10 December 1937 at last, five months beyond schedule, VS-5 landed on Yorktown and was active on the carrier until replacement by Douglas SBD-3s Dauntles in 1940.

Various models a NAS Miami in 1942, with several SBCs in the background
Various models a NAS Miami in 1942, with several SBCs in the background

By June 1938, 3 out of 5 scouting squadrons on carriers ahd the new SBC-3s the remainder having to make due with the Vought SBU-1 Corsair (1935), the other “last USN biplane”. This when the war broke out in September 1939, the USN operated the Helldiver on USS Enterprise (CV-6), with VF-6 (One) and VS-6 (20 Helldivers), USS Saratoga (CV-3) had Bombing Squadron Three (VB-3) with a single SBC-3 while VF-3 had an SBC-3 and VS-3 had 21 Helldivers. There was also the veteran, USS Yorktown (CV-5) with VS-5 equipped with ten SBC-3s.
Based on the 5 January 1938 contract for 58 SBC-4s other deliveries were due tha year, whereas 31 more were ordered on 27 July 1938 and 35 aircraft on 13 August 1938 for 124 total.
The SBC-4 made its debut with VS-2 on USS Lexington (CV-2), the only one not equipped with the Helldiver. The SBC-4 replaced the Vought SBU-1 there and by 26 June 1939, VS-2 reached it max 21 aircraft provision. They were replaced after two years by the Douglas SBD-2/3 Dauntless.

SBC-3 Helldiver from VS-3
SBC-3 Helldiver from VS-3 (USS Saratoga) in flight, 1939

However as raising contracts enabling by the start of the war in Europe saw the remaining SBC-4s reassigned to Naval Reserve Air Bases, enabling reserve Navy and Marine airmen to maintain their proficiency on more modrn models.
By June 1940, there were 11 NRABs equipped with the SBC-4s:
NRAB Anacostia (3 SBC-4s to VS-6R and VMS-3R)
NRAB Boston (3 SBC-4s to VS-1R, VS-2R and VMS-1R)
NRAB Detroit, Michigan (3 SBC-4s to VS-8R and VMS-5R)
NRAB Glenview (4 SBC-4s to VS-9R)
NRAB Kansas City (4 SBC-4s to VS-12R and VMS-10R)
NRAB Long Beach (SBC-4s to VS-13R, VS-14R and VMS-7R)
NRAB Minneapolis (3 SBC-4s to VS-10R and VMS-6R)
NRAB New York (4 SBC-4s to VS-3R, VS-4R and VMS-2R)
NRAB Oakland (4 SBC-4s to VS-15R and VMS-8R)
NRAB Seattle (4 SBC-4s to VS-16R and VMS-9R)
NRAB St. Louis (3 SBC-4s assigned to VS-11R)
The SBC-3s were in turn replaced by SBD Dauntless and by 7 December 1941, in total 69 SBC-3s and 118 SBC-4s served with the USN/USMC between Naval Air Stations, Naval Reserve ABs, and the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. NAS Miami in Florida had the more of those, usable for intermediate and dive bombing training until 1943.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced in December 1941, SBC were deployed at NAF Philadelphia (XSBC-1 proto and 1 SBC-3), NAS Corpus Christi (34 SBC-4s), NAS Miami (55 SBC-3s) NAS Norfolk (4 SBC-3s, 10 SBC-4s), NAS San Diego (9 SBC-3s, 11 SBC-4s), and the Naval Mission in Lima, Peru, trying to sell it locally, with a single SBC-4 in demonstrations.

Surprisingly enough USS Hornet (CV-8) just completed was to be equipped with almost 40 Helldivers:
-Bombing Squadron Eight (VB-8) with 19 SBC-4s,
-Scouting Squadron Eight (VS-8) with 20 SBC-4s
Se actually made her sea trials in the Atlantic with her two SBC-4s squadron until sailing to San Diego via Panama in March 1942. In California, her two squadrons were replaced by SBD-3 Dauntless. She was the last US Carrier to operate the SBC.
The second French order in mid-1940 meant 40 SBC-4s, built between February and May 1941 were to be shipped overseas with a 126-U.S. gallon (477-liter) self-sealing fuel tank and were kept after the fall of France, the last being delivered in May 1941.
By 1944, the SBC-3 was stricken from the inventory, but still, the 12 SBC-4s from NAS Jacksonville had to wait until 31 October 1944 for their retirement. The very last of their kind. No USN SBC saw action. There were none at Pearl Habror.

USMC use

Model of the VMO-151 in 1941
The US Marines Corps soon obtained ex-US models from the carriers, when replaced by the Dauntless.
The Marines had their first SBC-3 in 1938 for evaluation, assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron Two (VMF-2, later VMF-211 by July 1941) based in NAS San Diego, and sent to the Battle Fleet Pool in June 1939. In January 1940 there were four SBC-4s at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Quantico. One more was sent to VMF-1 and the XSBC-4 prototype was sent for testings to Marine Utility Squadron One (VMJ-1, later VMJ-152). The other two were in NAS San Diego, VMF-2 and VMJ-2 (VMJ-252).

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USMC had 23 SBC-4s in all, 12 in Marine observation squadrons at MCAS Quantico (the sole 1 XSBC-4 and 5 SBC-4s), NAS San Diego (5 SBC-4s) and MCAS Quantico (12 SBC-4s). VMO-151 was soon transferred to Tafuna (now Pago Pago) and Tutuila in Samoa, by 9 May 1942. This unit became Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 151 from 15 September 1942. VMO-155 was based in American Samoa on 1 October 1942 and was reinfoced by ten more SBC-4s and a single Grumman J2F-5 Goose. Personal and planes were sent to Guadalcanal afterwards.
By December 1942, VMSB-151 saw its complement replaced by the SBD Dauntless. By June 1943, it was reequipped with SBD-4s and moved to Uvea Island, Wallis.
There was a single SBC-4 at American Samoa (VMSB-151) on 1 June 1943. The Japanese never went there and its fate is uncertain.

French Aeronavale

In September 1939 both Britain and France were in dire need for aircraft, knowing the size of the Luftwaffe. By early 1940, the French government went to Curtiss-Wright and ordered 90 SBC-4s. To speed thnings up, on 6 June 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt 50 from U.S. Navy stocks at the Naval Reserve to the Curtiss-Wright factory in Buffalo (New York) for a refurbishment to French standards. Markings, instruments, equipment were converted to metric and French, and French 7.7-millimeter (0.303-caliber) Darne machine guns replaced the original Brownings. it was completed by French camouflage and roundels as well as aeronavale markings. They were to delivered to RCAF Station Dartmouth in Nova Scotia (Canada) in order to be loaded onto the French aircraft carrier Béarn.

However in between, neutrality acts from U.S. Congress imposed for arms trade with belligerents a “cash-and-carry” system imposing transport by them using their own means. In short, in order to have them delovered, the planes flew to the frontier and had to be towed across the border. The 50 aircraft freshly converted made a trip from Buffalo, to Houlton Airport in Maine (via Burlington, Vermont and Augusta). The Houlton Airport was just at the Canada–US border. Local farmers were requisitioned with their tractors to tow the planes into New Brunswick. The Canadians closed next the highway in order to each towed SBC to fly off gfrom there to RCAF Station Dartmouth and be re-routed next.

The 50 made their ways over time to Dartmouth but one crashed due to bad weather, the remaining 49 flew next to Nova Scotia, waiting for the Béarn and light cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. The loading commenced, but since Béarn’s hangar was limited, only 44 could be carried aboard. She indeed also already had 25 Stinson Model HW-75s, 17 Curtiss H75-A1s (P-36) and even 6 Brewster F2A-2 of the Belgian Air Force already stacked on her deck. She even had 14 crated Stinson and Curtiss H75s.

The carrier sailed from Halifax on 16 June 1940 for Brest, but underway two days later they learned Brest was in German hands. Both ships were ordered instead to Fort-de-France in Martinique (French West Indies), arriving on 27 June. There, they knew French had surrendered to the Germans since five days. Then a purgatory commenced. The SBC-4s were unloaded, rolled to a field at Pointe des Sables, stored out in the open in tropical conditions. They degraded quite quickly until not being airworthy anymore and being scrapped later when the island fell to Free France. These 49 planes as well as the Stinsons, Curtiss H75 and Buffaloes were all lost in these conditions, never firing a shot. The island was under close watch by the US Navy, preventing any move back to France, which later amounted to a full-on blockade.

Royal Air Force

Five of the French aircraft left at Halifax returned to RCAF Station Dartmouth. By August 1940, the Royal Air Force acquired these, renamed “Cleveland Mk. I”. They went aboard HMS Furious which delivered them. Refurbished again at RAF Burtonwood in Lancashire they were sent to RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire and used by No. 24 (Communications) Squadron at RAF Hendon. They were in fact never used but as ground trainers after perhaps a few flights.

As seen above, Curtiss tried to sell them to Peru also, but no deal was made. Unfortunately, noe survived to this day apparently. The discarded models in the US were scrapped. As for those *still rotting* in Martinique there is practically nothing left that was not taken long ago which could be a base for a restoration. Financing a reconstruciton would be tough also, as the model had no really active service but the few of the USMC in Samoa and is certainly “forgotten” today, especialy compared to the second one.



XF12C-1 Prototype BuAer 9225, NAS Anacostia, ca1933

SBC-3, VC-5, USS Enterprise, 1938

SBC-4, 1st Marine Airwing Command, Quantico 1940.

SBC-4, Air Group Commander, USS Enterprise (CV-6) 1940

SBC-4 of the USMC, VBM-155 Samoa island, 1943, last operational model in operations

French SBC-4, Béarn, Martinique fall 1940

British RAF Cleveland I, 1942


Read More


Angelucci, Enzo. The American Fighter. New York: Orion Books 1987.
Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft, 1907–1947. London: Putnam & Company, 1979.
Doll, Thomas E. SBC Helldiver in Action, Aircraft Number 151. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1995.
Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920, Volume I. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1988.
Gunston, Bill. World Encyclopaedia of Aero Engines. Newbury Park, California: Haynes North America, 1998.
Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, England: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1900.
Jane, Fred T. Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, 1945/6. New York: Arco Publishing Company, 1946.
Johnson, E.R. United States Naval Aviation 1919–1941. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2011.
Larkins, William T. U.S. Navy Aircraft 1921–1941; U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914–1959. New York: Orion Books, 1959 and 1961.
Morareau, Lucien (September 1998). “Les oubliés des Antilles”. Avions: Toute l’aéronautique et son histoire (in French) (66)
Moran, Gerrard P. The CORSAIR and other AEROPLANES VOUGHT 1917–1977. Terre Haute, Indiana: Aviation Heritage Books, 1991.
Naval Historical Center, United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.
Sherrod, Robert, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. San Rafael, California: Presidio Press, 1952.
Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. London: Putnam, 1976.
Taylor, John W.R. Jane’s American Fighting Aircraft of the 20th Century. New York: Mallard Press, 1991.
Thetford, Owen. Aircraft of the Royal Air Force Since 1918. London: Putnam & Company, 1979.
Wagner, Ray. American Combat Planes of the 20th Century. Reno, Nevada: Jack Bacon & Company, 2004.



Extra pics:
Prototypes photos
On, colored
more color on

Model Kits

The Matchbox kit, that i made many, many years ago (long gone) at the time, produced in colored grapes, grey, yellow and blue.
Surprisingly despite its complete absence of operational service, the French SBC-4 were covered by Heller to 1/72 Here
General query on scalemates SBCs USMC VM151

Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver

Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger (1941)

Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger (1941)

USN aviation US Navy torpedo-bomber (1941-1968), 9,839 built

The well named “avenger”, Juggernaut of retribution

The Grumman TBF Avenger is the well-remembered, massive WW2 US Navy torpedo bomber of the USN. It was also at the time the largest and heaviest single-engine aircraft of the war. It forged an enviable reputation as the main stick of the fleet carrier force in 1942-45, insturmental in the Pacific Campaign. Developed quickly and adopted as fast by the USN, it never suffered the comparison with the ill-fated SBC Helldiver and was beloved by its pilot, although slow and ponderous.
Extremely rugged, this behemoth of a plane replaced with success the previous Douglas Devastator as planned, with flying colors, despite sufferinf the comparison with more advanced Japanese equivalents at the time. Coupled with the Hellcat or Wildcat on escort carriers, the war-winning design earned the nickname of “tough turkey”.
The Avenger shared credit for sinking the Yamato and Musashi, the cruiser Mogami, five aircraft carriers, many destroyers and 30 axis submarines. Greatly modified after the war, the Avenger still performed until the 1960s as an ASW patroller, well-exported. A legendary design, deserving a comprehensive study.

A replacement for the Devastator

TBF Avenger mid 42
TBF Avenger, mid 1942

With the Vindicator, the Devastator was the main USN torpedo bomber in service on carriers of the USN until after the battle of Midway in June 1942. Developed to replaced the TBD-1, already obsolescent in 1939 the Avenger was larger, with an engine almost twice as powerful and giving a bomb bay to use an improved aerial torpedo or bombs (1,500 kg). It proved also invaluable for reconnaissance with a camera and flares, and could do precisision bombing. It was one of the best aircraft of the American air fleet, extremely rugged, powerful, reasonably protected against gunfire, and well defended by a turret and belly MG gunner, it was also superbly resilient, a perfect complement of the equally rugged F6F Hellcat of the same manufacturer. The prototype first flew in 7 August 1941. It was introduced gradually in 1942 and replaced all older models (but not the Dauntless) at the end of 1942. It became the bedrock of the Essex class aircraft carriers as well.

Design development

The TBF Avenger emerged from the 1939 US Navy requirement to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator, which was in service from 1937 which advanced tech for the time, but now no longer relevant. It was indeed obsolete when the attack on Pearl Harbor comenced and was withdrawn in the months following, in 1942, then completely retired by 1944. In between, back in 1939, the USN determine the powerplant was the paramount factor for a replacement design and wanted the best and latest engine from Pratt & Whitney and Wright.

The requirement called for:
-A crew of three,
-A top speed of 480 KPH (300 MPH),
-A warload of one 900 kgs (2,000-pound) torpedo, or three 225 kgs (500-pound) bombs
-Internal bomb bay,
-Armor protection for the pilot and gunner,
-Self-sealing fuel tanks,
-Powered dorsal turret.
The finalists were Vought and Grumman. Vought delivered the XTBU-1 prototype, two being purchased and evaluated as well as two XTBF-1 Grumman prototypes. For the well-known company until then accustomed to lighter models, fighters, this was a daring first foray into heavy duty carrier planes. For this proposal, Leroy Grumman started from a blank page, just making a larger model, a conventional monoplane which could accomodate a large crew, all-metal. The whole project was elaborated in just five weeks, under the direction of chief engineer Bob Hall. Another “first” for Grumman was the design of an internal bomb/torpedo bay to help in aerodynamics qualities, while integrated a belly gunner. This was the task of Robert Koch. Former designer at General Electric, Oscar Olsen developed the electrically-powered dorsal turret. It invented notably for it the “Amplidyne” control able to cope with violent loads transfers in flight maneuvers; And the whole design made the turret lightning fast.

The final result was not appealing though, if rational, gaining in the company the nicknames of “Turkey” and “Pregnant Beast” or later “Chuff”. The final design incorporated a forward-firing 0.3-in M1919A4 placed on the right side of the nose and operated by the pilot but also the belly gunner 0.3-in Browning MG used by the bombardier when not on its task, and the main dorsal defensive 0.5-in heavy machine gun in the dorsal powered turret, which was the plane’s main rear protection.


Vought’s competitor XTBU-1 was good, but it’s development lingered between April 1940 to December 1941. By then it was too late for a production.
The US Navy looked at the Grumman design, despite the competition was good, as the Vought XTBU-1 was even more promising with some advanced tech, notably to facilitate the pilot’s work. However the latter had many issues due in part to its complexity and was not ready when the Navy needed it. Moreover, the company was already struggling to fulfil orders for the F4U Corsair and could not give any date for a production start. That was the main issue there.

The Avenger was chosen by default, and a reorganization assigned the TBY project to Consolidated. The latter was not in a hurry to complete it, and the project evolved as a potential replacement for the Avenger, the Navy adding now requirements and modifications. The programme lingered up to such a point the final TBY Seawolf ended with only 181 built in 1944-45 before being cancelled.

Grumman being the earliest, and with the most promising rapid development was declared the winner wit an order placed by the USN for 286 aircraft, on April 8th, 1940 before the prototype had even flown. This was done in August 1st, 1941. The XTBF-1 had its maiden flight piloted by engineer Bob Hall, equipped at the time with the Wright R-2600-8 14-cylinder Cyclone radial, just completed, capable of 1,700 horsepower. This info was passed to the Navy which was reassured in its risky bet. The need was so pressing for a reliable production machine that the USN confirmed the order but the initial procurement was later modified to appear more conventional and open. However the flight was not perfect. Bob Hall reported the aircraft suffered badly from yaw instability, and the flight was somewhat hair-raising… Many fixes were made, including a tail-dorsal fin on the second prototype, absent on the first (see later). Also the prototype failed to meet the top speed, being about 10% less than Navy spec, although performing well in all others.

Development of the prototypes went on. On November 28th, 1941 one XTBF-1 crashed, but fortunately Bob Hall and Gordon Israel had parachutes. Later the investigation nailed the electrical wiring, which caused a fire in the bomb bay. The remainder XTBF-1 prototype completed all its test flights, helping ironing out all located defaults, until the pre-production models would be manufactured. Notably, the production model’s tailfin featured a sizeable fin fillet to correct the yaw instability problem. The opening ceremony of the company new facility coincided with the very day of the Japanese attack, famously. The TBF was later officially accepted by the navy, with the Grumman’s code.

Design of the Grumman TBF Avenger

A bit like the Hellcat, the TBF looked brutish. It was not to win any beauty contests, but became perhaps one of the best torpedo bombers of the second world war, with the unassuming Swordfish and Italian Sparviero as perhaps equals in reputation. Like the Hellcat again, it had its very large engine and a bulky fuselage to accomodate both a belly gunner and large bomb bay, and procure good visibility to the pilot. It had a tremendous reliability and resilience, combined with enough adaptability and modularity to perform a large panel of missions over the years, explaining it largely out-did its potential successors, but the Douglas AD.

The Design the Grumman team choose for such short notice was conventional. The team embarking on a brand new type did not wanted to add many innovations on top of this. It just stuck to comply with the requirements. The TBF Avenger notably had wide-area wings, in fact the largest span of any USN plane in service for many years. It was also the largest and heaviest single engine model ever deployed on a an aircraft carrier, in any navy to that point. The stout fuselage had an oval section, semi-monocoque construction with stressed duralumin skin.

Fuselage design

The forward cowling barely housed the massive and powerful radial engine coupled with a classic Hamilton three-bladed propeller (see later). The cockpit, like for the Hellcat, was voluntarily placed high atop the deep fuselage for better visibility, but this contributed to the bulky appearance, in stark contrast with the nimble Vought XTBU-1.
The typical “greenhouse” could all three crewmembers, and covered about 1/3 of the fuselage lenght. There were seated position for three crewmen seated inline: The pilot forward, the bombardier/belly gunner/navigator, and the rear turret gunner (see later for details). The lower fuselage had aft vision ports for the bombardier while housing additional equipment, lifeboat, flares, survival gear. Production models differed by the frame numbers, especially for the pilot’s canopy, sometimes divided, or deleted frames.

Wings, tail, landing gear, hook

Controls: The distinct empennage to the rear had a bump and the tail section on top, the latter being of conventional layout. Like previous Grumman models, wings, tail and rudders were all squarish. The main wing assembly was mounted in a low-mid position, straight with some dihedral past the landing gear.
Sto-Wing folding axle seen in detail on the F6F Hellcat.

Wings: Both were massive and thus power-foldered using the same system pioneered by Grumman, “Sto-Wing” diagonal axis pivoting system, and sitting flat up against the fuselage, saving much space.

Undercarriage: It was classic, with good span to ensure stability, but much reinforced compared to previous models with two main landing gear legs retracting under wing, away from the fuselage centerline. It used a taildragger landing gear, with all three gear retractable.
The TBF also had a retractable tail wheel. The forward panel protection of the undercarriage, which acted as trap door when shut in the wells, could double as airbrakes when dive bombing.

Arrestor hook: The stinger-type arrestor hook emerging from the fuselage rear tip was electrically-powered and lowered when landing but simplified, later production versions had a simpler external hook.

Bomb Bay: Its generous, 2-panels bomb bay had room to spare for the torpedo, and could accomodate various payloads, like a tailored auxiliary bomb bay fuel tank for long ferry flights, as asked by the Navy. This 1023 liters tank could be jettison in flight, was not self-sealing and generally drained first. This could be completed by the underwings smaller tanks. However during support mission, it was not rare using this bomb bay to drop supply packs or canisters to ground troops.

Power: The wing fold, main landing gear, bomb bay doors, and flaps were all hydraulically actuated. The main control surfaces however were hand-controlled, and so required considerable amount of muscle in some compartments of flight. Pilots complained the TBF “behave like a truck”. But it was very stable.

Crew Roles


The pilot was complemented by the turret and belly gunners, but only the latter multiple duties and swapping locations on board. For the pilot, vision forward was excellent, being on an upwards slope and ahead of the wing leading edges. The turret gunner was basically seating in his position for the entire flight. The crew entered the fuselage via a starboard side hinged door, and all proceed as they could to their designated seats, being “stuck” in place during long hours. Only the jack of all trades radioman had some leeway inside the fuselage. When gatting rid of everything inside that did not compromised flight safety, the fuselage appeared roomy enough to enable a certain Wellington Smith to reach a record by carrying 17 pilots plus himself, into a TBM, flying from from Holtville in California to Naval Air Facility El Centro. Some transport versions were later built to carry VIPs and personal across aircraft carriers (see later).

Cockpit view

Belly Gunner/Bombardier/Navigator

The MG gunner doubled as navigator, and had three positions inside the large fuselage: He was seated behind the pilot during flight to communicate more easily about the road taken and coordination with the rest of the squadron, but can double as bombardier, belly gunner and camera operator, aiming the bombs or torpedoes.
The bombardier had a folding seat to quickly swap to the lower fuselage posting, both managing its bombardier/torpedo roles in the front section, or manage on the rear section the defensive machine gun under the tail section.
The belly gunner had to provide navigation, bomb aiming, but also acted as radio: The generous radio equipment filled the “greenhouse” canopy, up to the rear of the pilot. They could be repaired via a “tunnel” along the right hand side. The space taken could be replaced by an extra seat, so four could be housed in the greenhouse on modern models.

Interior, Belly Gunner/Bombardier post as seen from the access trap.

Tail Gunner

The dorsal, rear turret gunner did not swapped positions, being stuck at its post on a dedicated fixed seat, under a rounded framed enclosure. They were to defend it when in its most vulnerable, during an attack run. Unlike past torpedo bombers, the turret was a tour de force. Common on larger bomber, it was still rare on single-engine models. The British already “opened the ball” with models such as Fairey TurretDemon biplane, the Boulton-Paul Defiant in the RAF and Blackburn Roc in the FAA, both proving inept concepts in wartime. Why Grumman decided to go for this solution ? Simply the USN at the time looked at these applications and this was prewar, seeing an innovation worthy of adoption, wrote it down in the specifications, and Grumman had to comply. It’s why it was also used on the Vought TBU (later TBY Seawolf).

Fortunately, while the forward armament of the pilot reinforced (inexistant at first on both British models), the Grumman turret proved good enough to compensate. The chief engineer in charge put forward the turret traverse speed and elevation as paramount to cope with the speed differential with existant and upcoming fighters.


The Avenger used the “twin Cyclone” Wright Wright R-2600, declined into miltiple variants. It reached 1700 hp, and was also used by the Brewster SB2A Buccaneer, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and F6F Hellcat prototypes. As the name indicated it was a 14-cylinder supercharged, doube rown, air-cooled radial with a 6+1⁄8 in (155.6 mm) bore, 6+5⁄16 in (160.3 mm) stroke, displacing 2,604 cu in (42.7 L). The engine block was 62.06 in (1,576 mm) long for 55 in (1,397 mm) in diameter, for a dry weight of 2,045 lb (928 kg). It used for valvetrain two pushrod-actuated valves per cylinder, with sodium-cooled exhaust valve.
It was also fitted with a single-stage two-speed centrifugal type supercharger (11 in diameter) with a blower ratio of 7.06:1 (slow regime) up to 10.06:1 (high).
The Fuel system used Stromberg PR48A downdraft carburetor, with automatic mixture control. A task the pilot had no longer to worry about. The oil system used a dry sump, with one pressure pump and two scavenge pumps. This power was passed onto classic three bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller.

The prototype flew in August 1941 with R-2600-8, while the later XTBF-2 tested the P&W 1,900 hp (1,400 kW) XR-2600-10 and the XTBF-3 had the R-2600-20 engine, with the same output, and the XTBM-3 flew with R-2600-20 engine with a regime of 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) and 1,900 hp (1,420 kW) depending of the altitude. It became standard for GM production.

Fuel and Oil: The basic internal capacity was 330 US gal (275 imp gal; 1,249 l), in three center-section integral tanks. In addition, the Avenger could be equipped with two 58 US gallons (48 imp gal; 220 l) droppable slipper tanks, under the outer wings. There was even, but only for ferry flights, or when armed with rockets only, an option to install a jettisonable 275 US gallons (229 imp gal; 1,041 l) tank in the bomb-bay.


The performances of the TBF Avenger (R2600-8) procuring a Power/mass ratio of 0.11 hp/lb (0.18 kW/kg) were the following: Top speed: 278 mph (447 km/h, 242 kn) at low level, cruise speed of 215 mph (346 km/h, 187 kn), service ceiling of 22,600 ft (6,900 m), climb rate of 1,075 ft/min (5.46 m/s). To compare this was 391 mph (629 km/h, 340 kn) top speed and 2,600 ft/min (13 m/s) climb rate for the Hellcat, so double. The Avenger’s massive fuselage understandably created a lot of drag. Range was 905 mi (1,456 km, 786 nmi) at cruise speed, with only its internal fuel tanks, less than the Zero and even the Hellcat (945 mi).

It was not supremely agile, but was very stable and generally reliable, without any vice so rookie pilot friendly. The could operate without escort but its defensive armament was not enough to protect it. Escorting Hellcats were mandatory. Escort carrier sailors nicknamed it the “turkey” compared to the Hellcat. But its was a “tough turkey” as all crews recoignised. Unlike past torpedo bombers, it stood a balanced chance.



The pilot at first had a single synchronized .30 caliber (7.62 mm) M1919 machine gun in the nose. A single defensive .50 caliber (12.7 mm) of the perforated short barrel was mounted close to the turret gunner’s head in the rear electrically powered turret. A third one, 0.30 caliber M1919, hand-fired was placed on a flexible mount underbelly to defend the always vulnerable below tail angle. For this, the radioman/bombardier had to bend over in the belly, swapping positions from his usual folding bench, facing forward, to operate the radio and bomb sight.
But soon pilot’s complaints had the sinle 0.3 removed and replaced by two Browning AN/M2 0.5 cal. light-barrel in each wing, outboard of the propeller arc. This also added to the Avenger’s strafing ability.
The rear turret was a marvel of engineering for the time, different from aother’s manufacturer’s solutions. Designed by Oscar Olsen, his concept of using amplidynes—electromechanical amplifiers to rotate it was a breakthrough. His system used miniaturized components, tailor-built by GE on Olsen’s plans. They turned out to be ideal to provide a rapid and consistent movement. There were plans to upgrade the turret from one to a twin mount, but the space aboard prevented it ultimately. The gunner controlled the turret with a pistol grip and its trigger, with a reflector sight and backup iron sight for targeting. He was protected like the pilot, by an armored seat, armored sides and armored glass. To escape when ditching, there was a small trap on his “fish bowl”.

Mark 13 Torpedo

The Avenger had a large bomb bay, allowing for a single Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo. This ordnance had a reputation or unreliability mirroring the larger Mark 14, as shown during the disastrous attack at Midway, when 35 out of 41 torpedo bombers that dropped their payload failed to score a single hit, while being lost in action. Throughout 1942, other actions showed a well below average hit probability due to a faulty proximity system. At first designed by BuAer and BuOrd, the first were tested and manufactured at the US Naval Torpedo Station, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) at Goat Island, off Newport, Rhode Island. Problems were fully ironed out by 1944, but by then already, the concept of torpedo bomber was seen as obsolescent. In all until 1945, some 16,600 Mk.13 torpedoes were cranked up by multiple plants (Pontiac Motor Division, Amertorp Corporation, International Harvester), declined into the Mod 1, 2, 2A.
The Mark 13 could reach 6,300 yards (5.8 km), carrying a Warhead Torpex of 600 Ibs/270 Kgs (Mod 2) and using for the latter a Mk 8 contact exploder.
This model was also operated by the Helldiver and by PT-Boats.

Mark 24 (Fido) Torpedoes

The 2,000 lb (907 kg) Mark 24 mine (Fido) acoustic homing torpedo was a late addition and replacement for the improved Mark 13 in 1942. The concept of a “homing” torpedo in the US emerged well before news from the German progresses with the Falke T-4 and Zaunkönig T-5 torpedoes arrived in 1943. This ultimately led to a submarine-based MK28 acoustic torpedo in 1944. But another lighter and shorter model was designed for aerial launch. The design started by late 1941 and was ready by late 1942. About 4,000 were produced for a total order of 10,000. The “fido” weighted 680 pounds (310 kg) for 84 inches (2.1 m) and 19 inches (48 cm) diameter, so on paper two could fit in the Avenger’s bomb bay, but in pratice this was generally only one.
The Mark 24 “mine” was slow but agile, it could reach 4,000 yards (3.7 km) underwater and carried a HBX 92 Ib (42 kg) Warhead trigerred by a Mk 142 fuze with contact exploder. It was successful in about 22% attacks. 264 attacks were launched with this weapon on all fronts, 340 dropped, mostly performed by Avengers. 31 U-Boats, 15 damaged, 6 sunk for IJN submarines, 18 damaged.


The bomb bay open
The bomb bay open
The TBF/TBM could carry a single 2,000-pound (907 kg) bomb, four 500-pound (227 kg) bombs. These were standard USN Navy ordnance with contact exploders. The Avenger used generally strafing or level-flight tactics for bombings, but it was rugged enough for short dives, keeping safety margins. It was rugged enough but this depended of the experience and condifence of the pilot. This was not recommended anyway. Boms were naturally imprecise, so rockets became a favorite from 1944.
Bombing with the Avenger was by default using the glide-bomb approach which for the pilot was two-handed between the stick and retrimming, but it stabilized well for clean and accurate drops. This also made conversrly for a very stable 78-knot carrier approach with good visibility over the nose.

The bombardier was helped in his task by its famous Norden bombsight, however in that case soon useless. It was geared towards high-altitude level bombing and noted these slanted approaches, but bureaucracy and inertia had the supply of this going on (and often dismounted). The bombsight was linked to an autopilot system (“Stabilized Bombing Approach Equipment”) used for long flights and releaving the pilot from his heavy flight controls.
Usually the bombardier used a direct calculation from his small, slanted window peering into the dark bomb bay, which when opened provided a view down ahead between bombs. Drops were controlled by the pilot however, controlling the heading, airspeed altitude and distance and using his reflector gunsight above the instrument panel. This in fact made the multitasking bombardier/radioman/belly gunner redundant on the long run, especially when the Avenger was rarely used for torpedo runes anymore but in the ground attack role. It was limited to a two-men crew.


Up to eight 3.5-Inch (89 mm) Forward Firing Aircraft Rockets, 5-inch (127 mm) Forward Firing Aircraft Rockets or High Velocity Aerial Rockets. The first FFARs were developed in 1942, in service from June 1943, and the srelatively small (3.5-inch diameter) coupled with a non-explosive warhead, was meant for Anti-Submarine Warfare: The goal was puncturing the hull of an U-Boat. Later, a 5-inch anti-aircraft shell was attached to the rocket motor creating the 5-Inch FFAR (December 1943). It was slow by then down to 780 km/h (485 mph) and thus was developed the High Velocity Aircraft Rocket (HVAR). The later was for many years the staple of USN/USAAF heavy airbone rocket: 134 pounds (61 kg) for 68 inches (173 cm) in lenght, carrying a 7.5 Ib (3.4 kg) TNT/Comp B 45.5 pounds (20.6 kg) warhead, and solid propellant rocket motor using ballistite, extruded to reach 1,375 feet per second (419 m/s), cumulated with the aircraft’s speed. These rockets saw action in WW2, Korea and Vietnam.

Depth charges

Aerial depht charges were naturally smaller and lighter than standard ships ones.
It is less well known, but he Avenger could also carry out smoke laying missions, to conceal individual ships. A smoke tank was designed indeed to fit into the bom bay. Having 2000 Ib smoke in liquid form discharged by a dispenser meant a fairly large smoke curtain. Many tests had been done in the interwar and this tactic was still sued in some occasions.

Rendition of the TBF

⚙ specifications

Weight, Empty: 15,536 lb (7,047 kg)
Combat Weight, max: ????
Fuselage Lenght: 40 ft 1⁄8 in (12.195 m)
Wingspan: 54 ft 2 in (16.51 m), or 19 ft (5.8 m) folded
Tail Height: 16 ft 5 in (5.00 m)
Wing area: 490 sq ft (46 m2)
Airfoil: root: NACA 23015; tip: NACA 23009
Propeller: Wright-Hamilton three-bladed Standard constant-speed
Propulsion: Wright R-2600-8 Twin Cyclone 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,700 hp (1,300 kW)
Fuel/Oil capacity: 330 US gal in 3 center-section tanks, 32 US gal oil tank
Additional Fuel: 2x 58 US gal droppable slipper tanks, outer wings, jettisonable 275 US gal bomb-bay
Top Speed: 278 mph (447 km/h, 242 kn)
Range: 905 mi (1,456 km, 786 nmi) at cruise speed
Armament: 2x 0.3 M1919 in fwd and ventral, 1x 0.5 in M2 tail, 2000 Ib bombs, Mk13 Torpedo, Mines, 8x FFAR or HVAR
Crew: 3, see notes

Production: From TBF to TBM

On the afternoon of 7 December 1941, Grumman held a ceremony. A new manufacturing plant was opened officially and shown to the public. Little did they knew Pearl Harbor would happened at the same time, “earlier” in time far away. As the ceremony ended, guards arrived and the plant sealed off to avoid sabotage. It started work, tailored for the new “Avenger” (officially named in October 1941, but the press liked the idea this was that December day), and by June 1942 already, the first 100 TBF rolled of the line.
The BF-1C succeeded the former TBF-1 with wing-mounted fuel tanks doubling its range and thus, giving longer “legs” to USN commanders to perform missions while keeping task force safer from harm. By 1943, production bottlenecks caused by the new F6F Hellcat, taking the bulk of Grumman’s production pushed Grumman to start to phase out Avenger production and ask the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors to take over production, changing the acronym to TBM in a new plant in Ewing, New Jersey. Similar arrangement had been made with the F4F Wildcat.

To achieve this transition, with the suspension by federal order of normal peacetime licencing rules, Grumman was obliged to send all blueprints and delivered a complete TBF-1, held together with sheet metal screws for the automotive engineers to disassemble it fully and “reverse engineering” it. But Ford being Ford, they redesigned the aircraft, tailored for automotive style production. This meant notably many simplification of design, without loosing the assential qualities. This meant faster processes and lower cost overall. Just like for the GM Wildcat, produced until 1945 despite it’s age and filling the numerous escort carriers of the USN and Royal Navy (where they were called the “Martlet” and “Tarpon” and retook their original name in 1944-45 in the Pacific with the BPF.

Pre-production models

Early production model in april 1942
The very first production TBF-1 made its maiden flight on January, 3, 1942. Its first test operation checked all USN boxes, earning a global “very satisfactory” report, and with little changes if any for the finalized production, which was quite rare for a model design so quickly. Especially compared to the Vought Model, it was unheard of in the industry, even by wartime. By late July 1942, Grumman reported its first 100 deliveries, many still with the peacetime markings (white star with central red roundel, even for the earliest, a white and red tail).
USN group VT-8 was the first to receive this initial batch by January 1942, based on USS Hornet, first of the name (CV-8), still alive at the time. She departed to train on the the east coast of the US before heading with this rookie air group to the Pacific, and specifically to deliver them on Midway Island. After this, regular production models arrived (see later) and improvements were also on the way.



Production in wartime and the first combat reports led to increase the forward armament radically, pilots having sometimes missed opportunities, and during production two cal.50 (12.7mm) Browning M1920 heavy machine guns was added to the wings, fed in all with 1,200 rounds. This revision was made on the asembly line, as the TBF-1C. Thus retroactively the models not modified were redesignated TBF-1B.

TB-1B/Tarpon Mk.I/Avenger Mk.I

They were intended for Lend-Lease (Fleet Air Arm). They arrived in Britain as the “Tarpon Mk I” modified to include British-required gear. At some point in 1943 they were redesignated “Avenger Mk I” for better allied coordination.

Quick reminder:

XTBF-1: Prototypes, 1,700 hp P&W (1,300 kW) R-2600-8 engine, large dorsal fin for N°2
TBF-1: Pre-production and Initial production model (1,526 built)
TBF-1C: Two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) wing guns, fuel increased to 726 US gal (2,748 l). (765 built)
TBF-1B: Paper designation for Royal Navy Tarpon/Avenger Mk.I.
TBF-1D: TB-1 Conversion with centimetric radar, right wing radome.
TBF-1CD: Same but for the TBF-1C.
TBF-1E: Conversions with additional electronic equipment.
TBF-1J: Bad weather/night operations equipment and setting
TBF-1L: Retractable searchlight installed in the bomb bay for night operations.
TBF-1P: Photo-reconnaissance conversion for older TBF-1s
TBF-1CP: Same conversion for the TBF-1C
XTBF-2: Single TBF-1 re-engined with the P&W 1,900 hp (1,400 kW) XR-2600-10, prototype.
XTBF-3: Same with the R-2600-20 engine (same output as the 2600-10), prototype.
TBF-3: Paper production version of the XTBF-3 cancelled as it was passed onto GM.

General Motors Avengers

Avengers from VT-28 taking off fril the Independence fleet carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26) in June 1944
Avengers from VT-28 taking off fril the Independence fleet carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26) in June 1944

The Redesigned model which arrived wit instructions was known internally as “P-K Avenger”, standing for “Parker-Kalon”: Grumman facilitated the process of serially built the Avenger by GM, by delivering to the new East­ern facilities a special model assembled entirely with sheet-metal screws (from Parker-Kalon Corp.) for quick disassembly/reassembly. Grumman had doubts even that GM could pull it out, but the latter managed to largely out-do the New York company by producting 7,500 TBM (“M” standing for (general)”Motors”), versus 3,000 for Grumman. This was however still below Ford expectation, largely due to the difficult swap from car to aircraft production, betwee smaller tolerances, compexity, and constant in-line upgrades. But GM generally proved Grumman wrong, as Leroy allegedly said he would be surprised if Ford managed to built a single one…

TBM-1: GM production of the TBF-1. (550 built)
TBM-1C: GL production of the TBF-1C. (2,336 built)
TBM-1D: Convertion to centimetric radar, right wing radome (TBF-1D)
TBM-1E: Additional electronic equipment, as TBF-1E.
TBM-1J: All weather operations like TBF-1J
TBM-1L: Retractable searchlight, bomb bay, as TBF-1L
TBM-1P/1CP Photo-reconnaissance, same as TBF-1P/1CP
TBM-2: TBM-1 re-engined with 1,900 hp XR-2600-10 engine (single test model).
XTBM-3 Four TBM-1C prototypes, R-2600-20 engines.
There was no production TBM-2.


TBM-3 taking of from USS Makin (CVE-93), 1945
From mid-1944, the TBM-3 started production, fitted with a more powerful engine and extra wing hardpoints for drop tanks and rockets, further increasing range and capabilities. The last model, with further simplifications, the “dash-3” became by far the most produced of all Avengers, with circa 4,600 delivered until 1945, but at that date, they did not reached active units of the TF 38/58, which operated the dash-1 still by the summer of 1945. They were used mostly for ground attack by then, with bombs and rockets.
TBM-3:s TBM-1C with new engine and double cooling intakes and minor changes. (4,011 built)
TBM-3D: Same, with centimetric radar, right wing radome.
TBM-3E: Stronger airframe plus search radar and no ventral gun. (646 built).
TBM-3H: Surface search radar conversion.
TBM-3J: All weather operations variant
TBM-3L: Bomb Bay retractable searchlight
TBM-3M: “Tiny Tim” rocket launcher conversion underwing.
TBM-3N: Dedicated night attack version.
TBM-3P: Photo-reconnaissance version.
TBM-3Q: Electronic countermeasures version (very first USN type) with gun turret.
TBM-3R: 7 passenger transport conversion for carrier use.
TBM-3S: Dedicated anti-submarine (ASW) version (postwar).
TBM-3U: General utility/target version (postwar).
TBM-3W: Airborne early warning control/relay platform, AN/APS-20 radar (cold war).


The last planned version was the TBM-4, with nearly 40 variants planned, but it was cancelled after V-Day in the summer of 1945.
The XTBM-4 were three prototypes based on TBM-3E (Surface search radar) but the modified wing had a reinforced center section and new folding mechanism to allow a better way to not damage the radome and stay compact. The TBM-4 was the cancelled production version, with 2,141 initially ordered.

Total Production by Grumman and General Motors combined reached 9,836 or 9,839 planes depending of the sources and inclusion of prototypes. This was a large pool providing sells to other navies postwar, and added to this, many modifications were made after the war, with full modernizations in the fifties, notably as a dedicated ASW search and destroy plane which equipped many navies until the 1960s. A remarkable achievement for the model designed and adopted so quickly. Happy customers and users post war were Brazil, Cuba, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.

Combat use (USN)

The first 100 delivered in May-June were assigned to three carriers out of Pearl Harbor in December, constantly engaged afterwards, and thus not resupplying their air park, “used to the bone”. They missed thus the Battle of Midway, with an exception. The beginnings of the Avenger were an attack on Tulagi, May 4, 1942, before the battle of Coral Sea, they targeted ships of the Japanese “B” invasion fleet.

Early Operations: Midway and the Solomons Campaign

Surviving VT-8 TBF-1, 24 June 1942.
Six TBF-1s based on Midway Island in VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8) would participate, alongside worn out Devastators landed from USS Hornet. Both types equally suffered heavy casualties, arrived in penny packet and facing a formidable Japanese combined combat air patrol: Five were shot down and the sole survivor returned so heavily damaged (with one gunner killed, the rest of the crew wounded), it was written off after quick inspection. That was a good test of their ruggedness though. Greater numbers of Devastators were sent off, none returned.
Author Gordon Prange argued that the use of the old Devastator somewhat spoiled the “Miracle at Midway” and that complete victory could have been achieved if Avengers would have replaced them, although it’s really dive bombers that saved the day here. The lack of succes of US torpedo bombers in 1942 and even up to late 1943 combined inexperienced pilots, lack of fighter cover, and poor aerial torpedoes as explanation. Later these points were fixed and the Avenger could show its true potential being unleashed in many battles and operations.

Avengers in flight in late 1942

On 24 August 1942, Avengers showed their worth at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons from USS Saratoga and Enterprise: 24 TBFs sank the light carrier Ryūjō and shot down a “Val“, for the loss of seven.
Next, Avengers from both the Marine Corps and Navy participated in the 1st Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942, finished off IJN Hiei, crippled during a night fight.

ASW role in the Pacific and Atlantic

Their traditional surface role or torpedo attackers was complmented by a recoignised ASW role: Collectively, Avengers and Tarpons claimed for the allies around 30 submarine kills, mostly U-Boats but also several Japanese, like the I-52. They were recoignised very effective sub-killers in the Pacific as well as in the Atlantic from escort carriers. And when they did not sunk their preys, they obliged U-Boat to dive, allowing escorts to steam ahead to catch them, by forcing them to keep their head underwater. With their far greater range compared to the Wildcats they also provided air cover for the convoys, often spotting first and reporting surfaced U-Boats.

Late operations (Island hopping)

One distinguished Avenger pilot was a future president: In June 1943 (not even aged 19), George H. W. Bush was commissioned as the youngest naval aviator of the time, flying a TBM in VT-51, based on the Independence class USS San Jacinto. He was shot down on 2 September 1944 close to Chichi Jima, hitting the radio tower target as expected and bailing out. His crewmates died but he was eventually rescued by USS Finback, receiving a DFC for his action.
Another famous Avenger pilot was future actor Paul Newman, a rear gunner which did not qualify as pilot, being color blind. He operated from the escort carrier USS Hollandia in the last days of the war, being 500 mi (800 km) of Hiroshima when the A Bomb was dropped.

Grumman TBF-1 Avenger of VT-5
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger of VT-5 about to take off from USS Yorktown (CV-10), circa late 1943.
After the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” Admiral Marc Mitscher scrambled a combined air force of 220-aircraft to catch the IJN task force. About 300 nmi (560 km) away Hellcats, TBF/TBMs, and dive bombers found them and attack, taking many casualties, and many -especially the fighters- never returning or landing by night in perilous conditions. Avengers from Independence-class USS Belleau Wood claimed IJN Hiyō.
Another operation of note was operation Ten Go: Avengers helped sinking the super battleships Musashi and Yamato, but they were in all operations from the reconquest of the Solomons to the Mariannas, the Philippines, and up to Iwo Jima, Okinawa, raids on Formosa, and summer 1945 final raids on Kyushu and the home island in general.
In 1944, the same Avengers, equipped with homing torpedoes in the Pacific, started to attack enemy submarines and made quite a tally, starting with I-56 in the Indian Ocean.

The Atlantic Campaign

Another aspect of the big bird which is often overlooked is about the Battle of the Atlantic: It concerns moslty the fleet air arm which deployed the Tarpon Mk.I from most of its escort carriers, in ASW escort missions, where it was found quite acceptable. Most of the 30 submersibles sunk by the Avenger were German U-Boats. But in reality this “hunting board” is deceiptive as many more were co-claimed by surface ships. The tactic used was simple: Avengers armed with rockets and depht charges would spot, attack a surfaced U-Boats, report it to the fastest escort vessels, generally destroyers, keeping it all the way “the head underwater” by dropping depht charges. When submerged, the U-Boat crawled to a mere eight knots (for the VIIC) and thus, a hunter killer group could despatch 30-kts destroyers, leaving regular convoy escorts (mostly Destroyer Escort, frigates and corvettes) in close-in defence.

Camouflage research:

Modified TBM Avengers researched a counter-illumination camouflage. They were fitted with Yehudi lights, forward-pointing which were automatically adjusted to match the sky’s brightness and create an active concealment. This was a form of early “stealth” only valid for the guns operators since radars could pick them up anuway. But they no longer appeared as dark shapes which was quite useful for their slow, low flying torpedo runes. This was the result of the Canadian navy’s diffused lighting camouflage research. It showcased a modified TBM arriving to 3,000 yards (2,700 m) of an oberver before being seen, which was the ideal rocket launching range. This however came too late in the war for mass production.

Other Operators of the Avenger

Fleet Air Arm

The Avenger became the Tarpon in Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm service. The British Admiralty test pilot Roy Sydney Baker-Falkner was the first to fly it at RAF Boscombe Down in 1942. When the FAA started to operate in the pacific, like the Wildcat, narmed Martlet, the name “Tarpon” was discontinued, “Avenger” used instead for the sake of interoperability and communication standards. The first 402 TBFs delivered by lend-lease became thus in 1944 the “Avenger Mk I”, followed by 334 TBM-1s called “Avenger Mk II”, and 334 TBM-3 as the Mk III.
The first Aven­ger for the Fleet Air Arm arrived early in 1943, also piloted by Eric “Winkle” Brown. He found its spun rapidly and dangerously if anti-spin controls were not pulled in time. Thus went stright into the flying manual, pilots from there were informed to avoid intentional spins.
They operated, despite their large size, on various aircraft carriers, notably the entire Archer and Attacker class, related to the US-built Bogue class.

Outside escort carriers, FAA Avengers also served with fleet carriers. They operated in the Indian Ocean, notably working out in cooporative training during operation ‘CLUB RUNS’, renamed “avenger”, and put to the test during Operations Meridian I & II against Japan’s remaining oil refineries. Later they took part in various cooporative exercizes in the Pacific, forming Task Force 57, and deployed during Operations ICEBERG I, ICEBERG OOLONG, ICEBERG Redux and ICEBERG II. I sincerely hope that will have a go on the Avenger to expose the FAA side of the story more in detail.

Some Avenger still served on the European theater, mostly those from land bases on the British Isles and from escort carriers. A most unusual and interesting kill was shooting down a V-1 flying bomb on 9 July 1944, which was close enough at some point to an FAA Avenger for Telegraphist Air Gunner, Leading Airman Fred Shirmer (from the dorsal one) fired from 700 yards (640 m) and managed to cripple either its engine or wing, since it veered and crashed. Shirmer would go to the BPF and earn a DSM for Operation Meridian at Palembang. In January 1945 he managed indeed to shot down a rare Nakajima Ki-44 “Tojo” in low level combat over the jungle. The FAA also made tests to try new weapons, such as the Highball “bouncing bomb” (codename Tammany Hall), and trials were performed by three modified Avengers, but without much success.
Deliveries and variants includes:
-Tarpon GR.I: Early TBF-1 initial transfer of 400.
Avenger Mk.II: TBM-1/TBM-1C models, with 334 transferred.
Avenger Mk.III: British TBM-3 (222 delivered)
Avenger Mk.IV: british TBM-3S (70 ordered, then cancelled)
Avenger AS4: British TBM-3E, only delivered postwar, used until replacement in the late 1950s
Avenger AS5: British TBM-3S, also postwar, but modified with British equipment
Avenger AS6: TBM-3S, British equipment and new centrline radome. 100 AS5/6 delivered by 1953.

RNZAF: Royal New Zealand Air Force

The only other operator in World War II was the Royal New Zealand Air Force which used the type primarily as a bomber, equipping Nos. 30 and 31 Squadrons, with both operating from South Pacific island bases during 1944 in support of the Bougainville campaign. Some of the Avengers were later transferred to the British Pacific Fleet.
In 1945, Avengers were involved in pioneering trials of aerial topdressing in New Zealand that led to the establishment of an industry which markedly increased food production and efficiency in farming worldwide. Pilots of the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 42 Squadron spread fertilizer from Avengers beside runways at Ohakea Air Base and provided a demonstration for farmers at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand.[21][page needed]
Postwar, Avengers were still operated for years in the No. 30, 31, 41 and 42 Squadrons of the RNZAF.

Cold War Operators

Both the USN and USMC still operated the Avenger for some more years, notably in specialized ASW variants such as the TBM-3W. One incident became a popular mystery, still unresolved today in the infamous “bermuda triangle”: This was the entire disappearance of training Flight 19, five TBM-3s Avengers from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, lost in December 1945. No trace of the missing aicraft was ever found, fuelling much conspiracy theories. This was featured in Spieleberg’s movie “encounters of the third kind” among others, and generated a lot of literrature.

The cold war FAA use

British Pacific Fleet Avenger II from HMS Victorious
British Pacific Fleet Avenger II from HMS Victorious, late 1944
Regular Avenger Mk.I-III were gradually retired after the war, but in 1953, the Royal Navy starting to acquire anti-submarine warfare versions under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP). These were designated Avenger AS Mk IV or AS Mk V, used in the ASW role until the arrival of the Fairey Gannet from 1955. From there, they were exported still under MDAP to France, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Canada: The RCNAF

RCAN Avenger ExCC ASW with MAD system, 1950
Canada became a primary user of the model, using 125 surplus aircraft (TBM-3E conversion) in 1950-1952, replacing the Fairey Firefly. However the RCAN was just swapping its naval policy way from anti-submarine warfare (ASW) so they were soon reconverted. 98 were overhauled and received a brand new ASW suite: The radar and the electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems as well as sonobuoys were new, the dorsal turret removed and replaced by an clean plexiglas observation canopy, designated AS 3.

Of these, a good number recveiced the new US magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), a boom located on the left side of the fuselage, redesignated AS 3M. In addition only eight Avenger Mk.3W2 (TBM-3W) were converted. In 1954 the admiralty however voted for its retirement and gradual replacement by the more tailored, roomier, long range Grumman S-2 Tracker for North Atlantic patrols. Deliveries only started from 1957, while Avengers were gradually retired and reassigned to training duties, the first retired from July 1960.

Other Operators


The Brazilian Naval Air Force adopted the Avenger, operating three in ASW role in the 1950s, but inly for training on the Aircraft Carrier Minas Gerais (A-11).


Seven TBM-3S2 were purchased in 1956 for the Cuban Navy, but they were retired by 1960.


Also using the Grumman Hellcat and Bearcat in Indochina, France adopted postwar the Avenger. The Aéronavale operated the 143 they received between four carriers and bases, of four types: Model 3E with rear turret, Model 53 for ASW research, 3S for ASW strike, Model 3W for radar detection, search and navigation. After the 143 from the US, 27 were delivered from UK od the AS Mark.4 type for spare part. The 4.F flotilla was the first equipped in 1951. Three flotillas 4.F, 6.F and 9.F flew the TBMs, which operated in pairs as the 3W detected subs, the 3S attacked. In all, 4.F, 6.F, 9.F, 3.S, 5.S, 10.S, 15.S, 54.S, 56.S. used them, the last one was retired in 1965. The TBM was replaced by the Breguet 1050 Alize.


Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operated Hunter-Killer Avengers groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

Royal Netherlands Navy

The RNN or Dutch Naval Aviation Service, operated the Avenger in the 1950s.


The Nicaraguan Air Force used the Avenger


The Uruguayan Navy operated 16 TBF Avengers in 1949-1963.

In Civilian use

Some Avengers continued earning their keep until more than sixty years after their debut. Until recently, at least one aerial firefighting operation used Avengers as firebombers and/or fire spotters over Canada. Many ended in the caring hands of collectors and warbird museums.
Among other uses, most were converted as spray-applicators and water-bombers in North America, with the greatest concentration in New Brunswick. The Forest Protection Limited (FPL) of Fredericton, there operated the world’s largest civilian Avengers group for many years, starting operations in 1958 after acquiring 12 surplus TBM-3E from the RCN, and it peaked in 1971 with 43 in use. The company sold three to museums or private collectors and other followes, whereas some crashed until the 2000s.
Avenger stull flies as warbirds in private collections and are a popular airshow feature, quitre commona also in aviation museums. By 2020, the Commemorative Air Force sports three TBM at different locations.

Replacing the Avenger: Grumman, Douglas and Martin

In 1944, the USN started to look at a replacement for the Avenger, but already looking at a more “universal” model, like those looked for also in the British Fleet Air Arm. The Typical “do it all” of the USN planned to enter service in 1945 was ideally a large, powerful single-engine model with a single seat, its pilot and no gunner. Indeed, it was to be modelled as fast as a fighter, precisely to perform the following roles:
-Long range escort fighter
-Fighter Bomber
-Torpedo carrier
-Dive Bomber
-Reconnaissance model
-ASW patroller
Owing to the classic adage that a “do it all” could be just mediocre or passable in any of these compared to specialized model, this was still the credo of this time. In 1945 indeed, USN Fleet carriers counted on four models to cover for all their needs: The Avenger as a versatile torpedo bomber, the Helldiver as a specialized (but mediocre) dive bomber, the F6F Hellcat as a fighter (soon to be replaced by the F8F Bearcat), and the F8U Corsair as fighter bomber. Having in single model to cover all roles, or at least all but pure “fighter” role, looked logical on paper, simplifying maintenance, storage, supply and operation.
However, looking at the numerous delays of the very complex F-35 programm today, this was not an easy task, imposing many compromises to fill all these roles. From there, many companies participated, but only three manufacturers emerged as “winners”, obtaining orders for comparative tests, leading to a small production as they all fitted niches for the same basic “A” specification (given later, followed by the manufacturer code), enjoying later very different fates. Here they are:

Grumman AF Guardian

The designated successor, built indeed in replacement but embracing a particular aspect only the Avenger, as used in the Atlantic: It became the first purpose-built anti-submarine warfare (ASW) carrier-based aircraft, flying i December 1945 but introduced in 1950, built to 389 units and retired by August 1955, early than many modernized and reconverted Avengers. Redesignated as AF-2W (TB3F-1S) and AF-2S (TB3F-2S) for its two versions and commencing service in September 1950 VS-24 and later with VS-25, the 193 AF-2S Guardians built were succeeded in a sense by the 1952 AF-3S (ASW hunter) using a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) for detection (40 built). The last arrived in March 1953 and they saw action during the Korean War, but was unpopular, both underpowered and heavy on the controls, with a high accident rate. Its replacement came just in time as the twin-engine Grumman S2F Tracker as a combined hunter-killer, making for a quick removal of the Guardian until 31 August 1955, some still active with the ENN Air Reserve until 1957.

Martin AM Mauler

The Mauler was a “jack of all trades”, but specialized as a torpeod attack plane, carrying three of these, and thus, could be described as the most obvious sucessor of the Avenger. Developed from the XBTM which first flew on 26 August 1944, the large single-seat attack aircraft went through numerous development delays and only came into service by 1948, seeing a small production. It proved indeed troublesome and only remained on the frontline for two years, retired after 1950, and replaced by the simpler Douglas AD Skyraider. Some stayed in reserve squadrons until 1953 and a few were converted into the early AM-1Q electronic-warfare aircraft (distant relative to the Prowler).

Douglas AD Skyraider

Douglas AD-1, VA-3B, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1948
Last of the three, the Douglas AD also flew in WW2, first flying on 18 March 1945, and serted service in 1946. It was a very simple and rugged model and thus, succeeded with ease to the Mauler and Guardian in the generic attack role. Amazingly, it was delined into many versions and remained throughout Korea and Vietnam the only single seat piston engine model frontline in the US Navy. The US retired the very last as the conflict ended, in 1973, but some soldiered on in the 1980s, like 1985 for the Gabonese Air Force. It was the only success story of this trio.

Final assessment: A “tough Turkey”

Sole survivor of the six VT-8 Avengers attacking on June 4, 1942 back at Midway, credits Naval History and Heritage Command. A bad start for the “turkey”

With a maximum takeoff weight of 17,893 pounds, the Avenger was WW2′ largest naval carrier airplane in anvy navy. It was even larger and heavier as a single-engine than the legendary USAAF’ “Jug”, the P-47 Thunderbolt, 400 pounds lighter. The Avenger also could lift one ton of payload and more, between a 2,000-pound torpedo or four 500-pound bombs, which was unique. The other carrier bomber of the time, the Curtiss Helldiver, carried the same in its bomb bay, but was far less reliable. But it was somewhat underpowered.
See a nice color cutaway at

The naming was a common myth as it made its first public appearance on December 7, 1941, but the name appeared in documentation by early October, two months before Pearl Harbor. The press at the time biaised this to fit a morale-boosting wartime narrative essentially.
Pilots joked it could fall faster than fly. Some full payload takeoffs, especially from tiny escort carriers dekcs, certainly felt true. It was safer for them to be catapulted but the 45 feet ones on CVEs could only propelled the beast to 19 knots, into the wind and 90 knots was barely its flying speed. Taking speed at the crest of the wave after a dive was the only solution. It seems ponderous. The Hellcat had a better engine and was much lighter in comparison.

FAA Avenger II over its carrier, HMS Biter, flying over the convoy

Its performances as a torpedo carrier were close to mediocre at first due to the initial faulty Mark 13 aerial torpedoes, but this was solved in 1943, and results started to show. It could carry bombs and was mostly using them in strafing attack, but it could dive as well, although this was not recommended, bing the primary role of the Helldiver.
By 1944 it received hard points under the wings to operate launch rails for 5-inches HVARs rockets, providing a destroyer’s broadside in capabilities. By inerty alone, without even detonating, attacks on submarines saw them punch right through their hull, preventing them to dive. As pilot’s training improved, they became even adept at launching them into Japanese caves during air support missions over Okinawa in 1945. Also in 1944-45, the Avenger received the deadly “fido” an early acoustic model which far better performances.

The aircraft’s ruggedness and stability compenasted largely for it’s truck-like responsiveness, and provided with good radio facilities and docile handling they could be used as acommand aircraft for Air Group (CAGs) as well during raids. Ceiling and range was better than any previous USN torpedo bomber anyway, far better than the Nakajima B5N “Kate”. However later IJN models were certainly better in performances. Later Avengers proved adaptable enough to be turned into EW platforms (Electronic Warfare) postwar while radar equipments were more and more sophisticated, until the late Canadian ASW variants using MAD detection system to track down Soviet submarines in the north atlantic and GIUK gap.

USN Models, Grumman TBF

Grumman XTBF-1, second prototype. The first crashed, the second inaugurated a large dorsal fin.

TBF-1 preserie, VT8 NAS Norfolk, May 1942

TBF-1 from VT-8, CV3 USS Saratoga, mid-1942

TBF-1, VF-8, Midway Island 4 June 1942

TBF-1, USS Enteprise late 1942

TBF-1, Unknown unit, june-October 1943

TBF-1 Training Sqn. 1943

Onboard USS Randolph (CV-15), 1943

TBF on USS Block Island, 1943

TBF-1, USMC unit, 1943

USN Models, General motors TBM

TBM-1 of a night operation training unit, USS Bataan (CVL-29), 3 February 1944

TBM-3, USS Bunker Hill, 1944

TBM-3 Alternate Camouflage SC-II (land based)

TBM-3, USS Essex 1944

TBM-1Cn VT-51 San Jacinto June 1944

TBM1C, VC-42, USS Bogue, Sept. 1944

TBM-3 “Bayou Bell”, USS Essex, 1945

TBM-3, VC-97 USS Massar Strait, February 1945

TBM-3, VT-82 USS Bennington, CV-20 February 1945

TBM-3 VT(N)-90 USS Enteprise, March 1945

TBM-3, VT-46 USS Independence, April 1945

TBM-3, Eastern Division, VMTB-233, USS Block Island, April 1945

TBM-3 VMTB 132, USS Goucester, July 1945

TBM-3, VT-88 USS Yorktown, CV-10 July 1945

RBM-3, VC-83, USS Sargeant Bay, (CVE-83), July 1945

TBM-3, VT-33, USS Sangamon (CVE-26), 1945

TBM-3 of Flight 19 USMC, NAS Fort Lauderdale, December 1945, of Bermuda Triangle fame.

Fleet Air Arm Models

Avenger Mk.I, HMS Indefatigable

TBF Tarpon Mk.I Donibristle, mid-1944

Tarpon II, HMS Empress, Channel, mid-1944 with invasion bands

Avenger Mark 1, 711th Squadron, RNAS Crail, 1945

Avenger AS Mk.4 TBM3E, 1947

Canadian Models

TBM 3S from 825 Sqn, HMCS Magnificent

Cold war international service

The Avenger was still used for several years by the USN and Marines after the war. A batch of them even became entangled with one of the enduring mystery surrounding the “Bermuda Triangle”: On 5 December 1945, a flight of five Avengers (Flight 19) completely disappeared without explanation or leaving a single trace. Edward Van Winkle Jones in Associated Press was the first to report in September 1950 and this generated tons of books or hypothesis, even featured in Spieleberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. More seriously, the Avenger as a torpedo bomber was getting old, and it was soon found more appropriate as a specialized ASW patroller.

RCNAF TBM-3E AS Mk.4 in 1947

TBM-3U VU-4, NAS Norfolk 1948

TBM-3R COD VR-24 Naples 1952

TBM-3S2 JMSDF Kanoya air base, Sasebo 1958

Avenger AS. Mk.4 ECM6 831 Sqn. RAF Syerstone base, 1958

USN TBM-3W in the 1950s

TBM3E2 of the Luchtvaartdienst, 1954

TBM-3 AS Mk.4 of the Brazilian Navy, 1955

TBM-1 of the Uruguayan Navy, 1956

TBF-3S VS-880 RCN, 1957

French Aeronavale TBM-53 of 4S Sqn. in 1958.

French TBM-2S3 6F 1950


Avenger dropping a torpedo
Avenger dropping a torpedo
VT-90 in flight
VT-90 in flight, January 1945
USN Avenger TBM 3W prototype in 1946
USN Avenger TBM 3W prototype in 1946
Japanese JSDMF TBM-3W
Japanese JSDMF TBM-3W in 1950


*TBM-3R: Until the arrival of twin-engined models such as the Tracker, carrying personal was impossible between aicraft carriers. The Avenger became the first dedicated (but improvized) transport conversion, designated Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) transport. But it was a post-war conversion until twin-props arrived. The seven-passengers (or five passengers plus a loadmaster and pilot) were accomodated between the greenhouse, in which the turret was eliminated, the canopy extended, the radio removed, and additional seats installed behind the bomb bay. Two were seated in tandem behind the pilot and two more behind them, and the last two in the rear belly, on the left and right side crossing legs. This even allowed extra space for personal effects, suitcases and haversacks of cargo in the bomb bay in chich was installed a basket system. The TBM-3R developed in 1951 led to 27 converisons. It also was used by Japan outside the USN, until the arrival of the Grumman TF-1 (C-1) from 1957 and in the 1960s, the turboprop Grumman C-2 greyhound. See also

In the summer of 1945, a few highly modified Avengers inaugurated a APS-20 search radard detecting low flying aircraft. The TBM-3W was further refined postwar, but became the first WW2 airborne early warning model. (U.S. Navy)

Avenger from VT-5, USS Yorktown




















Src/Read more about the TBF/TBM Avenger:


GRUMMAN (EASTERN) TBF (TBM) AVENGER by Rene J. Fracillon, Profile Publications.
AMERICAN WARPLANES OF WORLD WAR II, edited by David Donald, Aerospace Publishing LTD, 1995.
“Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger” by M. Hill Goodspeed, WINGS OF FAME, Volume 13 / 1998, 32:91.
Drendel, Lou (2001). TBF/TBM Avenger Walk Around. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications.
Drendel, Lou (1987). “Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger”. U.S. Navy Carrier Bombers of World War II. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications. pp. 89–120.
Fletcher, R. G. (1995). Front Line Avenger Squadrons of the FAA. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, UK: R.G. Fletcher..
Francillon, René (1970). Grumman (Eastern) TBF (TBM) Avenger. Aircraft in Profile. Vol. 214. London: Profile Publications.
Geelen, Janic (1983). The Topdressers. Auckland: NZ Aviation Press.
Hove, Duane (2003). American Warriors: Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Burd Street Press.
Jackson, B. R.; Doll, Thomas E. (1970). Grumman TBF/TBM “Avenger”. Aero Series. Vol. 21. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers.
Jackson, B. R.; Doll, Thomas E. (1970). Supplement to Grumman TBF/TBM “Avenger”. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers.
Kinzey, Bert (1997). TBF & TBM Avenger in Detail & Scale. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications.
Pelletier, Alain (1981). Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger (in French). Paris: Editions Ouest-France.
Prange, Gordon William; et al. (Goldstein, Donald M.; Dillon, Katherine V.) (1983). Miracle at Midway. New York: Viking.
Scrivner, Charles L. (1987). TBF/TBM Avenger in Action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications.
Skulski, Przemyslaw (1997). Grumman Avenger. Seria Pod Lupa (in Polish). Vol. 5. Wrocław, Poland: Ace Publications.
Tillman, Barrett (1979). Avenger at War. London: Ian Allan.
Tillman, Barrett (1999). TBF/TBM Avenger Units of World War 2. Botley, UK: Osprey Publishing.
Treadwell, Terry C. (2001). Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.
Wheeler, Barry C. (1992). The Hamlyn Guide to Military Aircraft Markings. London: Chancellor Press.


Grumman TBF Avenger

Tough Turkey: Why Grumman’s TBF Avenger Was the Ultimate Torpedo Bomber


Official USN video used to train U.S. Navy pilots

World War Two TBM Avenger pilot Ken Glass shares his story with They Gave It All.

Inside the TBM by Military Aviation History

The Models Corner:

airfix avenger
A well covered one. I remembered making the 1/72 airfix kit back in the day. General query on scalemates
The TBF/TBM was covered by almost all kit manufacturers from Japanese ones to US ones, from 1/16, 1/24, 1/32 (Comet, trumpeter and others), 1/36 (Scientific), 1/48 (like Academy, Accurate Miniatures, Ace, Monogram, Hasegawa, HobbyBoss, Lindberg…), 1/50 (Nichimo and Marusan), 1/72 (countless), down to 1/130, 1/144, 1/350 and 1/700 grapples for carrier kits.

Grumman F8F Bearcat (1944)

Grumman F8F Bearcat (1944)

USN aviation Carrier-based Fighter

The last Grumman classic Piston engine Fighter

Development and design

The F8F was conceived to be capable of operating from aircraft carriers of all sizes and to be used primarily as an intercept fighter, a task that required excellent maneuverability, good low-altitude performance and high rate of climb. In order for the two XF8F-1 prototypes ordered on November 27, 1943 to have these characteristics, Grumman adopted the bulky Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, which had already been used to power the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Grumman F7F Tigercat, although putting special care that the weapons, armor and amount of fuel required could be housed in a cell as small and light as possible.

The XF8F-1, which made its maiden flight on August 21, 1944, was not only smaller than the excellent (F6F Hellcat) of the US Navy, but also the Bearcat was 20% lighter and could climb 30 % faster and travel at a speed 80 km/h higher. On the other hand, in addition to exceeding official requirements, the Grumman model began to be delivered in its serial version in February 1945, just six months after the first flight of the prototype. Compared to the Vought F4U Corsair, the F8F -1 was marginally slower, but possessed better maneuverability and higher rate of climb.

The initial F8F-1 was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction; the wings folded by about two-thirds of their span for easy storage on board. Its massive 4-blade propeller required long landing gear, a feature that gave the Bearcat its renowned high-nose profile. Also, for the first time in the production of a fighter for the US Navy, a bubble-shaped cockpit allowed the pilot 360º visibility.


Grumman F8F

Shortly after the prototype testing program began in 1944, the US Navy placed an order for 2,023 production F8F-1s, the first of which was delivered to the Navy’s VF-19 squadron on May 21, 1945. This squadron, as well as the other first units to receive the Bearcat, was still in the process of adapting to the new fighter when World War II ended. This meant a reduction of 1,258 aircraft from the total previously ordered from Grumman and the definitive cancellation of an additional 1,876 F8M-1s, whose manufacture had been entrusted to General Motors.

When production ended in May 1949, Grumman had built a total of 1,266 Bearcats. Of these, 765 belonged to the F8F-1 version, 100 to the F8F-1B, which was characterized by having replaced the 12.7 mm machine guns with 20 mm cannons, and 36 to the F8F-1N version, equipped as fighters. nocturnal. Another 293 were F8F-2s, fitted with a redesigned engine cowling, taller fin and rudder, some other detail changes, and the 20mm guns as definitive armament; 12 were F8F-2N night fighters and 60 were F8F-2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft, armed with just two 20mm cannons. In the years after the war, some aircraft were modified for use as target controllers, receiving the new designations F8F-1D and F8F-2D.

At the time production ceased, the Bearcat was in service with some 24 US Navy squadrons, but by the fall of 1952 all of them had been retired to second line units. Some, with a modified fuel system, were delivered to the French Armée de l’Air for use in the Indochina War, under the designation F8F-1D. Another 100 similar F8F-1Ds and twenty-nine F8F-1Bs were also supplied to the Thai Air Force.

Many features of the Bearcat’s design were inspired by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter that had been captured and turned over to Grumman for study. The main missions of the F8Fs were to establish superiority over the highly maneuverable Japanese A6M-5 Zero fighter and to defend the fleet against suicide (kamikaze) attacks carried out by Japanese pilots.

In service

In the month of November 1943, the US Navy ordered Grumman to manufacture several prototypes of the F8F. The first of these flew on August 21, 1944, just 9 months later. In February 1945 the first Grumman F8F rolled off the assembly lines and on May 21 of that year the first Bearcat squadron was declared operational. However, World War II ended without the aircraft being able to show its extraordinary qualities in combat. During the postwar period, the F8F became one of the main fighters of the United States Navy, equipping a total of 24 fighter squadrons. It is usually rated as one of the best piston-powered fighters built in America.

During the postwar period, the F8F became one of the main fighters of the United States Navy, equipping a total of 24 fighter squadrons. It is usually rated as one of the best piston-powered fighters ever built in the United States, although perhaps clearly outclassed by fighters like the German Ta 152H and C, but this was certainly the best piston-powered fighter ever produced. Its ability for aerobatics was born because the US Navy chose the Bearcat to be part of its elite Blue Angels aerobatic group from 1946 to 1950 (the year the team was temporarily disbanded due to the Korean War). In the 1950s, the Bearcat was replaced by the better performing Grumman F9F Panther and McDonnell F2H Banshee jet fighters.

In 1946 an unmodified F8F-1 set a climb record (after a takeoff run of just 30 meters) of 3,000 meters in 94 seconds. The Bearcat held that record for 10 years until it was surpassed by a jet fighter (although these couldn’t beat the Bearcat’s short take-off run).

Some F8Fs were transferred to France and many of these aircraft took part, in the early 1950s, as fighter-bombers in the Indochina War.
A small number of F8Fs survived:
F8F bearcat rare bear

  • 11 are airworthy
  • 8 are restored and on static display
  • 12 are being restored or are planned to be restored

Bearcats have been popular in air racing. A Bill Stead-sponsored Bearcat won the first Reno Air Race in 1964 while a heavily modified F8F nicknamed Rare Bear (owned by Lyle Shelton) dominated that event for decades, even when challenged by Daryl Greenmyer’s Bearcat. another famous contender with numerous wins and many speed records. The Rare Bear managed to break many records, including the 3 km World Speed ​​Record for piston-powered aircraft (850.26 km/h in 1989) and the new climb record (3,000 meters in 91.9 s, in 1972, breaking the 1946 record cited above).



On USS Valley Forge Sept. 1949

Test Plane 1943

XF8F-1 Bearcat in 1945

Blue angels Bearcats


French Bearcats at Tourane AB Indochina 1954

Src/Read more about the Grumman F8F:

-To come


Grumman F8F Bearcat US Navy Superprop – Greg’s Airplanes and Automobiles

The Models Corner:

-To come

Douglas A1 Skyraider (1945)

Douglas A-1 Skyraider (1945)

USN aviation US Navy (1945-1985), 3,180 built

The long-living piston-powered legend

Although some of the most prominent WW2 aircraft, such as the F4U Corsair or the P51 Mustang, constantly upgraded, still took part in various combats in the 1970-80s, the Douglas Skyraider is certainly one of these surprises. Known at first as the AD Skyraide this very robust and reliable single-seat attack aircraft was in service from 1946, virtually to the early 1980s, making a remarkably long and successful career for a piston-engined model in turboprop and jet age. For these longevity reasons it was also nicknamed lately the “Spad”, a reference to the French WWI fighter. In the 1960s indeed when it soldiered over Vietnam, there was as much time since its first flight from the Spads in US service.

⚠ Note: This post is in writing. Completion expected in 2023.

In any case, its probably these old school recipes which allowed this venerable “bomb truck” to see so much active service for decades, until the early 1970s in the US Navy and marines alone. Cheap and simple to maintain, requiring a single pilot as crew, extraordinarily resilient, this dependable beast of burden flew the most perilous missions deep in enemy territory and almost always came back to tell the tale. Inspirational, it was never replaced by the small A4 Skyhawk, but it’s only worthy successor, the legendary A10 Warthog, which went to the USAAF while officially the Navy replaced it by the Vought A7 Corsair II. The “A” standing for attack, was also the reset of this peacetime designation, and it was the first to inaugurate this new line.

Birth of a legend (1943)

In 1943 an official requirement was published for a carrier-based attack aircraft, single-seat, long-range, and high performance model capable of acting as dive and torpedo bomber. It was supposed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver and the Grumman TBF Avenger as a “universal platform”. The single pilot was now possible by using more automated systems, radar, and better radios. The famous specification, also looked forward in UK, trigerred a whole generation of competitors, among which was the Martin AM Mauler and the Grumman AF Guardian. Both were far less successful and only built in small numbers despite more promising features.

Douglas, which already provided the Dauntless to the USN, was equal favorite in a competition in which many great manufacturers competed for a potentially still very lucrative market postwar. The Douglas XBT2D as first designated was Designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company and submitted in early 1944. Accepted, it was followed by an order of a few prototypes on 6 July 1944 as the XBT2D-1. In seven month, the prototype was built and tested at Douglas, making its first flight on 18 March 1945, showing only heatlhy characteristics and practicaly no serious fixes were done. This was followed logically by official tests at the Naval Air Test Center (NATC) in April 1945.

With less emeregency due to the end of the war in Europe and a situation stabilized in the Pacific, tests and fixes dragged on until December 1946, and its designation was changed to the postwar “AD-1”, “A” standard for “attack” and “D” for the manufacturer, Douglas. On order was made for a first batch a delivery to the first fleet squadron was made to VA-19A in early 1947. Needless to say, this model, although designed duting WW2, never fought.
Production of the AD-1 was setup at Douglas’s El Segundo plant, Southern California, where the Dauntless was built in the past. Certifying AD-1s out of the assembly line wad made at a rate of two aircraft per day between 1949 and 1950.

The first XBT2D-1 tested at NATC in April 1945.

Design of the Douglas AD Skyraider

(To come)

⚒ specifications AD-1 1945

Dimensions (L-w-h): 38 ft 10 in x 50 ft 0.25 in x 15 ft 8.25 in (11.84 x 15.24 x 4.78 m)
Wing area: 400.33 sq ft (37.192 m2)
Airfoil: root: NACA 2417; tip: NACA 4413
Weight, empty 11,968 lb (5,429 kg)
Weight, gross 18,106 lb (8,213 kg)
Fuel Capacity: 380 US gal (320 imp gal; 1,400 l) internal tanks
Propulsion Wright R-3350-26WA Duplex-Cyclone 18-cyl ACRPE, 2,700 hp (2,000 kW)
Propeller 4-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller
Speed, max. 322 mph (518 km/h, 280 kn) at 18,000 ft (5,500 m)
Ceiling 28,500 ft (8,700 m)
Climb Rate 2,850 ft/min (14.5 m/s)
Range 1,316 mi (2,118 km, 1,144 nmi)
Wing load 46.6 lb/sq ft (228 kg/m2)
Power/mass 0.149 hp/lb (0.245 kW/kg)
Armament: MGs 4x 20 mm AN/M3 cannon with 200 rounds per gun
Armament: Payload 15 external hardpoints, 8,000 lb (3,600 kg), see notes
Crew: 1 pilot


AD-1 of VA3B, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1948

AD-1 of VA-85, USS Forrestal, 1958

(Much, much more to come)


Src/Read more about the xxx:

The Models Corner:

Grumman F6F Hellcat (1942)

Grumman F6F Hellcat (1942)

USN aviation Single seat naval fighter (1942-48)

The legendary 16:1 navy butcher bird

The Grumman Hellcat would be forever associated with the second phase of the Pacific war. It replaced the hard-pressed F4F Wildcat on board all USN fleet carriers (the F4F would continue operating on escort carriers until 1945), and between the experience of veterans transitioning on this new model and the lack thereof on the Japanese side, explains in large part the impressive tally reached by this model, which was unprecedented.

By looking at it first, the F6F had however none of the good-looking grace the best fighters of WW2 are generally associated with. It was a barrel-like, brutish, massive and heavy, miles aways from the angelic Spitfire, the slender Mustang, or even the graceful zero. A dogfight between the two was like a ballerina versus a heavyweight boxer. But it was beloved by its pilot for its raw, unalterated power, firepower, reliability and amazing ruggedness, as befitting to to a Navy Fighter, accustomed to the tremendous forces of a deck landing.

Compared to the Mitsubishi A5M-4 and A5M-5, still lacking protection, it became a “butcher bird”, able to take a lot of punishement before tearing apart its opponent by volleys of its six heavy machine guns. Not only the Hellcat absolutely dominated the Zero, often piloted by Rookies from mid-1944, but also everything flying over the Pacific, from the IJA or IJN. Some fighters were a match in agility and speed, but none was that solidy built.

New York’s company funded by Leroy Grumman had created a world-best naval fighter, ideal for its time. The Hellcat in 1945 operated more and more in a fighter-bomber role, loaded with rockets, in company of the legendary F4U Corsair, and went on during the Indochina and Korean wars of the 1950s. Although replaced by the smaller, but faster F8F Bearcat on CV decks, they nevertheless soldiered on until the early 1960s.

The 1938 naval fighter plan

Well before the US went at war, the Naval Aviation Command proved far-sighted. In February 1938, was ordered to several aircraft manufacturers a modern combat aircraft, carrier-based which was to give a decisive answer to the Japanese desire to master the skies over the Pacific Ocean. Bell presented it’s mid-engined Airabonita, Grumman its “Skyrocket” but only Chance-Vought secured a contract to produce its XF4U Corsair prototype, only on paper stage in 1939.

However the company was committed on other projects and its XF4U1- was not ready before early 1940. By mid-1940, testings were ongoing, showing great promise. The new fighter contained many innovative design solutions, including the powerful Pratt & Whitney 2800 “Double Wasp” delivering 2000 hp. But all these novelties led to a long cycle of modifications and further military testing. When the Corsair was ready for combat use in 1941 at last, its low vertical landing speed, due to the effect created by the low wing and lack of vibility forward, was found to be too much for a moderately skilled pilot.

Even if the pilot managed to lead him onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, a safe landing was still not guaranteed and like a kicking mule, the Corsair jumped over all brake cables and fly right over them. The accident rate was so high that the F4U was just sidelined to ground airfields and the USMC. There were well-founded fears were that the navy would have its new naval fighter within the timeframe specified in the contract. Fortunately since 1938 Grumman was working on a less advanced model than the complicated Skyrocket, and while souring relations with Japan the USN command turned again to Grumman, and decided fundamentally refine the Wildcat, modified to be fitted with a powerful and heavy Wright R-2600 engine, the largest on offer at that time.

Design Development

Leon Svirbul, William Schwendler et Leroy Grumman
Leon Svirbul, William Schwendler & Leroy Grumman at work on the G-35 project

As part of the 1938 G-33 project already Grumman’s designers had been at work to modernizing the Wildcat in February, so in March, first estimates of an enlarged version appeared and the new project received the designation G-35. This work was carried out under the direction of William Schwendler and Richard Hutton and showed the replacement of the engine would not give expected results due to the inscreased weight and dimensions, requiring an extension of middle fuselage section. The 35% increase required a larger propeller, stronger frame and larger tail.

Work went along well but slowly in 1939, and in 1940, chief executive Leon Svirbul traveled to the Pacific Ocean, meeting pilots already flying the Wildcat on the carriers USS Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown. At the same time the design office produced a report from all documents accumulated during the work on the G-4 and G-33 projects. This was to decided the fate of the Wildcat modernization, and the design team head William Schwendler became the strongest supporter of the creation of a brand new fighter instead, suggesting to save time, to develop it still as an extrapolation of the Wildcat.

Between Svirbul’s report and Schwendler’s proposal, Grumman’s, CEO Leroy Grumman, realized that fitting a new engine on F4F was an uphill battle, and only a half measure. Navy leaders still oreferred this program as a backup, or an interim solution as the Corsair was still preferred at this point, being head and shoulders superior to the Wildcat, and during the showdown with the Zero, LeRoy Grumman eventually convince the Navy to go for an entirely new aircraft instead, from a clean plate.

Soon a full-scale model was made and presented to the general staff on January, 12 1941. The Commission recommended some modifications as increasing the length and wing area, making it in effect the largest of all existing deck fighters. Again, the sto-wing system was also retaken, at the time used by the Wildcat and Avenger with the same success. A patent was also acquired from Boeing for a new wheeltrain with high pneumatic pressure, retracting while making a 90° turn.

Grumman had been dealing with a replacement to the F4F Wildcat as soon as the latter was about to enter production in late 1938. Based on in-house specs, some contacts in the Navy already had a look at the model, which looked already promising on paper. In fact, based solely on the reputation of Grumman, and connections in the Navy and official agreement for the prototype XF6F-1 was indeed endorsed on 30 June 1941, but the way was still long to delivery. The Navy was now willing to see this new project’s completion, but at the time for a service entry in 1944 or even 1945 as the current Wildcat was supposed to do its office long enough if modernized.

Meanwhile, Leroy Gumman and his team were confident their new fighter could be furher upgraded and use the Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone two-line, 14-cyl. radial 1,700 hp (1,300 kW) engine. A brand new and promising unit, similarly planned for the new Grumman torpedo plane (XTBF) worked on at the time. It was to be coupled with a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller. The model was tested in a wind tunnel, helping to refine aerodynamic details, whereas Leroy, suspecting a possible massive war production in the future, insisted to keep shapes simple, with straight lines.

The new projected model had many innovations, starting with a brand new undercarriage. Instead of the clunky old hand-wrenched system retracting fuselage retracting, making Grumman models since the “Fifi” quite stubby, for the F6F, Leroy wanted to adopt a more streamline fuselage imposing to move the undercariage in the wings. Being much heavier the new F6F needed to be sturdier as well, and it was judged more potent to have the new wheeltrain retracted under the wings, helping with stability and resilience when landing. Instead of the schock in the fuselage, close to the engine, the landing forces would be spread into the wings instead. This wide-set system was automatic, causing less distraction to the pilot, and used pressurized water for the complicated arms system turning the whole train to 90° while withdrawing in reverse into the wings.

XF6F-1, with the 1700 hp Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone (June 1942)

The wing was also mounted lower on the fuselage and the larger wings were still folding, using the now trademark “Sto-Wing” system of diagonal hub similar to the earlier F4F. 30 June 1941, 13 months after the first take-off of the Corsair, Grumman at last received the urgent order it needed to justify his work, to “modernize the F4F” (longer flight range, better protection and armament) assorted with two prototypes, designated XF6F-1. On the first prototype, the Wright R-14-2600 “Cyclone” engine was imposed, and the second, XF6F-2, was to test high-altitude flight with a modified Wright R-2-2600 engine using a turbocharger. The latter was given a bottom-mounted blower intake for the twop oil coolers left and right of the engine.

On the proposal of Navy aviation specialists, visibility from the cockpit became a curcial point, important for deck landings, so the axis of the engine was deflected downward, relative to the general fuselage axis. In horizontal flight, thus, this imposed a slightly lower tail section. The cockpit itself was placed much higher, which, with the engine deflected downards created a “sloped back” caracteristic, and realized the excellent visibility in flight and landing that were researched. The low angle of attack of the wing consoles was another novelty, a decision made on the assumption that a large wing angle providied heavy lift on takeoff but was detrimental in flight by increasing aerodynamic drag.

The F6F was also on request given had larger capacity fuel tanks, giving it almst twice the range of the former Wildcat. Power was such that a 90 kgs bullet-proof shell protected the pilot as well as an armored jacket protected the oil tank and the oil radiators. The flaps and wing folding mechanism, the machine guns reload systems were all hydraulically operated. The brake landing hook and tailwheel had an electric drive. The armament at first was fixed to four Colt-Browning М2 machine guns like the Wlidcat, located in the folding part of the wing consoles. All in all, and fitted with all it’s navy gear, the new plane weighted 60% more than the Wildcat, and enormous increase. Test bench revealed the first prototype was better suited with the Wright R-2600-16 engine rated for 1700 hp at first.

A pilot’s plane

All through mid 1942, Leroy Grumman, alongside his engineers Jake Swirbul and Bill Schwendler, worked intimately with the U.S. Naval force’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer). But it also called for experienced F4F pilots, driven by the Navy to Grumman out of ttal confidence in the new project. It was time: For the first months of 1942, dogfight reports came in, and pilots loss amounted. All agreed on one point: The F4F was simply not as agile or as fast as their main competitor, the A6M. Although resilient, the Wildcat was a honest fighter, but certainly not good enough top beat the “Zero”. In fact even admiral Nagumo allegedly said of the US bird it was “obese like an old Sumotori…”. In short, a replacement was wanted fast, notably because there were new reports coming about army fighters that were already even better than the Zero, and the latter to the point of receiving a major upgrade. Odds were stacking against USN fighter pilots;

F6F-3 from USS Lexington (CV-16)
Colorized photo by irootoko Jr. of an F6F-3 from USS Lexington (CV-16) in 1944

Leroy Grumman and his team were perfectly aware of this. Between resumes of the reports and encounters with pilots, the picture they had was clear. The new fighter was to be designed in order to counter the Zero’s assets. It was to provide air dominance over the Pacific, planning to defeat any opposition in the years to come. On 22 April 1942, Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare visited Grumman siege in New York and talked at lenght with Grumman engineers, and making a full review of how the F4F fares against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero in dogfight. O’Hare was a celebrity in the US, one of the first aces of the Navy from February 20, 1942, when he became “ace in a day”, rampaging through a Japanese bomber formation. Part of the CAP he engaged nine bombers incoming to attack his aircraft carrier and practically drove them off by himself. He already also had encounters with the Zero and was well aware of its capabilities.

Also based on pilot’s report, BuAer’s Lt Cdr A. M. Jackson advised Grumman engineers to mount the cockpit higher in the fuselage for a better visbility. The forward fuselage was therefore slanted down marginally to the motor cowling to add to this visibility. It was an excellent advice as the Vought XF4U Corsair meanwhile, had a straight nose with the cockpit well behind. At last on January 7, 1942, after Pearl Harbor, and without waiting for the end of the prptotype tests, the the Navy Command ordered Grumman 1,080 F6F-1 combat aircraft.

In search for more power

Chance-Vought XF4U-1. Although given a far better engine and faster, it was too dangerous and difficult to master for young pilots.

In view of detailed records of encounters between the F4F and A6M on 26 April 1942, BuAer urged Grumman to swap from the previous powerplant to the new and even more promising 18-cyl. Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, now just adopted by Vought for its XF4U since 1940. Grumman then plan to adopt the new engine for its second XF6F-1 prototype, which fuselage was even deeper. This needed also the reinforce significantly both the fuselage and the airframe. Also for it was adopted a three-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller.

Grumman assessed the new production model XF6F-3 would be 25% heavier than the XF6F-1. The Cyclone-engined XF6F-1 (BuNo 02981) first flew on 26 June 1942 while the Double Wasp XF6F-3 (BuNo 02982) flew on 30 July 1942, just a month after. Comparative tests were doubtless in their conclusion. This first flight, less than a year after the start of design work, lasted for 25 minutes with chief pilot Robert Hull on board, veteran test pilot since 1936 with Grumman. It revealed minor stability issues quickly addressed. Ease of operation and landing characteristics were also noted as excellent. For its size and weight, it had generally an excellent horizontal maneuverability.

And yet, pilots stressed for more engine power as dictated for the first encounters over the Pacific, notably over the Midway Atoll showing that to defeat the zero horizontal speed and rate of climb had to be higher, much higher in fact that those displayed by the XF6F-1 prototype. This required radical decisions, either to install a more powerful engine or to significantly reduce the weight of the airframe. Of course, the second option was strongly rejected not to degrade combat qualities in such context.

XF6F-2. The first XF6F-1 prototype was revised and fitted with a turbocharged Wright R-2600-16 Cyclone radial but the F-2 had the turbocharged R-2800-21.

Thus, Pratt & Whitney was contacted to provide for it’s latest engine in production, the “Double Wasp”. Indeed, even during design work on the XF6F-1, William Schwendler believed it would be too heavy and suggested right away the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp, same unit installed on the XF4U-1. Leroy Grumman agreed and went back with the proposed modification to the navy. However, since its delivery was already book months in advance, delays would amount.

The Navy however insisted on using the abvailable Wright R-2600 engine, as its production was fully mastered and reserved were in sufficient quantities for mass production. Using his official and personal connections, Leroy eventually still managed to secure the delivery of the Double Wasp, not anting to reproduce the experience of Brewster… On June 3, 1942, in fact, even before the first XF6F-1 flight, the military which wanted to keep the engine for themselves signed the decision not to adopt it.

It’s on 30 July 1942 that the F-2 was first flown by Robert Hull, for 11 minutes. In appareance it only changed by the location of the turbo receiver and pitot tube moved from the top to the bottom of the right wing tip. Another modification was the reduction of the external exhaust pipes lenght. The new XF6F-3 was the first receiving the official nickname “Hellcat” while mechanics started to call it the “aluminum tank”.

XF6F-3, with the new 2000 hp Wright R-2800 Double Wasp (July 1942)

Despite the massive mass increase, the F-3 was head and shoulders more powerful and fast. The navy arrived to the same conclusion but still wanted a few alterations. The first production F6F-3, fuelled by a R-2800-10, flew on 3 October 1942. It was soon delivered in larger quantities, and reached the first active unit, VF-9 based on the brand new USS Essex, in February 1943. The “Hellcat” arrived just at the right time to fill the decks of a new serie of large fleet carriers. It was a match in heaven for this second, crucial part of the Pacific war until Victory.

While the F3 was about to come into production, an unexpcted event happened: 4000 km from there, in the frozen peaks of the Alaska chain, a lone PBY Catalina on regular patrol spotted a crashed wreck on the small island of Akutan, belonging to Aleutians. The observers made another, closer pass and realized there was a hinomaru on the wing… Making a closer flyover one pilots identified it as a “zero”. Cordinates were immediately transferred to the base and in a few hours later a team arrived on the island to examine the wreck.

They found pilot Tadeyoshi Koga dead in the cockpit, dying during his crash landing caused by engine failure after an air battle. What was remarkable, was that he landed so well, the plane was almost intact. It was quickly dismantled and taken back to California for close examinations, with ONI teams at work 24/24 for this massive intel breakthrough. In August 1942, Grumman aviation experts came in San Diego to witness the flight of the just restored A6M, tests showing their Hellcat had an horizontal flight speed advantage and was generally not that not inferior to what had gained the aura of a flying wherewolf. Back to Grumman the team only reinforced Leroy Grumman that he was on the right way, also confirmed his new engine choice and general concept.

The ‘turbo Hellcat’, F-2 to F-6 (1944)


The F-4 was a late-1942 development while production was just setup for the F-3. The XF6F-3 was indeed fitted with a two-stage, two-speed supercharged 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-27 Double Wasp radial piston engine in order to increase performances overall, and allow the Hellcat to carry a more powerfully armament (hopefully cannons) and heavier bomb payload.

On 17 August 1942, indeed, the first prototype XF6F-3 crashed after the oil system feed failure, and made a belly-landing. Thanks to the pilot’s skills and location, the aircraft on suffered only minor damage. It was decided to modify it immediately, by fitting the new Pratt-Whitney R-2800-27, copprising a two-stage booster. On October 3, 1942, the rebuilt model now called XF6F-4 made its first flight and this cionducted engineers to get rid of the compressor, due to insufficient reliability.

The new F-4 had also four Colt-Browning M20 20 mm autocannons and 200 rounds of ammunition, and was abundantly tested at the Naval Aviation Test Center, showing the new armament was not compared fafourably for a day fighter. It was decided to stey with the six guns arrangement. True, it turned out that the guns were preferable for night and assault. After completing tests the XF6F-4 was reconfigured into what became essentially the F6F-3N version, night fighter.

Meanwhile at Grumman, the still existing XF6F-1 was re-equipped with the Pratt-Whitney R-2800 engine and put to the XF6F-3 standard. It first flew on September 13, 1942 with a slightly modified stabilizer. Work on it stopped while the F6F-3 had in standard the Pratt-Whitney R-2800-10W engine.

By the end of 1943, modifications of the “tubo” XF6F-2 for better high-altitude performances were tried. The lack of reliable turbochargers had this implementation constantly postponed. Only by adopting the patent of emigrated Swiss engineer Rudolf Birmann, a new promising model was developed, and tested on January 7, 1944 by Carl Albert with a Pratt-Whitney R-2800-21 fitted with the new P14B turbocharger, connected to a four-bladed propeller. Successful tests led to its proposed adoption by the F-3, but at the time the Navy saw no need for an high-altitude fighter. On July 6, 1944, this led to the first flight of the XF6F-6, essentially an F6F-3 fitted with the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W (2100 l. C) with direct injection. Two prototypes were developed. One reached 6675 kph at 671 m. Again, no serie was approved as the F4U Corsair showed already the best performance with the same engine.

From the F-3 to the F-5

Diff F6F3 F6F5
Diferences F6F-3 vs. F6F-5

The F-3 was constantly modified as production started. But it was not a smooth affair. Leon Svirbula, the “production genius” at Grumman saw tough times. The main production facilities were concentrated in Betpage, and could not produced the Hellcat, as its lines were alread full with the latest Wildcats (soon taken over by GM) and the Avenger plus less known models such as the Widgeon seaplane. In August 1942 he therefore supervised the construction of a new factory on Long Island, New York. Finding steel of limited supply was eventually a battle won with the help of the city authorities, selling a railway viaduct on Second Avenue, and remains of the exhibition pavilion. These helped setting up the factory and staff was recruited straight from the street of NYC. Later, Clark said, “The Hellcats” were built by cobblers.” speaking of the labour quality. But production began nevertheless without even waiting for the completion of the roof, capitalizing on summer. Official inauguration meanwhile took place on 1 June 1942 and the factory was “ready” in September.

This new plant was gargantuan, and many improvements were made to make the production of the F-3 as smooth and streamlined as possible, while making provision for easy “on the fly” serial improvements. Many were made in fact: The first production aircraft was tested on October, 4, 1942 by test pilot Selden “Connie” Converse. During a landing test on an aircraft carrier, a brake hook was torn off however, showing some improvements to make. A month later the rear part separated entirely and was destroyed. After strengthening the tail, additional tests showed no more issues.

Once this was of the way, Leon Svirbula howed way to massively increase production, in such a way no manufacturer in the US ever shown. It was in blatant, abolsolute contrast of Brewster, also near NYC. At the end of January 1943, the first six were distributed, 35 in February, 81 by March, 130 by April. They missed the propeller bow and main landing gear guards. Their niches were redone and the engine cover was slightly reworked. The initiial few first serial models were in fact assembled at Betpage.

Changes made were as follows: From #273, the lower surface of the left wing was reworked as new landing lights. From #910 the antenna mast was relocated behind the cockpit, perpendicular to the aircraft centerline. From #909 this antenna was tilted forward and fairings for the two internal machine guns in the wing console replaced by covers. From #1265, flaps of the engine cooling control system in the lower part of the cowling were deleted. From #1501 the convex stamping on the side exhaust festoons was made flush. From #1900 the R-2800-10W engine received a new injection sustem using a water-methanol mixture. From #2651 the antenna mast was again slightly offset to the left.

The cockpit canopy was also modified, from a frame with four plexiglass panels and with a 38 mm armored glass plate on the frontal arc. Between the plexiglass front panel and bulletproof glass there was a space into which hot air was forced in, to prevent ice formation. The new front part was made of three transparent pieces, all of bulletproof glass. A special liquid was also used as antifreeze agent, sprayed on it in winter.

The F6F-3 had no bomb rails or rocket racks underwings, causing some criticism from Navy commanders that wanted the attack capability offer by the F4U. This, Grumman led improvements on the airframe in order to be fitted with six racks with tested made directly in combat units and modifications in naval aircraft repair shops. The F-3 received in 1943 Bomb racks for two 454 kg bombs under the belly, plus six to eight racked underwings for unguided HVAR rockets.

By January 1944, some 60% F-3 were equipped with the new Pratt-Whitney R-2800-10W engine, now able to reach the massive output of 2231 HP for a short time. From April 1944 this was standardized.

All variants of the F6F.


Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat 1942

The basic design was ready in 1941, and by July 1942, after the prototype was tested, a Zero fighter shot down during the Aleutian campaign was was discovered damaged in Alaska. It was put back together and tested, and ultimately caused a few changes in the final build of the F6F. The F6F compared to the F4F was a big plane, and in wing surface alone, was the largest of all allied naval fighter. It was just a tad inferior to the might P-47 Thunderbolt, and share the same engine. Many in fact compared it to the naval version of the “Jug” and it was as durable.

Landing Gear

The landing gear was of course, due to the larger model compared to the Wildcat, no longer rectrating in the fuselage and opening in a “vee” when landing. Instead, Leroy Grumman chosed both stability and ruggedness as well as simplicity, with a classic type retracting in the wings. What was unique was it turned 90° to enable the roadwheels to insert faultlessely, fitting flush inside the wells. The arms mechanism ensured that when deploying the wheeltrain down, gravity assisted the pilot operation. During the turn operation however, the main leg’s cache caused a lot of drag until reaching it’s final position and the pilots felt it. The same happened when retracting it, but it gave a backup “feeling” indication the operation was successful. The leg was of course damped by it’s own oil-based coil, and had a second damping arm lower on the inner wheel leg.

Catapult hook, tailwheel and tailhooks

Under the inner section of the wings were located on both sides, little but very strong hooks to be grabbed by the catapult slings cable. The shape of it allowed the cable to simply fall back by gravity when fully extended off. However, Hellcats, like Wilcats before, were rarely catapulted. Typically in a “sunday punch”, the fighters, which needed less lenght, would be parked and just take off free. It’s only for certain operations, notably the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) fighter left when the air strike was in the air, were quickly brought up by the forward elevator and launched by catapult to win time.

The tail hook was approx. one meter long (3.2 feets) and hinged mid-lenght vertical of the tail, in a small recess. It disappeared entirely when in flight to keep the bottom as flush as possible. When down, it formed a 90° angle, being lower than the extended tailwheel. The latter was located forward of the hook, and was also completely retracted flush inside the tail bottom end, with just a small protrusion to mark it’s location. Its of course improved top speed. The tailwheel was also composed of a free-rotating wheel support, and a tractraable arm suspended by two legs. These structural elements, like most in the plane, were strong but also perforated to spare weight.

F6F Cockpit/flight deck*

(To come)

*The FAA recently proposed to swift to gender neutral terminology for better inclusion of female and nonbinary persons in the industry. I left have no problem with that, however on my side, i still refer to the old term according to WW2 terminology. No offense intended. At the time female pilots could in theory handle these models, but only for taxiing them in some cases from the manufacturing facility to a military airbase or transit field, pending deployment. Never frontline service. But this concerned mostly large aircraft, bombers and the like. Smaller ones like these could have been transported by rail and in the case of Grumman, the facility was close to the sea and NY Navy yard. From the factory tarmac to the flight deck was a stone throw.


The F6F-5, most common production variant, was powered initially by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W Double Wasp, a 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine with an output of 2,200 hp (1,600 kW) with a two-speed two-stage supercharger and water injection.

The Hellcat engine burned 150 octanes fuel, whereas Japan used 87 octanes fuel, allowing better performances of it.
There were three intakes, caracteristic of the model, below the main opening, and these cooled the carburettors and one the oil cooler. This, combined with the relatively low-mounted engine compared to the pilot’s seat make the fuselage so tall.

Another aspect of the engine were its four cooler flaps below. They were generally closed in flight, only opened when on the ground for maximal cooling, as the top engine cawls, with some overlapping over inserts for the main exhaust pipes. They were closed half way for takeoff, and closed in flight too.

This power was passed onto a three bladed standard Hamilton propeller, 13 ft 1 in (3.99 m) diameter constant-speed propeller. This Hamilton Standard “Gidromatic” type had a variable pitch (the prototype was given “Curtiss Electric” model). It was typically painted black with yellow tips.

Protection and equipments

As a naval plane, to Navy and 1942 standards, the F6F was extremely well protected. It also had plenty of space in its cavernous fuselage for a lot of gear.
As for protection, navy pilots affectionately dubbed it the “aluminium tank”, as they venerated its ability to take enormous punishment.


Main: 6x 0.5 in cal. M2 Browning

Initially the first version only had four MGs and carried in all 1400 rounds. Later models increased had six but the supply was still 1400 rounds, only distribution changed. The metallic rounds belts comprised a tracer every ten rounds as customary for this weapon, enabling the pilots to better vizualise the path of its fire. The six HMGs were of course calibrated to cross at a certain distance. Their placement was staggered, as shown by the barrels protruding from the wing’s froward edge, was due to the need to feed all three, so there was room for three ammunition belts running from the large ammunition bin inside the inner part of the wings. They were reloaded by simply opening a hatch, affixed on a swing arm to stay open during the operation. It was hindged to the front to avoid any gap provoking its opening in flight.

Cannons (F6F-5N only)

F6F-5N at NAS Jax, 1944-45

The night variant, F6F-5N was the only one of all to be fitted with two 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannons, with 225 rounds each, plus four Browning M2 0.5 in (12,7 mm), all in the wings.


4,000 lb (1,800 kg) full load, with on the Centerline rack:
-One 2,000 lb (910 kg) bomb or a Mk.13-3 torpedo
-Two 1,000 lb (450 kg), 500 lb (230 kg), 250 lb (110 kg), or Six 100 lb (45 kg) (Mk.3 Bomb Cluster).

Rockets: 6x

F6F-5 sporting rack with 5-in HVAR rockets

The F6F-5 was modifioed to received six underwings racks, three either side, for six 5 in (127 mm) HVARs or later in the war, tow 11.75 in (298 mm) Tiny Tim unguided rockets.

External Tanks:

There was a single, normal 150 gallons (568 l) fuel external tank, well profile and affxed under the center line belly. It was held up by a single releasing pin, in the liasison between the aft leg and the fuselage. The forward section was held in place by simple belt straps. When the pilot spent it, generally before the main tank to avoid fighting with it under the belly, it was dropped by the rear, slipping through the straps.

However it could be supplemented by two smaller 100 gallons droppable fuel tanks underwings. These were placed on the removable main bomb racks under the inner wings section. Their small size fed the main wings fuel tanks and the leg dropping system was the same. They were likely used by the wing commander, generally which stayed longer during an attack (those spending their ordnance generally flying back without waiting).

Cameras: The “recce hellcat”: F6F-3P

It was developed by order of the Naval Aviation Command. The “P” stands for “photo” (reconnaissance) and two cameras were installed in the fuselage, one offering a panoramic with a long focal length mounted on the left side aft of the wing’s bleeding edge, and on the other side with as standard combination a 304.8-mm and a 609.6-mm vertical panoramic cameras. These were frequently used in 1944-45, especially over Kyushu.


F6F-3N testing a wing-mounted radar, 1943

Early tests were performed with the F-3 in 1943-44. But it was produced only on numbers with the F-5 variant. The F6F-5N night fighter was fitted with the smaller and lighter AN/APS-6 radar in a fairing on the external starboard wing. This final version of the night fighter was so successful it became the last aboard US Carriers, until 1948.

The “night hellcat” was however at first the F6F-3N: At the beginning of 1941 work started on an airborne radar station to be fitted on a fighter. The radar was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with assistance of the British. It was designated AIA. After upgrades in 1942 it became the Sperry AN/APS-6. Weighting 113 kg () with the transmitting-receiving unit and search antenna, finding the suitable installation was required at Grumman, soon contacted for tests. AIn the spring of 1943, the Naval Aviation Command offered Grumman to modified a F6F-3 with this radar as a night fighter.

On 3 June 1943, static tests of the XF6F-3N prototype, with the radar in a dielectric pod mounted on the forward edge of the right wing started at the Aviation Aeronautical Test Center, Quonset Point. In addition the cockpit received a new instrument panel with red, anti-reflective illumination. The front part of the pod received armored glass. This was completed with a AN/APN-1 radio altimeter, IF/AN/APX-1 IFF identification system, landing light and radar display in the cockpit. The latter showed two digital marks, one indicating the distance to the target and the other its position relative to the pilot. Detection was about 122 m vertically, 7.2 to 8 km in front of the plane.

The add weight slowed down top speed to 32 kph (). The electronic equipment could be destroyed by a charge activated by a simple command activated by the pilot in case of a crash-landing in hostile territory. One F6F-3N was also fitted in addition wirh with a powerful searchlight on the left wing, symmetric to the radar. In the same facilities the F4U-2 also tested the same system. Eventually as production started to swift to the new F-5 standard, the remainder of the F6F-3s, about 50% of the total, could actually be produced as night fighters, but it was discontinued. The F-5 saw the same, improved installation and became the new standard.

The F6F-3E was in effect a sub-version of the night fighter, fitted with the alternative Westinghouse AN/APS-4 radar, lighter than 30 kg but with a larger horizontal search area, a narrower vertical area. The target display however was mediocre, and forced the abandon of this version after just 18 converted.


Bethpage plant production of the F6F-5 in 1944

The F6F series was intended to take harm and the pilot securely return to base. A shot safe windshield was utilized and a sum of 212 lb (96 kg) of cockpit protection was fitted, alongside defensive layer around the oil tank and oil cooler. A 250 US lady (950 l) self-fixing gas tank was fitted in the fuselage. Standard deadly implement on the F6F-3 comprised of six .50 in (12.7 mm) M2/A Browning air-cooled automatic rifles with 400 rounds for each firearm. A middle area hardpoint under the fuselage could convey a solitary 150 US lady (570 l) expendable drop tank, while later airplane had single bomb racks introduced under each wing, inboard of the underside inlets; with these and the middle segment hard point, late-model F6F-3s could convey an absolute bomb load more than 2,000 lb (910 kg). Six 5 in (127 mm) high-speed airplane rockets (HVARs) could be conveyed – three under each wing on “zero-length” launchers.

Two night-contender subvariants of the F6F-3 were created; the 18 F6F-3Es were changed over from standard-3s and highlighted the AN/APS-4 10 GHz recurrence radar in a case mounted on a rack underneath the conservative, with a little radar scope fitted in the primary instrument board and radar working controls introduced on the port side of the cockpit. The later F6F-3N, first flown in July 1943, was fitted with the AN/APS-6 radar in the fuselage, with the radio wire dish in a bulbous fairing mounted on the main edge of the external traditional as an improvement of the AN/APS-4; around 200 F6F-3Ns were built.

Hellcat night warriors asserted their first triumphs in November 1943. An aggregate of 4,402 F6F-3s were worked through until April 1944, when it was replaced by the F6F-5. Early production F6F-5 were tried with eight 5-in HVAR rockets in 1944.

F6F-5 detailed design

The F6F-5 highlighted a few enhancements, including an all the more remarkable R-2800-10W motor utilizing a water-infusion framework and housed in a somewhat more smoothed out motor cowling, spring-stacked control tabs on the ailerons, and an improved, clear-view windscreen, with a level protected glass front board supplanting the F6F-3’s bended plexiglass board and interior defensive layer glass screen. also, the back fuselage and tail units were fortified, and aside from some early creation airplane, the vast majority of the F6F-5s assembled were painted in a general very dark ocean blue. After the initial run, in 1945 not so many F6F-5s were buult until V-Day, and the small windows behind the primary cockpit were deleted.

A couple of standard F6F-5s were likewise fitted with camera gear for surveillance obligations as the F6F-5P. While all F6F-5s were fit for conveying a deadly implement blend of one 20-mm (.79-in) M2 gun in every one of the inboard firearm straights (220 rounds for each weapon), alongside two sets of .50-in (12.7-mm) assault rifles (each with 400 rounds for every firearm), this setup was just utilized on later F6F-5N night fighters. The F6F-5 was the most well-known F6F variation, with 7,870 being built.

Different models in the F6F series incorporated the XF6F-4 (02981, a transformation of the XF6F-1 fueled by a R-2800-27 and outfitted with four 20-mm M2 gun), which previously flew on 3 October 1942 as the model for the projected F6F-4′. This form never entered creation and 02981 was changed over to a F6F-3 creation aircraft. Another test model was the XF6F-2′ (66244), a F6F-3 changed over to utilize a Wright R-2600-15, fitted with a Birman-made blended stream turbocharger, which was subsequently supplanted by a Pratt and Whitney R-2800-21, additionally fitted with a Birman turbocharger.

The turbochargers ended up being questionable on the two motors, while execution enhancements were minor. Likewise with the XF6F-4, 66244 was before long changed over back to a standard F6F-3.[34] Two XF6F-6s (70188 and 70913) were changed over from F6F-5s and utilized the 18-chamber 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) Pratt and Whitney R-2800-18W two-stage supercharged outspread motor with water infusion and driving a Hamilton-Standard four-bladed propeller. The XF6F-6s were the quickest form of the Hellcat series with a maximum velocity of 417 mph (671 km/h), yet the conflict finished before this variation could be mass-produced.

The last Hellcat carried out in November 1945, the all out creation being 12,275, of which 11,000 had been implicit only two years. This high creation rate was credited to the sound unique plan, which required little adjustment once creation was in progress.



  • XF6F-1, initial prototype (1,600 hp (1,193 kW) Wright R-2600-10 Cyclone 14)
  • XF6F-2: Turbocharged Wright R-2600-16 Cyclone, then R-2800-21, Birman turbocharger
  • XF6F-3: 2nd prototype (2 charges supercharged 2,000 hp (1,491 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp)
  • XF6F-4: F6F-3 with two-speed turbocharged 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) R-2800-27
  • XF6F-6: 2 protos with 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) R-2800-18W, 4-bladed propellers
  • F6F-3 (British Gannet F.Mk.I/Hellcat F.Mk.I) 2,000 hp R-2800-10 Double Wasp
  • F6F-3E Night fighter version (AN/APS-4 radar)
  • F6F-3N night fighter version (AN/APS-6 radar)
  • F6F-5 Hellcat (Hellcat F.Mk.II) R-2800-10W engine
  • F6F-5K: Converion into radio-controlled target drones
  • F6F-5N night fighter AN/APS-6, 2x 20mm M2 cannons
  • F6F-5N (British N.F.MkII) Night fighter version (AN/APS-6 radar) 2x 20 mm AN/M2 cannon, 4x 0.50 in
  • F6F-5P Photo-reconnaissance aircraft, cameras rear fuselage
  • Hellcat FR.Mk.II British Hellcats photo reconnaissance version
  • FV-1 Proposed designation for the Canadian Vickers cancelled

Combat use

The Hellcat compared to the rest: Butcher bird, really ?

A hangar-catapulted Hellcat. This solution was tested on several carriers but eventually dropped as too problematic notably for hangar handling.

The Grumman Hellcat has cemented for most naval and aviation historians alike the reputation of being the best naval fighter of WW2, and third best allied fighter. It killed more planes in the pacific than any other allied fighters, USAAF, USN, USMC, or FAA. But it third for the tally globally in WW2 (5223 kills vs 5784 (P51) or 6338 (Spitfire)), although having best ratio or any fighter of this war (comprising the P38 Lighting, Mustang, M109, Fw-190, Zero and Oscar). It had many advantages for this cause:

  • It was really powerful. A 2000+ hp engine meant better performances in all quarters*
  • It was well armed, with six cal.05 M2HB HMGs, of the sturdy, never-failing Browning. Not guns, but still enough.
  • It was rugged to the extreme, both for safe rought deck-landings, but for overall protection
  • It had a better visibility overall (mostly compared to the Corsair, eliminated in 1943 from carrier operations)
  • It had low cost, fast construction and easy maintenance

*In some ways, the Hellcat introduced the concept of “power reserve” familiar to us for modern fighters. There was more than required to have the aircraft flying and efficient in safe conditions, on-specs, and plenty of it for extreme manoeuvers, the pilots confident of the extreme sturdiness of the structure. In fact so much, the human factor was often the limitating one… It was in fact the last nail in the coffin of “old school aviators” inherited from WWI placing agility over power.

There were certainly more to this, but that was, in essence, it’s four strong points. It was still an inferior dogfighter to most IJN and IJA fighters until 1945 (see below), but with experience, pilots learned to play its strenght over the enemy’s weaknesses, with amazing results. The best ever navy pilots, to this day (see later), were flying the Hellcat. It also proved a valuable fighter bomber, explaining its long postwar career. Also when replacing the F4F on fleet carriers, it was paired with the new Essex-class aicraft carriers filling the ranks of TF 38/58 and thus, really was the “standard” fighter to the end.

Aboard USS Saratoga, 1943

Compared to the allies, the FAA indeed never had a comparable fighter: The early war Fairey Fulmar was a jack of all trade, and as they are often too compromised to be a valuable fighter. The Sea Gladiator was a biplane, totally dominated in speed and power, the Sea Hurricane, a monoplane, too, and the Sea spitfire and seafire were too fragile for carrier operations. It’s only rivals appeared in 1945 and after: The Hawker Sea fury and Blackburn Firebrand. In fact the FAA fully embraced the Hellcat, at first known as the “Gannet” (Later “Hellcat”), and soon a main asset in British pacific operations in 1944-45, together with the Corsair (see below all this).

Versus the A6M “Zeke”

Main adversary of the Hellcat, the Zero was however too weakly built in comparison.

In 1943, when the Hellcat start to arrive in active units, the IJN was still transitioning two models essentuially to newer versions (for the zero) or new models entirely. Japanese designed Jiro Horikoshi’s masterpiece is a legend of aviation, which not only achieved the greatest kill ratio and tally of all Japanese Aviation (army and navy combined), but the most produced Japanese plane overall, with more than 10,000 delivered until 1945 and constantly upgraded. A full article is being written on it, so we will not dwelve on its caracteristics or development history.

The “Zeke” has been a nightmare for all allied aviation -including fighters- from December 1941. Rarely seen over China, it remained mostly unknown until Pearl Harbor. In the early months of 1942, the A6M1, then A6M2, earned the mastery of the air relatively quickly. Only one model was more or less capable of opposing it, with the right pilot: The F4F Wilcat, precedessor of the F6F. Like it’s larger sister, the F4F was very sturdy with good enough agility for its time, and in some occasion and in the right hands, was nearly a match. But many found it sluggish.

But as the Hellcat was refined, using former F4F pilot’s experience, advices and dogfight as a reference point, it became clear that it’s number one designated adversary, the Zero could be beaten at it’s own game, but by a completely different philisophy: Not achieving better agility by lightness, but by brute power. Performances combined to the general sturdiness, in the right hands, were to be enough. It would have to wait until mid-1943 to really figure this out. Nevertheless, the F6F was far more than an upgraded F4F: It had on the onset 800 more horse power for 391 mph, 60% more, but also 45% more than the Zero. Its climb rate of 1,300 ft/minute was greater, notably 400 ft/minute greater than the Zero. Also instead of two, it had three 6–0.50 caliber guns and more armor around the pilot and critical engine parts.

In between, the Zero was improved constantly, with its major upgrade also coming in 1943: The A6M5. The previous A6M4 Type 0 Model 41/42 which arrived in mid-1942 already became a nightmare for the F4F, but the next iteration was by far the most modified and best of them all. Also called the Model 52 it became the main adversary of the Hellcat. The goal was to shorten the wings to increase speed, dispense with the folding wing mechanism and revised all wings and tail mobile parts, plus the engine, 1200 hp Sakae 31, but also for the last, A6M5c, One 13.2 mm (.51 in) Type 3 in each wing outboard of the cannon, deleted cowl 7.7 mm gun, 55 mm (2.2 in) thick piece of armored glass, 8 mm (0.31 in) armor behind the seat, Wing skin thickened. It first flew in September 1944 most being used to intercepting B-29s.

At some point report came from encounters with the very latest “Zero”, the A6M5, showing that the Hellcat was quicker at all elevations. The F6F out-climbed the Zero hardly over 14,000 ft (4,300 m) and rolled quicker at speeds over 235 mph (378 km/h). The Japanese contender could out-turn its American adversary effortlessly at low speed and partook in a somewhat better pace of move under 14,000 ft (4,300 m). The preliminaries report closed:

Do not dogfight with a Zero 52. Do not try to follow a loop or half-roll with a pull-through. When attacking, use your superior power and high speed performance to engage at the most favourable moment. To evade a Zero 52 on your tail, roll and dive away into a high speed turn.

The navy recoignised in short the A6M5 was a better dogfighter, so pilots would have to just learn to fight the Hellcat’s fight, not the Zero’s fight, never entering its own game. This, combined with a greater experience overall and comparatively dwindling reserve of skilled IJN pilots explained the “great Marianna Turkey shoot” in June 1944 and all the following mass ecounters.

In October at Leyte (Battle of Cape Engano), the Ozawa’s bait force and Kido Butai (a shadow of its former self) launched a combined 108 aircraft at TF 38. Unsurprisingly they were delt for upon arrival, radar-warned, by scores of Hellcats fighters squadrons. Not a single one went close enough to do any damage to the fleet, a 100% kill ratio on this single wave. Some of these carriers, like IJN Chitose only had A6M fighters aboard, most being the Type 52.

Versus the Ki-43 Hayabusa “Oscar”

The Ki-43 was the successor of the 1st gen. monoplane Ki-27 “Nate”, Army equivalent to the A5M, and answered the A6M based on similar specifications. The A6M would have turned better for the Army and help the Japanese aircraft industry to share and reach greater production scale, but alas, inter-service rivaly prevented that. Engineers of Nakajima, traditional provider for the army’s fighters since 1930, tryied to emulate everything that was so special about Jiro Horikoshi’s graceful and feather light “zero”. The resulting design first flew in January 1939 but development took time and it only arrived in active units by October 1941, almost two years after, with 5,919 produced until replaced by the Ki-84.

The Hayabusa was basically all the preferred philosophy for IJA pilots, quite similar to IJN pilots in one main respect: Speed and supreme agility over all else (including sturdiness and armament). The “Oscar” as it was known by US intel, was a natural dogfighter and showed it time and again, delivering the same type of performances the “Zero” achieved. It was powered by a small Nakajima Ha-115 14-cyl. radial 970 kW (1,300 hp) engine, to reach 530 km/h (330 mph, 290 kn) at 4,000 m (13,000 ft). Not really an interceptor, more a ballerina armed with two 7.7 mm LMGs initially it was constantly upgraded, becoming heavier but each time with a more powerful engine to cope up. The last versions were armed with two 12.7 mm (0.500 in) Ho-103’s in the forward fuselage and the 1944 Ki-43-IIIb was armed with two 20 mm (0.787 in) Ho-5 cannons again in the fuselage. Better, but still weak compared to the Hellcat. Its wings were just too frail to accept machine guns… In fact, Nakajima only obtained their achivement by creating somehing structurally lighter than the Zero…

The Ki-43 “Oscar” was encountered in many occasions from 1943 as based in most Pacific island, later cut off from Japan. If many were destroyed on the ground and many sent to China, the Hellcat had plenty of occasions to deal with these in all operations up to 1945, the last used as Kamikaze. Slower, fragile, lightly armed, their only advantages were their dogfighting abilities… if they could come close enough. On this matter, the nimble fighter was able to outturn the legendary A6M2/3/5 at low altitude. It could outurn also everything flying, including the Hellcat, thanks to its ‘butterfly’ flaps, allowing for extremely tight turns in combat. But even in that area, experienced pilots were increasingly rare in 1944 to achieve all its potential. Even caught in a dogfight, the Hellcat’s sturdiness would have gave plenty of time for the pilot to “cash-in” without much harm, then disengage and find a spot to deliver a short burst, often sufficient to fatally cripple the flimsy machine, without armor and self-sealing tanks. At least the Oscar was the mount of the IJAF top ace, Satoru Anabuki, with 39 confirmed kills. It’s still pale in comparison of IJN’s Saburō Sakai (64)…

Versus the Ki-84 Hayate “Franck”

The Ki-84 was the natural successor to the army’s Ki-43 “Oscar”, and paralleled the A6M5 in many ways, notably engine power. After a first flight in February 1943 it was delivered from 1944, a very long development time which was in part it’s undoing. Nevertheless, Nakajima’s engineers managed the impossible and tried to keep as much agility they could from the magnificient hayabusa, but on a much stronger frame and twice as powerful engine. The Ki-84 (3,514 delivered) thanks to a Nakajima Homare Ha-45-21/25 18-cyl. radial delivering 1,522 kW (2,041 hp) at sea level, reached 687 km/h (427 mph, 371 kn) at 7,000 m and had a much better range and time to altitude. Since the danger was now coming more from USAAF Bombers, speed and acceleration came forward of its qualities of a dogfighters. Encounters thus became more frequent as the USN approached the home islands and in particular Kyushu.

It appeared from these, the Ki-84 showed excellent performance and high maneuverability, considered to be the best Japanese Army fighter to see large scale operations, and proved indeed a match for all models including the F6F and F8U. It proved also excellent to down high-flying B-29 Superfortresses, in part thanks to its powerful armament and better resilience (better than the Zero in that matter). They first were met over Leyte at the end of 1944 and it made good of its two 12.7 mm hmg in the nose and 2x 20 mm cannons in the wings, albeit a bit “light” compared to the F6F. In 1945 the last version had foir 0.50 caliber HMG in the nose and wings plus two 20 mm cannons in the wings, and other 30 mm cannons, or two 20 mm in the nose and two 30 mm in the wings, plenty of firepower when a F6F was cornered. Although records are ellusive on their kills over F8U and F6F, it appeared that they were superior in dogfights to the Corsair, having the advantages in armament, acceleration and climb rate.

Versus the German “butcher bird”

First off, the F6F was compared both to the A6M and probably best German “butcher bird” at the time, the Focke-Wulf Fw-190. Let’s start with a chief test pilot recollections registered in Patuxent Naval Air Test Center “Report of Comparative Combat Evaluation of the Focke-Wulf 190A-4”, after being just back from fleet carrier duty in early 1944, later promoted, Rear Adm. C.C. “Andy” Andrews, U.S. Navy. He was asked to start comparative tests between the F8U Corsair, F6F Hellcat and FW-190. Here are some points:

It was more heavily armed, with four 20mm cannon and two .30-caliber guns. With less ammo, it could just “point and destroy” it’s opposition, which was perfect given the rapid nature of the dogfights in 1944. Less time on the target to pepper it. On both points the six HMGs of the F6F and F8U were at a slight disadvantage. It was also less powerful, but made it for its smaller size, but still lacked speed and agility. Forward vision was poor compared to the two others. Its roll rate was slightly superior to the F6F-3. Diving abilities were poor. Being smaller and lighter, less sturdy, the Fw-190 vibrated excessively high diving speeds, quite alarmingly. It was not the case for the F6F. The Fw 190 also stalled with very little warning but recovered easily. It was also easier to achieve full power in the Fw 190 with its unilever control, better than the F6F-3, not the Corsair. Instraight line it was faster than the F6F-3: It came from 0 to 290 knots at 200 feet to 356 knots at 25,000 feet versus 0- 200 feet to 17 knots at 25,000 feet. Also, designed as an interceptor, it’s climb speed was way better than the Hellcat and Corsair: 165 knots versus 130 knots for the F6F-3.

F6F-3 over California, 1943

Pilots who made the test comparisons all agreed the Fw 190 was extremely easy to fly and designed for pilot convenience but not equal to the F4U-1 and the F6F-3 in dogfight, although it had many advantages, notably because it could outrun the F4U-1 and the F6F-3 in a 165-knot climb or faster. The simplicity of its cockpit was notable but it had more automatic features and pilots disliked having less direct control over variable settings and engine performance, yet again preferring F6F-3 in combat. This move to automation, less evident in Japan for technical reasons whereas the lack of pilot was as acute, dictacted to a radical drain of pilots towards the end of the war. Manufacturers were pressed to introduce these to speed up training and simplify the life of young recruits.

These comparisons between the FW-190 and F6F or Corsair are not fortuitous: British FAA pilots flying the Hellcat in several occasions met the FW-190 in combat, as much as the already hard-pressed BF-109.

USN Hellcats

The U.S. Naval force very much wanted the more accommodating flight characteristics of the F6F over the Vought F4U Corsair, despite the latter’s better speed. This was detected early on, during deck landings, a basic achievement prerequisite, and the Corsair was rather delivered by the Navy to the Marine Corps to fight from land. The Hellcat stayed standard USN until the F4U series started to improve on some topics in late 1944, with deck landing issues solved by other ways like visual aids and experience returns from the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm operating it from 1943. notwithstanding its great flight characteristics, the Hellcat was just more forgiving to “rookies”, and that was its main selling point. After the crippling losses in 1942, the USN needed a brand new generation of pilots.

The Hellcat was robust enought to take the roughest landings as well as being shot at longer than expected, all leaving a fighting chance to inexperiences pilots. To keep up the airframe was adequately designed, and constantly improved during production as failings were analyses, built at the extreme to endure the routine of deck landings a gazillon times. Like the Wildcat, it was also intended for simplicity of production

Early Operations

F6F-3 of VF-2 (USS Enterprise) after a crash landing, burning, 10 Nov. 1943.

It saw activity against the Japanese on 1 September 1943, when USS Independence own fighters destroyed a Kawanishi H8K “Emily” flying boat, heavily protected. On 23 and 24 November, they were pitted in a more serious test over Tarawa, reporting 30 Mitsubishi Zeros destroy for the loss of just one F6F. For “rookie pilots” that was unexpected and rapidly constructed its reputation. Over Rabaul in New Britain on 11 November 1943, both Hellcats and F4U Corsairs fought all opposition during day-long battles notably with Army models and A6M Zeros, claiming 50.

Hellcats were carried by the Essex-class capital ships of TF38/58 and main instrument engaged in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. The famous “turkey shoot” really cemented for eons it’s repution of “butcher bird”. So many Japanese airplane were destroyed that what happened in the Marianas gave supreme confidence in the pilots, passed onto younger recruits.


Kill ratio of allied fighters

In 1945, the F6F would represent 75% of all kills recorded by the U.S. Naval force in the Pacific. Radar-prepared Hellcat night-contender groups showed up in mid 1944. USN/USMC F6F pilots flew 66,530 sorties and scored 5,163 reported, accepted kills, so 56% of all USN/US Marines kills of the conflict overall, at an expense of 270 Hellcats in battle, giving the ultimate ratio of 19:1 guaranteed kills. Claimed were frequently misrepresented during the conflict and pilots claimed much higher figures, hard to confirm due to the ace and victory rules of the time.

So that amazing proportion was even a conservative one. Some argues it could be as high as 25 to 28:1. All things being equal the Hellcat performed well against the best Japanese fighters of the time, with a 13:1 kill ratio against the A6M Zero alone, 9.5:1 against the Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate, best army fighter, and 3.7:1 against the Mitsubishi J2M, late Japanese interceptor in 1944. These success seemes impressive, but always had to be compared to the fact that from june 1942 onwards, they confronted progressively inexperienced Japanese pilots, enjoying the benefit of expanding superiority.

As japanese aviation started to vanish from the air (rather than sending inexperienced recruits dogfighting, units were retained for Kamikaze attacks), the air superiority role of the Hellcat started to be secondary and in 1945 sorties were usually for ground-assault where they still excelled, with rockets but more commonly bombs. In all, Hellcats dropped 6,503 tons (5,899 tons) of bombs until V-Day. Another aspect was it’s record-beating readiness ratio thanks to extremely well tought maintenance: “Its readiness factor” often exceeded 98%, appraoched by no other allied plane.

Throughout World War II, 2,462 F6F Hellcats were lost to all causes – 270 in dogfights 553 to ground and shipborne AA fire, 341 because of technical issues and various causes (like those burned in decks and hangars of CVs). Of the all out figure, 1,298 were lost of all causes combined, and many outside of the battle zones. And as production is concerned, it’s delivery pace was superior to any other naval plane, all manufacturers considered in WW2. So many were cranked up that at some point the Navy had no pilots for them. They were parked, waiting. In fact the industrial management team was so efficient that workforce turnover was very low, skilled labour stayed until the end of the war and managed to keep insane construction speed, helped by the initial design, only using simple geometric shapes and straightfoward, streamlined assembly.

The pilot’s take on the Hellcat

Dave McCampbell “Minsi III” hunting board

There was an unsurpassed expert pilot in the USN, Captain (ace) David McCampbell, with 34 victories, which once portrayed the F6F as:

“… an extraordinary military aircraft. It performed well, was not difficult to fly, and was a steady weapon stage, however what I truly recall most was that it was tough and simple to maintain.”

Hamilton McWhorter III, another USN pilot, and flying expert of World War II, credited with 12 victories, the only one turning into a twice ace in his first sortie.

Hellcat’s aces

There were some 305 Hellcat aces in the pacific, far more than in the Wildcat. Some earne dthem only on the F4U, like Ira Cassius “Ike” Kepford (16 victories) from VF-17 or Roger R. Hedrick (12), awarded the DFC which flew on VF-17/VF-84 with both, as P. L. Kirkwood. Other started their career on the F4F and transitioned like Elbert McCuskey and “Swede” Vetjasa read more.

  • David McCampbell: 34 MH VF-15
  • Cecil E. Harris: 24 NC VF-18
  • Eugene Valencia: 23 NC VF-9
  • Alexander Vraciu: 19 NC VF-6/VF-16
  • Cornelius N. Nooy: 19 NC VF-31
  • Patrick D. Fleming: 19 NC VF-80
  • Douglas Baker: 16.3 SS VF-20
  • Charles R. Stimpson: 16 NC VF-11
  • Arthur R. Hawkins: 14 NC VF-31
  • John L. Wirth: 14 NC VF-31
  • Lt. Elbert McCuskey: 13.5 NC VF-3/VF-42/VF-8
  • George C. Duncan: 13.5 – VF-15
  • Roy W. Rushing: 13 – VF-15
  • John R. Strane: 13.0 – VF-15
  • Dan R. Rehm: 13 AM VF-8/VF-50
  • Wendell V. Twelves: 13 – VF-15
  • James A. Shirley: 12.5 – VF-27
  • Daniel A. Carmichael Jr.: 12 – VF-2/VBF-12
  • Roger R. Hedrick: 12 DFC VF-17/VF-84
  • William J. Masoner Jr.: 12 – VF-19/VF-11
  • Hamilton McWhorter III: 12 – VF-9/VF-12
  • P. L. Kirkwood: 12 VF-10

Fleet Air Arm Gannets/Hellcats

FAA F6F-3 pending delivery at Bethpage, 1943

The British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) obtained some 1,263 F6Fs under Lend-Lease, named Grumman Gannet Mark I and by mid-1943 “Hellcat” to avoid confusion, the F6F-3 being becoming the “Hellcat F Mk. I”, the F6F-5, “Hellcat F Mk. II” and the night fighter F6F-5N “Hellcat NF Mk. II.” Read also

They saw activity off Norway, in the Mediterranean (notably Operation nvil Dragoon in August 1944 and over Italy until 1945, and naturally in the Far East. Some operated as recce models, with a visual surveillance gear The F6F-5P (Hellcat FR Mk. II) in the Pacific. FAA Hellcats moslty fought land-based airplane in the European/Mediterranean and their hunting board was far les impressive than USN pilots. They still globally revendicated 52 confirmed kills during 18 elevated battles in May 1944-July 1945. 1844 Naval Air Squadron (HMS Indomitable), British Pacific Fleet, was the best scorere with 32.5 kills.

Only two of the 12 groups flying the Hellcat in September 1945 actually kept them to the last, and were disbanded in 1946. All in all, Hellcats served with the 706 Naval Air Squadron Crew Pool & Refresher Flying Training School, 709 NAS Ground Attack School, 778 NAS Service Trials Unit, 891 NAS (not operational at V-day) as 1847 NAS, merged into 1840 and also never operational. In the East Indies NAS 800 (HMS Emperor) was the first operational unit flying the models, followed by 804 (HMS Ameer, HMS Emperor, HMS Shah, HMS Ravager), 808 (HMS Khedive), 888 (detachments only), 896 (HMS Empress), 898 (HMS Attacker/HMS Pursuer). In the Atlantic/Med threaters it was operated by the 881 NAS (HMS Pursuer), 892 (HMS Premier) and 1832 (HMS Indomitable). Pacific units operated it in the 885 NAS (HMS Ruler) 1839 (HMS Indomitable), 1840 (HMS Speaker), and 1844 (HMS Indomitable).

Postwar Use

F6F-5K Drone in 1946

F6F-5K used in the Bikini tests, 1946

Due to the end of the war, the production line was reduced to just completing the last variants and the last order was cancelled. The F6F was still maintained in active service in 1946, but gradually replaced by the F4U in 1947-48 and only maintained onboard as a night fighter, even though jets started to appear alongside. In 1949 it was officially retired from frontline service, and if some lingered a bit longer in training units, they were placed in reserve, all replaced by the Beacat which served a bit longer, until 1950.

Also in 1950 many were sold to the French Aéronavale, and the rest, were either scrapped, or converted. In 1946, the Blue Angels acrobatic team was created with veteran pilots, and they flew the F6F-5. It became the first model ever used by the famous unit. Their oiriginal glossy dark ocean blue became the basic color sported by all models ever since, as the yellow-orange fonts.

Operator guiding a taking off F6F drone

Modified F6F firing an experimental air-to air missile at Point Mugu, CA.
Another use of the Hellcat, long after the war, was as a Drone. It started early on, with the Bikini test, where the first, taking off with sensors onboard to test the result of a squadron flying right close to an atomic mushroom and fallout area. In 1948, the Hellcats were retired from all units, conversion started, with elaborated radio-command systems. The USAAF and well as the USN as some experience in these, already testing RC bombers for “suicide” missions in 1944-45. Instead, the F6F-5K were used as flying targets for the new jets. They were all brightly colored to be spotted easily by observers.

Several hundred of them were so converted, and some were guided from the ground, notably for missile tests, but other were guided in the air, by a control plane. In 1952, Unit 90 of Guided Missile used F6F-5K drones, each carrying 1 ton of bombs, to destroy bridges during the Korean War, heavily defended by AA. This was one of their rare wartime mission. These drones departed from USS Boxer, radio-controlled from an AD Skyraider.

In one occasion, in August 1956, a rogue F6F-5K “outwitted” a bunch of jet fighters. Operator lost control of the Drone, and signalled it as a potential hazard as the latter could run out of gas and crash into Los Angeles. The Oxnard Air Force Base’s 437th Fighter-Interceptor’s Northrop F-89D Scorpion which caught on the Hellcat, failed to shot it down. They tried their Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) “Mighty Mouse Rockets” assisted by their AN/APG-40 radar, but the drone, after circling over the city and then veering over the countryside, had a life of its own and started zig-zaging, effectively defeating the radar. They fired at first 64 rockets, failed and then their remaining 30 rockets manually, without results. Without guns, and out of fuel, they had to abandon the chase and go back to Oxnard, tail under legs. Meanwhile, the F6F-5K ran out of gas too and eventually narrowly missed Palmdale Regional Airport, glide-crashed in the desert nearby. Attempts to shot it down cost the area some 1,000 acres destroyed, forests and scrubland set ablaze, homes and property damaged. It took 500 firefighters to extinguish all the fires started by the rockets, 208 of them along the way, for nothing… src.

Drones will be used allon along the 50s and early 60s to test a variety of missiles, until its age made it less relevant. Douglas AD-4 Skyraider tested the AIM-7 Siwewinder against these drones, with modified racks underwings, carrying four of them from 1953 to 1956. This was one of its last contribution, to the mainstay of US and NATO’s air-to-air missiles inventory for the duration of the cold war and beyond.

Foreign operators

The Hellcat being a piston-engine model designed in 1942, it seems spent in 19148 when the last flew from US carriers, and only in their night fighting version. The rest were spent as drone, but many were kept in reserve in case of possible exports. But compared to perhaps more famous models, notably the F4U, Sprifire or Mustang, the F6F seemingly was not much used postwar for long or by many nations. The most active and largest postwar operator outside the US was France.

French Hellcats

F6F-5 of the Normandy-Niemen Sqn. in Indochina, 1951

French F6F-5 of the Flotille 1F, FS Arromanches, 1951

In 1945 indeed, France already was gearing to war in Indochina and needed a modern fighter bomber park for its support operations. In this conflict, a commission These were the two pacific veterans, the F6F and F4U, and the F8F Bearcat. The French in 1946 indeed used Supermarine Seafire going with their postwar carrier, the Arromanches, former Colossus, leased from August 1946 and for five years, later purchased. She was the largest of all acquisitions with the smaller dixmude (ex-Biter) and two ex-Independence class. But in 1950, the Seafires, after four years of constant operations, were worn out, and had both landing issues and range limitations. Plus they had a limited payload in operation. The other support model used until 1950 was the now antiquated SBD Dauntless.

Thus, a commission sent in the US in the hope to purchase a large park of reserve/surplus planes, and settled on three models from the USN, outside those converted or modernized for new uses. The French Navy and French Air Force acquired first the F6F. They both deployed the Hellcats in Indochina from 1950 to 1952. The Aéronavale F6F-5 Hellcats kept their 1944 dark Sea Blue livery as USN planes until 1955, but with a French roundel and anchor. Four squadrons operated the F6F-5 under French colors, notably the pretigious Normandie-Niemen squadron, before transitioning to the F8F Bearcat.

They were used by the 11F (ex-1F) and 12F combat squadrons and in the 54S, 57S and 59S training squadrons. These saw heavy action over Indochina, notably oprating from FS Arromanches, Lafayette and Bois-Belleau. They were retired in 1960 and never took part in the Algerian war as pretended by some shaky sources.

The choice of the Hellcat was not immediate. Here is a recollection of the officers in charge of procurement in 1950:

Second in command of the 1/5 “Vendée” fighter group, present in Indochina from 1949 to 1950, I was called upon to participate, in the spring of 1950, in a commission convened by CATAC Tonkin and chaired by its chief, Colonel Mentrée. This meeting was attended by members of a combined US Navy/US Air Force mission, responsible for investigating the choice of combat aircraft that these branches planned to provide to the French Air Force in the Far East. (…) Questioned as a “fighter” expert, I proposed that the choice should bear on navy fighters, mainly for their take-off and landing characteristics, which in my opinion should be considered as essential, the others characteristics – armament, radius of action, air-cooled engine also being favorable to this choice. The American mission having then evoked the possible supply of Hellcat and/or Bearcat, this perspective was unanimously accepted by the commission, taking into account in particular the Spitfire experience.
Colonel Jean-Marie VAUCHY « Le choix du Bearcat » (1998)

Around December 1950, we were suddenly told that we were going to change equipment and be equipped with F6F5 Hellcats. It is true that our Spits were getting closer and closer to exhaustion and that their availability was collapsing. We therefore detached 2 lieutenants from the sailors of the naval aviation of Hyères who used this type of plane and a month later they returned to Saigon (…) this Hellcat was a peaceful machine, looking a little clumsy, practically devoid of faults, solid, heavily armed and equipped in surplus with the famous P&W R2800, an engine which gave the impression, once started, that it was about a diesel that nothing seemed to be able to stop.
General Jean RAJAU « Histoires de transformation des pilotes en Indochine » (2002)

Uruguayan Hellcats

The Uruguayan Navy also used them until the early 1960s. Deliveries started in 1947, with recently mothballed models and twelve Uruguayan aviators were invited to test it; Other solutions were envisioned by the government, namely the Bearcat but the US Government rather pushed to the adoption of a mix of F6F-3, 5 and 5 FN. Eventually twelve F6F-5 were adopted and beloved by their pilots, as reported from Fort Worth, Texas, where they trained. Once in service, they however over time showed engines issues, perhaps as being worn out or lacking skilled maintenance teams. These went on to serve with the xxx until 1960, May, 25 during a military parade. At that point three were lost already.

Contrary to some sources they were not painted green but retained their originaly glossy dark ocean blue livery with light gray undersides, and national ensigns, including the anchor as they served all with the naval aviation.


Due to its large production and historically significant career, about 66 F6F were preserved over the years or restored in flying conditions as of today. To compare to the F4U, this is a few, the latter having over 220 preserved. Nevertheless, the F6F can be seen in all significant aviation museums in the states, but also around the world in static version. Many joined private collections or memorial flights in the states, rekligiously maintained and exhibited to the public, doing stunts and blasting their loud Pratt & Whitney. Personally i encountered a former Indochina war version when in Ferté-Alais, France, and was struck by the particular noise of the engine, and surprising speed for something that squarish. Seen from close, it was indeed massive, deserving the nickname “jug” as well as the P-47.

In the United Kingdom there is a single F6F-5 #79779 in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in RNAS Yeovilton. For the US, plenty, F6F-3s at the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, San Diego Aerospace Museum in San Diego, Californiaand the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at Cape May Airport in Lower Township, New Jersey. F6F-5 at the Naval Air Facility Washington at Joint Base Andrews (former Andrews AFB) in Maryland, New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, USS Yorktown/Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, Cradle of Aviation Museum in New York. It is on loan from the USMC Museum in Quantico, Virginia.

Those in flying conditions, F-3 are at the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts and one privately owned in Houston, Texas. The F6F-5 are flown at the Commemorative Air Force (Southern California Wing) at Camarillo Airport (former Oxnard AFB) in Camarillo, California, Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, Minnesota, Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon and Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, California.

US Navy Gallery:

F6F-3 from VF-38 “ruth-less”, summer 1943

F6F-3, VF-5 USS Yorktown, August 1943

F6F-3, VF-8 USS Intrepid, summer 1943

F6F-3, ace ‘Harold E-handsome Hal’ Vita, VF-9 USS essex, September 1943

F-3 VF-6 USS Enteprise 1944

F-3 from USS Hornet, March-Sept. 1944

F-3 “lolly” in September 1943

F-3 James H. Flatley CVAG 5, USS Yorktown, May, 6, 1943

F6F-6 white 5 Hadden VF-9, February 1944

F-3 (FV-9) USS Essex, 1944

F6F-3 Lt.L.A. Edmonston, VF-34, Nissan Island, May 1944

F6F-3, VF-7 USS Hancock, June 1944 shakedown cruise

Unknown F6F-5, 1944

F6F-3N (night fighter version) from VF-2 USS Hornet June 1944

F6F-5 VOF-1, VCE-72 USS Tulagi, Op. Anvil Dragoon, Southern France, August 1944

F6F-5, VF-20, CV-6 USS Enterprise, August-November 1944

F6F-3 USN Ace Alex Vraciu, USS Lexington (CV16), summer 44

F-5 VF-18 USS Intrepid, September 1944

F-3 VF-8 USS Bunker Hill, October 1944

F6F-5, VF-27 Robert Burnell, USS Princeton, October 1944

F-5 VF-14 US Wasp, May November 1944

F-5 VF-18 USS Intrepid, July, November 1944

F-5 Hamilton McWorther VF-9, USS Hornet, March 1944

10,000 th Hellcat in production in 1944

F-5 USS Suwanee, 1945

F-5 VF-17 (CV-12) USS Hornet, March 1945

F6F-5P, VF-84 USS Bunker Hill 1945

F6F-5, VF-15 USS Essex, 1945. “Minsi III” flown by top ace David Mc. Campbell. The tail “Cag” was a unique marking proper to him, the Cmmander Air Group. A modern replica was done of this livery on a flying F6F today as part of the Commemorative Air Force.

F6F-5, VF-23 USS Langley 1945

F6F-5 Lt. Navy ace Hamilton Mc Worther (VF12) uss Randolph, January 1945.png

On Independence class carriers, 1945

F6F-5 from USS Bataan, CVL-29

F6F-5 from USS Monterey, CVL-26

F-5 from USS Cabot, CVL-28, 1945

F-5 from USS Cowpens, CVL-25

F-5 from USS Belleau Woods, CVL 24

F-5 from USS Independence, CVL-22

Gallery: Wildcat in FAA service

Hellcat MkII FAA, Sqn. 888 HMS Indefatigable 1945

(More to come).

Gallery: Cold War Wildcat

F6F-5P from VF-5B, USS Coral Sea 1948

F6F-5 NAS New York Training unit, 1947

F-5 USN reserve, NY NAS, 1948

F-5 of an unknown postwar unit

F6F-5 Blue Angels, 1946

F6F-3 drone NAS Johnsonville, Penn.

F5K drone, VU-1 Oahu, Hawaii, Sept. 1959

F-5 of GC-II/9 “Auvergne” at Tan Son Nhut, French Indochina, 1952

Uruguayan F-5 CC. Omar Aguirre, 1952


Cdr David McCampbell, cdts navsrc

Deck crew’s folding wings of a F6F – Ray Wagner Collection

F6F pushed on flight deck elevator aboard USS Monterey (CVL-26), June 1944

Carrier Air Group3 aircraft in flight, 1946

F6F on CV13, November 1943

F-3 from VF-25 warming up on the flight deck of USS Cowpens (CVL-25) circa January 1944

F6F on Saratoga (CV-3 1944)

F6F-3 landing on USS Enterprise (CV-6)

F6F from VF-11 on CV-12, 1945

F6F-3 from VF-5 makes condensation rings aboard USS Yorktown 20 November 1943

Hellcats F6F-3 in May 1943

Hellcat F-3 in flight, 1943

F6F Hellcat in flight

F6F target drone

Hellcats from 1840 NAS in flight, 1944

Src/Read more about the Hellcat:


David A. Anderton (trad. Patrick Facon, ill. Rikyu Watanabe), Hellcat, Paris, Editions Atlas, 1982
Enzo Angelucci et Paolo Matricardi, Elsevier Sequoia, coll. « Multiguide aviation », 1978
Mister Kit et Jean-Pierre De Cock, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Éditions Atlas Spécial Mach 1 1981
David Anderton (ill. Rikyu Watanabe), Hellcat, Jane’s Pub. Co, coll. 1981
Barber, S.B. Naval Aviation Combat Statistics: World War II, OPNAV-P-23V No. A129. ONI 1946.
Leonard Bridgman et Fred T Jane, Jane’s fighting aircraft of World War II Random House Group Ltd 2001
Eric Brown, Green William et Gordon Swanborough (ill. John Weal), Wings of the nav Janeʼs 1980
Richard H. Dann, Walk around F6F Hellcat, Carrollton, Tex, Squadron/Signal Publications 1996
David Donald, American warplanes of World War II, Aerospace Pub. AIRtime Pub 1995
Francis Dean, America’s hundred thousand: the U.S. production fighter aircraft of World War II Schiffer 1997
Lou Drendel, U.S. Navy carrier fighters of World War II Squadron/Signal Publications 1987
Andrew Faltum, The Essex aircraft carriers, Baltimore, Md, Nautical & Aviation Pub. Co. of America, 1996
Ferguson, Robert G. “1000 Planes a Day: Ford, Grumman, GM and the Arsenal of Democracy.” Vol. 21
William Green (ill. G.W. Heumann et Peter Endsleigh Castle), Famous fighters of the Second World War, Garden City, N.Y, Doubleday, 1975, 276 p. (ISBN 978-0-385-12395-2, OCLC 2606609).
William Green et Gordon Swanborough, Grumman F6F Hellcat, WW2 Fact Files, Macdonald/Jane’s 1976
Richard Hill, Grumman F6F-3/5 Hellcat in USN, USMC, FAA, Arco Pub. Co, 1971
(pl) Adam Jarski et Waldemar Pajdosz, F6F Hellcat (Monografie Lotnicze 15) AJ-Press 1994
Adam Jarski et Waldemar Pajdosz, F6F Hellcat, AJ-Press, coll. « Aircraft Monograph »
Bert Kinzey, F6F Hellcat in detail and scale (D&S Vol.26), Shrewsbury, AirLife Publishing Ltd 1987
Bert Kinzey, F6F Hellcat : in detail & scale (D&S Vol.49), Squadron/Signal Publications 1996
(cs) Jan Krist, Bojové Legendy : Grumman F6F Hellcat, Jan Vašut 2006
Charles A. Mendenhall, Wildcats & Hellcats gallant Grummans in World War II Motorbooks International 1984
David Mondey, The Hamlyn concise guide to American aircraft of WWII Bounty Books 2006
Michael O’Leary, USN fighters of World War II in action Blandford Press 1980
Jim Sullivan, F6F Hellcat in action Squadron/Signal Publications 1979
John W. R. Taylor, Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1969
(de) Owen Thetford, British Naval Aircraft Since 1912 Putnam 1994
Geoff Thomas, USN carrier aircraft colours units, colours and markings of US Navy carrier-borne aircraft Air Research 1989
Barrett Tillman, Hellcat, the F6F in WWII, Annapolis NIS 1979
Barrett Tillman, Hellcat Aces of World War 2 Osprey Aerospace 1996
Jim Winchester, Aircraft of WWII, Grange, coll. « Aviation factfile » 2004
Andre R. Zbiegniewski et Łukasz Wojtyniak, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Kagero 2004
F6F Hellcat in Action – Aircraft No. 216 by Jim Sullivan, Charles Scrivner


On popsci
Performances tests pdf on Boscombe Down British test pdf on comparative reports
F6F Hellcat at War By Cory Graff (extracts, google books)
On – Pilots recall


History Up Close with the F6F Hellcat, NavalAviationMuseumFoundation
Walkaround at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum
Grumman F6F Hellcat — All Variants, SVG prod.
Hellcat vs Zero, Rob Hertberg and Chris Rushing, PeninsulaSrs Videos.

The Models Corner:

The subject, as expected is monumentally popular ahd has been covered by almost all model kits brands, major and many minor, existing from RC scale to 1:12-1:14 in the 1950s, and down to the standard 1:72 and 1:144, even represented on aircraft carrier kits at 1:400 to 1:700… This below is a small selection.
Hasegawa’s 1:32
A highly detailed classic, the F-5 1:24 by Airfix
General query on
Heller 1:72 Hellcat
Profiles ideas on

Consolidated TBY Sea Wolf (1941)

Consolidated TBY Sea Wolf (1941)

USN aviation USN Torpedo Bomber (1941-44), 181 built.

When good enough beats better

The Consolidated TBY Sea Wolf was a USN carrier-borne torpedo aircraft, contender and contemporary to the Grumman TBF Avenger, but which development dragged on to such a point, it never saw battle, with a small number delivered and ultimately the whole order cancelled in September 1945. It is the “alt avenger” a completely alternative, what-if, plagued by lack of luck, bad timing amidst a long development, war emergency, and a last minute change of manufacturer. Despite being superior to the Avenger, it is now largely forgotten.

A Plagued Development

Consolidated Aircraft in fact even had nothing to do with it: It was rather Vought which planned the then XTBU-1 Sea Wolf at first, in a 1939 US Navy prerequisite. Amazingly when thinking of its fate, the initial prototype flew… just 14 days after Pearl Harbor ! More than than, is displayed such capabilitoes, performances and promises, that it was overall considered better than the Avenger it competed with, and initially the Navy submitted a request for 1,000 to be built; So what went wrong and why the Avenger was adopted instead ?

Call for tenders (October 1939)

So the Chance-Vought XTBU-1 had it’s genesis in October 1939 when the Bureau of Aeronautics sent to the US aircraft industry a request for proposal for a new torpedo bomber, which could replace the Douglas TBD Devastator then in service.

The specification included of course the new model to be a modern monocoque all-metal monoplane with folding wings, retractable undercarriage and tail hook as a basis, carrying a crew of three, but specifically to meet a top speed of at least 300mph (482 km/h) and to be able to carry one standard airborne 18 inches torpedo, or three 500lb bombs (227 kgs) internally to avoid drag and maintain high performances.

Crucially it also had to be fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks, and armour to protect the pilot and crewmen, as well as a rear powered dorsal gun turret. The package was intimidating but reflecting the navy exigence to what it considered a world’s best in class torpedo aircraft at that stage.

Several companies at the time submitted designs satisfying this set of specifications, and were compared, but ultimately all were elminated but two: Grumman and Chance-Vought. Each based on their specifications received orders to build prototypes. Both were in fact very similar projects, the TBD and TBY being very close in overall appearance, but the Chance-Vought design was certainly nimbler and less ‘chunky’ than the Avenger. It also had a longer greenhouse canopy so to ensure better visibility overall and room inside, but was deserved by the fact it’s wings when folded took more space than Grumman’s own design.

Prototypes are compared (December 1941)

The prototype from Chance-Vought was to be powered by the assumed reliable Pratt & Whitney R-2800-6 engine still in development when the Navy in April 1940, the U.S. Navy contracted with Vought for a single prototype. It was to be provisionally fitted with the P&W R-2800-2. It was officially designated by the Navy ordnance bureau XTBU-l, the code TB reflecting it’s nature and U a manufacturer code for “Chance-Vought”. But soon with the war erupting the Navy decided to simplify model recoignition and attribute names. The XTBU-1 was therefore called “Sea Wolf” after a popular consultation.

From April 1940 to December 1941, so almost two years, Chance-Vought developed its prototype, but it accumulated problems and fixes, and ultimately Grumman was faster to show off it’s prototype: The TBF first flew on 7 August 1941. It started badly for Vought, but still the Navy wanted comparative tests, and after the TBF was tested exhaustively, the staff waited petiently for the XTBY-1 to be shown in turn. That is until 7 December 1941. by then the USA were at war, and the staff could legitemely had asked the contract to be revoked due to exceptional condition and solidify the TBD right away for mass production.

In fact the latter already gained a production order in December 1940. But many in the staff still where confident the graceful lines of it’s contender were a promise of better performances and thus, based on Chance-Vought insistence of a of a very close devlivery, maintained the deal at least for a “backup model” and even possible replacement.

Vought XTBU-1 aft view 1941
And on 22 December under a cloudy and windy sky, exactly 21 months after being first ordered (22 April 1940), the Chance-Vought XTBU-1 flew for the first time at the factory’s airfield. It showed promises and the test pilot appriciated it’s handy new unusual feature, a single control both lowering undercarriage and flaps, setting the propeller pitch and fuel mixture, all ready for landing. Since a carrier landing was a stressful experience, it was potentially a life-safing measure, one that could be appreciated by the Navy, especially for the numerous rookie pilots with limited trainingn it would have on hands in wartime.

For the rest, Chance-Vought team was confident. It was fast, responsive, and displayed generally safe flight characteristics, even with the self-leasing tanks and some armort plating. And it was still given the R-2800-2, so there were hopes of even better performances with the R-2800-2. After fixes, it only reached the test airfield for official navy trials at NAS Anacostia in March 1942. There, the Navy noted it was 30 mph faster than the Avenger, and would later exhibit generally good flight characteristics. However it’s official debuts were catastrophic.

XTBU-1 in flight showing it’s bomb bay opened and closed

The model indeed made a perfect approach, seized the arresting cable and… broke in two. This harsh captured landing preliminary test did not impressed the Navy. After strenghtening it in a just a month, teams working around the clok, it flew again in April 1942, the prototype was almost completely destroyed in a crash as a cadet on another plane loosing control when taxiing and smashing into the prototype’s tail. After being rebuilt again, it was tested several months later, and this time the flight was almost flawless, leading it to be at last was acknowledged by the Navy. But after requesting more fixes for its prototype, the Navy wanted this time to order it, but Vought at the time was concentrating on current productions like the F4U fighter. There was no room to spare. However in wartime, the Navy could order Vought to cede for free all it’s blueprints to another manufacturers which actually had some industrial capacity.

1942-43’s production reorganisation and attribution to Consolidated

The Navy then decided in September 1943 that the development would go instead to Consolidated-Vultee, tasked to deliver the final production TBY-1 (the letter changed accordingly from “U” to “Y”) as an alternative to the Grumman TBF. However to produce the TBY, a new facility was needed, based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to be completed. This took until late 1943 to be setup and many more month for tooling.

This new delay pushed back the production of the TBY further away in 1944, and in the meantime, the Navy started to change it’s requirement, something never good when combined by a project taken over by a new company that had nothing to do with its initial development. The modified TBY-2 was to be indeed fitted with a radar and it’s radome placed under the right-hand wing. Blueprints needed to be redrawn and a new prodution schedule setup. Still, rfefinements were made to various features. The XTBU-1 was armed with a single, fixed forward firing 0.50in gun located in the engine cowling, and a single 0.50in gun in the power-operated dorsal turret, oplus lije the Avenger, a third one mounted in the “stinger”, the caracteristic ventral tunnel position defending the most vulnerable spot. It was the obsvious same confuiguration as the Avenger, sometihing not initially planned.

1944’s TBY-2

TBY-2 in flight circa 1945
The modified XTBY-2 made it’s maiden flight on 20 August 1944. The new company ideed had a hard time adapting the design and working out its new features. At this point the Avenger was firmly entrenched as the premier US Navy’s torpedo plane, delivered to all and every fleet and fast carriers in action in the pacific. The standard was acceptable enough and training was setup for it essentially. In fact, production was now even enlarged, with the TBM, produced now also by General Motors, as the Wildcat, for escort carrier service.

At that stage, there was no longer any requirement for the original Sea Wolf and Consolidated was not very interested in refining this model. Various little issues postponed in fact passage into service for many months afterwards. It dragged on until at last Consolidated-Vultee received an order for 1,100 TBY-2, all radar-equipped, mostly for night operation and long range ASW patrol. The new TBY-2 was a significantlt different aicraft from the original XTBU-1:

XTBY-2 in flight testings, 1943

It was powered by the new Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22 series, carried a more powerful armament, with two more fixed wings 0.50-in guns, replacement of the dorsal turret by a cal.50 and keeping it’s “stinger” 0.30in ventral position. The payload was unchanged, but the underwings received four zero-length stubs racks for optional 5-inch rockets or depth charges. The Search radar was carried on the leading edge of the left wing, its antenna housed in a radome. It allowed to detect all targets on the surface at a range of about 100 km.

Production required tooling to produced new parts and the whole process was slow, given low priority compared to in-house projects. The XTBY-2 maiden flight only intervened by 20 August 1944, so 11 months after the signed contract, deliveries commencing from 7 November 1944. The production rate was also slow and the Navy reduced it’s order to just 504 aircraft. Eventually V-Day in Europe arrived, the need of the new aircraft was no longer that urgent.

ONI rendition cutaway of the TBY-2

Nevertheless, at least a first squadron received the new model, VT-97, who obtained it gradually from April 1945. A second squadron later was about to received it, but for maintenance reasons it was eventually decided to stick to the Avenger at that point.

By July 1945, the Navy again reduced it’s order to 250 aircraft. Eventually in September, only 180 had been completed when the company received cancellation order. None of the planes completed were sent to the front, as the war ended, and instead they all were allocated to VT-97 and a few training units at home, preparing pilots for the radar-equipped version of the Avenger. Few informations are available on the TBY-3 but it was to be powered by the new Pratt and Whitney R2800-25 (used on the Northrop P-61 Black Widow) and poissibly having a heavier armament with six racks underwings, and a cal.0.5 in ventral position, plus a more powerful radar.

All the planes went after the war to the reserve squadron, basically preserved in storage and longer flown. They were now officially surplus to requirement. Too specialized to find a niche on the civilian market nor to be exported at that stage (not efforts were done to market it anyway). The newly built latest Avengers replaced the older ones becoming surplus in turn. Eventually the TBY-2s were officially declared out of service in 1948 and latter sold for scrap, far outlived by the Avenger, despite promising performances and features. Bad luck and bad timing really conspired against it, so it will eventually stay as a great “what if” of aviation history.


TBY-2 with folded wings

  • XTBU-1: Prototype powered by a R-2800-22 engine
  • TBU-1 Sea Wolf: Unbuilt Chance-Vought production model.
  • XTBY-2 Sea Wolf: Consolidated-Vultee’s prototype with additional radar pod
  • TBY-2 Sea Wolf: Production variant, cancelled September 1945, 180 out of 1100 ordered delivered.
  • TBY-3 Sea Wolf: Improved variant, 600 ordered, and cancelled Sept. 1945.

⚒ specifications 1944

Dimensions – Lenght 39 ft 2 in (11.94 m)
Dimensions – Wingspan 56 ft 11 in (17.35 m)
Dimensions – Height 15 ft 6 in (4.72 m)
Wing area Wing area: 440 sq ft (41 m2)
Airfoil Root: NACA 23018, tip: NACA 23010
Weight, empty 11,636 lb (5,278 kg)
Weight, gross 18,940 lb (8,591 kg)
Propulsion Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22 Double Wasp 18-cyl. ACRPE, 2,100 hp (1,600 kW)
Propeller k
Speed, max. 312 mph (502 km/h, 271 kn) at 17,700 ft (5,395 m)
Cruiser speed 156 mph (251 km/h, 136 kn)
Ceiling 29,400 ft (9,000 m)
Climb Rate 1,770 ft/min (9.0 m/s)
Range 1,025 mi (1,650 km, 891 nmi) with one torpedo
Wing load Unknown
Power/mass Unknown
Armament: MGs .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 cowling, 2× wings, 1x dorsal turret, 1x 03 in (7.62 mm) ventral mount
Armament: Torpedoes/Bombs 2,000 lb (910 kg) payload
Crew: 3: Pilot, radio/navigator/Rear gunner, belly gunner

Src/Read more about the TBY:

The TBY on Ed Nash’s Military Matters: “when good enough beats better”

The Models Corner:

Octopus 1:72, CMR 1:72 (resin) and a 1997 book, Naval Fighters Nr. 33 by Steve Ginter, Bill Chana, Phil Prophett. See on Scalemates.


XTBU-1 tested in late 1942

XTBU-1 at NAS Qonsett Point, 1943

Final production TBY-2 Sea Wolf, VT-97, July 1945.


Various photos of the XTBU-1 being tested.

TBY-2 of BuAer 3, side view, 1944

TBY-2 on the ground 1945

TBY-2 SeaWolf parked in September 1945

Vought O2U/O3U Corsair (1927-1933)

Vought O2U/O3U Corsair (1927)

USN aviation USN/USMC Observation plane (Circa 580 built 1927-33)

The workhorse of interwar USN observation

The name “corsair” in the USN for an aircraft has a long legacy. The cokd war LTV A-7 Corsair II produced by Vought through Ling-Temco-Vought is now retired, but modern drones are likely to retake the name, first granted to a Vought plane back in 1928. This was the original one, before the legendary WW2 fighter-bomber.

From the 1926 Vought XO-26 prototypes to the production O2U Corsair, the Navy had its standard biplane scout and observation aircraft, both usable with floats or interchangeable wheeled undercarriage. It was used notably on virtually all interwar USN aircraft carriers in wheeled version, being only retired in 1939 on these (O3U), and was also standard on most interwar US Battleships and cruisers.

That very long legacy did not ended in WW2, as no fewer than 141 Corsairs were still serving with the US Navy and Marines, and the type was still used by many countries outside the US, notably for training. It saw action in China, in the Colombia-Peru war, and by the Thai air force against France in 1941. It became iconic in the last scene of 1933 classic “King Kong” as well.

Start of the legacy: Vought UO and O2U

Vought UO-1 (1922)

The previous Vought UO-1 (1922)

The Vought Corporation was not new to aviation, starting in 1917 with the successful Vought VE-7 1917 biplane trainer and fighter, produced throughout the early 1920s. USN experience with the VE-7/9 shown the way forward with onboard catapult-type seaplanes, and Vought proposed the UO-1, a streamlined VE-7/9, first with the improved inline with the Aeromarine U-8-D engine in 1921 and soon with the radial Wright J-1 in 1922. Its Basic structure as two-bay biplane was essentially the same but with a better shape, and all parts remaining standard between series.

The radial engine caused more drag, compensated by rounded fuselage sides and faired out behind side-mounted fuel tanks, a modified forward cockpit, sligthly taller vertical tail, redesigned center section, new tail surfaces. The UO was the floatplane version, with a central float and two smaller ones, and it replaced the VE on all ships. Later in 1922 after the prototype was successfully tested, the Navy placed an order for 141 UO-1. This was the company’s first big interwar military sale. The UO also led to a fixed undercarriage variant called the Vought FU (20 built, mostly exported). The Navy turned again in 1925 to Vought for its replacement, leading to the company answering specifications in 1926 with two prototypes.

Vought O2U (1926)

The Vought O2U (1927)

The prototypes ordered in 1926 were tested by the Navy Trial Board. No serious issues were found and the Navy ordered two production batches. In 1927, these completed amounted to 291 O2Us, as delivered. In between the Variant O2U-2 was soon proposed by Vought, with a better span for better carrying capacity and safer landing speed, as well as a larger tail for better maneuvrability. It was accepted right away by the Navy as the following O2U-3 which had a revised wing rigging and redesigned tail surfaces, notably to deal woth the new Pratt & Whitney R-1340-C engine. The O2U-4 had a few equipments changes asked by the Navy, and followed, all three ordered in 1928.

The Vought O3U and SU scout series

By 1930 Vought worked on a brand new evolution of the type, which in addition to all evolutions of the previous models crystallized on the O2U-4, had a new Grumman float. It was soon also accepted by the USN as the O2U-3, and manufactured until 1936 with a grand total of 289 being delivered. They evolved into the 2, 3, 4, with new cowled engines, enclosed cockpits notably for the O3U-6 (see variants). The Grumman float took place in the center and housed a telescopic landing wheeltrain, so it gave this model and amphibious capability the navy appreciated much. It alo participated in the quick celebrity of Grumman in the Navy.

The O3U-2 had a more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet engine and so its airframe was much reinforced to cope with the speed. The U-3 swapped for the 550 hp (410 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-12 and the U-4 had the even better Pratt & Whitney R-1690-42 Hornet. The ultimate O3U-6 was the ultimate evolution, much imprived in wind tunnet: It kept the same engine but adopted a NACA cowling and enclosed cockpits.
The O3U and its variants became the standard onboard observation plane for all battleships and cruisers of the USN, also seeing service on the Lexington class, USS Ranger, and USS Yorktown. They were retired in 1939-40. Alongside these amphibians, the Navy also adopted for its land bases a wheeltrain version called the SU series (SU-1, 2, 3, 4) based on the O3U-2 and 4. The O2U-3 was also evaluated by the United States Army Air Corps, but aside exports to China, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Mexico (it as even licence-built there), it was also evaluated by the RAF, the Luftwaffe and the IJN.

Design of the Vought O3U

Blueprint of the Vought O2U-2

The Vought O2U/O3U was typical for the time as a single-bay biplane with wings of near-equal span, rounded, with some dihedral for the upper wings, and two “N” struts for support plus elevons struts, and a pair of three (V plus single) connecting the fuselage. The forward part, behind the open air Pratt & Whitney Hornet engine was all metal, englobing the pilot seat and containing the gasoline tank, and the rear part was made of a metallic framing wrapped in canvas, with the observer seat, unarmed on the O2U.

The wheeltrain version had a standard two legs system (not interconnected) to spport the wheels, with two main leg and a support each. There was also a fixed tailwheel. The tail was large and rounded. The O2U only had a single .30 cal (7.62 mm) Browning machine gun forward firing in the upper wing. The O3U and SU versions had a trainable mount with a twin .30 cal Browning in the rear oberver cockpit. The O2U and O3U could carry a small bomb load, strapped under the wheeltrain for the SU, up to four 116 lb (53 kg) or ten 30 lb (14 kg) under the lower wings. The amphibian O3U had a central float with two small underwing floats. The O2U, O3U and SU were all called “Corsairs” and the Mexican version was even called the “Corsario”. The O3U-6 were delivered both as land planes and floatplanes, and in that case, the conversion was done by the Naval Aircraft Factory.

Vought XSU-4
Vought XSU-4 c1933

About the engine: Pratt & Whitney Wasp

Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet

This famous, powerful, compact and very reliable Hornet appeared first on the O3U-2 as the O3U-1 was given the same Pratt & Whitney R-1340-C as the O2U-3. The Hornet, designed from 1926 developed in its first version R-1690-3, 525 hp (391 kW). In 1930 it was likely the R-1690-5 (525 hp), and later the R-1690-11, rated for 775 hp (578 kW). The U-3 was also remotorized, with a Pratt & Whitney R-1340-12 Wasp engine which developed like the -16, 550 hp (410 kW).

The experimental XO3U-5 tested the Pratt & Whitney R-1535 (rated for 750 hp (560 kW)). The next experimental U-6 returned to the more trusted Pratt & Whitney R-1340-12 Wasp in early production (only 16, for 32 total) while the next batch was given the R-1340-18 which developed 600 hp (450 kW), 50 hp more. The land-based SU-1, 2 and 3 followed the U-2, U-4 engines. It’s difficult to track down engines fitted for the export models, but the very last serial SU-4 had the 600 hp R-1690-2 engine. 41 were delivered.

Variants of the Vought O2U/O3U

Argentinian export version

  • XO-28: U.S. Army Air Corps evaluation prototype (29-323) at Wright Field, with a 450 h.p. R-1340-C engine. Destroyed by fire March 1930.
  • O2U-1: 2 prototypes, 130 production with wheel/float landing gear +28 escort 450 hp (336 kW) R-1340-88 engine
  • O2U-2: Greater span and rudder (37 built)
  • O2U-3: Rigging and tail surfaces mods, R-1340-C engine (110 built +30 export)
  • O2U-4: O2U-3 with equipment changes (43 built +1 export)
  • O3U-1: Battleships/cruiser standard observation seaplane with the Grumman float (87 built)
  • O3U-2: Airframe modified to cope with the better R-1690 Hornet engine (29)
  • O3U-3: Pratt & Whitney R-1340-12 Wasp engine (76)
  • O3U-4: R-1690-42 Hornet engine (65)
  • XO3U-5: Pratt & Whitney R-1535 engine prototype
  • XO3U-6: O3U-3 with NACA cowling, enclosed cockpit
  • O3U-6: Serial variant with the R-1340-12 and the above (32)
  • O3U-6(late): Pratt & Whitney R-1340-18 Wasp engine (16)
  • SU-1: Scout version wheeltraib based on the O3U-2 (28)
  • SU-2: Same, based on the O3U-4 (53)
  • SU-3: Low-pressure tires variant (20)
  • XSU-4: Prototype with a 600 hp R-1690-42 engine
  • SU-4: Production model with the R-1690-2 engine (41)

  • Exports

  • Vought V-65B: Brazil (36)
  • Vought V-65C: Nationalist China
  • Vought V-65F: Argentine Navy
  • Vought V-66B: Brazil
  • Vought V-66E: Evaluated by the Royal Air Force
  • Vought V-66F: Brazil and Argentine Navy
  • Vought V-80F: Argentine Navy
  • Vought V-80P: Peruvian Air Force
  • Vought V-85G: For Germany (evaluation)
  • Vought V-92C: Nationalist China
  • Vought V-93S: O3U-6 for Thailand
  • Vought V-99M: same for Mexico
  • TNCA Corsario Azcárate: Licence-built O2U-4A (31)
  • Vought AXV1: Evaluation prototype for the IJN in 1929

Drawing O2U-1 floatplane

Specifications O2U-1

Dimensions*: 9.65 x 12.65 x 3.02m (32 x 41 x 9 ft)
Weight (Light): 2,094 kgs (4,606 lb)
Weight (Max take-off): 3,271 kg (7,197 lb)
Propulsion: Pratt & Whitney R-1535-94 Twin Wasp Jr
Performances: 825 hp (615 kW), 357 km/h (222 mph)
Range: 1,000 nmi (1,150 mi, 1,852 km)
Armament – MGs: 1x 0.5 in, 1x 0.3 in
Armament – Bombs: 1,000 lb (454 kg) under fuselage, 2x 116 lb (52.6 kgs) under wings

*Length, Wingspan, Height

Vought O2U-3 view Aero Digest
Vought O2U-3 view Aero Digest May 1927

Specifications O3U-6

Dimensions*: 9.65 x 12.65 x 3.02m (32 x 41 x 9 ft)
Weight (Light): 2,094 kgs (4,606 lb)
Weight (Max take-off): 3,271 kg (7,197 lb)
Propulsion: Pratt & Whitney R-1535-94 Twin Wasp Jr
Performances: 825 hp (615 kW), 357 km/h (222 mph)
Range: 1,000 nmi (1,150 mi, 1,852 km)
Armament – MGs: 1x 0.5 in, 1x 0.3 in
Armament – Bombs: 1,000 lb (454 kg) under fuselage, 2x 116 lb (52.6 kgs) under wings

*Length, Wingspan, Height

Vought O3U-6
Vought O3U-6

The Corsair in combat

The Corsair became the standard obervation plane of the USN from 1927 to 1937. Battleships and cruisers still operated the late O3U-3, 4 and 6 in 1939. The model also saw a great deal of action in South America (border disputes between Argentina, Peru and Brazil) but also intense combat with the Chinese Republicans, although this is off-topic there.

Some O3U-6 sarved until late 1941, converted into target drones or radio controlled drones, by Naval Air Factory. They were also tested for flights under hazardous conditions. A single O3U-6 was given experimentally dual-position flaps and full-length ailerons, designated XOSU-2. The NAF models were former O3U-6 in 1940, with a three-wheeled chassis.

In total, 289 SU models served in addition with the USN. The O3U was from 1936 to 1939 the default observation carrier-based plane, on duty from USS Langley, Lenxington, Saratoga, Ranger, and Yorktown. Transition started from USS Enterprise, but after commission in May 1938, she operated the Vought O3U and SU versions of the Corsair. 141 “Corsairs” were still active with the US Navy and Marines in December 1941. Soon after they were replacd by the SOC Seagull, and in 1942 by the Seamew and Kingfisher. Isolated O3U from local NAS around the US Coast probably spotted potential threats but no record of military action was recorded. By the end of 1941 indeed, all 03U and SU were transferred to the Continental reserve, and in training units, operating until 1945.

Mexican “Corsarios”

In March 1929, Mexico purchased 12 armed O2U-2M, powered by the 400 hp Wasp, in order to quell a recent military coup. Later Mexico obtained a licence to assemble 31 more, called “Corsarios Azcárate O2U-4A”. In 1937, ten V-99M powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-1340-T1H-1 (550 hp) Wasp were also purchased, although some soyrces claimed they could have been reditected afterwards to Spain, under embargo, in service of the Republicans. In that case, they took part in the Civil war early phase 1937-38.

Chinese Hǎidào (Corsairs)

China purchased succsesively 42 export versions of O2U-1 (Vought V-65C) in 1929, delivered until 1933. The same year, the Chinese nationalist government ordered 21 export versions of O3U (Vought V-92C) delivered in 1933–1934, so a total of 63. They saw action soon, used for reconnaissance and bombing, but also close support. The O2U-1 took part in the battle or the Central Plains and were present during the January 28 Incident, strafing Japanese troops. The O3U took oart in the Battle of Pingxingguan in close support of Chinese ground forces, and later to bomb and strafe Japanese positions in Shanghai.

Thai Bin Jaw Thing 1 (VS-93SE)

The Royal Air Force of Siam ordered 12 Corsairs. Nine were V-93S classed as pure reconnaissance aircraft, but the remaining 3 were close support aircraft, also called V-93SA: They were equipped with no less than four 8-mm Vickers machine guns in the fuselage plus two more manned by the rear gunner, six total. They also carried the same bomb load as the standard version.

In addition to the V-93, the Kingdom signed a contract (March 30, 1934, for 240,156 dollars) to provide a construction license in Siam, for an unlimited number. It also included all the technical documentation, for 9900 dollars in all. They would be fitted with Pratt & Whitney “Hornet” S5E-SD 745 hp engines and their metal two-bladed fixed-pitched propellers and their townend rings. Assembly of this new model, called locally “Bin Jaw Thing 1” was carried out at the Siamese workshops directed by German chief engineer Eric Hoffman. In 1936, 1937 and 1939, no less than three batches of 25 V-93SA were ordered in succession, until the US government imposed a ban on engines supply, since the political views of the Kingdom tended to lean towards the axis. The Siam nevertheless ordered 40 Hornet S5E engines and NACA cowlings.

So an unknown number of these took part in their only notable action in wartime, the French-Thai was of November 1940 to January 1941. The Thai Royal Air Force had listed 60 V-93SE, in four reconnaissance squadron (32nd, 34th, 42nd, 44th) plus three assault squadrons (35th, 41st, 43rd), and only the 32nd, 34th, 42nd and 43rd Sqn were called to action (around 36). They raided French airfields and artillery positions, had no losses but a few damaged by French fighters and AA. A unique V-93SA was shot down by AA and another, making an an emergency landing was captured by the French. Thai pilots of an assault version claimed a single old biplane Potez 25TOE. The Thai V93SE soldiered on until 1945, and afterwards, only 5 were suitable for flight, scrapped in 1949, one preserved.

Read More/Src

About the O3U-6 on
About the Vought UO, a VE-7 with radial
Generic page abut the Vought models on
Serial numbers 1922-29
Article on pospsci 1931
Article on popsci 1933
Vought on
O3U on
O2U on
O3U-3 on
wikimedia commons

Eden, Paul; Moeng, Soph (2002). The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Amber Books
Hagedorn, Daniel P. (1993). Central American and Caribbean Air Forces. Tonbridge
Lezon, Ricardo Martin & Stitt, Robert M. “Eyes of the Fleet: Seaplanes in Argentine Navy Service p2”. Air Enthusiast
Young, Edward M. (1984). “France’s Forgotten Air War”. Air Enthusiast.
Núñez Padin, Jorge Felix (2009). O2U-1A & V65F / V66F Corsair. Serie Aeronaval, Bahía Blanca


Vought-O2U-1 VS-4b light cruiser USS Omaha air wing, 1928

Vought-OS2U-1 Texas
O2U-1 VO1b, Battleship USS Texas, 1928

Unknown O2U-1 of the USN

O2U-1 with aft Lewis machine-gun and VO9M, USMC, NAS San Diego, 1928

Vought O2U-1 floatplane, VO 4b USS New Mexico 1929

O2U-2 VS14M, USS Langley 1928

O2U-2 VS-3B, USS Lexington 1928

O2U-4, VS-6S USS Salt Lake City 1929

SU-1 Special Executive USN model

SU-3, USN 1931

O3U-3 VS-105 USS California 1932


Vought O2U-2
Vought O2U-2 Of Scouting Squadron 3-B, takes off from USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), 28 February 1929

O2U Corsairs of VS-3
O2U Corsairs of VS-3 over USS Saratoga on 3 may 1929

O2U on saratoga
Vought O2U on USS Saratoga? – San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

O2U-2 Corsairs of VS-14M fly over USS Saratoga
O2U-2 Corsairs of VS-14M fly over USS Saratoga, 1930

O2U-3 on USS Saratoga
O2U-3 on USS Saratoga 1928

O2U-1 Corsair 1926
O2U-1 Corsair 1926

Vought SU-2 VO-8M
Vought SU-2 VO-8M in flight 1934

Vought O2U NACA 1930
Vought O2U NACA 1930

Vought SU-2 of Commander Aircraft Battle Force
Vought SU-2 of Commander Aircraft Battle Force 1933

Vought O2U-4
Vought O2U-4

Vought SU-3

Curtiss SOC3 Seamew (1939)

Curtiss SO3C Seamew (1939)

USN aviation US Navy Observation Floatplane (1939), 780 built 1942-44

The Curtiss SO3C was supposed to be the main reconnaissance and spotting floatplane in service on board capital ships, cruisers and aircraft carriers of the US Navy, in its convertible versions. However it was a rather mediocre seabird, for multiple causes in part imptuable to the Navy itself. Plagued by many issues that were never satisfactorily resolved and only served on a few cruisers for a short time (2-3 months) most, being lost in accidents. The 800 built in 1942-44 were passed to lend-lease or converted to ground uses, replaced whenever possible by the Vought Kingfisher, older but far better, or even the SOC biplane it was suppose to replace. Together with the poor results of the SB2C Helldiver, it did not improved the image of Curtiss with the Navy.

Genesis of a rather mediocre seabird…

Although Curtiss was quite a household name, at least for USAAF, experiences with the USN were far less stellar, although it started rather well, with the prolific JN-4 “Jenny” back in 1915, and following the end of the war and drastic orders reduction, the firm was still able to win contracts for the main onboard fighter, the F8C-1 and F8C-3 Falcon (1927-28) and later the F8C-4 Helldiver dive bomber, or the appreciated Curtiss SOC Seagull (1934), a reliable convertible biplane that Curtiss naturally wanted to replace and proposed the Navy a monoplane.

Back in 1937 when it was needed to replace the Curtiss SOC, the former and Vought were asked by the USN to study a prototype each, and on basis specs: Mid-wing monoplane and crew of two (, fuselage single main float to be replaced by a land gear with ease, and wings able to be folded back for storage in cruisers or aicraft carriers, and 6,300 Ibs max at takeoff. But the most stringent requirement was a very specific engine: The existing and still largely experimental air-cooled 7 liters inverted V-12 from Ranger Aeronautics. A promising design, yet untested, which was lighweight, well-profile to reach better speeds, and overall promised to be very fuel-efficient, thus almost doubling the range. Something that was highly praised for a navy scout.

The new design that emerged from both company’s seemed to match the requirement, with a fuselage larger enough for three crew member under the main canopy, stressed aluminium throughout (unlike the SOC, still canvas-wrapped) and the liquid-cooled inline V12 engine asked for. For aerodynamical reasons, Curtiss also tended to appreciate speed gains reached with such engines, as proven by its winning participation in the famous Schneider cup floatplace races at that time, but still expressed doubts about its unproven nature.

After, all, apart Packard, in the USN or USAF, everybody trusted the very reliable radials provided to almost all models in service. With insight, the Navy’s choice of that Ranger engine proved disastrous to say the least, and would have doomed Vought’s own model as well. While all aerodynamic problems were claimed as fixed, in part using radical approaches, the unreliable and underpowered engine remained it’s undoing.

The Curtiss SO3C model (a code corresponding to the constructor and its function) was developed on paper and submitted in August 1937 and by May 1938, awared a contract to proceed with a working prototype. Whis was done with celerity. The XSO3C made its first flight, with fixed undercarriage, above the Curtiss-Wright airfield on 6 October 1939. The test pilot was not impressed, and pointed out rapidly very serious flaws, grave inflight stability issues, and a very weak, overheating engine, the Ranger air-cooled, inverted V-shaped inline engine. Contrary to for example Pratt & Whitney, which stuck with classic radials, Ranger at the time (“Ranger Aircraft Engine Division”) was a subsidiary of Fairchild, specialized in inline engines (see later). In short, this engine fell short of all expectations in service.

Vought XSO2U-1. Same engine, but lightly better performances only due to aerodynamics. This is the later float version. The early one was fitted with the wheeltrain undercarriage caracterized by a lighweight double V struts attachments. It was also sleeker, faster of 3 mph, but heavier of 300 Ibs.


An official competition took place to replace the SOC, notably competed by Vought. Later, it was tasked to find its own successor with the OS2U Kingfisher. Despite its engine issues (the same Ranger V-770), the XSO2U-1 was not considered overall superior to the XSO3C-1, much heavier for a meager gain in speed. however, Vought’s production capacity was already taken up by manufacture of the OS2U Kingfisher.

An initial order for 300 was placed right after Curtiss was chosen and the contract awarded. However well before the first left the factory, by March 1940, Curtiss sent the prototype to the Navy for final trials, completed with the undercarriage and floats, in order to test both configurations. They showed rather grave cooling and stability issues. The cooling issue in particular has been observed with the Vought prototype as well. In fact, the engine overheated so much its test was curtailed to avoid an engine fire in flight.

As time progressed, Curtiss was hard-press to fix his new bird’s glaring problems, and by intensively using wind tunnels, started in late 1939 and continuing in early 1940, found the best approaches to improve the aerodynamic instability. If one solution was rather class, designing a taller tail, other were less: Engineers choose to add a dorsal fin section that extended over the rear observer’s cockpit. This was a long and iterative process.

The problem of stability resurfaced when the sliding canopy was open, breaking this tail surface, which was practicaly each time the plane was in mission, as this was the observer’s post. For cooling, the air intake below the propeller was enlarged.

Curtiss XSO3C in wind tunnel
Curtiss XSO3C in wind tunnel, 1940

The second way to deal with the stability problem was rather unique, and proper to this model. With the inline engine, this made the Seamew immediately recoignisable: The introduction of upturned wingtips. This radical solution had to resurface many, many years later with the famous “winglets”, and this was solution deduced from wind tunnel tests. This made the wingtips of the SO3C, from rounded, to squared, then raised by following a curve, not with a clear break. On 31 July 1941, the prototype was making floating tests and failed completely, sinking. Recuperated and repaired in Buffalo it failed again in November.

Finally the Ranger XV-770 engine could not be replaced yet, nor improved easily by Ranger, proved in the end a dismal failure, even after many attempted modifications. It delivered far less than paper specification, in addition to overheat, and resulted in poor flight performance, only equalled by its terrible maintenance record. This alone doomed the SO3C, which otherwise could have replaced as intended the SOC Seagull, but ended recalled and replacd by the biplane it was supposed to replace ! These problems, back and forth with the wind tunnel team and engineers from Ranger made the development dragging on, with more flights, until late 1941.

XSO3C-1 tested in a lake
XSO3C-1 tested in a lake
XSO3C-1 tested in a lake

Production went on meanshile ansd the first were delivered in mid-1942. NACA tests at Langley Field solved some issues, notably those related to stability, but the engine remained the main problem. By that time; the USN had adopted the custom of complementing official USN acronyms by names. In the SO3C case, it was the “Sea Mew” but originally in 1940 it was “seagull”, as replacing the older SOC. Strangely “seagull” was retroactively given to the SOC when it came back into service to replace the …seamew.

The company in early 1943 was asked to solve the remaining numerous issues of production models. One of the most critical, outside the engine’s numerous shortcomings, observed in service:
1-Inability to make a water takeoff with full gasoline load. But this was the result of a design revision after production started to increase the tank capacity in a drastic way. The original model was not designed for such gasoline load, but almost half of it. As a result, pilots tended to only less than half-fill the tank to take off.

2-In rough waters, the float flexed so much so, given it’s implementation very close to the nose, the propeller would actually strike it…

3-The take-off attitude was mediocre as the Seamew tended to be “sticky” to the excess, the pilot having to punch the engine full-throttle, causing overheating but also very steep, causing a full aileron control loss. In case of any lateral gust of wind, it could not be recovered and the crash was guaranteed.

At the end of 1943, Curtiss introduced a lightweight version, stripped of many features like the catapult specific equipments (meaning it was now only usable on carrier decks or coastal bases), equipped with a more powerful SGV-770-8 engine. Designated SO3C-3 (internal denomination Model 82C) the USN ordered 659 of the new version, until it was decided it was still not good enough.

Curtiss also worked on a derivative, hunting down more weight, to reintroduce lost features and make it catapult-capable again, as the SO3C-4, and was confident enough of its adoption by the British Royal Navy as the Seamew Mark II. Alas, reports came out from the initial preserie of this new batch as been not that successful, especially compared to the kinfisher for example, and the Navy decided to cancel the order after 39 has been delivered. In its place, the older Seagull went on into service until 1945…


drawing The XSO3C-1 aircraft was of all-metal construction except for the fabric-covered control surfaces. The crew of two, pilot and navigator, was seated in tandem in fully enclosed cockpits, but far apart. The navigator had a revolving seat, in order to operate the radio and maps inside the englassed section towards the pilot, or backwards to man the single defensive machine gun.

It had a main axial float and supporting smaller floats under struts located to the ends of the wings. The wheeled chassis was was a “V” type one, quite visible with its large fairings, an obsolete feature at the time, and a small tailwheel. This was not a successful configuration for landing, but the only one possible for a quick change between the wheeltrain carriage and floats.

The engine had a very unusual appearance, and indeed presented, while ambedded in the fuselage a relatively small frontal surface, making for an excelent penetration as shown NACA tests. Even the placement of the cylinder exhausts, under the nose rather was on the sides, proved another good profiling decisions.

The Ranger V-770 engine

Ranger V-770
Ranger V-770 Inverted Engine

The Ranger Aircraft Engine Division of the Fairchild Engine & Aircraft Corporation was created in 1925 to produce the promising Harold Caminez’s 447 engine, which developed 120 hp but used innovative technologies to manage the internal cooling, the main concern with such engine configuration. After a Fairchild 6-307A, the Ranger 6-370B, then 390B and finally the 135 hp 410B, Ranger was practically the only provider of aircraft inline engines with Packard in the US.

Then finally the company based in Farmingdale, New York, produced the inverted 6-cylinders L-440 rated for 175 hp, which went to a variety of Fairchild trainers and the Navy seaboat Grumman Widgeon, which was appreciated in 1940 by the Navy and probably draw some attention of Curtiss early on. Indeed, as part of the requirements were specified an inline engine, less susceptible to corrosion was seawater, as it was placed in front, over the float, unlike many other seaplanes using the overwing position, out of harm of sea spray.

Ranger was contacted to simply double the number of cylinders, in a more conventional V-12 configuration to reach the desired output of 520 hp. The inverted V-770 engine was to be its crowning achievement and quite unique in US history.

Fresh production SO3C-2 in flight
The V-770 was used on the Vought XSO2U-1 prototype to replace the SOC biplane, just like the XSO3C, and was its main competitor, flying earlier, in July 1939. However, if the engine was equally disastrous on this prototype, the SO3C was chosen only the ground of industrial capacity. There is little doubt the serial SO2U would have been equally mediocre overall.

The V-770 featured:
-A two-piece aluminum alloy crankcase
-A steel cylinder barrel
-Integral aluminum alloy fins
-Aluminum alloy heads.

Armament of the Seamew

plan 1

 plan 2

technical plan
Technical Plan

The Seamew carried only two machine guns: One light, a Browning 0.30 in M1919A4 (7.62 mm) forward firing in the nose canopy with interruptor gear, and a single 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning heavy machine gun located in the rear cockpit. However it had a limited arc of fire due to the enclaved position of the rear cockpit, even with the glass canopy sloded open forward: Between the tail and fuselage, it perhaps had a 30° arc either side, limiting defence to “lucky shots”. In addition, on paper, the Seamew could carry two 100 lb (45 kg) bombs or alternative 325 lb (147 kg) depth charges underwing. There was a version with a ventral bomb rack on the C-2 (in landplane configuration) but its poor performances meant it probably never carried bombs.

curtiss SO3C Caracteristics

Dimensions: 11.58 x 11.23 m x 4.58 m (36 x 38 x 4.57 ft)
Wing area: 290 sq ft (27 m2)
Weight: Light 4,284 lb (1,943 kg)
Weight: Max take-off 5,729 lb (2,599 kg)
Propulsion: Ranger V-770-6 600 hp inverted V12 (450 kW)
Performances: Top speed: 149 kn (172 mph, 277 km/h)
Cruise speed: 107 kn (123 mph, 198 km/h)
Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,800 m)

Range: 1,000 nmi (1,000 mi, 1,850 km) at 5,000 ft (1,500 m)
Endurance: 8 hours
Wing loading: 19.8 lb/sq ft (97 kg/m2)
Power/mass: 0.10 hp/lb (0.16 kW/kg)
Armament – MGs 1x 0.3 cal M1919 fwd, 1x 0.5 cal. aft M2
Armament – Bombs/Depth Charges 2x 100 Ibs bombs (45 kgs) or 325 lb (147 kg) DC underwing

Production & Variants

  • XSO3C-1 Prototype, landplane later modified as a floatplane.
  • SO3C-1 early Production variant: 141 built.
  • SO3C-1K: C-1 modified as target drone (RN Queen Seamew I)
  • SO3C-2: Landplane variant, with arrester gear and ventral bomb rack: 200 built.
  • SO3C-2C*: Lend-lease variant. Better radio, 24V electrical system (Seamew I): 259 ordered, 59 delivered.
  • SO3C-3**: Reduced weight variant. 39 built, 659 cancelled.
  • SO3C-4: Proposed variant with arrester hook and catapult capable.
  • SO3C-4B: Paper Lend-lease variant of the SO3C-4 (Seamew II).

*More powerful engine, wheeled hydraulic brakes and other improvements.
**Among other modifications its catapult operation ability was removed.

Combat use

SO3C Seamews on catapults, USS Biloxi 1943

In USN service

It’s the lend-lease British Seamew that led in return an adoption of the name in the USN. Its poor performance in the US Navy had it replaced after introduction, mostly on cruisers, as it was used perhaps for a year before replacement. Many were converted to be as radio-controlled targets (SO3C-1K). After having hope with the SO3C-3 promoted by the company as curing all the previous version’s issues, the US Navy tested the new model for a short time before cancelling the 650+ order outright. In early 1944 all cruisers definitely had replaced the Seamew by the older, but trusted SOC seagull, until then used by training units, and restored to first-line service. When sufficient numbers of Vought Kingfishers were available, they also replaced the SOC Seagull on cruisers (battleships were a priority).

Deliveries started July 1942, on the cruiser USS Cleveland (CL-55) with Scouting Squadron 12 (VCS 12). They saw action for the first time in November 1942 for Operation Torch. At least they provided intel for the troops and in some occasions even strafed and attacks French positions. Next, USS Columbia (CL-56) had two SO3Cs, one being lost when falling off a catapult on 3 January 1943, and replaced with a SOC-1 Seagull. By 12 January the two took off for a practise flight, and the second SO3C was lost and sea but the pilot rescued, a replaced by a SOC-1. A pattern that was reproduced on many cruisers. The SO3C was quickly lambasted in general for its poor performances, but was kept in service fault of somethiong else at least until the older SOCs came up from reserve and training units. The Coast Guard started to received those replaced.

The cruiser USS Montpelier (CL-57) received them by late 1942. One was lost on 1 January 1943 when its two depth charges prematurely detonated with the schock of catapulting, killing the pilot, Ens William T. Thompson. She also carried SOC-1s, but in 1944. USS Denver own two SO3Cs also arrived in late in 1942 and later four, but three were soon lost in accidents. By mid-summer 1943 she only had SOC-3s. USS Biloxi (CL-80), abundantly photographed and filmes with her SO3Cs had them already during her shakedown cruise in October 1943. One crashed in a landing attempt off Trinidad. By early 1944 she had two Vought OS2U-3 Kingfishers. They also served on USS Boston (CA-69)from the training ship USS Absecon (AVP-23) in early 1943 but she only had a single SO3C and two Vought OS2U-3s.

SO3C-1, 10 July 1943
SO3C-1, 10 July 1943

By late 1943 the Seamew was totally unpopular as being unreliable, sluggish and short-ranged, still unstable and difficult to maintain. The cost of training new pilots and human lives, simply, was not worth the maintenance of this model oon USS Cruisers. All get rid of these as quickly as they could, simply waiting an accident. By 1944,, the sight of a float version of this machine was fairly rare, all the remainder has been converted to undercarriage versions for various roles.

In British service as the Seamew Mark I

Curtiss Seamew Mk.1

The SO3C-1s with fixed undercarriage were ordered by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm under Lend-Lease and in service were called Seamew Mark I. But crews, soon showing its clar limitations nicknamed it the “Sea Cow”.

Female test pilot Eleanor Lettice Curtis in her book “Forgotten Pilots” precised that even though the manufacturer certified the standard fuel tanks can carry 300 gallons, in service the abysmal engine performance meant to take off the pilots only carried 80 gallons, which was setup as the maximum for Air Transport Auxiliary trips. This of course severely curtailed its actual range to a mere fraction of the 1,150 miles promised (or 8h flight).

The crews also soon discovered its tail needed to be raised before becoming airborne, as it needed a safe distance to recover and having sufficient aileron control. An experienced Brituish pilot stated that “it is hard to imagine how, even in wartime, such an aircraft could have been accepted from the factory, let alone given valuable cargo space across the Atlantic.”.

The first batch delivered was planned woth a centreline bomb rack and arrestor gear, but the former was eliminated due to weight issues, or bombs never carried. The Seamew Mk.I, even though a SO3-2C variant, saw 250 allocated by lend-lease, but only 100 actually delivered as the the last batch was refused by the British, which instead ordered more Kingfishers Mark Is. Although it was provided from January 1944, the British declared it obsolete in September and it was gradually removed from service in 1945. None were when WW2 ended. The “Queen Seamew” was proposed bu also refused.

Seamews were in service with the No.744 and No.745 NAS, RCAF Yarmouth in Nova Scotia (Canada), patrolling the martime lanes there, and with No.755 NAS in Hampshire, the sold unit based in UK. No ever reported a victory against any U-Boats although they detected some. They carried in that role two 325 lb (147 kg) depth charges underwing.

The end of a honeymoon

SO3C-1K N°4744 target drone at NAS Santa Ana, 1946

The Seamew promised a lot but totally undelivered, and is one of those WW2 US manufacturing wartime abject failures, to be added to the Brewster F2A Buffalo, the SB2A Buccaneer (same company), or the dive bomber SB2C Helldiver, also from Curtiss (seen by some inferior to the SBC biplane it replaced!). Despite the fact this failured was in large part impputable to the navy itself, like asking fior a new and untested engine and revising specs during prduction to double the fuel tank load, this double disappointment meant Curtiss-Wright (the fusion was done in 1929) had more trouble regaining USN consideration for postwar acquisitions (see later).

After being a long main dear supplier of the USN, Curtiss propulariy plummitted, whereas it nonetheless the far better Curtiss SC Seahawk to replace the Seamew, this time a well-performing seaplane for which the Navy seldome intervened. But it was to be the company’s last production model ever.

From then on, although competing in several programmes, Curtiss-Wright Co failed to attract any orders: The Curtiss XF14C (1944) single engine monoplane fighter, XBTC (1945) torpedo bomber, XF15C (1945) mixed propulsion fighter, XBT2C (1945) torpedo bomber were tested but never adopted. The 1948 XF-87 Blackhawk was even its first jet, a prototype, large four engine fighter for the US Air Force but performance problems were its undoing, and it was cancelled after some 87 were ordered. This was the last Curtiss model to see actual production (two prototypes), followed mostly by paper projects in the 1960-70s.

Illustration profiles:

SO3C-1 VCS-12 USS Columbia 1942

SO3C-1 VCS-12 USS Denver 1943

Unidentified SO3C-1, 1943

SO3C-3 VCS-13 USS Biloxi 1943

SO3C-2 SOSU 3th NAS North Island California 1942

Curtiss Sea Mow MK.I, FAA, 1944.

SO3C-1K drone, VJ-11, 1945


SO3C-2 nat archives
SO3C-2, national archives movie extract

SO3C-1 in flight
SO3C-1 in flight

SO3C-2 in flight early 1942
SO3C-2 in flight early 1942

SO3C-2 in flight late 1942
SO3C-2 in flight late 1942, straight from the factory. Notice the hastily painted production number.

SO3C-1, 9 September 1942
SO3C-1, 9 September 1942


Fake montage
Fake montage for the presse of a SO3C over USS Lafayette (former SS Normandie, capsized in NyD) in 1943

Curtiss SO3C-1 in flight c1942
Curtiss SO3C-1 in flight c1942



on biloxxi
on biloxi
on biloxii
On USS Biloxi, 1943

So3C-2 on an escort CVE
So3C-2 on an escort CVE

Src/Read more about the Curtiss SO3C:

Bowers, Peter M. Curtis Aircraft, 1907–1947. Putnam & Co
Curtis, Lettice. The Forgotten Pilots. Nelson & Saunders
Donald, David. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Orbis Publishing
Donald, David. American Warplanes of World War II. London: Aerospace Publishing
Ginter, Steve. The Reluctant Dragon – The Curtiss SO3C Seagull/Seamew (Naval Fighters No.47)
Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Six: Floatplanes.
Larkins, William T. Battleship and Cruiser Aircraft of the United States Navy.
Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to American Aircraft of World War II. London: Chancellor Press
Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Putnam & Co
Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft since 1912 London: Putnam & Company Ltd.

Rex hangar channel video about the Seamew

The Models Corner:

1/48 Czech Model, resin
Scalemates query. Lot of choices and scales.
Sword 1/72 on

Ryan FR-1 Fireball (1944)

Ryan FR-1 Fireball (1945)

USN aviation US Navy mixted piston/jet fighter (1944-47), 71 built

The Ryan FR Fireball was the sole US Navy mixed-power (piston and jet-powered) fighter aircraft, designed by Ryan Aeronautical during WW2, hence it’s classification here. It was one of these numerous projects never completed in time to take part in WW2, but it’s purpose was defeated by its experimental value. But it has at least the distinction of being Navy’s first jet aircraft. Only 66 were built before Japan surrendered in August, just enough to fill a single squadron, training and not seeing any combat. It proved that structural strength was required for aircraft carriers operations, as well as it’s transitional, uneasy nature, and was withdrawn quickly, in mid-1947.

Design Development

About Ryan Aeronautical

Ryan Aeronautical was a small light aicraft manufacturer founded in 1934 in San Diego Ca. from the basis of the 1925 Ryan Airline Company. Alongside sport planes, the company delivered in the 1930s noted trainers for the Army, (USAAC) PT-16 (15 built), PT-20 (30 built), PT-21 (100 USAAF, 100 USN), and PT-22 Recruit used also by the Navy in WW2 as well. They were considered as advanced monoplane trainers. Alongside these, Ryan was noted for it’s attempt to create the US equivalent to the German Fieseler Storch, the Ryan YO-51 Dragonfly, a STOL observation aircraft which was not adopted in 1940. After the mitigate success of the Fireball, an the failure of its turboprop fighter for the Navy, the XF2R Dark Shark, the company focused on a new trainer from North American after the war, prototypes and drones, before becoming a simple subsidiary, acquired in 1968 by Teledyne.

From concept to Production (1943-45)

One of the three prototypes XFR-1 in flight
One of the three prototypes XFR-1 in flight, early 1945. Note the smaller tail and shorter jet aft exhaust.

Working as a supplier also for the Navy, Ryan started to work on a new fighter concept in January 1943 based upon a proposal by Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. for a mixed-powered fighter. Indeed jet engines were promising but had sluggish acceleration making them unusable for carrier operations, which could be compensated by the use of a classic piston engine. Ryan received a contract for three XFR-1 prototypes on 11 February 1943, plus one static test airframe. The first prototype was delivered after 14 months (so in April 1944) with a contract signed in between for 100 aircraft to be delivered on 2 December 1943, and a later one on 31 January 1945 for 700. The Navy gave it the denomination of FR-1.

The first prototype flew on 25 June 1944, without its jet engine, showing good general characteristics. Installed shortly afterward, the second prototype flew on 20 September 1944 and both flight confirmed wind tunnel tests, anoted lack of longitudinal stabilit. The center of gravity indeed seemed to have been miscalculated. The circular rear fuselage added to this instability compared to a slab-style one (as on the F4F Wildcat), the model used for stability calculations. A new tail was designed, with larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. It was retrofitted to the prototypes. The Douglas double-slotted flaps were also an hinderance and the third prototype, plus pre-production models had all instead a single-slotted flap.

The first prototype crashed at NAS China Lake, on 13 October 1944. It appeared that the wing structure collapsed after reaching its compressibility limits, so this was fixed by adding twice as many rivets in the outer wing panels. The second one crashed on 25 March 1945 when trying to recover from a dive from 35,000 feet (10,670 m), also estimated from compressibility effects. The third one also crashed, on 5 April but because its canopy blew of in a fast pass over Lindbergh Field. This gave the Fireball an rather mediocre reputation.

Pre-Production (1944-45)

On 2 December 1943, orders for 100 production FR-1s were placed, with 1,000 additional FR-1s in January 1945, but they were all linked to the success of carrier trials. 14 pre-production models were delivered and tested, and eventually only 66 Fireballs would completed by November 1945, the remaining 1,044 FR-1s being canceled after the 15 August.

“Carrier” trials indeed were not at first overly successful: Operational testing on land (mock carrier deck) by the Naval Air Test Center (NAS Patuxent River) revealed many new issues:

  1. The piston engine overheating until electrically-operated cowl flaps were installed.
  2. The catapult hooks to be moved elsewhere
  3. The nosewheel oleo shock strut was weak, and was lengthened by 3 inches (76 mm).

At last Carrier suitability tests started on USS Charger in early January 1945 and five catapult takeoffs using the piston engine alone were successful as well as three takeoffs using both this and the jet, and no further problems were reported when landing, securing a greenlight for production to the relief of Ryan which was tooling its manufacturing hall since months already.

Further designs, FR-2 to FR-4

XFR-2: Fitted with a 1,425 hp (1,063 kW) Wright R-1820-74W, tested but not developed further. Cancelled August 1945.
FR-3: A proposed paper variant fitted with the new General Electric I-20 turbojet. Cancelled August 1945.
XFR-4: Westinghouse J34 turbojet, estimated 100 mph (160 km/h) faster than the FR-1. Its air intakes were moved from the wing roots to the fuselage in new NACA inlets, and covered by electrically powered doors to negate drag when on piston mode. The fuselage was 8 inches (203 mm) wider to accommodate the new engine. The leading edge extension of the wing root was removed. it was to be a testbed for turbojet powered XF2R-1 Dark Shark in development.


general design

The XFR-1 was a single-seat, low-wing monoplane, with a relatively unusual (but usual for reactor-fitted models) tricycle landing gear.
Piston Engine: 1,350-horsepower (1,010 kW) Wright R-1820-72W Cyclone, radial in the nose.
Jet Engine: General Electric I-16 (J-31) rated for 1,600 lbf (7,100 N), in the rear fuselage.
The latter was fed by ducts in each wing root, so the latter was made thicker than usual,and it also housed the outward-retracting main landing gear.

The fuel system was simplified by using the same grade of avgas. The fuselage housed the two self-sealing fuel tanks, one with 130 US gallons (490 l; 110 imp gal) and another of 50 US gallons (190 l; 42 imp gal). The cockpit was relatively well forward compared to usual piston models, just at the leading edge of the wing. This was the now standard bubble canopy giving excellent all-round visibility. The XFR-1 in fact innovated as having the very first laminar flow airfoil in the navy.

Operational History

Tests onboard USS Ranger, May 1945
Tests onboard USS Ranger, May 1945.
One squadron ever used this model operationally, VF-66, received its first planes in March 1945. There was still ample room to see action, but they were retained for testings in gome waters only, never sent to the Pacific. On 1 May 1945, three were tested onboard USS Ranger for their final carrier tests and to qualify seven pilots. Although this was overly successful, two were damaged while landing. One also missed the arresting gear, but ended safely in the crash barrier. There was also a nose gear collapsing. In June, all pilots were qualified and planed for redeployment in the Pacific, started before 15 August. Afte that, the squadron was decommissioned on 18 October and all pilots and aircraft transferred to VF-41.

VF-41’s Fireball made the first improvized jet power alone landing tests on an aircraft carrier on 6 November 1945. Indeed after one FR-1’s piston engine failed on final approach while landing on USS Wake Island, the pilot started the jet engine and landed in emergency, just catching the last arrestor wire and ending in the crash barrier. However this has been contested as the jet engine needed a long time to power up, so there was evidence of residual power along from the piston engine was critical.

The squadron started to qualify more pilots for carrier operations, but only 14 of its 22 made all the six required takeoffs and landings, punctuated with many accidents, mostly attributed to the weak nose gear, with standard pilot training in part responsible for this. The squadron also qualified pilots on USS Bairoko in March 1946. Again, nose gear problems prevented further attemps. Ryan at last came forward with a steel fork to be retroffitted on all nosewheels, but inspections also enlighted partial wing failures, so pilots were limited to beyond 5 Gs evolution.

VF-41 also claimed three pilots dead in 1946, including the commander: One ensign collided with the target banner during gunnery practice, was thrown overboard and drawn. The squadron commander died after a barrel roll which costs him its wings. He struck another Fireball flying close, killing both. The squadron became VF-1E on 15 November 1946.

VF-1E started a new serie of pilot qualifications from March 1947 on USS Badoeng Strait, but 8 pilots qualified. In the end, reports stated all that the Fireball had its issues in flight and was way too fragile for carrier landings. Last deployment was made in June 1947, from USS Rendova. One Fireball broke in two in a hard landing and showed again, signed of fatigue, cracks, and general structural failure. Fearing loosing more pilots while jets were more promising at this stage, all Fireballs were withdrawn from service on 1 August 1947. A few were retained for limited modifications and testing, but the whole production models were scrapped. And so ended the sold attempt of the Navy to have an operatinal mixed fighter onboard. The next Dark Shark did not fare better, and Ryan abandoned Navy planes procurements to concentrate on more experimental endeavour.

Diagram of the internals.

⚒ specifications 1945

Dimensions 32 ft 4 in (9.86 m) x 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m) x 13 ft 11 in (4.24 m)
Wing area 275 sq ft (25.5 m2)
Airfield Root: NACA 65-117 a=1; tip: NACA 65-115 a=5
Weight, empty 7,689 lb (3,488 kg)
Weight, gross 11,652 lb (5,285 kg)
Propulsion Wright R-1820-72W Cyclone 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,350 hp (1,010 kW)
Turbine General Electric J31-GE-3 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine, 1,600 lbf (7.1 kN) thrust
Propeller 3-bladed constant-speed fully-feathering propeller
Speed, max. 404 mph (650 km/h, 351 kn) both engines
Ceiling 43,100 ft (13,100 m)
Climb Rate 1,800 ft/min (9 m/s) (Piston engine only, with 1 drop tank)
Range 1,620 mi (2,610 km, 1,410 nmi) (with 2 drop tanks)
Armament: MGs 4 × .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns with 300 rpg
Armament: Bombs 2 × 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs
Armament: Rockets 8 × 5-inch (127 mm) rockets under wings
Payload: 2 drop tanks
Crew: 1 pilot

Back to Prop: The XF2R Dark Shark (1946)

XF2R Dark Shark

Given the rather mediocre performances of the compromised Fireball, Ryan wanted to propose the Navy a “pure” prop fighter, this time with the amazing performances of a brand new engine, in fact the first turboprop unit, promising this fighter amazing performances with the advantages of such technology compared to early jets.

It’s centerpiece was the General Electric T31 turboprop engine, a completely new concept already used on the famous Neptune ASW biprop patrol plane, and driving a 4-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. The General Electric T31 delivered 1,760 shp (1,310 kW), for a top speed of 497 mph (800 km/h, 432 kn) at sea level and climb rate of 4,850 ft/min (24.6 m/s), but with the GE J31 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine (1,600 lbf (7.1 kN)).

The turboprop indeed improved the performances of the Fireball, with some modifications, but while the Navy abandoned the idea of a combination fighter, and evaluating the similar Convair XP-81 they asked Ryan to modify the XF2R to house the Westinghouse J34 turbojet instead of the GE J31, leading to the XF2R-2, with jet intakes on the fuselage sides with NACA ducts, proving after its first flight a capable aircraft, but never left the prototype stage since in the end, the all-jet solution was considered superior.


XFR-1 prototype

FR-1 tested in 1946

FR-1 from VF-41, 1947


Underside of a VF-66 model tested in 1945
Underside of a VF-66 model tested in 1945
test model from VF-66 on North island, 1945
test model from VF-66 on North island, 1945
Tests from USS Badoeng Strait, 1947
Tests from USS Badoeng Strait, 1947
FR-1 Testing HVAR rockets, 1945
FR-1 Testing HVAR rockets, 1945
FR-1 B17 of VF-41, 1947
FR-1 “B17” of VF-41, 1947

Tests in july 1945 at NAS Patexent River, before deployment in the Pacific.
Preserved test model
Preserved test model as of today, Planes of Fame museum in Chino, CA

Src/Read more about the Ryan FR-1:

Brown, Eric. Wings on My Sleeve: The World’s Greatest Test Pilot tells his Story.
Ginter, Steve. Ryan FR-1 Fireball and XF2R-1 Darkshark, Naval Fighters Number 28. Ginter Books
Green, William. “Ryan FR-1 Fireball”. ‘War Planes of the Second World War, Fighters.Macdonald & Co.
Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. “Ryan FR-1 Fireball”. WW2 Fact Files: US Navy and Marine Corps Fighters.
McDowell, Ernest. FR-1 Fireball (Mini in action number 5). Squadron/Signal Publications, 1995.
Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Putnam Aeronautical Books
Bedford, Alan (May–June 1999). “Earl American Carrier Jets: Evolving Jet Operations with the US Fleet, Part One”. Air Enthusiast
Ryan FR-1 Fireball and XF2R-1 Darkshark, Naval Fighters Nr. 28 Steve Ginter
FR-1 Fireball MINI In Action Nr. 1605 Ernest R. Mcdowell

On Pop mech 1945
More CC Photos
About the FR-1 wiki
About Ryan

The Models Corner:

General query on Scalemates

MPM Production 1:72, Czech Model 1:48, Pegasus 1:72 and old kits such as the CZ Model Airplane Co. 1:32, Ace Whitman 1:72, Master Modelcraft Supply Co. 1:21, Continental Model Airplane Co. 1:40, Ray Models 1:32, Continental Model Airplane Co. 1:16 and Continental Model Airplane Co. 1:40.

Brewster SB2A Buccaneer (1941)

Brewster SB2A Buccaneer (1941)

USN aviation 3-seats scout bomber (1941-43), 771 produced

Worst aircraft of WW2 ?

The fighter F2A Buffalo already a much maligned model, still had redeeming qualities and did extremely well in Finnish hands, whereas the Buccaneer had none, and over time all Historians, usually prone to argue over any subject, are unanimous as considering it a “classic failure”. David Donald for example labelled it “one of the worst aircraft of World War II”. The focus of a commission of enquiry on Brewster (the company and its management at large) after the war by the Truman Committee, as stated, it “turned in a miserable performance.”. Its production was cut short after it was eventually rejected by the USN/USMC and ended as a lend-lease model. Not transferred to USSR but only Britain as the Bermuda, it was preceded by such a reputation that it was scrapped straight out of the crates. It was that bad.

A champion of the least conveted WW2 title.

Brewster XSB2A-1 – Catalog:15 002717, Image from the Charles Daniels Photo Collection album “US Army Aircraft.”

Other models had been solid contenders for this least conveted title: The Fairey Battle and Boulton-Paul Defiant for example were not intrinsically bad, they looked right, but had clear limitations: The first was thrown into a difficult situation in France in 1940 and performed badly while the other was a bad concept from the start and just proved it in the battle of Britain. The list often see also includes the bomber Blackburn Botha, just bad overall and sidelined, the Blackburn Roc (a copy-paste of the Defiant for the FAA), the Devastator, obsolete when thrown into combat, the little-known Polish PZL.30 Zubr, the French Caudron 714, the Soviet LaGG-3, and on the axis side, the Messerschmitt Me 210, Heinkel He177 Greif (as well as desperate weapons like the Komet, Natter and Baka), or the Breda ba.88 Lince and Ki-115 Tsurugi. But the SB2A was not even thrown into combat despite its large production. It was not given even that chance, or in a very limited manner as even rookie pilots had more value. This made so the Buccaneer arguably the outright champion not only for the USN, for the US, and the allies at large.

Design & development

Brewster SBN-1
The Brewster SBN-1

Brewster was not an unknown for the USN. A supplier turned maufacturer probably too soon, the Long Island City, New York company -not that far from Grumman- and at least attracted interest from the Navy with its XSBA-1 scout bomber, but only thirty were built later by Naval Aircraft Factory at a slow pace, from November 1940 to March 1942 where it was found hopelessely obsolete.

As the production of the F2A fighter dragged on, its initial reception by the Navy encouraged Brewster to propose a larher derivative, as a new scout bomber which first flew in june 1941 with a Wright R-2600 engine.

In mid-1939 already, the United States Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics sent off a program to foster bigger scout/planes to work from the Navy’s plane carrying warships. In April, Brewster Aeronautical Corporation was chosen to assemble the Model 340 to meet this prerequisite; this airplane was to be assigned the designation XSB2A-1.

XSB2A-1 prototype in 1941. Note the fake turret aft.

The XSB2A-1’s plan was vigorously founded on the prior Brewster SBA scout-bomber. It shared the single-engined, mid-winged monoplane format of the previous airplane, however was bigger and had an all the more remarkable engine. The XSB2A-1 was controlled by a solitary Wright R-2600 motor which drove a three-bladed propeller. It was equipped with two forward-discharging 0.50 inch type automatic rifles in the fuselage and two 0.30 automatic weapons in each wing. The sort was likewise at first planned to have an encased firearm turret. The airplane could convey as much as 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of bombs in an inward bomb bay.

Brewster XSB2A-1

The primary XSB2A-1 model started flying preliminaries on 17 June 1941. The aftereffects of this testing and changing prerequisites prompted critical changes to the plan. These incorporated the airframe being extended by 1 foot and two inches, the turret being supplanted by an adaptable mount in the back of the cockpit for a couple of 0.30 automatic weapons, the expansion of protection and self-fixing gas tanks, and changes to the plan of the blades and overhang. The consolidated impact of these progressions brought about the airplane’s weight expanding by very nearly 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg), which enormously decreased its speed, weapons burden, and flying range.

Detailed Design

Brewster SB2A Bucaneer
Brewster SB2A Bucaneer

In its last structure, the SB2A weighed 9,924 pounds (4,501 kg) vacant and had a most extreme drop weight of 14,289 pounds (6,481 kg). It had a greatest speed of 274 miles each hour (441 km/h), a cruising rate of 161 miles each hour (259 km/h), and a most extreme scope of 1,675 miles (2,696 km). The airframe was not all around planned, and could be effectively damaged. The SB2A was monitored by a team of two: a pilot and aviator who filled in as both a spectator and a gunner.


SB2A-3 with wings folded
SB2A-3 with wings folded and bomb bay open

The French Government put in a request for 250 SB2As. Following the fall of France this request was taken over by the British Government, which therefore requested a further 500 during 1940; in British help the sort was assigned the Brewster Bermuda. The Dutch Government additionally requested 162 SB2As before the German victory of the nation in May 1940. The Australian Government requested 243 Bermudas for the Royal Australian Air Force in mid-1940. In December 1940 the US Navy put in a request for 140 SB2As.

Conveyances of the SB2A were extraordinarily postponed. At the point when the French Government submitted its request it expected to start getting the sort from April 1941, after Brewster finished the development of its Brewster F2A Buffalo fighters. However, Brewster experienced challenges in finishing the Buffalos and initiating work on the SB2A. After the British Government mentioned significant alterations to the SB2A in mid 1941, Brewster officially exhorted that it would not be able to begin conveyances of the kind as had been arranged earlier.

These delays drove the Australian Government to drop its request for Bermudas in October 1941, and buying 297 Vultee Vengeances instead for the same role. The latter was no stellar either, but… Following the assault on Pearl Harbor, the US Government appropriated 192 of the airplane which had been arranged for the order British in January 1942; These were reworked to be versed to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).

Difficult issues inside Brewster additionally added to delays. The way this organization was run and problems with its labor force meant that after repeated missed schedules to provide the ordered airplane to the US Navy, the whole company ws taken over the Navy itself, in April 1942. That never happened in WW2. Production kept on being slow but at least larger numbers of completed SB2As arrived for delivery… to be sent back to fixed innumerable defects and quality problems (* see at the end of the article).


  • XSB2A-1: Prototype Bu1632, 01005.
  • SB2A-2: Production with revised armament and non-folding wings (80 built)
  • SB2A-3: Folding wings, arrestor hook (60 built)
  • SB2A-4: Netherlands order, passed onto the US Navy (162 built)
  • A-34 Bermuda: British Lend Lease production, never built
  • Bermuda Mk.1: Model 340-14 with a flexible gun mounting. (468 of 750 ordered)

Combat use

Bermuda Mark I

Conveyances of Brewster Bermudas to the British Royal Air Force started in July 1942. The RAF decided that the sort was unsatisfactory for battle, and the majority of the Bermudas conveyed to the help were changed over to target tugs. Five of the airplane were moved to the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy for evaluation – four as jump aircraft and one as an objective towing tug.

The USAAF got 108 Bermudas, which it assigned the A-34. The sort was viewed as unsatisfactory in any event, for the purpose of preparing, and were utilized distinctly as “hacks”. As the airplane separated they were either deserted or utilized as focuses for gunnery training. The A-34s were removed from administration in 1944.

Conveyances to the US Navy occurred during 1943 and 1944. The assistance got 80 SB2A-2s and 60 SB2A-3s; the last variation was fitted with collapsing wings and an arrester snare to empower them to work from airplane carriers. The US Navy likewise viewed the SB2A as unacceptable for battle and preparing purposes, and mostly involved its airplane as target pulls and for ground support training.

The airplane initially requested by the Dutch were allocated by the US Navy an then to the United States Marine Corps, always pleased to receive any model, even dodgy. Assigned the SB2A-4, the US Marines utilized a portion of these to create their first night combat unit VMF(N)- 531.

The British Planes were considered with great suspicion, after the terrible prestation of the SB2A. In fact the first lot of the completed airplane were rejected outright by the RAF and FAA without having been flown operationally one single time. Once unloaded, they stayed in their crates until the end of the war. The US Navy was even instructed to cancel the remaining part of the order made by the FAA in 1943. A grand total of 771 SB2As of all types were ultimately completed, quicky relegated in the best case to mechanics training models, on the ground. They were even rejected as target tugs models, since the service did not want to lost their precious pilots, and by that time, the bird’s reputation was beyond execrable.



The US Navy operated the SB2A-2 of the Initial production with revised armament and non-folding wings (80, Bu00803/00882), some 60 SB2A-3 with folding wings and arrestor hook (Bu00883/00942) and the 162 SB2A-4 originally ordered for Netherlands, requisitioned by the US Navy (Bu29214/29375).


The sole other operator, the RAF, as soon as they were informed of the A-34 Bermuda (Initial denomination) “qualities” passed them to the Fleet Air Arm, which was also starved of models, but in that case, the Model 340-14 as it was known (Factory designation) Bermuda Mark I, were modified with their powered gun replaced by a simple flexible mounting. 750 has been ordered total, but in the end, 468 were unloaded in British ports, and practically never flown. The Bermuda had however a small number entering RAF service. A few were assessed by the A&AEE Boscombe Down (Naval Unit), the first being flown in January 1943 (FF425). In total, only five were tested, four used as dive bombers and one in target towing configuration. In the end both types were denied service.

Now, the total given for all models seems to be 771, meaning 468 in lend-lease and 302 for the USN/USMC or 770, which is good with the prototype. Two of these survived (given the fact their assignation was risk-free to say the least): An ex-RAF s/n FF860 at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, restored as a US Navy SB2A Buccaneer.

bermuda restoration
This single surviving Brewster SB2A Bermuda has been resurrected from a pile of scrap over an 18-year period, and restored at the Naval Air Warfare Center, Warminster, Pa., USA, the site of the former Brewster Aircraft factory. After restoration it was moved in August 1996 by the US Navy to Pensacola, Florida.

Another (serial FF443) is in storage at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, in need of a restoration. This is one of only two Bermudas known to exist. It was found at an airfield in Tullahoma, Tennessee, in the 1970s. The remains of British markings visible pointed that it was one of the late lend-lase left undelivered as Brewster was close to bankrupcy. It was was recovered by the Military Aircraft Restoration Corp. for rebuilding and in 2004, was placed on loan to the Pima Air & Space Museum for final restoration and display, purchased by the museum in 2015.

Controversy: Brewster under investigation

Is all started wth James Work, a Bucks County entrepreneur creating factory and airfield in Johnsville. Former vice president of Lockheed Aircraft Corp. in California he left and creater Brewster Aeronautical Corp., having 40 employee in 1932, and reaching 20,000 in WW2. In 1937 he had 6,000 workers and after supplying parts to other manufacturers, turned to design and manufacturing a carrier-based fighter, the “Buffalo,” and a two-seat dive bomber, the “Buccaneer.” after proposing the short-lived SBC-1. He also assembled parts from Long Island and Newark.

While the Buffalo was lambasted by Squadron Capt. Philip Renee White, which asked the USN to ground them, it was the highly anticipated Buccaneer that was all the rage. In 1942 however the program accumulated massive delays, the production stalled, issues risen between labor issues and wartime strikes, some going as far as stating “aliens” were running the company.

As written in an article by Carl LaVO Correspondent, Bucks County Courier Times:

When the company failed to deliver a single new Buccaneer in 1942, the Navy seized Brewster, declaring it “essential to the war effort.” Congressional hearings revealed sabotage and loafing in the factory, derisively termed “The Bucks County Playhouse” for allegations of sexual trysts in plane fuselages. Missing tools and sloppy quality control were a constant problem.

With $100 million in orders on file, Work remained silent. Things only got worse. The Philadelphia Record revealed a profit-skimming operation had crippled Brewster. Alfred and Ignacio Miranda, Mexican-born immigrants, and associate F. William Zelcher were behind the scheme. Work had hired them as company salesmen. What he perhaps didn’t know was the Mirandas had spent two years in prison for smuggling weapons to Bolivia in violation of a U.S. arms embargo.


truman committee

As for the Senate’s Truman committee of enquiry, or “Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program” tasked to examine supposed taxpayer’s money wastes in programs that went nowhere was created On March 1, 1941, headed by Harry S. Truman (which aso boosted his popularity and propelled him as vice-president). The committe, which had bipartisan support and ran until 1948, with 432 public hearings, 1798 witnesses, save an estimated $10–15 billion in military spending and thousands of lives of U.S. servicemen and published 2,000 pages of reports. It also setup a “tradition” to democratically check undue spendings from what Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” during the cold war as well.

Aside Howard’s Hugues famous auditions in 1947 led by Senator Owen Brewster as chairman for his “spruce goose”, or officially Hugues Hercules (the giant seaplane initiated in 1942, supposed to spare liberty ships, solving the problem of U-Boats in the atlantic), another scandal was the audition of Brewster’s staff and employees due to the company repeadly failing to meet deadlines deliver not only its orders, but products of only exploitable quality. By raising all the points seen above, the USN first appointed George Chapline, then recalled Work, but as the latter was suspected of a massive fraud, was fired with his staff while the Navy decided manage themselves the company, headed until the end of the war by one of their in-house company managers, Naval Aircraft Factory’s boss, George Conrad Westervelt. The SB2A being considered a failure, the company was quickly res-geared to deliver the F3A-1 Corsair under licence instead, but this contract was cancelled in turn in 1944 and the company was considered bankrupt at the end of that year, then shut down for good in April 1946 and dissolved among shareholders.

Src/Read more about the Buccaneer:

Bailey, Gavin J. (2013). Arsenal of Democracy: Aircraft Supply and the Evolution of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1938-1942.
Butler, Phil; Hagedorn, Dan (2004). Air Arsenal North America : Aircraft for the Allies 1938-1945. Midland Publishing.
Donald, David, ed. (2000). American Warplanes of World War II. Grange Books.
Danford website on Brewster aircraft, Brewster Fighter Production, 1939-1942
Gretzyngier, Robert (2014). Polish Aces of World War 2. Osprey Publishing.
Johnson, E.R. (2011). United States Naval Aviation, 1919–1941: Aircraft, Airships and Ships Between the Wars. McFarland
March, Daniel J., ed. (1998). British warplanes of World War II. Aerospace.
Norton, Bill (2008). U.S. Experimental & Prototype Aircraft Projects: Fighters 1939-1945. Specialty Press.
Smith, Peter C. (1986). Vengeance! The Vultee Vengeance Dive Bomber. Airlife.
Smith, Peter (2008). Dive Bomber! Aircraft, Technology, and Tactics in World War II. Stackpole Books.
Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. USN Aircraft since 1911. Putnam
Andrade, John M. . U.S Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909. Midland Publications

The Worst Airplane of WW2 – Brewster Buccaneer Scout Bomber, Dark Skies Channel
Video: Flying The U S Navy Brewster FB2A4 Buccaneer

The Models Corner:

Despite it’s poor reputation, the Buccaneer inspired Special Hobby, AZ model, KPL Models, AMCO Models 1:72, Scientific 1:19, Maircraft 1:48, Megow, Burkard 1:32, Joe Ott 1:15.


Profile Illustrations

Brewster SB2A-2, 1943

SB2A-2, 1944

SB2A-3 unkown mainland unit, 1944

Bermuda Mk.I, 1943


Brewster Bermuda I
Brewster Bucaneer Prototype, official photo

SB2A-3 NAS Patuxent River
SB2A-3 NAS Patuxent River, December 1943

Brewster Bermuda Mark I
Brewster Bermuda Mark I

Royal Air Force Brewster Bermuda I
Royal Air Force Brewster Bermuda I

Bermuda MkI RAF, 1941

Brewster SB2A-4
Brewster SB2A-4 Buccaneer in flight, 1942

Brewster Buccaneer
Brewster Buccaneer

Brewster SB2A
Brewster SB2A Buccaneer

Brewster Buccaneer
Brewster Buccaneer, Coll. Roy Bixby, photo Naval Air Museum

Brewster SB2A cockpit
Brewster SB2A cockpit
SB2A Buccaneer, National Naval Aviation Museum
SB2A Buccaneer, National Naval Aviation Museum
Buccaneer, Naval Air Museum
SB2A Buccaneer, National Naval Aviation Museum
SB2A Buccaneer, National Naval Aviation Museum