The bigger, more advanced brother of the Wildcat, the Grumman F6F Hellcat was designed to replace the older aircraft and finally give the US an edge over the Japanese Zero. In this regard it performed exceptionally, destroying 5,223 aircraft during its service with the USN, USMC, and Fleet Air Arm; this was more than any other Allied naval aircraft, with a kill/loss ratio of 19:1. Over the course of the war almost 2400 aircraft were lost to all causes, 270 to aerial combat and over 1200 to accidents outside of combat.
The Hellcat competed against the F4U for the Navy’s contract of a new carrier-born fighter to replace the Wildcat. Both aircraft were built around the P&W R-2800 engine, the same as the P-47, which provided a whopping 2000 horsepower. While the F4U showed excellent promise it had issues with carrier landings, largely due to its long nose and landing gear legs, which left the Hellcat the winner of the contest; production of the F6F-3, the first combat model, began late in 1942, with the type’s first operational squadron equipping VF-9 of USS Essex in February 1943.
As with the Wildcat, and most US fighters during the war, the Hellcat was armed with six .50 caliber M2 machine guns. Some variants, mainly night fighters, replaced the inner .50 caliber gun with a 20mm cannon, giving it more offensive striking power. Hardpoints under the center wing section could carry up to 4000 lbs of ordinance, including 150 gallon fuel tanks, bombs, a torpedo, or HVAR rockets; this gave the Hellcat a potent ground attack capability, and the type dropped 6500 tons of bombs over the course of the war.
The Hellcat became the premier Navy fighter of the war, claiming fifty-six percent of all air-to-air victories for Navy and Marine units. Its combination of long range, maneuverability, armor, and armament allowed it to gain an edge over most Japanese types fielded during the war; a 13:1 against the A6M, 9.5:1 against the Ki-84, and 3.7:1 against the J2M. Most of the Navy’s aces were made in the Hellcat, including its top ace David McCampbell with 34 victories.
The US Navy, Marine Corps, and Fleet Air Arm all used the Hellcat through the war, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. In most cases the type was retired immediately after the end of hostilities, with the F8F Bearcat for the USN, and various British aircraft for the FAA. Some Hellcats were used by the French navy postwar in Indochina, and several examples were used by Uruguay until 1960. Today a fair number of Hellcats remain in museums, including seven in airworthy condition.
A U.S. Navy Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver of Bombing Squadron VB-7 in flight over ships of Task Force 38 after completing an attack against Japanese shipping 40 km north of Qui Nhơn, French Indochina, in January 1945.
VB-7 operated from the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) during the period from September 1944 to January 1945, and participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.
Note the horseshoe symbol on the tail indicating aircraft’s assignment to the USS Hancock and the pillow on the rear cockpit gun in order to provide some level of comfort for the gunner on the long flight home. A Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat from Fighting Squadron VF-7 is visible in the background.
(Photo source - U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.253.229)
A Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night-fighter of VMF(N)-534 at Orate, Guam, August 1944.
(This was the most common night fighter version. It used the AN/APS-6 radar, housed in a radome below the right wing. Around 200 of these fighters were produced.)
VMF(N)-534 was amongst the first units to land on Guam after its capture on the 21st of June 1944 although by this time the chances of encountering the Japanese in aerial combat was low. One combat success that did occur took place on the 10th of February 1945 when a Nakajima C6N ‘Myrt’, bound from Truk to Iwo Jima with a high ranking officer on board, was shot down. Aircraft of VMF(N)-534 operated in three separate sectors of operations up to the end of the war; they maintained air superiority over Guam, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and flew air patrols over Saipan.
On August 16th 1956 the US Navy was conducting tests that were part of the development of the AIM 7 Sparrow guided missile. To test the missile, the Navy utilized a drone version of the Grumman F6F Hellcat, a remote controlled version of the famous World War II fighter plane. The plan was for the Hellcat to be downed by a guided missile over the Pacific Ocean. However, once above the ocean, the drone stopped obeying remote control commands and began flying out of control above Los Angeles.
The drone flew over LA, then began flying in a continuous tight circle over Santa Paula. To deal with the situation, the US Air Force scrambled two F-89D Scorpions of the 437th Squadron to shoot the drone down. Armed with unguided rockets, the fighters intercepted the drone but had little luck bringing it down. The two fighters fired a total of 208 rockets, none of which struck the drone. Eventually the drone ran out of fuel and plummeted to the ground, taking out a set of electric lines as it returned to earth.
As for the 208 rockets launched, as a safety precaution the rockets were outfitted with a system in which they would disarm if they missed their target. However, the system was faulty, and only 15 would be found on the ground un-detonated. The rest detonated in various areas in northeastern Los Angeles County. Fortunately the area was sparsely populated and no casualties resulted, but there was some property damage. One Edna Carlson reported that a piece of shrapnel burst through the front window of her home, ricocheted off the ceiling, went through a wall and came to rest in a kitchen cupboard. Another man reported that a rocket exploded directly in front of his car while driving west of State Route 138. Two men in Placerita Canyon had been eating in their utility truck; right after they left it to sit under the shade of a tree, a rocket struck it destroying it. The worst damage was caused by the brush fires started by the rockets, which over two days scorched over 1,000 acres.