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Grumman F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a carrier-based fighter plane used by the U.S. Navy in World War II. It replaced the F4F Wildcat and went on to become the most successful aircraft in the history of the Navy. Larger and more powerful than the F4F Wildcat, it destroyed over 5,000 enemy aircraft during the war, easily defeating Japanese Zeros. More than 12,000 Hellcats were built, and the plane was pivotal in keeping the Japanese from winning the Pacific Theater of WW II.

Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat fighter over the countryside near Kakagawa, Japan, 12 September 1945, with small towns and industrial facilities also visible
Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat fighter over the countryside near Kakagawa, Japan, 12 September 1945, with small towns and industrial facilities also visible.

Today in WW II: 24 Apr 1945 Retreating German troops in Italy destroy all the bridges over the Adige in Verona, including the historical Ponte di Castelvecchio and Ponte Pietra.   

Grumman F6F Hellcat in World War II

The Grumman F6F Hellcat first saw action on 1 September 1943 when fighters from the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVL-22) shot down a Kawanishi H8K flying boat. Hellcats fought Japanese aircraft over Tarawa on 23 and 24 November 1943, destroying 30 Zeros and losing only one aircraft.

Hellcats took part in almost all engagements against the Japanese thereafter. The Hellcat played a pivotal role in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" because so many Japanese airplanes were destroyed.

Radar-equipped Hellcat night fighter squadrons were introduced in early 1944, making the Hellcat even more versatile.

The F6F Hellcat was responsible for 75% of all aerial victories by the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater. Navy and Marine Hellcats flew 66,530 combat sorties, with 62,386 flown from aircraft carriers. They destroyed 5,163 enemy aircraft, losing 270 Hellcats. The Hellcat was also responsible for dropping 6,503 tons of bombs in ground attacks.

The Fleet Air Arm of the British Royal Navy received 1,263 Hellcats under lend-lease. The British designated the aircraft as the Grumman Gannet Mark I early on, but adopted the American name in early 1943. British Hellcats saw action in the Mediterranean, off Norway, and in eastern Asia. Some served as photo reconnaissance aircraft, and others as fighter interceptors.

The Hellcat was so successful that the majority of aces flew them. It was even nicknamed the "ace maker." The top ace of the U.S. Navy, Captain David McCampbell, explained that the Hellcat "performed well, was easy to fly and was a stable gun platform. But what I really remember most was that it was rugged and easy to maintain."

Grumman F6F Hellcat Models and Production History

Grumman had already begun development of the F6F when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. A contract for the prototype, designated XF6F-1, was signed on 30 June 1941. But after U.S. engagements with the Japanese A6M Zero, Grumman improved the F6F design so the resulting prototype would outclass the Zero.

Taking advantage of the strengths in the F4F Wildcat design, Grumman replaced the initial Wright R-2600 Cyclone engine with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine. The first prototype with a Double Wasp engine, designated the XF6F-3, flew on 30 July 1942.

The Hellcat was built tough, with 212 lbs. of cockpit armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, and bullet-resistant windshields. Folding wings made it possible to pack a large number of Hellcats onto aircraft carriers. Standard armament for early F6Fs included six .50 cal. machine guns, with later F6Fs gaining three hardpoints for bombs, with the center hardpoint also configured to carry a drop tank. High velocity aircraft rockets (HVARs) could also be installed.

A total of 12,275 Hellcats were built through November 1945. Of these, approximately 11,000 were manufactured in just two years. Major models of the Hellcat are as follows:

Model F6F-3

The first production Hellcat, this model was powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp radial engine. A night-fighter version of the F6F-3, designated the F6F-3E, was equipped with the AN/APS-4 radar in a fairing on the right wing. A similar aircraft, designated the F6F-3N, was equipped with the AN/APS-6 radar in the same configuration. A total of 4,646 were built.

Model F6F-5

The last major version of the Hellcat, this aircraft had a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W radial piston engine. Other improvements included a redesigned engine cowling, strengthened tail surfaces, and new ailerons. The F6F-5 also had two additional weapons racks in the wing center section. The F6F-5 first flew on 4 April 1944. A total of 6,436 were built.

Model F6F-5N

A night-fighter version of the F6F-5, with the AN/APS-6 radar. A total of 1,432 were built.

Model F6F-5P

The photo reconnaissance version of the F6F-5. The camera instrumentation was installed in the rear fuselage.

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat Characteristics

ArmamentSix .50-in. machine guns or two 20mm cannons (F6F-3 and most F6F-5); 4 .50-in. machine guns (F6F-5N only). 6 5-in. HVAR
Bomb load4,000 lbs.
EnginePratt & Whitney 2,000 hp R-2800-10W Double Wasp radial
Maximum speed380 mph
Cruising speed168 mph
Range1,090 mi.; 1,530 mi. with 150-gal. drop tank
Ceiling37,300 ft.
Span42 ft. 10 in.
Length33 ft. 7 in.
Height13 ft. 1 in.
Weight9,238 lbs. empty; 12,598 lbs. loaded

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the F6F Hellcat variant, manufacturing site, and date.

Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter is catapulted from USS <i>Badoeng Strait</i> (CVE-116), during operations in the eastern Pacific, circa early 1946. The carrier was then flagship of Commander Carrier Division 17, Rear Admiral Dixwell Ketcham
Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter is catapulted from USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116), during operations in the eastern Pacific, circa early 1946. The carrier was then flagship of Commander Carrier Division 17, Rear Admiral Dixwell Ketcham.

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) with Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters warming up on the flight deck, while the carrier was operating with Task Group 58.3 during raids on the Marshall Islands, circa January 1944
USS Cowpens (CVL-25) with Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters warming up on the flight deck, while the carrier was operating with Task Group 58.3 during raids on the Marshall Islands, circa January 1944.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) with F6F Hellcat fighters taxiing forward on the flight deck, during training exercises, 2 July 1943. Another F6F is in flight overhead, with its landing gear and tail hook extended
USS Enterprise (CV-6) with F6F Hellcat fighters taxiing forward on the flight deck, during training exercises, 2 July 1943. Another F6F is in flight overhead, with its landing gear and tail hook extended.

USS Langley (CVL-27). An F6F Hellcat fighter landing high during flight operations in the vicinity of the Nansei Shoto, 10 October 1944. Task Force 38 carriers hit Japanese targets in the Okinawa area on that day
USS Langley (CVL-27). An F6F Hellcat fighter landing high during flight operations in the vicinity of the Nansei Shoto, 10 October 1944. Task Force 38 carriers hit Japanese targets in the Okinawa area on that day.

Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters prepare to take off from USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) for strikes against targets in Manila Bay. The two leading planes are F6F-5N night fighters, with wing-mounted radar.  Photograph is dated 9 January 1945, but may have been taken during the 5-6 November 1944 attacks
Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters prepare to take off from USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) for strikes against targets in Manila Bay, Philippines. The two leading planes are F6F-5N night fighters, with wing-mounted radar. Photograph is dated 9 January 1945, but may have been taken during the 5-6 November 1944 attacks.

An F6F-3 Hellcat of Fighting Squadron Sixteen (VF-16) gets the take-off flag from Lt. John M. Clark, during USS <i>Lexington</i> (CV-16) operations in the Gilberts and Marshalls, 23 November 1943.  VF-16 pilots shot down seventeen Japanese aircraft on that day
An F6F-3 Hellcat of Fighting Squadron Sixteen (VF-16) gets the take-off flag from Lt. John M. Clark, during USS Lexington (CV-16) operations in the Gilberts and Marshalls, 23 November 1943. VF-16 pilots shot down seventeen Japanese aircraft on that day.

Recommended Books about the Grumman F6F Hellcat

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