16 February 2007

A Plane's History

One of my favorite World War 2 planes that didn't make the cut in time is the Grumman F7F Tigercat. It was a twin engine fighter that was going to operate off the flight decks of the Midway class of carriers. It was going to be built to be the fast, meanest, most maneuverable fighter out there. Then on top of that it was also supposed to have a secondary ground attack role.

The plane mounted 2 of Pratt&Whitney's R-2800 series "Double Wasp" engines and this made it one of the fast US Navy fighters at the time when it went on test flights in 1943. It flew at 400 mph with it throttles at the fire wall, which was about 71 mph faster then what the F6F Hellcat then mainstay of the US Navy Fighter squadrons were flying during World War 2.

The initial variant the F7F-1 was starting to enter USMC inventories in late 1944. It mounted four 2omm cannons and four .50caliber machine guns. Along with the capability to carry up to either a 13in torpedo under the wings or a 1000lb bomb. This could probably viewed as the first designed as such strike fighter in US Navy inventory. However, the Marines did not complete the transitional training in time to join the war. One of the other problems that arose with the F7F-1 was that it failed its initial carrier testing. There were issues with the tail hook design and stability problems in a one engine landing parameter. These though didn't give the US Navy nor the US Marines that much worry. They realized the plane was plenty big enough to handle a radar mount and become a night fighter. So all the previously produced aircraft had an airborne radar system was installed in the nose at the loss of the four .50 cals. Since those guns were installed in the nose. The radar scope was mounted in the dashboard for use by the pilot.
Starting with the 34th produced aircraft a spot over the wings was used to install a radar operator and some other changes were done in a hope to produce a carrier capable bird. Yet again this poor plane failed to pass the muster.

The last two variants produced were the F7F-3N and F7F-4N. Which were duel seat night fighters. By the time these aircraft were adopted in 1947. This fast fighter-bomber was being replaced by Jet aircraft on the flight decks of US Navy aircraft carriers. The only combat these planes saw was in Korea were in the initial days of the conflict flying with VMF(N)-513 and VMF(N)-542 as either night time hecklers or as the B-29's switched from daylight bombing raids over Korea to night time bombing to protect them from the MiG-15's in China. The F7F-3N's flew as escort for the B-29's till it was realized the F7F couldn't compete real well with the MiG's.

A few of these aircraft were used in the 60's and 70's as fire bombers before finally being retired in the late-70's. There are only 6 flying versions out there right now making the air show circuit or the air race circuit.

Overall this was an aircraft that could of had serious potential and could have been on the flight deck of American carriers right near the end of the war if Grumman Aircraft company had taken the risk and shifted F6F production to another company like they did with a couple of their other planes. Then the F7F might of been above the invasion fleet of Okinawa with F6F's keeping the Japanese at bay. This is one like a few other aircraft that were lost to the end of World War 2 and the introduction of the Jet age. What might have been had it come a little earlier to the fleet and world is only left up to our imagination and a good debate over beers.

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