The origins of Grumman's first monoplane fighter date back to March 1936 when design of the XF4F-1 biplane (Grumman Design 16) was commenced to respond to requirements for a new carrier fighter.. A development of the F3F-1, it was felt the performance would not match the Brewster XF2A-1 and development was abandoned. The Bureau of Aeronautics agreed to substitution of Grumman's Design 18 instead, and the monoplane XF4F-2 protype was ordered under contract 46973 in July 1936. The aircraft was completed as BuNo0383 and first flown on September 2, 1937 at Bethpage. After two months of trials, the aircraft went to the USN for comparative trials against Brewster's XF2A-1 and Seversky's NF-1. Despite being faster than both its competitors, the XF4F-2 was not successful, and the Brewster machine was selected.
Grumman redesigned it's fighter contender - the new Design 36 retained the fuselage and undercarriage of Design 18 but incorporated totally new square-tipped wings, enlarged tail surfaces, and replaced the 1,050hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-66 with the 1,200hp R-1830-76. An contract was settled in October 1938 for the modification of the XF4F-2 prototype into the XF4F-3. The revised prototype was first flown on February 12, 1939. Over the next six months the aircraft underwent a number of modifications to enhance stability and correct engine cooling problems. After evaluation by the USN at NAS Anacostia an initial order was made in August 1939 for 54 F4F-3 aircraft. The first two aircraft (BuNo 1844 and 1845 had been commenced in anticipation of the order) were sent to NAMU in Philadelphia for evaluation. The remaining production standard aircraft went into Squadron service in November-December 1940. Development of the F4F-3 included adding armour and self sealing tanks to improve combat survivability, adding auxilliary fuel tanks for increased range, and making changes to the cowling flaps to improve engine cooling. From approximately the 100th production aircraft, the engine was upgraded to the R-1830-86. Specific variants included the R-1830-90 powered F4F-3A, the camera equipped F4F-3P, and a single float equipped F4F-3S.
The F4F-4 began life in March 1940 when the last F4F-3 from the initial order was designated to be completed as the XF4F-4 (BuNo1897) with folding wings. First flown on April 15, 1941, it was delivered in May that year for trials. The production F4F-4 featured manually folding wings (unlike the prototypes hydraulically operated wings), and all were fitted with the R-1830-86 engine. The first of the 1,168 built was flown on November 7, 1941 and the final aircraft was delivered on December 31, 1942. Variants to the F4F-4 were the F4F-4B as the lend-lease version was designated, and the F4F-4P camera equipped reconnaisance fighter. There were a number of small run F4F variants. The XF4F-5 designated two F4F-3 aircraft (BuNo 1846 and 1847) modified with the Wright R-1820-40 for evaluation. The former was later fitted with the R-1820-54 and the later with the R-1820-48 engine. The XF4F-6 (BuNo 7031) was the prototype F4F-3A fitted with the 1,200hp P&W R-1830-90. The F4F-7 was a modified F4F-4 airframe without the wingfold mechanism or armament, with extra fuel capacity and special camera fittings for long range reconnaissance. Twenty-one were produced. The XF4F-8 involved two airframes (BuNo 12228 and 12229) which underwent a variety of modifications experimenting to improve performance off small deck escort carriers. The G-53 was a single aircraft (BuNo 5262) fitted with fullspan duplex flaps.
As well as the Grumman built Wildcats, production was farmed out to the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors. The FM-1 was essentially an F4F-4 apart from changes to the weapon installation. The FM-2 built on the experiences with the XF4F-8 and incorporated split flaps, taller tail surfaces, and the 1,350hp Wright R-1820-56 powerplant. Development included increases in the internal fuel capacity, and provision for R-1820-56A, R-1820-56W, and R-1820-56WA engines. As well as wing racks for 250lb bombs, changes were made to allow projectile launchers. Delivery of 1,060 FM-1 aircraft lasted from August 1942 to September 1943, and the 4,777 FM-2 from September 1943 to August 1945. Like the F4F-4 , some FM-2P were produced by installing cameras.
It is interesting to note that the aircraft was not officially designated the Wildcat until October 1, 1941. Production of all Wildcat variants totalled 7,825 aircraft.
The Wildcat has not been operated by the RNZAF. It's interest to New Zealand lies in its operation by the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. Over 1000 New Zealanders served with the Fleet Air Arm during the War years, with 650 reaching squadron level, and 160 being killed. Many of these New Zealanders trained on and operated the Martlet, as the Wildcat was known in FAA service until January 13, 1944.
Initial deliveries were the G-36A model which had originally been ordered by France. Based on the F4F-3, these were fitted with 1,200hp Wright Cyclone G205A engines and were intended to carry French made armament. The first flew on May 10, 1940 but none had been delivered by the fall of France. Transferred to Britain, the 91 aircraft were flown to Canada where they were fitted with Colt-Browning 0.50 machine guns and some British instruments and radio equipment. Delivery occurred between July and October 1940, with the first Martlet I going into service with 804 Squadron in October. The British had also ordered their own variant, the G-36B which was a F4F-3 fitted with the Twin Wasp S3C-4G powerplant. However, the advent of the F4F-4 meant only the first ten were completed with fixed wings, and the remaining 90 had folding wings. The aircraft were delivered between March 1941 and April 1942 and went into service as the Martlet II. The Martlet III was 30 F4F-3 standard aircraft taken up from a Greek contract. The Martlet IV was 220 lend-lease supplied F4F-4B aircraft produced between February and November 1942. The Martlet V designated 312 lend-lease supplied FM-1 aircraft. The final type operated by the FAA was the FM-2 designated as the Wildcat VI ( note rather than Martlet VI to conform with the US designation), and 370 were supplied.
I have no knowledge of US or FAA operated Wildcats visiting New Zealand (which is not to say that they didn't). However, one former US aircraft visited New Zealand in 2002. In recognition of the FAA service and the New Zealanders involved, the Alpine Fighter Collection arranged the visit of an airworthy Wildcat to participate in the 2002 Warbirds over Wanaka air show. The AFC had earlier purchased a Wildcat, but it was sold in favour of another aircraft and the Wildcat did not reach New Zealand (The aircraft concerned was c/n 5744, Bu86690, NN49JC, ex N20HA - used from 1956 by D.Underwood of Phoenix, Az for spraying and which later was displayed at Pensacola, Fl from 1979-90 and now at the Museum of Flight Seattle).
The aircraft illustrated below (c/n 5877, BuNo 86819) is an Eastern Aircraft Division built FM-2, and an example of the ultimate version being only 154 from the end of the 4,777 strong production run in August 1945. It was used after WWII as a cropsprayer and crashed around 1955 while working for Butler Aviation of Redmond, Oregon. The aircraft is subsequently reported to have passed through a number of owners in what proved to be a long term rebuild. While with the Yankee Air Corps at Chino it was registered N5833 in August 1983. It finally returned to the air on April 24, 1987 for Air Group One of California. It spent a short period with the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation at Chino before passing to the Confederate Air Force. The aircraft had been purchased by Col. Bob Reiss and donated to the CAF (he has also done the same with an ex-AFC Polikarpov I-16). The aircraft is now formally registered to the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum. The aircraft is presented in the colours of VOC-1 as worn aboard the escort carrier USS Wake Island CVE-65 in June 1945 while under the command of William F. (Bush) Bringle. As such the aircraft wears the markings of Carrier Division 23 which are white below the tail, a single yellow band round the rear fuselage and each wing, and white patches on the outer rear half of the upper starboard wing and lower port wing. An interesting addition is the marking 'USS Carl Vinson' (CVN-70) on the rear fuselage recognising the aircraft's operation from this carrier during the Fleet Week celebrations in 1995 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. The pilot on that occassion was Dave Morss who was also the display pilot for the Wanaka Airshow. Dave is an accomplished test pilot, a designated pilot examiner, holds an unlimited letter of authorisation for single and twin engine warbirds, regularly competes at Reno, and in 1998 was the inaugural winner of the EAA's Spirit of Flight Award. Also carrying out the photo flights around Wanaka was another regular Wildcat display pilot from the CAF, California based Carter Teeters.
The aircraft arrived at the Port of Tauranga aboard the 'Direct Kestral' from Los Angeles on March 23rd. It was unloaded the next morning and taken to the WrightAir facility at Tauranga Airport. Frank Wright is well known for reassembling warbirds on arrival in New Zealand (my last visit was to see the Fouga CM-170 Magister ), and in recent years has also restored a number of DHC-2 Beaver aircraft. The aircraft was unpacked, stripped of its protective cover, and cleaned. Pilot Dave Morss arrived soon after, having been flown from Auckland by John Lamont in ZK-CAG, a two-seat P-40N-1. The two aircraft then proceeded to Ardmore. (I was on hand for most of this process, and this is illustrated below. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the show at Wanaka). From Ardmore the aircraft flew later in the week to Wanaka. The Wildcat returned to Tauranga on April 2nd and was packed by April 4th and delivered back to the Port. The aircraft's short visit ended on April 6th when it departed aboard the 'Direct Tui' for the return voyage to Los Angeles
Last Update:- 10 October, 2002
Data is for the FM-2 Wildcat
It was a bright day and that's not the best choice for detail photos. But I managed a few. Unfortunately I can't offer to get more as its unlikely I'll see this aircraft again.
© 2002 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved