Last in the line of single-seat single-engined fighters to originate from the F4F Wildcat, the Bearcat had the distinction of being one of the most successful piston-engined aircraft to serve with the US Navy. The provision of significantly more power than the R-2800 engine of the F6F Hellcat was impractical, so the design team concentrated upon producing a smaller lightweight aircraft which would ensure the performance required of a carrier-based interceptor.
The prototype XF8F-1 flew for the first time on 27 November 1943, confirming at once that Grumman had produced a high-performance fighter, and deliveries of F8F-ls to the first operational squadron began in May 1945. Variants included F8F-1B with cannon armament; F8F-1N night fighter with redesigned power-plant section and revised radio and radar equipment; F8F-2 with an 1,863kW R-2800-E engine, fin and rudder height increased by 30.5cm to improve directional stability (made a controlled climb from take-off to 3,050m in 92 seconds); F8F-2N night fighter; and F8F-2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Entering service too late for operational deployment in World War II, ex-US Navy Bearcats were used by the French Armee de l'Air and the Royal Thai Air Force, playing a significant role in the conflict in Indo-China.