Another look at the Hellcat

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by GregP, Jun 29, 2015.

  1. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I’ve noticed that the Grumman F6F Hellcat gets little respect in here from a lot of people and is generally not all that well thought of since this forum seems to like on top speed over other characteristics. I decided to re-check “Duels in the Sky” by Eric Brown, widely acclaimed as the most experienced aviator of WWII and immediate post-war. I reclled he rather liked the F6F.

    In his “duels,” he rates the Hellcat as the probable winner versus the Meserschmitt Bf 109G-6 and says the outcome of a Hellcat versus Fw 190A-4 would be decided by pilot skill. He says both the Hellcat and the Corsair should have little trouble dealing with a Tony 31, which was slightly inferior to a Zeke 52.

    Eric rates the Fw 190D-9 as the finest all-round German fighter in Luftwaffe service and says the Fw 190D-9 should win in a straight-up fight with the Hellcat if the pilots were evenly matched. For theoretical combat, he allows the Spitfire IX should win in a fight with the Hellcat, but a lot of sweat would be expended before the conclusion.

    In the end Eric rates the Spitfire and Fw 190 as tied at the top for best fighter of WWII, followed by the Hellcat, followed by the P-51, followed by the Zero (or Zeke). He says that while the Hellcat didn’t rate as the top fighter, it was certainly the best Naval fighter in the Pacific and also the greatest Naval fighter of WWII.

    So, as a Hellcat fan myself, I’m glad to see a well respect pilot rating the F6F as high as he did. I submit it would not have had quite the bad time some people in here think had it been introduced in numbers in the ETO, but that is a “what if.” Though the Royal Navy did fly a few, they didn’t have many and they didn’t play much a part in the ETO.

    What would really strike my fancy is if Grumman had been allowed to tweak the F6F-5 and fix the rather slow roll rate and introduce a few general upgrades. They had the ideas but were never allowed to interrupt production to introduce the refinements.

    The Hellcat was not alone in that regard, and most fighters probably had another variant or two left in the basic airframe that never got built due to the war winding down while using the existing variants to good effect. The war was already expensive enough and there was little point in improving planes that were already finding it hard to locate victims in the closing month of WWII. I’m thinking a “Super Hellcat” could have been introduced in late 1944, but the end of the war in Germany was in sight by then. Once Europe was won, the change in deployments to the Pacific would result in an easy doubling of the forces there, and there was also no point in spending money to improve planes that were available in large numbers for re-deployment to the Pacific if necessary.

    No big statement here, just the thought that the F6F was no pushover if encountered in a fight wherever it might be.
     
  2. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    The Hellcat is one of my favourite birds and I reckon the Ironworks never produced a duff aircraft. Not many companies could say that.
     
  3. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    Any landing you can walk away from is a good one but thats a touch too fast. If you ripped the tail off a Hellcat you would probably have spread yourself all over the deck in anything else.

    hellcat.jpg
     
  4. Conslaw

    Conslaw Member

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    Corky Meyer quotes Leroy Grumman's philosophy which was absolutely nailed by the Hellcat. "Grumman will only deliver aircraft that a 200-hour wartime-trained pilot can fly from a carrier, fight in aerial combat, return to the carrier, and land safely at night to fly again the next day." If only the mission statements of today's corporations were this focused and correct.

    As it happened, this is exactly what the US Navy needed in the Pacific. Designing an aircraft is all about tradeoffs. The Hellcat traded absolute speed for toughness, pilot visibility, range, carrier suitability, ease of manufacturing and more. The Hellcat remained "fast enough" to handle its Pacific adversaries, and all other categories the Hellcat was superb. In an environment where you were likely to lose more pilots and planes to operational mishaps than you were to enemy action, it made sense to have an aircraft that was easy to fly and tolerant of rough handling. As much as I admire the Corsair, if I were a Navy pilot in 1944, I'd rather fly a Hellcat. It was more likely to do the job and get me home safe and sound. (For the same reason, in Europe, I'd pick the P-47 over the P-51.)
     
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  5. SpicyJuan11

    SpicyJuan11 Member

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    Wasn't the Corsair superior to the Hellcat though?
     
  6. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    #6 GregP, Jun 29, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2015
    According to Eric Brown, they'd fight to a draw if they ever DID fight.

    The Hellcat was a bit slower, but not much. One of the funny things Corky Meyer said in some of his writings is that Grumman had the opportunity to fly the Corsair and vice versa. The Navy sent each plane to the competitor for evaluation. Corky said they used the same engine and prop, and SHOULD have been close to one another in speed.

    In his evaluations, the Hellcat and Corsair were almost exactly the same when flown side-by-side. One or the other would slowly pull away when flying at the same engine settings, and it wasn't always the same plane. Interestingly, he stated that the airspeed indicator on the Corsiar always read faster than the airspeed indicator on the Hellcat, even when flying side by side at the same speed.

    He also said the Corsair was slightly faster in the Main stage since the Corsair used ram air and the Hellcat didn't on purpose. Without ram, there was little chance of carburetor icing and no Hellcats were lost to carb ice around the carrier. The Corsair can't say the same.

    The Corsair rolled quicker than the Hellcat but the Hellcat would easily out-turn the Corsair. The Hellcat had the most wing area of any major fighter of WWII, so that isn't surprising.

    There have been a lot of nice things written about both fighters, but the Hellcat DID shoot down more Japanese planes than any other Allied fighter. This from a plane that only hit the fleet and first saw action in 1 September 1943. The Corsair was actually introduced earlier than the Hellcat, but failed its US carrier qualification tests. They only started flying them on carriers out of embarassment after the British deployed Corsairs successfully on British carriiers.

    The Navy preferred the Hellcat for Pacific fighting from carriers as evidenced by their actual deployment choices. After WWII, when the Corsair and P-51 were chosen for continued duty in Korea, it was more of a case of what was available, in what shape, and with what spares in the supply chain than for any other reason.

    The P-51 and F4U had the most spares in the supply pipeline. They were very good performers, no doubt, but things other than fighter performance were the deciding factors. For fighters, they were using jets. The pistons were bomb trucks and the Corsair was a good one, a bit better at hauling bombs and thus ground attack than the F6F. It got even better at ground attack when they went fron six 50-cal to four 20 mm cannons.

    Heck, we were still shooting WWII munitions in Viet Nam, but we were almost out of service-level aircraft spares for the pistons when they were phased out. All I can say is that if the Skyraider had been deployed in WWII, the war could have ended sooner. That is a fact anyone would see if they had been in Viet Nam and had seen Skyraiders attack anything. It was the only plane I ever saw that could orbit friendlies in trouble for 2+ hours and either drop something or shoot something at the enemy on each and every pass.
     
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  7. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    I think the Hellcats record speaks for itself, could one factor in it being under appreciated is that it isnt a "looker" in the same way as a Corsair Jug or Mustang? For my part a deck full of Hellcats engines running ready for take off is one of the great images of the war.
     
  8. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    It was lovely like a bulldog ... so ugly it wound up cute.

    The again, my favored fighters tend to lean toward radials anyway. Perhaps I just like wiping oil streaks from airplanes. You never know.
     
  9. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    This, from an Allison mechanic? :rolleyes:
     
  10. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    There have been other threads about this, but I wonder if the F4U development could have been speeded up/improved?
    It seems that had initial development proceeded better, it could have entered service even sooner.
     
  11. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Yes I worked on Allisons and I like them as engines. But the lines of your favorite fighters have little to do with the engine in it. It is just aesthetics.

    I think the pacing item for the performance development of the Corsair was the R-2800. They COULD have made the carrier handling characteristics better from the outset, but needed to test it on one before they knew how far off they were. I think it could have been done quicker. But I also don't have all the information the mangaers of the time had, so I can't be sure.

    There are a few features about the Corsair I don't much like ... but comiing up with a different way to do it isn't the same as saying you don't like it. What I can say is that if something else were not done when it was done in reality, the effort expended on it could have been used elsewhere.

    Hindsight always has pretty good vision.

    They COULD have come up with the P-51 sooner, but they didn't and we never get to go back and change it to see what the difference might have been. If you could transport back in time to just before Pearl Harbor, who would have listened to you and would have let you talk to a person who could have changed things?

    On such what-ifs have many novels been based and, so far, none have come true.

    If the Japanese could have looked ahead to 1945, they would never have attacked us in 1941. If that had happened, then W. Edwards Demming would never have gone over and taught statistics to the industry CEOs of Japan. Honda, Toyota, Yamaha, and most of the other Japanese industrial giants of today would never have gotten mass production quality down as rapidly as they did and probably wouldn't be a world factor today. Or they might have invented it all on their own and would still be where they are today. Nobody can say with certainty.

    All this talk of coming up with planes, or better versions sooner, or speeding up the jet engine, is all speculation. It never happened. Now we know why the imagination makes things like Jurrasic Park so compelling.

    We can't stand to not speculate about how things might be different today if only ...
     
  12. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    You needed the customer (the Navy) to order more than one prototype. You also needed the customer to get their heads out of their behinds and figure out that 400mph fighters don't really need to dive as fast they can can possibly go due to drag as part of an acceptance test, called terminal velocity dive. (XF4U is supposed to have hit 515mph in dive in Jan 1941). Not sure if the Navy had given up on the 10 turn spin and recover to the right and 10 turn spin and recover to the left tests by the the time they got the F4U. Navy also had to give up on the idea of carrying 20 small bombs inside the wing to drop on enemy bomber formations.

    Picture of the bomb cells on the Bell XFL-1
    FL-1+Wing+bomb+bays.JPG

    Found the story on the dive. The Navy wanted it's aircraft to to do a vertical, zero lift dive and maintain the dive for 10,000ft. Boone Guyton was the project pilot and they soon found that starting such a dive from 20,000ft made for too High 'G" forces in the pull out the danger of loss of control in the pullout. If started higher than 20,000ft they ran into compressabilty effects which also affected control on trying to pull out. In one dive negative "G" affected the propeller control system leading to overspeeding and wrecking the engine and a dead stick landing. Modifications needed to prevent it happening again. The made 96 changes in the aileron control system in 110 flights in early 1941 to get the best combination of roll response and control loads (effort) The 10 turn spin was still in effect and Guyton found that the control loads needed to recover from the high speed spin exceeded human limits and he saved the plane using an anti-spin parachute.
    The Navy dd away with both the strict dive test and the spin test during F4U development and the F6F didn't have to jump through those hoops.
     
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  13. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    Grumman did make one "duff" aircraft, the XF10F Jaguar.
     
  14. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Touche. Corky Meyer said it tried to kill him several times.
     
  15. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    Did anyone (in any country) every try the idea of dropping small bombs from above on enemy bomber formations below?
    Not advocating, just curious.
     
  16. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    The Luftwaffe dropped bombs on the USAAF formation for one of the Schweinfurt missions.

    Obviously possible when there aren't escort fighters. Somewhat more difficult when there are.
     
  17. grampi

    grampi Member

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    I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Browns assessment of the fighters...I agree that the Spit was the best, it's after that where his rankings fall apart...I don't agree the FW190 and Hellcat were better than the Mustang...there may have been certain things each did better than the P-51, but overall, I would say the Mustang is superior...I would also rank the Corsair as better than the Hellcat too...
     
  18. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    The Hellcat may not have been a stellar performer in terms of absolute numbers but it was better than most of the planes that opposed it and the opposition that was as good or better was avialable only in numbers that could be described as miniscule. The Hellcat had no serious vices to trick the novice or unwary pilot (I doubt that any 6 ton, 2000hp fighter could be described as easyto fly) and as already mentoned, was noted for being on the sturdy side.This may have knocked of 1-2% from the peak performance numbers but paid off in getting more pilots back home and in planes staying servicable in combat areas for longer periods of time on average.
    The Hellcat had the great good fortune to be the right plane at the right place at the right time. A plane that well trained but green pilots could take into combat and had enough performance (and firepower and protection) to allow them to not only survive but to dominate the opposition of the time. As such it became a standard to judge the Japanese planes against. Could Japanese plane XXX with an average pilot survive or have a fair chance aginst a Hellcat with an average pilot.
    Had the Japanese been able to field Franks, Georges, and Jacks in much larger numbers (thousands rather than hundreds) with pilots with several hundred hours flying time instead of 100-200 hours and the Hellcat may not have done so well, It might still done the job, won the air war in that part of Asia, but at a higher cost.
     
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  19. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    British came up with the Idea (ok maybe others did too but I thnk only the British tried it) of towing a bomb/mine on a long cable through an enemy formation.

    Lots of things were thought up/pattented (AA shells with flip out knife blades seemed to be re-occuring) but practicality soon reduced things to what we know as common.
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #20 stona, Jun 30, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
    I think that you are thinking of the 'Long Aerial Mine' used in 1940/41 to little effect.

    It was dropped as a sort of protective curtain across the anticipated path of incoming German aircraft. These slightly dodgy scans will save me a lot of typing :)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Cheers

    Steve
     
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