What was wrong with the F4F Wildcat?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Clay_Allison, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison Active Member

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    I have wondered for quite some time what it was about the Wildcat that made it such a poor performer in the Pacific Theatre. The F6F was a very similar design (essentially an F4F scaled up in size and power), and was the most numerically successful aircraft in the history of the US military.

    So I came up with a few rudimentary thoughts and since you lot know more about this stuff than I do and seem tolerant enough to put up with an aircraft novice who thinks outside the box, and comes up with crazy ideas, I'll share them.

    Claire Chennault learned that the Japanese airplanes and tactics were vulnerable to climb and dive tactics by American planes. The F4F would be ideally suited if it weren't for one thing: its climb rate was a joke, or would have been if it wasn't terribly unfunny.

    The Zero's climb rate wasn't to be matched by any American plane but with a head start a good plane could enough altitude to outdive it and disengage if in trouble. With the F4F-4 I think you'd need an hour.

    Here are two features that I think could have been included in the design to make it a specialist in the field of vertical fighting.

    1. Wider eliptical wings for more lift and wing surface without making it more difficult to pack into escort carriers. Level top speed would not be helped but since it was a brick, it would still dive fast and be far more maneuverable in a dive than the Zero, plus it would be able to climb effectively and turning might well be better as well.

    2. Just at a glance, the prop on the F4F looks tiny. I think a 4 or 5 blade prop with big fat air-eating blades would take better advantage of the 1200 HP offered by the Twin Wasp. Perhaps landing gear would have to be lengthened to accomodate it.

    Additionally, I think a 4-Gun 1000 round weapons loading was best load for that model, even if you needed to give the pilots extra time in gunnery school blasting targets. Including extra guns at the cost of ammunition gives arguably very limited advantage anyway, but considering the increase in weight I think it's unjustifiable.
     
  2. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Clay,

    >The F6F was a very similar design (essentially an F4F scaled up in size and power), and was the most numerically successful aircraft in the history of the US military.

    If you look at its absolute performance, however, you'll find that it is about the poorest performer with a 2000+ HP engine ever built as a fighter. Its success is owed to the lack of development in Japanese aircraft, not to aeronautical excellence.

    Grumman is pretty unique in having built a second major fighter type, the F8F, with the same engine as the first. Normally, proven airframes get souped-up by being re-equipped with different engine types ... quite telling if that doesn't happen.

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  3. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    Good point Hun, I'm no expert on Grumman types but your description also brought to mind the Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest, both with the Napier Sabre, sounds like the same sort of story.
     
  4. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    I thought the wildcat didn't perform so badly against the Japanese. It was mostly lack of experience that got the us pilots killed at the start of the war, not necessary the a/c's fault.
     
  5. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    That's more like it, Marcel. The Wildcat's performance wasn't that bad and it took some time for allied pilot to learn not to get into a slow speed turning fight with the Zero. That will get you killed quickly. But once you get some speed on the Zero, the ailerons, which are the size of friggin barn doors are not movable. Once you hit about 250 MPH, you can forget it.

    Joe has the numbers, but the Zero never had better than a 1.<something>:1 kill ratio against the Wildcat. They did their job, and the did it well.

    Any changes to the landing gear would involve quite a bit of change. The Wildcat's landing gear was hand cranked by the pilot. Any changes to the wing will effect the CG, balance and aerodynamics of the airplane. Adding and subtracting guns, ditto. It's always a balancing act with things like that and given the time of it's design, the Wildcat was a good performer.
     
  6. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    If you compare the Wildcat against a contempary Spitfire and Bf 109 then the Wildcat was certainly behind the times.

    Remember that at Midway in 1942, the Fw 190 had already appeared...the Wildcat was certainly not up to European performance levels.

    However...as a carrier fighter...well the one that was available in numbers...

    It was robust and had enough perfromance to deal with the Japs whose own aircraft also were not up to European levels of the day.

    It was strong, well armed and reliable and if lacking...well the pilots could make up the rest.
     
  7. claidemore

    claidemore Member

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    We all love to debate performance of various planes, and speculate on which 'was/is/should have been' better. That being said, the Wildcat is an excellent example of performance not being the deciding factor in combat! At least as far as popular opinion goes.

    It was relatively slow, climbed poorly, didn't turn as well as it's major opponent (Zero), had an awkward landing gear system, and in early models problems with guns jamming. Yet it remained in combat throughout the war and racked up an enviable record.

    Here is something interesting that I found concerning the 4 guns vs 6 gun installation.

    A quote from this site:
    The Grumman F4F Wildcat
     
  8. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Waynos,

    >Good point Hun, I'm no expert on Grumman types but your description also brought to mind the Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest, both with the Napier Sabre, sounds like the same sort of story.

    Ah, important parallel! The Tempest was designed becaues the Typhoon didn't cut it, and it didn't even have to be a total redesign like the F8F since the Typhoon's weakness were its thick wings, while the rest of the aircraft was basically sound.

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  9. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Lets not forget guys that some of the early F4F's limatations were addressed in later models, especially on the FM-2 which served well on small escort carriers. JoeB will question this but this is from Wikipedia...

    "the course of the war, Navy and Marine F4Fs and FMs flew 15,553 combat sorties (14,027 of these from aircraft carriers[19]), destroying 1,327 enemy aircraft at a cost of 191 Wildcats (an overall kill-to-loss ratio of 6.9:1). True to their escort fighter role, Wildcats dropped only 154 tons of bombs during the war."
     
  10. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Claidemore,

    >That being said, the Wildcat is an excellent example of performance not being the deciding factor in combat!

    As this is mainly due to the Japanese missing out the 1930s' revolution in tactics brought about by "radio telephony", the example strikes me as less than excellent.

    (I believe I have actually written quite a number of posts pointing out that poor tactics can undermine the advantages of superior performance ...)

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  11. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    'Poor performer in the Pacific' implies you're speaking of the plane's operational record, not its 'pure plane combat effectiveness'; however we define or calculate that nebulous concept.

    Anyway operational record is a simple fact and your statement is exactly the wrong way around as far as operational record. The F4F had the best operational record of any Allied fighter in 1942 v Japanese fighters, especially the Zero. It was mentioned that its actual (per recorded losses on both sides) kill ratio v the Zero was around 1:1 in 1942, but to put that in context every other Allied fighter, which saw any significant combat that year, had a worse record, mostly much worse. Hurricane and Buffalo ballpark of 1:5 v the Zero in '42, P-39 and P-40 ballpark of 1:2~3, P-38's didn't establish superiority over Zero's in few encounters of late '42; even in 1943 the Spitfire V's fighter-fighter exchange ratio v the Zero was worse than that of the Hurricane in 1942.

    In Sept 1944-Aug 1945 the FM-2 Wildcat's claimed fighter-fighter kill ratio was higher than that of either the F6F or F4U (which claimed almost exactly the same ratio in that period, again suggesting the possiblity of wasted breath and electrons debating whether the F6F or F4U was better based on stats: whatever real difference there was doesn't seem to have been enough to create any noticeable difference in results when flown by similar or same air arm, USN/USMC, against the same enemy fighters, same theater, same time period).

    The Wildcat is, as was mentioned, exhibit A in the limited relevance of simple plane statistics to combat effectiveness of fighter units, and perhaps even limited relevance to combat effectiveness of planes themselves, depending whether the stats analysis emphasizes the stats which really mattered most in combat (and how do we determine that?), and if it leaves out less tangible but perhaps as important factors as for example 'good gunnery platform' (in which Grumman fighters were generally thought to exel).

    Joe
     
  12. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    What was wrong with the F4F? Not very much was wrong considering when it was designed. It held it's own during 1942 with the vaunted A6M. As far as performance was concerned, it was not that bad compared, for instance with the P39 or P40 which were contemporaries of it. The P40E at 8100 pounds took almost fifteen minutes to climb to 20000 feet with normal power. The F4F4 at 7975 pounds took about thirteen minutes for the same altitude at normal power. An early F4F3 could do it in nine and one half minutes and the later FM2 could pretty much equal the early F4F3s.
     
  13. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison Active Member

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    I think that the actual service record was more a combination of good piloting and probably encountering Zeros in ones and twos while they were in larger formations. I don't know for sure if that last is true, but I think it's a good guess.

    I always thought of the F6F as a poor man's P-47 for carrier service. It killed far more Japanese planes than the F4U for all the latter's fanfare and John Wayne movies.
     
  14. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    F4U had 2155 kills in the Pacific, F4F had 1408 kills in the Pacific, 2 in ETO and 26 in the Med. As a matter of fact, in the early going in the Pacific, the F4F was usually outnumbered by IJN fighters.
     
  15. comiso90

    comiso90 Active Member

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    Boom and Zoom tactics along with the Thatch Weave are what made the Wildcat competitive.

    In a single plane vs plane engagement, I'd rather be in a Zero but in a multiple plane aerial battle, I'd take the F4F.

    .
     
  16. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison Active Member

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    By the numbers, you can't beat the Hellcat.

    That is from Wiki, but with good cited sources.
     
  17. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    F4F and Zero numbers were generally comparable in their 1942 combats, which were pretty extensive in a fair variety of tactical situations. Pilots are obviously always a big variable, the problem is always *quantifying* that variable, rather than just using it as a fudge factor when analysis of simple stats gives the 'wrong' answer (as it notably tends to do with the F4F's combat record compared to its simple performance stats).

    As of late 1942, USN intel reports noted that it was the *Zeroes* who tended to use boom and zoom tactics v the F4F; both tried to get altitude and energy advantage if they could. That was unsurprising, for this was the Zero's standard tactic in China in pre-Pacific War combat when it was faster than all its opponents. IJN pilots sometimes fell back on earlier individual aerobatic tactics, but the IJN's official doctrine based on experience in China emphasized cooperative quick firing and break away passes by the 3 plane 'shotai'. Their coordination skills were to be honed by such intense training that they didn't need radios to anticipate one another's moves, and that worked with the highly trained 1942 (and actually, 1943 to a still significant extent) IJN pilots.

    The Thach Weave was seldom used in 1942. Thach himself experimented with it in his own division at Midway, but it didn't fully work itself through the USN training system to become standard, until later.

    I don't think there is a single simple explanation why the Wildcat overperformed its paper stats so much in effectiveness in fighter combat, especially compared to other Allied fighters v the Zero in 1942. Pilot training (gunnery training particularly) was certainly one aspect; the fact that it turned relatively well compared to the Zero (though not *as* well) was probably another reason. Real knowledge of the Zero was pretty limited until quite late in '42 (by which time there was cumulatively a fair amount of combat experience against it, plus the flight results of the example captured in the Aleutians came out out late in the year). Instinctively engaging in turning combat, an F4F wouldn't be at as much of a disadvantage as some other Allied fighters v the Zero.

    Re; Wiki numbers good cited sources but of *claims*, claims and actual results is apples and oranges in WWII fighter combat. The F4F's 1942 fighter-fighter record of 1:1 is real, not claimed. It can't be compared to F6F (or FM-2 for that matter) claimed stats of the period Sept '44 to Aug '45 (which is what those stats quoted by Japanese type are). We can to a degree compare FM '44-45 claims to F6F '44-45 claims but can't accurately compare F4F real results to FM or F6F claims, nor even 45 claims to 42 claims, the accuracy of claims probably changed over that time. Performance of F4F would most reasonably be compared based on real results v other Allied types' real results against the same opponents in the same period. In that comparison, the F4F's results, v the Zero, in 1942, were better than any other Allied fighter at that time.

    Joe
     
  18. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Actually the Navy pilots did OK against the A6M before Jimmy Thach spread the word about the Beam Defense Maneuver. He first tested his theory at Midway and one of the guys in his section did not know what to do as he had not been briefed and his radio was out. Interestingly the first Navy pilots that engaged the A6M at Coral Sea thought it was VSB, (scout bomber) because of it's elongated cockpit. They were astounded by it's performance. Some VSB! They would have liked to have used energy tactics but the Zeros often had the altitude advantage because of the Wildcats being stuck as an escort or because of the F4F's slow rate of climb as an interceptor at Guadalcanal. The IJN pilots did not like to dogfight but their preference was for energy tactics. Lundstrom goes into great detail about this subject in his books. Joe B, I was working on my post while yours was being posted and you stole all my thunder but did it in better style. Attaboy. It is interesting how well the F4F performed versus other contemporary US fighters in the same time period. Probably the worst characteristic of the Wildcat was it's lack of range,(a combat radius from a carrier on internal fuel of only 175 miles) the Zero had twice that.
     
  19. Clay_Allison

    Clay_Allison Active Member

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    Problem with the Zero using energy tactics is that it lost its' famed maneuverability at high speeds, especially in a dive.
     
  20. comiso90

    comiso90 Active Member

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    Even if the IJN used Energy tactics too, it's still true that :

    Boom and Zoom tactics along with the Thatch Weave are what made the Wildcat competitive


    Unless everything I've read is incorrect. A quick Google for "Boom and Zoom f4f zero." produces dozen of sites that say exactly what I did.

    ..
     
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