Home Base: Hayward, CA
Operation: Western and Central USA
Wing Span: 38' 0"
Length: 28' 9"
Height: 11' 5"
Max Speed: 332 mph
Gross Weight: 8,221 lbs
Power Plant: Wright R-1820-56
Fuel Capacity: 148 gallons
Armament: 4 x .50 caliber machine guns, six 5" HVARs.
Tom Camp's Grumman FM-2 Wildcat "Air Biscuit"
Tom Camp is the owner and operator of this beautifully restored Grumman FM-2 Wildcat, which is available for airshows, flybys, film and is also a regular unlimited air racer at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, NV.
In 1936 the US Navy evaluated a number of designs which were competing to be the Navy's new carrier-based fighter. Grumman built a design which, after several re-designations and airframe modifications, won the contract and eventually became the F4F Wildcat. The prototype, the XF4F-2, first flew on 2 September 1937. The prototype of an improved version, the XF4F-3, was renamed the F4F and was ordered by the Navy in August of 1939. The first five aircraft off the assembly line were sent to Canada, with the next 90 (designated "Martlet Mk I" going to the 804 Squadron of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm where, in December 1940, two Martlets made history by becoming the first American-made aircraft to down a German plane in WWII.
The first US Navy F4F-3 was flown on 20 August 1940, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engine with 1,200 horsepower. The subsequent F4F-4, incorporating several improvements including folding wings, six guns and self-sealing fuel tanks, was delivered in November 1941. It was then that the name "Wildcat" was first given to the F4F. As war raged around the world, the Wildcat's reputation and utilization grew immensely. It flew with the US Navy and US Marines in all of the major Pacific battles, and in North Africa with the Navy.
In mid 1942, Grumman realized that it needed to concentrate on the production of its new F6F Hellcat fighter, and so it contracted with the General Motors Company to build the Wildcat under the designation FM-1. The first FM-1 flew on 31 August 1942, and over 1,150 of them were produced, hundreds of which went to the Fleet Air Arm as the "Martlet Mk V." General Motors next developed an improved version, called the FM-2 ("Wildcat Mk VI" in the Fleet Air Arm), which was powered by a Wright R-1820 engine with 1,350 horsepower. It featured a taller vertical tail than the FM-1.
The Wildcat was outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero, its major opponent in the early part of the Pacific Theater, but held its own partly because of its ability to absorb far more damage. With relatively heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive far more than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival. Many U.S. Navy fighter pilots also were saved by the F4F's ZB homing device, which allowed them to find their carriers in poor visibility, provided they could get within the 30-mile (48 km) range of the homing beacon.
The Japanese ace Saburo Sakai describes the Wildcat's ability for absorbing damage:
“I had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7.7 mm machine guns. I turned the 20 mm cannon switch to the 'off' position, and closed in. For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd - it had never happened before – and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman. To my surprise, the Grumman's rudder and tail were torn to shreds, looking like an old torn piece of rag. With his plane in such condition, no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting! A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now.”
In the hands of an "expert pilot" using tactical advantage, the Wildcat could prove to be a difficult foe even against the formidable Zero. After analyzing Fleet Air Tactical Unit Intelligence Bureau reports describing the new carrier fighter, USN Commander "Jimmy" Thach devised a defensive strategy that allowed Wildcat formations to act in a coordinated maneuver to counter a diving attack, called the "Thach Weave."
Four U.S. Marine Corps Wildcats played a prominent role in the defense of Wake Island in December 1941. USN and USMC aircraft were the fleet's primary air defense during the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway and, land-based Wildcats played a major role during the Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942-43. It was not until 1943 that more advanced naval fighters capable of taking on the Zero on more even terms, the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, reached the South Pacific theatre.
Grumman's Wildcat production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing Wildcats for both U.S. Navy and Fleet Air Arm use. From 1943 onward, Wildcats were primarily assigned to escort carriers ("jeep carriers") as larger fighters such as the Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were needed aboard fleet carriers, and the Wildcat's slower landing speed made it more suitable for shorter flight decks.
In all, 7,860 Wildcats were built. The British received 300 Eastern Aircraft FM-1s as the Martlet V in 1942/43 and 340 FM-2s as the Wildcat VI. In total nearly 1,200 Wildcats would serve with the FAA. By January 1944, the Martlet name was dropped and the type was identified as "Wildcat."
During the course of the war, Navy and Marine F4Fs and FMs flew 15,553 combat sorties (14,027 of these from aircraft carriers), 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.
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