21 August 1944:¹ The first of two Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat prototypes, Bu. No. 90460, made its first flight at Bethpage, New York, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and test pilot Robert Leicester Hall at the controls. The Bearcat was a light-weight high performance interceptor, designed to operate from the U.S. Navy’s smaller aircraft carriers. It used an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC13-G (R-2800-22) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, an uprated version of the engine used in its predecessor, the Grumman F6F Hellcat.
The R-2800-22 engine was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,100 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff and Military Power. In order to use the engine’s power more effectively, the prototype Bearcat used a 12-foot, 4-inch (3.759 meter) diameter, four-bladed Aero Products, Inc., propeller, driven through a 0.45:1 gear reduction.
The Bearcat was 20% lighter than the Hellcat. It was 50 miles per hour faster and had a much higher rate of climb.
For aircraft carrier operations, the new fighter could not sacrifice structural strength. In order to limit the weight, armament was reduced to four .50-caliber machine guns, and fuel capacity was also less than that of the Hellcat, giving it reduced range.
The production F8F-1 Bearcat was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 10 inches (4.216 meters) (to tip of propeller, in three-point position). With its wings folded, the width of the Bearcat was reduced to 23 feet, 9½ inches (7.252 meters).
The Bearcat’s wings are sharply tapered. Their angle of incidence is −1½°, and there is 5° 30′ dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 5° 5′. The chord decreases from 9 feet, 7.87 inches (2.943 meters) at the root to 4 feet, 3.5 inches (1.308 meters) at a point 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) inboard from the tip. The total wing area is 244 square feet (22.7 square meters).
The fighter’s horizontal stabilizer has a span of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters) and a total area of 52.2 square feet (4.85 square meters). Its angle of incidence is +½°. The rudder has a height of 6 feet, 1–13/16 inches (1.875 meters). The vertical tail has a total area of 20.8 square feet (1.93 square meters), and is offset 2° left.
The F8F-1’s empty weight was 7,070 pounds (3,207 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 12,947 pounds (5,873 kilograms). The F8F-2’s empty weight increased to 7,650 pounds (3,470 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight was 13,460 pounds (6,105 kilograms).
The production F8F-1 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC14-G (R-2800-34W) engine which had the same Sea Level power ratings as the R-2800-22. It produced 1,500 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters) and had a Military Power rating of 1,700 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The gear reduction drive ratio was also 0.45:1. A slightly larger Aero Products propeller with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (5.835 meters) was installed. The R-2800-34W was 6 feet, 2.134 inches (1.883 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.80 inches (1.341 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,358.5 pounds (1,069.8 kilograms).
The F8F-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W. The Normal Power rating increased to 1,720 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,450 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Takeoff and Military Power also increased: 2,250 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,600 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). The R-2800-30W also drove an Aero Products propeller. The gear reduction ratio was the same. Its dimensions were slightly different than the -34W: 7 feet, 8.75 inches (2.356 meters) long, and 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter. The engine’s weight increased to 2,560 pounds (1,161 kilograms).
The Bearcat had a top speed of 336 knots (387 miles per hour/622 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 388 knots (447 miles per hour/719 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). The airplane had initial rate of climb at Sea Level of 4,465 feet per minute (22.68 meters per second) and it could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8.4 minutes. Its ceiling was 38,200 feet (11,643 meters).
Fuel capacity is 185 U.S. gallons (700 liters). The fighter’s range could be extended with a jettisonable centerline and two underwing tanks. The Bearcat’s combat radius was 235 nautical miles (270 statute miles/435 kilometers). Its maximum range, with three external tanks (350 gallons/1,325 liters), was 1,595 nautical miles (1,835 statute miles/2,954 kilometers).
The F8F-1 Bearcat was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Inboard guns were provided with 325 rounds of ammunition, each, while the outboard guns had 200 rounds per gun. The F8F-2 replaced these with four M3 20 mm autocannon. Each inboard cannon had 325 rounds per gun, and the outboard guns had 188 rounds each. The F8F could also be armed with up to three 11.75-inch (29.845 centimeters) Tiny Tim air-to-ground rockets, or four 5-inch (12.7 centimeter) High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR). For bombing missions, the Bearcat could carry one 1,600 pound (726 kilograms) bomb on the centerline and two 1,000 pounders (454 kilograms, each) under the wings.
The first prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat, Bu. No. 90460, crashed into Chesapeake Bay during gunnery tests at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, 18 March 1945. Its pilot was missing, presumably killed. The airplane has recently–probably—been located.²
Between 1945 and 1949, Grumman produced 1,265 F8F Bearcats, including a civilian G-58A and a G-58B. A number of American test pilots and astronauts flew the Bearcat in naval service, and several, including Neil Armstong, described it as their all-time favorite airplane.
Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.
Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.). He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta (ΦΓΔ) fraternity and the glee club. While at the University, Hall became a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie Therese Zeller, a 1928 graduate of Cornell University, and a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931. They later divorced.
Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.
In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.
Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.
Robert Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.
Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991 at the age of 85 years.
¹ Some sources give 31 August 1944 as the date of the first flight.
² Naval Aviation News, 31 August 2017:
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby