Tag Archives: Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat

26 June 1942

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981.
Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

26 June 1942: The Grumman XF6F-1, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 02981, prototype for the Navy and Marine Corps F6F Hellcat fighter, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and Test Pilot Robert Leicester Hall flying, made a 25-minute first flight at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation plant, Bethpage, Long Island, New York.

The first Hellcat was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Twin Cyclone GR2600B676 (R-2600-10) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. This engine had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. The R-2600-10 was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. It turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-2600-10 was 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 2.91 inches (1.903 meters) long. It weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

Beginning with the second prototype, Bu. No. 02982, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) 18-cylinder engine became the standard powerplant. The R-2800-10 was an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat Bu. No. 02981 in flight. (Northrop Grumman)

The first prototype was quickly re-engined to the Pratt & Whitney radial and redesignated XF6F-3. Bob Hall flew it with the new engine on 30 July 1942. A few weeks later, 17 August, the Hellcat’s new engine failed and Hall crash-landed at Crane’s Farm. The airplane was moderately damaged and Hall was seriously injured.

Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane's Farm, Long Island, New York, August 1942. (Grumman)
Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane’s Farm, Long Island, New York, 17 August 1942. (Northrop Grumman)

The airplane was rebuilt and continued in the test program. It was eventually converted to the XF6F-4 with a two-speed turbocharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) which produced 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. It was armed with four 20 mm cannon.

The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4, seen here at NACA, langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)
The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4 configuration, seen here at NACA, Langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)

The Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.

The F6F-3 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters) in three-point position. It has an empty weight of 9,207 pounds (4,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,575 pounds (5,704 kilograms).

A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F6F-3 Hellcat was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) engine with water injection, rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The normal power rating was 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at  22,500 feet (6,858 meters). The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943.(U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)

In clean configuration, the F6F-3 had a maximum speed of 321 miles per hour (517 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 3.2 minutes, and to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.0 minutes. The service service ceiling was 38,800 feet (11,826 meters). It had a combat radius of 335 nautical miles (386 miles/620 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,540 miles (2,478 kilometers).

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 2,400 rounds of ammunition.

The Grumman Hellcat was the most successful fighter of the Pacific war, with a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It was in production from 1942 to 1945 and remained in service with the United States Navy until 1956. A total of 12,275 were built by Grumman at Bethpage. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F Hellcat prepares to takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat prepares to takeoff from USS Yorktown (CV-10), November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Robert Leicester Hall

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.).

In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie, 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.

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Model Z, NR77Y, City of Springfield.

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.

A Stinson SR-8E Reliant, NACA 94, at the Langley Research Center, 5 August 1936. (NASA)

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.

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.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 4778, Long Island, New York, circa 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)
Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat Bu. No. 26108, Long Island, New York, circa 1943. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 November 1943

LCDR William H. ("Butch") O'Hare, United States Navy
LCDR Edward H. (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, ca. April 1942. (U.S. Navy)

26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of Fighting Squadron TWO (VF-2), piloted by O’Hare and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).

Butch O’Hare was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with “00” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.

The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, circa 1943. (LIFE Magazine)

The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.

At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hare was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.

A Japanese Mitsubishi G4M twin-engine bomber opened fire on O’Hare’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared into the darkness.

Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)

Butch O’Hare’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hare by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hare, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.

Neither O’Hare or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.

Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called "Betty" by Allied forces.
Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called “Betty” by Allied forces.

Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.

Lieutenant Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)

Edward Henry O’Hare was born at St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America, 13 March 1914. He was one of three children of Edward Joseph O’Hare and Selma Anna Lauth O’Hare. He attended the Western Military Academy, Alton, Illinois, along with his friend, Paul Warfield Tibbetts (who would later command the Army Air Forces’ 509th Composite Group, and fly the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay). O’Hare graduated in 1932.

Butch O’Hare was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and entered 24 July 1933. He graduated 3 June 1937 and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy. He was then assigned to sea duty aboard the class-leading battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40).

Ensign Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, 30 June 1939. (U.S. Navy)

In 1939, Ensign O’Hare was ordered to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for primary flight training. On 3 June 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He completed flight training 2 May 1940.

Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was next assigned to Fighting Squadron THREE (VF-3), a fighter squadron based at San Diego, California, and assigned as part of the air group of the Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-3).

USS Saratoga was damaged by a torpedo southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, 11 January 1942. While the carrier was under repair, VF-3 was transferred to USS Lexington.

During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding into Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon of 20 February 1942, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.

This Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat is marked F-15, as was the fighter flown by Butch O’Hare on 20 February 1942. (Cropped detail from a United States Navy photograph.)

Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.

At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber photographed from the flight deck of USS Lexington, 20 February 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare married Miss Rita Grace Wooster, a nurse at DePaul Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 6 September 1941. The marriage was performed by Rev. Patrick Joseph Murphy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Church) in Phoenix, Arizona. They would have a daughter, Kathleen.

In a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., at 10:45 a.m., 21 April 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander O’Hare. Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander (temporary) with date of rank 8 April 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, on being presented the Medal of Honor at the White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. Also present are Secretary of the Navy William Franklin Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

Lieutenant “Butch” O’Hare in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The “Felix the Cat” insignia represents Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3). The five flags, the ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in the action of 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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