Tag Archives: Robert Leicester Hall

7 September 1931

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Z, NR77V, City of Springfield. (U.S. Air Force)
Lowell Richard Bayles

7 September 1931: Lowell Richard Bayles won the 1931 Thompson Trophy Race, flying the Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Model Z Supersportster, NR77V, named City of Springfield. The racer was painted black and yellow, and carried the race number “4” on its wings and fuselage. The air racer had qualified for the race with a two-way average speed of 267.342 miles per hour (430.245 kilometers per hour). Bayle’s average speed for the ten-lap pylon race was 236.239 miles per hour (380.190 kilometers per hour).

In addition to the Thompson Trophy, Lowell Bayles won $7,500 in prize money (equivalent to $120,653.29 in 2017). The second place pilot, Wedell Williams, won $4,500, and third place went to Dale Jackson, for $2,000.

The Gee Bee Model Z was designed by aeronautical engineer Robert Leicester Hall. Bob Hall would later become the Chief Engineer and Chief Test Pilot for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. He was responsible for the design of Grumman’s F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat and F9F Panther and Cougar fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.

Bob Hall also competed in the 1931 Thompson race, flying a Gee Bee Y, number 54. He finished in fourth place, with a speed of 201.250 miles per hour (323.880 kilometers per hour).

Aeronautical engineer Robert L. Hall flew this Gee Bee Model Y in the 1931 Thompson Trophy Race. The Gee Bee Z used a NACA cowling, however, the Y is shown with a Townend ring.  (Unattributed)

Jimmy Doolittle had won the Bendix Trophy Race with the Laird Super Solution number 400, and been favored to win the Thompson Trophy Race as well. A failed piston forced him out during the seventh lap, however.

James H. Doolittle with the Bendix Trophy-winning Laird Super Solution. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Model Z Supersportster, serial number Z-1, was a one-of a kind racing airplane. It had first flown 22 August 1931 with its designer, Bob Hall, in the cockpit. The Gee Bee Z was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear and wire-braced wings. The Model Z was 15 feet, 1 inch (4.597 meters) long,with a wingspan of 23 feet, 6 inches (7.163 meters). Its empty weight was 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) and maximum gross weight, 2,280 pounds (1,034 kilograms). The wings had a 3° angle of incidence and 4.5° dihedral. The total wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).

The Gee Bee Z was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior nine-cylinder direct-drive radial engine (the same engine which powered the winning Laird Super Solution in the 1930 Thompson Trophy Race). The engine was enclosed by a N.A.C.A. cowling, which both reduced aerodynamic drag and improved engine cooling. The Wasp Junior was modified by Pratt & Whitney to produce 535 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. It turned a fixed-pitch Curtiss propeller.

The Gee Bee Z had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour).

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Model Z, NR77V, City of Springfield. The Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior radial engine drives a Curtiss propeller.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 September 1932

James H. Doolittle with his Gee Bee R-1, NR2100, at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1932. (NASM)
The Thompson Trophy

3 September 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100.

He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed for Record Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 473.82 kilometers per hour (294.42 miles per hour). ¹

The highest speed attained by Doolittle during his four passes over the 3-kilometer course was 497.352 kilometers per hour (309.040 miles per hour).

Jimmy Doolittle crosses the finish line at Cleveland, 1932.

The New York Daily News reported:


CLEVELAND, SEPT. 3. (AP).—Major James H. Doolittle today shattered the world land plane speed record by averaging 296.287 miles an hour over a three-kilometer course at the National Air races.

     Denied in two previous attempts, he bested the eight-year mark held by Warrant Officer Bonnet of France by 17.807 miles an hour.

     He made six dashes, of 293.047, 287.154. 309.040, 281.966, 306.990, and 283.156 miles an hour. By the rules, any four consecutive laps may be taken for the record and the second to fifth laps, inclusive, gave the highest average.

A Light Cross-Wind.

     A five to six miles an hour cross-wind was blowing over the course as Major Doolittle, who also holds the American seaplane record, roared along in the snub-nosed Flying Silo which Russell Boardman, transatlantic flier, had planned to fly at the races.

     Doolittle grinned broadly as he was informed of his new record when he landed.

     “I’m contented with this,” he said happily. He will not attempt to set a faster record, at least for the time being.

     His plane pumped oil part of the time, he said, and this may have cost him another five miles an hour. The splattering oil impaired his vision somewhat, but not seriously. 

Ship Will Go Faster.

     “The ship behaved wonderfully,” Doolittle said on landing, “but I still think there are five miles or more in it. But it’s Russ Boardman’s ship and I think it no more than right that he should be able to take it and get out of it all that he can.”

Today’s average bested the unofficial mark of 293.193 miles an hour Doolittle set Wednesday during the eclipse and was well above the 282.672 miles an hour in an official test with a barograph the following day.

Before the new record can become official, the barograph must be calibrated and the mark accepted by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, world governing body of sporting aviation, at Paris.

Description of Plane.

     The plane used by Doolittle is a Gee Bee super-sportster. It has an 800-horsepower Wasp engine manufactured by the Pratt & Whitney Company, Hartford, Conn. The fuselage is streamlined from the engine, tapering to the knife-like rudder, just in front of which the pilot sits.

The three-kilometer course is distance of 9,844.5 feet, over which rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale require that the maximum altitude be seventy-five meters, or 244 feet.

     There are approaches, 500 meters, or 1,620 feet, in distance, at each end of the course, in which level flight must be made.

     The maximum height allowed before entering the approaches is 400 meters, or 1,320 feet, so that a dive of slightly more than 1,000 feet is permitted before entering upon the approaches to the course. The barograph is carried to check these altitudes. . . .

SUNDAY NEWS, Vol. 12, No. 21, Sunday, 4 September 1932, Page 2, Columns 3 and 4, and Page 4, Column 1

The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane, designed by Robert Leicester Hall, who would later become the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as being very dangerous. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “She is the sweetest ship I’ve ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100.

The Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 was a single-seat, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed conventional landing gear. The airplane had been designed for a load factor of 12. It was 17 feet, 8 inches (5.385 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters), and height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters). The wings were wire-braced. The angle of incidence was 2.5° and there was 4.5° dihedral. The aspect ratio was 6:1, and the wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).

The R-1 had an empty weight of 1,840 pounds (834.6 kilograms), gross weight of 2,415 pounds (1,095.4 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 3,075 pounds (1,394.8 kilograms).

The Gee Bee R-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp T3D1 nine-cylinder direct -drive radial engine. It was rated at 730 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The engine turned a two-bladed U.S. Smith Engineering Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). The engine was enclosed in a NACA cowling. The T3D1 was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).

Granville Brothers Supersportser R-1, NR2100. (NASM)

The Gee Bee R-1 had a cruise speed was 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour), and its maximum speed was more than 309 miles per hour (497 kilometers per hour). The stall speed was rather high at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), as a result of optimizing the airplane for high speed. The air racer could climb at 6,100 feet per minute (31 meters per second). It had a range of 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) at full throttle. ²

Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100, #11, was later re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. It was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff after refueling at Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 July 1933. The pilot, Russell Boardman, was killed.

Jimmy Doolittle hops out of the Bee Bee R-1. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a brigadier general, Doolittle commanded the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, when World War II came to an end.

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General, United States Air Force.

General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8751

² All Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 specifications from Zantford D. Granville, writing in Aero Digest Magazine, July 1933. See http://goldenageofaviation.org/geebeer2.html

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1944

Lt. (j.g.) George H.W. Bush, USNR, VT-51, in cockpit of TBM-1C Avenger Bu.No. 46214, USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), 1944. (U.S.Navy)

2 September 1944: Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George Herbert Walker Bush, United States Naval Reserve, led a flight of four TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bombers of Torpedo Squadron 51 (VT-51), from the Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), against a radio transmission station on the island of Chichi-Jima.

The Avenger had a crew of three. Along with Lt (j.g.) Bush were Lt. (j.g.) William G. White, USNR, gunner, and radio operator ARM 2/c John Lawson Delaney, USNR.

Undated photo of future United States President George H.W. Bush as a United States Navy pilot seated in the cockpit of an Avenger. (U.S. Navy)

Each airplane was armed with four 500-pound¹ general purpose bombs. The flight was joined by eight Curtiss-Wright SB2C Helldiver dive bombers of VB-20, escorted by twelve Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters of VF-20, from USS Enterprise (CV-6).

Chichi-Jima is the largest island in the Ogasawara Archipelago of the Bonin Islands, approximately 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Iwo Jima and 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, Japan. The United States Hydrographic Survey described the island in 1920 as “very irregular in shape,” approximately 4¼ miles (7.2 kilometers) long and 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) wide. The area of the island is presently given as 23.45 square kilometers (9.05 square miles). Its highest point is 326 meters (1,070 feet) above Sea level. The island has a small sea port where midget submarines were based beginning in August 1944. Chichi-Jima was heavily garrisoned with 20,656 Imperial Japanese Army and Navy personnel, and 2,285 civilian workers.²

A Curtiss-Wright SB2C Helldiver over Chichi Jima. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Bush’s flight was scheduled for a time over target of 0825–0830. They encountered heavy antiaircraft fire and Bush’s Avenger was hit. With the torpedo bomber on fire, Bush continued the attack and later reported good results. Unable to return to the aircraft carrier, he flew away from the island to limit the risk of capture of the crew by the enemy when they bailed out.

Bush and one other crewman (which one is not known) bailed out. While Bush parachuted safely, the second crewman’s parachute never opened. The third crewman went down with the airplane. Both Lieutenant White and Radioman Delaney were killed.

The Gato-class fleet submarine USS Finback (SS-230) was stationed near the island on lifeguard duty during the attack. At 0933, Finback was notified of an aircraft down nine miles northeast of Minami-Jima.  Escorted by two F6F fighters, the submarine headed for the location. At 1156, Finback picked up Lt. Bush, floating in his life raft. A search for White and Delaney was unsuccessful. Their bodies were not recovered.

Lt. (j.g.) George H. W. Bush, USNR, in inflatable raft, is rescued by the crew of USS Finback (SS-230), 2 September 1944. (U.S. Navy)

(Later that same day, Finback, while submerged, towed a second pilot and his life raft away from Magane-Iwa, as he held on to the sub’s periscope.)

Lieutenant Bush and the other rescued pilots remained aboard for the remainder of Finback‘s war patrol (her tenth), and were then returned to Pearl Harbor. In November he rejoined San Jacinto for operations in the Philippines.

Gato-class fleet submarine USS Finback (SS-230) off New London, Connecticut, 7 March 1949. (U.S. Navy)

George Herbert Walker Bush was born at Milton, Massachusetts, 12 June 1924, the son of Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. He attended high school at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

One day after his 18th birthday, 13 June 1942, Bush enlisted as a seaman, 2nd class, in the United States Naval Reserve. He was appointed an aviation cadet and underwent preflight training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He was honorably discharged 8 June, and commissioned as an ensign, United States Naval Reserve, 9 June 1943. At the age of 19 years, 2 days, he became the youngest Naval Aviator in history. (His age record was broken the following month by Ensign Charles Stanley Downey, who was commissioned 16 July 1943 at the age of 18 years, 11 months, 14 days.)

Aviation Cadet George H. W. Bush, USNR, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

Ensign Bush continued flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida, and then the Carrier Qualification Training Unit, NAS Glenville, Illinois. After training with the Atlantic Fleet, Ensign Bush was assigned to Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One (VT-51), in September 1943. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 1 August 1944.

After leaving San Jacinto, Bush was assigned to NAS Norfolk, Virginia, from December 1944 to February 1945. He then joined Torpedo Squadron Ninety-Seven (VT-97) and then VT-153.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Bush was released from active duty on 18 September 1945, retaining his commission. He was promoted to lieutenant 16 November 1948. On 24 October 1955, Lieutenant Bush resigned from the U.S. Navy.

During World War II, George H. W. Bush flew 58 combat missions. He flew a total of 1,221 hours and made 126 carrier landings. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with two gold stars (three awards), and the Presidential Unit Citation.

He would later become the forty-first President of the United States of America.

Grumman TBF or General Motors TBM Avengers over Wake Island, 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The airplane flown by Lt. (j.g.) Bush on 2 September 1944 was a General Motors TBM-1C Avenger torpedo bomber, Bu. No. 46214. This was a licensed variant of the Grumman TBF-1C Avenger, built by the General Motors Corporation Eastern Aircraft Division at Linden, New Jersey.

The Avenger was designed by Robert Leicester Hall, Chief Engineer and Test Pilot for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York. The prototype XTBF-1 made its first flight 1 August 1941. It was a large single-engine aircraft, operated by a crew of three (pilot, radio operator and ball turret gunner). It was equipped with folding wings for storage on aircraft carriers. Production of the torpedo bomber began with the opening of a new manufacturing plant, Sunday, 7 December 1941. The first production Avenger was delivered to the U.S. Navy in January 1942.

The TBF-1 and TBM-1 were 40 feet, 11 inches (12.471 meters) long, with a wingspan of 54 feet, 2 inches (16.510 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 5 inches (5.004 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 10,545 pounds (478 kilograms), and its maximum gross eight was 17,895 pounds (8,117 kilograms). The Avenger was the largest single-engine aircraft of World War II.

LCDR Albert B. Cahn, USN, gives the take-of signal to a General Motors TBM-1C Avenger of Torpedo Squadron 51 (VT-51) aboard the light aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), during exercises on 16 May 1944. (U.S. Navy)

The Avenger was powered by one of several variants of the Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 (R-2600): GR2600B698 (R-2600-8 and -8A); GR2600B676 (R-2600-10); and 776C14B31. The R-2600 was series of air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liter), two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. The engines used in the Avengers all had a compression ratio of 6.9:1, supercharger ratios of 7.06:1 and 10.06:1, and propeller gear reduction ratio of 0.5625:1.

The R-2600-8, -8A and -10 had Normal Power ratings of 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-2600-20 was rated at 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,900 horsepower at 2,800 horsepower, respectively.

Dimensions and weights varied. The R-2600-8 and -8A were 64.91 inches (1.649 meters) long. The -10 was 74.91 inches (1.903 meters) long, and the length of the -20 was 66.08 inches (1.678 meter). The R-2600-8 and 8A and -10 were 54.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. The -20 was 54.08 inches (1.374 meters). The -8 and -8A both weighed 1,995 pounds (905 kilograms). The -10 weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms) and the -20 weighed 2,045 pounds (928 kilograms).

The engines drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller.

The TBF/TBM had a cruise speed of 147 miles per hour (237 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 276 miles per hour (444 kilometers per hour) at 16,500 feet (5,029 meters). The service ceiling was 30,100 feet (9,174 meters). Its maximum range was 1,010 miles (1,625 kilometers).

The Avenger was armed with one air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine gun mounted in each wing, firing forward. Another .50-caliber machine gun was installed in an electrically-operated dorsal ball turret. In the ventral position was a Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine gun in a flexible mounting.

The primary weapon of the Avenger was carried in an enclosed weapons bay. It could be armed with one Mk. 13 aerial torpedo, ³ or up to 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of bombs.

A Grumman TBF-1 Avenger 4-T-2 of Torpedo Squadron Four (VT-4) drops a Mk. 13 aerial torpedo, circa 1942. Following the destruction of Torpedo Eight at the Battle of Midway, aerial torpedo attacks were rarely used by the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy)

The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation produced TBF Avengers from Early 1942 until 1943, when production was taken over by the General Motors Corporation Eastern Aircraft Division. Grumman produced 2,290 TBFs, while Eastern built 9,836 TBMs.

Lieutenant Bush’s aircraft carrier, USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), was an Independence-class light carrier. It had been started by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation as a Cleveland-class light cruiser, USS Newark (CL-100), but was converted during construction. Construction took 11 months and the ship was launched 26 September 1943. It was commissioned 15 November 1943.

The carrier was 622.5 feet (189.7 meters) long, with a beam of 71.5 feet (21.8 meters) and draft of 26 feet (7.9 meters). It had a full load displacement of 15,100 long tons (16,912 short tons, or 15,342 metric tons). The ship was powered by steam turbines producing 100,000 horsepower and driving four shafts. San Jacinto was capable of a maximum 31.6 knots (36.4 miles per hour, or 58.5 kilometers per hour).

San Jacinto had a complement of 1,549 men, and carried 45 airplanes. For defense, it was armed with 28 Bofors 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns and 40 Oerlikon 20 millimeter autocannon.

San Jacinto was decommissioned 1 March 1947 and was later scrapped.

USS Independence (CVL-30), late 1943. (U.S. Navy)

On 7 October 2006, the tenth and final Nimitz-class supercarrier was christened USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) in honor of President Bush’s service to his country.

USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). (U.S. Navy)

¹ The most common U.S. 500-pound general purpose bomb of World War II was the AN-M64. Nominally a 500-pound (227 kilogram) bomb, the munition actually weighed from 516.3 to 535.4 pounds (234.2 to 242.9 kilograms), depending on the explosive used. It contained 266 pounds (120.7 kilograms) of TNT, or 258.5 pounds (117.3 kilograms) of a 50/50 TNT and Amatol mixture. For easy identification, these were marked with a single 1-inch (2.54 centimeter) wide yellow band painted at the nose and tail. Composition B bombs, which were marked with two yellow identification bands, contained 272.7 pounds (123.7 kilograms) of explosive, while the heaviest was filled with 278.3 pounds (126.2 kilograms) of Tritonal. This variant was marked with three yellow bands. The bomb, without fins or fuses, was 36 inches (0.914 meters) long. The overall length was 59.16 inches (1.503 meters), including nose and tail fuses. The maximum diameter was 10.9 inches (0.277 meters).

² Personnel numbers as of 3 September 1945.

³ The U.S. Navy Torpedo, Mark 13, was a gyroscopically-steered single-speed anti-ship torpedo designed to be dropped from aircraft. It was 13 feet, 8.55 inches (4.180 meters) long, 1 foot, 10.42 inches (0.570 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,949 pounds (884 kilograms) ± 20 pounds (9 kilograms). The warhead contained a 400 pound (181 kilogram) TNT explosive charge.  The Mk. 13 was driven by a two-stage alcohol-fueled geared steam turbine, turning 10,983 r.p.m., with the coaxial counter-rotating propellers turning 1,150 r.p.m. It was capable of running at 33.5 knots (38.6 miles per hour, or 62.0 kilometers per hour), with a range of 6,300 yards (5.8 kilometers). This same type torpedo was used by the U.S. Navy’s PT boats late in the war.

Thanks to regular TDiA reader Joolz Adderly for suggesting this topic.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1937: Grumman F4F Wildcat

Grumman XF4F-2, Bu. No. 0383, in flight. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation via World War Photos)

2 September 1937: First flight, Grumman XF4F-2 Bu. No.¹ 0383, a prototype fighter for the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The airplane was designed by Grumman’s Chief Engineer, Robert Leicester Hall.

Grumman XF4F-2 Bu. No. 0383. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation via World War Photos)

The prototype was damaged when it nosed over during a forced landing, 11 April 1938. The pilot, Lieutenant Gurney, was not injured. 0383 was rebuilt as an XF4F-3. The Navy ordered the fighter into production as the F4F-3 Wildcat. XF4F-3 0383 was destroyed in an accident, 16 December 1940. The pilot was killed.

Grumman XF4F-2 Bu. No. 0383 dead-stick landing accident near Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, 11 April 1938. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat was a single-engine, single-place, mid-wing monoplane fighter designed for operation from aircraft carriers. F4F-4 and later variants had folding wings for a smaller “foot print” while stored aboard.

Grumman XF4F-2. (The hoisting chains are air-brushed out.) (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman XF4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 0383, circa April 1939. The vertical fin is taller and squared-off. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97481)

The F4F-3 Wildcat was 28 feet, 10½ inches (8.801 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters). The height over the propeller with the airplane in 3-point attitude was 11 feet, 9 inches (3.581 meters). The wings had a total area of 260 square feet (24.16 square meters). They had 0° incidence and no leading edge sweep. Thewings had 5° dihedral. The F4F-3 had an empty weight of 5,293 pounds (2,401 kilograms) and gross weight of 7,432 pounds (3,371 kilograms) with 147 gallons (556 liters) of gasoline.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The F4F-3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SSC7-G (R-1830-86) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-86 had a normal power rating of 1,100 at 2,550 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 3,300 feet (1,006 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). It was rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches (2.972 meters) through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-86 was 4 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, 5 feet, 7.44 inches (1.713 meters) long, and weighed 1,560 pounds (708 kilograms).

Grumman XF4F-3 Wildcat Bu. No. 0383. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The F4F-3 had a maximum speed of 278 miles per hour (447 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 330 miles per hour (531 kilometers per hour at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). It could climn to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.6 minutes. The service ceiling was 30,500 feet (9,296 meters) and its maximum range was 1,280 miles (2,060 kilometers).

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 1844 at Bethpage, New York, awaiting delivery to the U.S. Navy. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The F4F-3 Wildcat was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Later variants would have six guns.

The F4F Wildcat was produced by Grumman and the General Motors Corporation Eastern Aircraft Division as the FM-1. Grumman shifted to production of the F6F Hellcat in early 1943. GM continued to build Wildcats until the end of the War. A total of 7,885 were built.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Bu. No. 1844. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Bu. No. 1844. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 1844. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat.(Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Bu. No. 1845, Summer 1940. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, circa 1942. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM 2009-9043)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in three-color camouflage (LIFE Magazine)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat (LIFE Magazine)
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Bu. No. 2638, Bethpage, L.I., N.Y. This airplane was assigned to NACA Langley from 4 April–22 August 1941. Chief Engineer Robert Leicester Hall, front, kneeling, second from left (dark pullover sweater with light, open collar). Test pilot Corky Meyer in cockpit). (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Corky Meyer demonstrates deployment of life raft, 19 November 1942. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

¹ “Bu. No.” is the abbreviation for the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics serial number assigned to each aircraft.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1944

Robert L. Hall in the cockpit of the prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat. (Northrop Grumman)

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.

Prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat. (Northrop Grumman)

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.

Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat with wings folded. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat with wings folded, 20 March 1945. (Northrop Grumman)

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).

Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat prototype at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, 5 February 1945. (NASA)

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).

Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat Bu. No. 90448 in the Full Scale Tunnel at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA EL-2003-00320)

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

“Multi-beam echo image of the aircraft at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay believed to be the XF8F-1 Bearcat lost out of NAS Patuxent River March 18, 1945.” (NOAA/Naval Aviation News)

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.

Grumman F8F bearcat fighters aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Tarawa (CV-40) circa 1948. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F8F Bearcat fighters ready for takeoff aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Tarawa (CV-40) circa 1948. (U.S. Navy)

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.

Robert L. Hall (Michiganesian of 1927)

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.

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Z

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.

Stinson Reliant (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.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) Ernie Moore, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (Naval Aviation Museum)

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. Swopes

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