The F4F Wildcat was the main shipboard fighter when the US entered WWII. The F4F was barrel-shaped, with angular wingtips and rudder and a narrow-track undercarriage. The Mitsubishi A6M outperformed it, but the F4F was well-armed and reliable, and was a natural shipboard aircraft, probably easier to land on a carrier deck than on land. It set the reputation of Grumman for building immensely strong aircraft. The F4F never had a operational speed limitation. An improved version built by General Motors (the General Motors FM Wildcat) remained in service throughout the war, on escort carriers where newer, larger and heavier fighters could not be used. A total of 7815 F4F's were built.
Type: F4F-4 Wildcat
Engines: 1 * 880 kW Pratt&Whitney R-1830-86 double-row radial engine
Wing Span: 11.58 m
Length: 8.76 m
Height: 2.81 m
Wing Area: 24.15 m2
Wing loading: 150 kg/m2
Empty Weight: 2612 kg
Max.Weight: 3607 kg
Max. Speed: 512 km/h
Rate of climb: 9.9 m/s
Ceiling: 10600 m (some other sources claim 12000m)
Max. Range: 2050 km
Armament: 6 * 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns (240 rounds per gun), 2*bomb 45 kg
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was the standard carrier-based fighter of the United States Navy
for the first year and a half of World War II. An improved version built by General Motors (the
General Motors FM Wildcat) remained in service throughout the war, on escort carriers where newer,
larger and heavier fighters could not be used. The Wildcat was outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero,
its major opponent in the Pacific war, but held its own by absorbing far more damage and wielding
more firepower. With heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive
far more than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival.
The original Grumman F4F-1 design was a biplane, which when proving inferior to rival designs was recast as the monoplane F4F-2. This was still not competitive with the Brewster F2A Buffalo which won initial US Navy orders, but when the F4F was fitted with a more powerful engine, the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, it showed its true merits and became the F4F-3. US Navy orders followed as did some (with Wright Cyclone engines) from France; these ended up with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm after the fall of France. In British service initially these were known as the Martlet I, but not all Martlets would be to the exact same specifications a s US Navy aircraft. The F4F-3A would enter service as the Martlet III(B), the FM-1 as the Martlet V, and the FM-2 as the Martlet VI. The name Wildcat was still commonly used for these aircraft inspite of the official name change.
A new version, the F4F-4, entered service in 1942 with six guns and folding wings, allowing more to be crammed on a carrier; this was the definitive version and the one that saw the most combat service in the early war years including the Battle of Midway.
Grumman production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing them for both US Navy and Fleet Air Arm use, as larger fighters such as the Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were too large for use on escort carriers. At first they produced the identical FM-1 model but then switched to the improved FM-2 (based on Grumman's F4F-8 prototype) with a more powerful engine and a taller tail to cope with the torque. In all, 7,251 Wildcats were built.
All versions of the Wildcat used hand-cranked landing gear with a relatively narrow track, making landing accidents where the landing gear were not fully locked into place distressingly common.