Grumman F8F Bearcat
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The Bearcat is often called 'the zenith of piston powered aircraft.' That is so true. Several years ago, back in the 1980s, the Rare Bear, a modified F8F Bearcat, set the most recent speed record for piston driven aircraft at about 527 miles per hour. 'Biggest engine, least airframe,' was the motto used by Grumman as they drew up the immortal lines for this mighty machine. The F6F had beaten the Zeroes, but there was a new, more horrible enemy to the US Navy now, and that was the Kamikaze attacks. Frantically, orders were placed for a small, very fast and heavily armed fighter that could intercept the Kamikaze planes before they attacked the ships. The result from Grumman was the F8F.
The largest engine available was used; the Pratt and Whitney monster of 2,200hp. Instead of finding an engine for the airframe, Grumman designers found an airframe for the engine. Everything about the F8F was built up around the 18-cylinder radial, and when the prototype was completed and flown in August 1944, the results were incredible. One interesting feature that never was used in the production model was wing tips what would break off under high stress of the wing, aided by explosive charges. This was eliminated from the aircraft before production started.
2,023 F8Fs were ordered by the US Navy, and deliveries began in February 1945. One naval squadron received their Bearcats and were just about to begin operations when Japan surrendered. Thus the F8F never saw combat action in World War 2. The Navy calcelled 1,876 of the Bearcats it ordered, while only about 200 had been delivered. They saw very limited action in the Korean War.
Today, several Bearcats still exist as breathtaking reminders of this mighty aircraft and its missed opportunuity to see action. It truely was the zenith of piston power.
Specifications for F8F-2 Bearcat:
Type: single seat carrier based fighter interceptor
Engine: One Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18-cylinder 2,200hp radial air cooled
Performance: Max speed 421mph; climb rate 4,570ft/min; range 1,050 miles.
Weights: empty 7,070lbs; loaded 9,835lbs.
Dimensions: span 35ft 10in; length 28ft 3 in; height 13ft 10in.