The F4F Wildcat was originally designed as a biplane in 1935, but was soon modified as a single-wing fighter with a supercharged Pratt & Whitney radial engine. The Wildcat was the only U.S. Navy fighter to serve for the entire duration of World War II.
The F4F’s primary opponent was the Japanese Zero, a superior airplane that flew faster and with greater maneuverability, though was less rugged than the Wildcat. What made the difference for the Allies was the skill and training of the Wildcat pilots. Their victory to loss ratio of 7:1 made a tremendous difference in the Pacific theater and the airplane is credited with helping to keep the Allies in the war during the dark days of 1942.
Various versions of the F4F became a mainstay of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. In April of 1941, Grumman completed production of the F4F-4, a manually operated folded wing version of the Wildcat. This made the aircraft even more valuable as a carrier-based fighter because in its folded wing state it took up less room, which meant additional planes could fit on board, as many as 50% more. The price paid was a heavier plane with slightly less speed than previous versions of the F4F. The Wildcat often worked side by side with another carrier fighter, the TBF Avenger.
General Motors’ Eastern Aircraft Division took over production of the F4F in April of 1942. The reason for this was that Grumman had their hands full with producing the F6F and couldn’t keep up with the wartime production needs of the existing Wildcat. Eastern Aircraft made slight modifications to the Wildcat’s design, including removing two of the guns and the Wildcat was reborn as the FM-1.
The total number of all versions of Wildcats manufactured was 7,722.
Maximum speed: 320 mph
Range: 830 mi
Ceiling: 34,000 ft
Length: 28 ft 9 in
Wingspan: 38 ft
Height: 11 ft 4 in
Maximum weight: 7,975 lb
Empty weight: 5,895 lb
Engine(s): 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86
Rate of climb: 1,950 ft/min
Armament: Two 100 lb bombs, six 0.5 in. machine guns
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