Stalking the Clouds: F7F Tigercat

F7F Tigercat

The Grumman F7F Tigercat was the first twin-engined fighter aircraft to enter service with the United States Navy. Designed for the new Midway-class aircraft carriers, the aircraft were too large to operate from earlier decks. Although delivered to United States Marine Corps combat units before the end of World War II, the Tigercat did not see combat service in that war. Most F7Fs ended up in land-based service, as attack aircraft or night fighters; only the later F7F-4N was certified for carrier service. They saw service in the Korean War and were withdrawn from service in 1954.

Design and development

Based on the earlier Grumman XP-50 that eventually was canceled, the company further developed the XP-65 (Model 51) for a future “convoy fighter” concept. In 1943, work on the XP-65 was terminated in favor of the design that would eventually become the F7F. The contract for the prototype XF7F-1 was signed on 30 June 1941. Grumman’s aim was to produce a fighter that out-performed and out-gunned all existing fighter aircraft, and that had an auxiliary ground attack capability. Armament was heavy: four 20 mm cannons and four 0.50 in machine guns, as well as underwing and under-fuselage hardpoints for bombs and torpedoes. Performance met expectations too; the F7F Tigercat was one of the highest-performance piston-engined fighters, with a top speed well in excess of the US Navy’s single-engined aircraft—71 mph faster than a F6F Hellcat at sea level. The opinion of Capt. Fred M. Trapnell, one of the Navy’s premier test pilots, was that “It’s the best damn fighter I’ve ever flown.”[4]The Grumman F7F was originally named the “Tomcat” but this name was rejected as it was considered at the time too suggestive. The name would much later be used for the Grumman F-14.All this was bought at the cost of heavy weight and a high landing speed, but what caused the aircraft to fail carrier suitability trials was poor directional stability with only one engine operational, as well as problems with the tail-hook design. Therefore, the initial production series was only used from land bases by the USMC, as night fighters with APS-6 radar. At first, they were single-seater F7F-1N aircraft, but after the 34th production aircraft, a second seat for a radar operator was added; these aircraft were designated F7F-2N. The next version produced, the F7F-3 was modified to correct the issues that caused the aircraft to fail carrier acceptance and this version was again trialled on the USS Shangri-La (CV-38). A wing failure on a heavy landing caused the failure of this carrier qualification too. F7F-3 aircraft were produced in day fighter, night fighter and photo-reconnaissance versions.A final version, the F7F-4N, was extensively rebuilt for additional strength and stability, and did pass carrier qualification, but only 12 were built.

Operational history

Marine Corps night fighter squadron VMF(N)-513 flying F7F-3N Tigercats saw action in the early stages of the Korean War, flying night interdiction and fighter missions and shooting down two Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes. This was the only combat use of the aircraft.
Most F7F-2Ns were modified to control drones for combat training, and these gained bubble canopies over the rear cockpit for the drone controller. A F7F-2D used for pilot transitoning also had a rear sliding, bubble canopy.In 1945, two Tigercats were evaluated, but rejected, by the British Royal Navy, preferring a navalized version of the de Havilland Hornet.

Variants

XF7F-1
Prototype aircraft, two built.
F7F-1 Tigercat
Twin-engine fighter-bomber aircraft, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22W radial piston engines. First production version, 34 built.
F7F-1N Tigercat
Single-seat night fighter aircraft, fitted with an APS-6 radar.
XF7F-2N
Night-fighter prototype, One built.
F7F-2N Tigercat
Two-seat night fighter, 65 built.
F7F-2D
Small numbers of F7F-2Ns converted into drone control aircraft. The aircraft were fitted with an F8F Bearcat-windshield behind the     cockpit.
F7F-3 Tigercat
Single-seat fighter-bomber aircraft, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W radial piston engines, 189 built.
F7F-3N Tigercat
Two-seat night fighter aircraft, 60 built.
F7F-3E Tigercat
Small numbers of F7F-3s were converted into electronic warfare aircraft.
F7F-3P Tigercat
Small numbers of F7F-3s were converted into photo-reconnaissance aircraft.
F7F-4N Tigercat
Two-seat night-fighter aircraft, fitted with an arrester hook and other naval equipment, 13 built.

Operators

United States

* United States Marine Corps
* United States Navy

Survivors

Beginning in 1949, F7Fs were flown to the US Navy storage facility at Litchfield Park in Arizona. Although the vast majority of the airframes were eventually scrapped, a number of examples were purchased as surplus. The surviving Tigercats were primarily used as water bombers to fight forest fires in the 1960s and 1970s. A total of 12 examples exist today with six F7Fs remaining airworthy.
As warbird racers, in 1976, Robert Forbes qualified an F7F-3N but did not race at Reno. Another modified F7F-3N Tigercat, (Bu No. 80503) “Big Bossman” owned by Mike Brown presently competes in the national air racing circuit.

At least four F7F Tigercats are preserved in aviation museums:

* F7F-3 (Serial no. 80373/N7654C) National Museum of Naval Aviation, NAS Pensacola, Florida
* F7F-3 (Serial no. 80410) Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona
* F7F-3P (Serial no. 80390/N700F) Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, Kalamazoo, Michigan
* An F7F (Model & Serial no. TBD) is maintained at the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field in Everett, Washington

Specifications (F7F-4N Tigercat)

General characteristics

Role     Fighter aircraft

Manufacturer     Grumman

First flight     2 November 1943

Introduced     1944

Retired     1954

Primary users     United States Navy, United States Marine Corps

Produced     1943–1946

Number built     364

* Crew: 2 (pilot, radar operator)
* Length: 45 ft 4 in (13.8 m)
* Wingspan: 51 ft 6 in (15.7 m)
* Height: 16 ft 7 in (5.1 m)
* Wing area: 455 ft² (42.3 m²)
* Empty weight: 16,270 lb (7,380 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 25,720 lb (11,670 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W “Double Wasp” radial engines, 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) each


Performance

* Maximum speed: 460 mph (400 knots, 740 km/h)
* Range: 1,200 mi (1,000 nmi, 1,900 km)
* Service ceiling: 40,400 ft (12,300 m)
* Rate of climb: 4,530 ft/min (1,381 m/min)

Armament

* Guns:
o 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) M2 cannon
o 4 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun
* Bombs:
o 2 × 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs under wings or
o 1 × torpedo under fuselage

Avionics

* AN/APS-19 radar

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One Comment on “Stalking the Clouds: F7F Tigercat”

  1. Glenn Says:

    This is DEFINATELY one of my all time favorite airplanes!! It’s a crying-ass shame it was’t put into production as a fighter. It would have really done ALOT of damage!! It’s story is not unlike many well-deserving planes; stupid “higher ups” come readily to mind. This, & the Bearcat would DEFINATELY been more than a match for the early “jets” that were common in the late 40s early 50s. The mockery Bell P-59 Aircomet was; not only a disgrace, but yet another failure & example of America’s aviation gap. Also, there is NO WAY that a prop plane can go 460mph. I suggest that you redo some of your information. Some of it sounds like/seems “made up.”


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