Thursday, December 19, 2013

End of a Legend - F6F-5 Hellcat

Today's tribute to World War II Aircraft goes to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat which was the plane used in the Wings of Angels Photographs featuring model Victoria Elder. It is currently on display at Yanks Air Museum in Chino, CA. The United States Navy preferred the F6F-5 Hellcat over the F4U Corsair due to the preference of carrier landings despite the speed difference of the Corsair. This was a critical component for success for the Navy and thus the Corsair was used primarily for land based sorties. The Corsair was eventually cleared for carrier landings but not until late in 1944. The Wildcat was the forerunner to the Hellcat. It truly earned its name with an average kill ratio of 19:1 against the enemy attacks.

The U.S. Navy loved that the Hellcat was easy to maintain and able to withstand considerable damage in addition to it's superiority in being utilized for the aircraft carrier sorties. They were designed with the task of getting the pilot back to base and take damage if needed. Designed with a bullet-resistant windshield, add in 212 pounds of cockpit armor as well as an armor fitted oil tank and oil cooler and you have the makings of a tank with wings in retrospect. Combined with armament of six .50 inch M2/AN Browning machine guns with 400 rounds per gun along with a center-section under the fuselage could carry a single 150 gal (568 l) disposable drop tank. Later planes were equipped with single bomb racks underneath each wing. Further revisions would include the use of night radar and cameras for reconnaissance duties.

The Hellcats despite their air superiority in being faster, did in fact have some disadvantages when utilized against the Japanese Zero Type 52 planes. The F6F outclimbed the Zero marginally above 14,000 ft and rolled faster at speeds above 235 mph. The Japanese fighter could out-turn its American opponent with ease at low speed and enjoyed a slightly better rate of climb below 14,000 ft. When it came to engaging the enemy it came down to one simple strategy:

“Do not dogfight with a Zero 52. Do not try to follow a loop or half-roll with a pull-through. When attacking, use your superior power and high speed performance to engage at the most favorable moment. To evade a Zero 52 on your tail, roll and dive away into a high speed turn." (Spick, Mike. Fighter Pilot Tactics . The Techniques of Daylight Air Combat. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens, 1983.)

What makes the F6F-5 Hellcat that I utilized in the Wings of Angels Photographs is that this is one of the few planes that still retain the original "cat mouth" paint scheme that earmarked this plane for use aboard the USS Princeton. When the Princeton was attacked and sunk, the painted Hellcats were requested to comply with current Naval regulations in which Hellcats were supposed be painted in accordance to the aircraft carrier to which it was assigned. The Navy frown on the "cat mouth" design since this was something done strictly for Hellcats stationed aboard the USS Princeton, and thus this one is truly a one of a kind aircraft and the end of a WWII legend. 

 Photo credits: Malak, Michael Malak, Wings of Angels. F6F-5 Hellcat courtesy of Yanks Air Museum.

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