F8F Bearcat

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The Grumman F8F Bearcat was a piston-engine fighter plane built for the United States Navy in the last year of World War II. It was the successor to the highly effective F6F Hellcat, but the Japanese surrender meant that it never saw combat in American service.

The Bearcat prototype was ordered in November 1943, when Hellcats were starting to see combat in the Pacific, and the prototype first flew nine months later. The new fighter bore a strong family resemblance to the Hellcat, but had a bubble canopy for better visibility. It had a Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine, slightly more powerful than the one in the Hellcat, but was also a full twenty percent lighter, giving it a top speed of 421 mph and making it surprisingly maneuverable. Armament consisted of four heavy machine guns (later planes had four 20mm cannons), plus capacity for external ordinance. The Navy was impressed, and ordered 4000 planes.

VF-19 was the first unit to be equipped with Bearcats, and took delivery in May, 1945. They were still getting familiar with the new plane when the war ended in August, after which the Navy cancelled most of the rest of their order. Modest production continued, however, and over 1000 Bearcats were eventually delivered. They were popular with the pilots, but were quickly rendered obsolete by first-generation jet fighters. By the time the Korean War began, the Bearcat had largely been retired from front-line service.

Bearcats did see action in the First Indochina War in the early 50’s, however, where they were flown by the French Air Force against the Viet Minh. Others were flown by the Thai air force.

The Bearcat was one of the first planes flown by the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.

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