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(A Hellcat on the deck) Image courstesy of (The Naval Historical Center)

The Grumman F6-F Hellcat was the United States Navy's air superiority fighter of World War Two. 19 out of 20 times, it was the Hellcat that flew home from aerial duels between Japanese planes and Hellcats. Carrier borne Navy and Marine Hellcats in the Pacific region racked up a total of 4,948 kills by the end of the war. Other land based Hellcats had some success by scoring 266 kills. In all, 5,216 Axis airplanes were downed by Hellcats.

                The Hellcat was originally developed as a successor to the Grumman F4F Wildcat . The Navy wanted Grumman to build a plane that was better than the Japanese Mitsubishi "Zero" (A6M5). The Zero had, for quite some time, proved to be a formidable airplane against the Navy's current fighters. Something had to be done. The F6-F was the answer. With this is mind, Grumman engineers set to work on designing the Hellcat and aimed to give it more power and a better top speed than that of the Zero.

                It took about one year of production and tests flights before the first Hellcat was ever sent out to the fleet. At first, designers had given the Hellcat an under-powered engine. Test pilots quickly had this changed. Bigger and bigger engine sizes were tried and finally the right engine was found. The right engine was the Pratt and Whitney R 2800-10(W) radial engine. It had a 2,000 HP rating and could, when in emergency, go up to 2,200 HP via a water injection method that provided some extra cooling to the engine.

(Hellcats in the hangar) Image courstesy of (The Naval Historical Center)
By November of 1943, 400 Hellcats per month were being pumped out of the Grumman assembly lines that were located in Baldwin, Long Island. At peak proficiency (March, 1945) 605 Hellcats were produced in a single month. This is quite a feat considering each Hellcat weighed over 9,000 pounds when it came off the assembly line. Workers included women and any other people who wanted to support the war effort. Grumman was a good company to work for. They treated their workers well. To increase efficiency, some Grumman employees were employed solely in a support role for the workers on the assembly line. These people would often go out to a worker family's house to fix flat tires, get groceries, or do whatever it was the workers had their minds on that would keep them from doing their work. Grumman ran a very efficient operation and they produced a top quality product as well. War records would show that Hellcats had a 95% maintenance-free rate. This meant that Hellcats were ready to fly 95% of the time. This is a remarkable feat. Other aircraft were not even close and could only boast of rates of 75-80% at the highest. The Hellcat was a sturdy and reliable aircraft and their pilots loved them.