The Grumman F8F Bearcat is an American single-engine carrier-based fighter aircraft introduced in late World War II.
It served during the mid-20th century in the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, and the air forces of other nations.
It was Grumman Aircraft’s last piston engine fighter aircraft.
In 1943, Grumman was in the process of introducing the F6F Hellcat, powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine which provided 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW).
The R-2800 was the most powerful American engine available at that time, so it would be retained for the G-58.
This meant that improved performance would have to come from a lighter airframe.
To meet this goal, the Bearcat’s fuselage was about 5 feet (1.5 m) shorter than the Hellcat and was cut down vertically behind the cockpit area. This allowed the use of a bubble canopy, the first to be fitted to a US Navy fighter.
The vertical stabilizer was the same height as the Hellcat’s, but increased aspect ratio, giving it a thinner look.
The wingspan was 7 feet (2.1 m) less than the Hellcat’s.
Structurally the fuselage used flush riveting as well as spot welding, with a heavy gauge 302W aluminium alloy skin suitable for carrier landings.
Armor protection was provided for the pilot, engine and oil cooler.
The Hellcat used a 13 ft 1 in (3.99 m) three-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller.
A slight reduction in size was made by moving to a 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m) Aeroproducts four-bladed propeller.
Keeping the prop clear of the deck required long landing gear, which, combined with the shortened fuselage, gave the Bearcat a significant “nose-up” profile on land.
The hydraulically operated undercarriage used an articulated trunnion which extended the length of the oleo legs when lowered; as the undercarriage retracted the legs were shortened, enabling them to fit into a wheel well which was entirely in the wing.
An additional benefit of the inward retracting units was a wide track, which helped counter propeller torque on take-off and gave the F8F good ground and carrier deck handling.
The design team had set the goal that the G-58 should weigh 8,750 pounds (3,970 kg) fully loaded.
As development continued it became clear this was impossible to achieve as the structure of the new fighter had to be made strong enough for aircraft carrier landings.
Ultimately much of the weight-saving measures included restricting the internal fuel capacity to 160 US gallons (610 L) (later 183 US gallons [690 L]) and limiting the fixed armament to four .50 Cal Browning M2/AN machine guns, two in each wing.
The limited range due to the reduced fuel load would mean it would be useful in the interception role but meant that the Hellcat would still be needed for longer range patrols.
A later role was defending the fleet against airborne kamikaze attacks.
Compared to the Hellcat, the Bearcat was 20% lighter, had a 30% better rate of climb and was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster.
Another weight-saving concept the designers came up with was detachable wingtips.
The wings were designed to fold at a point about 2⁄3 out along the span, reducing the space taken up on the carrier.
Normally the hinge system would have to be built very strong in order to transmit loads from the outer portions of the wing to the main spar in the inner section, which adds considerable weight.
Instead of building the entire wing to be able to withstand high-g loads, only the inner portion of the wing was able to do this.
The outer portions were more lightly constructed, and designed to snap off at the hinge line if the g-force exceeded 7.5 g.
In this case the aircraft would still be flyable and could be repaired after returning to the carrier.
This saved 230 pounds (100 kg) of weight.
Prototype aircraft, two built.
Single-seat fighter aircraft, equipped with folding wings, a retractable tail wheel, self-sealing fuel tanks, a very small dorsal fin, powered by a 2,100 hp (1,600 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp radial piston engine, armed with four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns.
Single-seat fighter version, armed with four AN/M3 20 mm cannons.
Originally designated F8F-1C, redesignated as F8F-1B.
F8F-1s converted into drone control aircraft.
Unofficial designation for export version for France and Thailand.