Grumman F6F Hellcat

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This was a US single-seat carrier-based fighter. To offset the unexpectedly high quality of Japanese naval aircraft, the US Navy ordered the production Hellcat with the most powerful engine available. One month after the prototype XF6F-1 had flown for the first time with a 1,700hp Wright R-2600 engine, on 26 June 1942, it was re-engined with a 2,000hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800. With this, as the XF6F-3, it made a second `first flight' on 30 July. Production F6F-3s flew into combat for the first time on 31 August 1943 from the carrier Yorktown. By the following year Hellcats were the principal USN carrier-borne fighters, and the enemy never again achieved superiority.

The total number built was 12,275, with the F6F-5 of 1944 as the only other major variant. Changes were limited mainly to the engine cowling, windscreen and armament. Two of the six wing-mounted 0.5in machine guns of the F6F-3 were exchanged for 20mm cannon on most F6F-5s, which could also carry 2,000lb of bombs under their center-section and six rockets under their outer wings. Night fighter versions of both the `dash 3' and `dash 5' had radar in a pod under their starboard wingtip.

Altogether, Hellcats of the US Navy shot down 4,947 enemy aircraft during operations from carriers, with another 209 victories claimed by land-based USN and Marine units. This represented almost 75 percent of all the navy's wartime air combat `kills'. The Royal Navy received 252 F6F-3s and 930 F6P-5s through Lend-Lease, naming them Hellcat I and II respectively.