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Trapnell
03-09-2011, 02:05 PM
I have read much of what has been written online about the development of the Grumman Hellcat. I am trying, however, to get my head around the time-line of its being ordered by the Navy. Two pieces of evidence I've seen seem to be contradictory, maybe more-so since they are presented here out of context. Can anyone help me reconcile these two statements?

"The Navy, with remarkable prescience, placed its first order for the F6F-3 on 23 May 1942..."


"No, confident with Grummanís design, the Navy ordered initial production work on the F6F on 20 June 1941 slightly more than a year before the first one ever took off. The first production order, for some Six months later, on January 7, 1942 when the Navy awarded a contract for 1,264 F6Fs; this was six months BEFORE the XF6F-3 ever flew."

And with the above, I've read numerous accounts of Roy Grumman having said they didn't have a contract with the Navy when, after Capt. Trapnell flew it and gave the "OK," they began production.

Please help if you can.

studentofhistory
03-10-2011, 04:15 PM
I think what is confusing you is that the US Navy issued an Technical Specification order for design and development of a new fighter to certain specifications. Grumman, Curtiss, Bell, Republic, Vought, etc... were competing (or expected to design and offer bids). Grumman went ahead and designed, built and tested an aircraft XF6F-1 with the R2600-16 Wright engine and Curtiss electric prop. first flight: 062642, delivered to Navy:040243. This was the basis for the production F6F-3's with the addition of the R-2800-10 and Hamilton Standard prop. The XF6F-2 had the Wright R-2600-15 & -21 plus Birmann turbo-supercharger in an accessory compartment, later delivered to US Navy as F6F-5 production model (engine changed to Pratt R-2800-10 built in 2 stage supercharger). XF6F-3 was the production prototype with R-2800-10 and 13' Hamilton Standard constant speed prop. first flight: 073042; delivered 031543.
Production F6F-3 first flight: 100342, first delivery: 100442, last delivery: 040944. 4402 built for US Navy.
Production F6F-5 first delivery: 042944, last delivery: 111645. 7870 built for US Navy.

From a conversation with Dave Thurston (Chief Designer-project engineer on F6F series) Grumman built the first 2 prototypes without contracts, however as Grumman was a proven and preferred US Navy contractor the expenses were covered by the production contracts. I have no doubt that the US Navy did give the nod to officially sanction prototype builds in 061941. After all they would likely require several aircraft to begin operational flight testing and carrier trials. Remember these aircraft fully loaded were about twice the weight of fully loaded F4F's. Arresting gear both aircraft borne and carrier deck, plus support equipment needed to be analyzed or developed, etc... Also there were the huge tasks of writing, publishing, verifying all the pertinent operational manuals, service training, parts inventories to establish, etc... The official contracting departments in the US Government and US Navy were worlds unto themselves, not unlike the legal beagles rooting around in today's corporate hall ways... the real work is often long done before they saunter in to tell you " Okay go ahead". (sorry, I could not resist a quick parry with the rapier!)

Trapnell
03-11-2011, 09:43 AM
This is the quote I refer to regarding Trapnell and the Hellcat:

"So respected was Trapnell's knowledge and ability that, in 1942, he was personally requested by Roy Grumman to evaluate the new Grumman F6F Hellcat, the Navy's answer to the lethal Japanese Zero. Circumventing the usual testing procedures, Grumman had Trapnell take the fighter on a crash program." Said Grumman, "He came to the factory and flew the prototype F6F. It suited him, as I remember, except for the longitudinal stability — he wanted more of that. We built it in and rushed into production without a Navy certificate on the model. We relied on Trapnell’s opinion. His test flight took less than three hours. I’m not sure we ever got an official OK on the Hellcat design." (Touche?)

From what I can recall, Trap had said, when asked if the aircraft was the best aircraft in the Pacific, that it was the best aircraft in which to send low-time pilots off to war. It was, according to him, rugged and easy to fly (in combat and to and from the ship).

studentofhistory
03-11-2011, 11:52 AM
This is the quote I refer to regarding Trapnell and the Hellcat:

"So respected was Trapnell's knowledge and ability that, in 1942, he was personally requested by Roy Grumman to evaluate the new Grumman F6F Hellcat, the Navy's answer to the lethal Japanese Zero. Circumventing the usual testing procedures, Grumman had Trapnell take the fighter on a crash program." Said Grumman, "He came to the factory and flew the prototype F6F. It suited him, as I remember, except for the longitudinal stability — he wanted more of that. We built it in and rushed into production without a Navy certificate on the model. We relied on Trapnell’s opinion. His test flight took less than three hours. I’m not sure we ever got an official OK on the Hellcat design." (Touche?)

From what I can recall, Trap had said, when asked if the aircraft was the best aircraft in the Pacific, that it was the best aircraft in which to send low-time pilots off to war. It was, according to him, rugged and easy to fly (in combat and to and from the ship).

Well, I would not be too quick to accept that as absolute gospel as Grumman certainly had it's share of extraordinary talent resident with the design/testing team. As to the best aircraft to send low time pilots into combat; yep the Hellcat was a big stable gun platform with lots of power available and the strength to allow it to be used. In experienced and talented hands it was a wonderful aircraft as the US Navy Blue Angels used it as their first aircraft. They could have easily employed the F8F Bearcat (indeed several of the team so wanted) but they chose the venerable F6F-5's (albeit stripped of excess weight) exactly to show what it could do. Now there are stories around that regale tales of Blue Angel pilots merely showing up at an air station randomly selecting F6F's and going on with the show..but my father said it was not likely to be truth. He did once tell me of one of the B.A. pilots visiting home (Denver) dropping by Buckley Naval Air Station "borrowing" an F8F for some quick flight time.. much to the pleasure of the on duty personnel.

To absolutely answer your questions concerning contract dates Northrup Grumman History Dept. does have all extant records. I know for a fact that Grumman had the records as of 1975.

Trapnell
03-13-2011, 01:28 PM
I think you missed my point. There is no doubt that Grumman had fine test pilots - maybe the finest. They, however, would never be put in the position of approving one of their designs for the customer (the Navy). That makes no sense. My understanding was that Roy Grumman wanted to bypass the long approval process by having Trap test fly the product and make his recommendations. At the time, given the circumstances, I think that rather plausible. How likely, I don't know. That's the reason for my question. I do know, however, that Trap, like many of his peers at the time, felt that the Corsair, in the hands of a good pilot, was better than the Hellcat. That particular debate, however, will outlive all of us.

studentofhistory
03-14-2011, 11:23 AM
I think you missed my point. There is no doubt that Grumman had fine test pilots - maybe the finest. They, however, would never be put in the position of approving one of their designs for the customer (the Navy). That makes no sense. My understanding was that Roy Grumman wanted to bypass the long approval process by having Trap test fly the product and make his recommendations. At the time, given the circumstances, I think that rather plausible. How likely, I don't know. That's the reason for my question. I do know, however, that Trap, like many of his peers at the time, felt that the Corsair, in the hands of a good pilot, was better than the Hellcat. That particular debate, however, will outlive all of us.

Well....maybe. However, Grumman at that time owned the inside track for US Navy aircraft. Anyone else had to be measured against Grumman standards. Also as the US Navy already had the F4F in service and the first contracts for TBF's one doubts Roy was concerned at all about service trials. rather one suspect it would have been the US Navy brass wanting to slip steam the F6F in to service as the teething issues for the F4U were piling up.

Now perhaps with respect to lend-lease to the Royal Navy your quoted statement makes more sense. My understanding is the the Royal Navy was desperate to get a higher performance carrier borne aircraft. I have been told that their operational trails were very involved.

Trapnell
03-14-2011, 05:49 PM
As you say, Grumman may have owned the inside track at the time, but there was considerable consternation on the part of some in the Navy over time spent by Grumman fiddling with the XF5F... If it is true that the Navy wanted to trim the process, I'd like to see something in print backing that up. In times of war however, anything can, and most likely does, happen. :)