By Willie Bodenstein

The F7F Tigercat was the product of a United States Navy requirement for a twin engine fighter able to operate from the new Midway class aircraft carriers that were in production and scheduled for service in the battles against the Japanese forces during World War II.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

The Tigercat was based on the XP-50, an earlier Grumman convoy fighter experimental design. Work on the XP-50 was terminated in 1943 when the company started concentrating on the design of the XF7F-1 aircraft carrier based fighter powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22W radial piston engines that were designed to outperform all other engines that were in service. The contract for the development of the XF7F-1 was signed in June 1941. Not only would the F7F outperform all others then in service, but it was 71 mph faster than the F6F Hellcat. It also carried a heavier load of armaments with four 20 mm cannons and four 12.7 mm machine guns as well as under-wing and fuselage hardpoints for a range of bombs and torpedoes. Although designed primarily as a carrier born fighter the F7F was to have a secondary role as a ground attack aircraft able to engage and destroy enemy ground based forces and assets.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

Captain Fred M. Trapnell, one of the Navy's premier test pilots rated the F7F as the best fighter he ever flew. However, the Tigercat failed on its carrier trials. Its high landing speed, problems with the tail-hook design and poor directional stability when operating on one engine, a must for an aircraft that was expected to operate over vast distances of open water, did not find favour with the Navy. Grumman carried out improvements to correct the problems of the F7F, but a wing failure on the test aircraft during carrier landings and the Navy again declined to qualify the type for carrier operations. A final version, the F7F-4N, was extensively rebuilt for additional strength and stability. It passed Aircraft Carrier qualification, but only twelve were built.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

The initial batch of a total order of 500 F7Fs was delivered to the US Marine Corps which favoured the type's tri-cycle landing gear and intended to operate the Tigercat from land based strips. However, the Tigercat never engaged any Japanese forces during the war.

Grumman, in close co-operation with the Marines, continued development and designed the F7F-2N, a night fighter variant of which sixty five were built. The F7F-N2 had a second cockpit for a radar operator and the nose armament was replaced with an APS-6 radar unit. The British Royal Navy tested this version of the type, but decided instead on the naval version of the de Havilland Hornet.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

In 1951, the United States again found itself at war as part of the United Nations' Forces which were deployed to North Korea to repel an invasion of North Korean Communist forces which had invaded the South Korean Democratic Republic. A Marine Corps' Fighter Squadron, the Flying Nightmares, equipped with fifteen Tigercats were hastily despatched to Japan and onwards to South Korea to their base at Pusan West. In March 1951, their first month of operations, the Tigercats flew 2,000 hours and 604 sorties in the night interdiction role and shot down two Polikarpov Po-2s. The Flying Nightmares continued to operate Tigercats until the Spring of 1952 when the F3D Skynights were taken into service. Marine Corps' units kept operating the Tigercats until 1954 when they were withdrawn from service. Some were then modified to drones for combat training, whilst others were purchased by private individuals and used as water bombers to fight forest fires.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

The Tigercat might not have an illustrious war record, but its sheer presence has made it a favourite in Warbird preservation circles and out of the 360 plus that were built, approximately ten are still airworthy in private collections in the USA.

Photo © Willie Bodenstein

Specifications F7F-3N

General characteristics:

Crew: 2 (pilot, radar operator)
Length: 45 feet 4 in (13.8 m)
Wingspan: 51 feet 6 in (15.7 m)
Height: 16 feet 7 in (5.1 m)
Wing area: 455 ft≤ (42.3 m≤)
Empty weight: 16,270 lbs (7,380 kg)
Max. take-off weight: 25,720 lbs (11,670 kg)
Powerplant: 2 ◊ Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W 'Double Wasp' radial engines, 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) each


Maximum speed: 460 mph (400 knots, 740 km/h)
Range: 1,200 miles (1,000 nmiles, 1,900 km)
Service ceiling: 40,400 feet (12,300 m)
Rate of climb: 4,530 feet/min (23 m/s)
4 ◊ 20 mm (0.79 in) M2 cannon
4 ◊ 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun
2 ◊ 1,000 lbs (454 kg) bombs under wings or
1 ◊ torpedo under fuselage

Classic Aircraft

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