Planes of Fame Museum Grumman F8F Bearcat takes to the air
By Willie Bodenstein
The Grumman Bearcat carrier-based fighter that first flew on 21 August 1944 and of which 1,265 were eventually built is a marvel. A frontline fighter produced toward the end of World War II, it's one of the fastest piston-powered planes ever built. For power, it relies on the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 double-row radial engine, which produced 2,250 hp.
Delivered in February 1945, the F8F went operational on 21 May 1945, but World War II was over before the aircraft saw combat service. Postwar, the F8F became a major U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps fighter. Often mentioned as one of the best-handling piston-engine fighters ever built, its performance was sufficient to outperform many early jets. Its capability for aerobatic performance is illustrated by its selection as the second demonstration aircraft for the navy's elite Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron in 1946.
A USN Bearcat. Photo by Airwolfhound / commons.wikimedia.org
The first combat for the F8F Bearcat was during the French Indochina War (1946-1954) when nearly 200 Bearcats were delivered to the French forces in 1951. When the war ended in 1954, 28 surviving Bearcats were supplied to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force and entered service in 1956. The Vietnamese Bearcats were retired in 1960.
A stock Bearcat won the first Reno Air Race in 1964. Rare Bear, a highly modified F8F went on to dominate the event for decades. Rare Bear also set many performance records, including the 3 km World Speed Record for piston-driven aircraft (528.33 mph/850.26 km/h), set in 1989 and a new time-to-climb record (3,000 m in 91.9 seconds (6,425.9 fpm), set in 1972, breaking the 1946 record set by Conquest, another Bearcat.
The Bearcat when it belonged to Elmar Ward.
The Museum's Bearcat once belonged to Elmer Ward, who at Wittman Airport, Oshkosh in 1993, lost power on take-off. In the ensuing forced landing in a field, the Bearcat flipped onto its back, but miraculously didn't catch fire. The landing gear tore out the undercarriage, caused a kink in the fuselage and broke the main spar of the left wing.
The Planes of Fame Museum acquired the Bearcat thirteen years ago and started a meticulous restoration. Bearcat parts are hard to find and where parts could not be sourced copies were made. The first engine run since the crash was in late April and the test flight on 14/15 of June at Chino, California was performed by legendary Steve Hinton. Steve was intimately involved in the restoration.
Engine runs in April 2020.
Steve in flight.
In her element, twenty years after her first flight.
The goal of the flight, Hinton said, was to make things "really boring," as all the hard work has been done, checked and checked, again and again.