The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation of Bethpage, New York, was one of the most important builders of military aircraft in the 20th century. From the company’s beginning in 1930, through the end of World War II, Grumman designed and built several U .S. Navy aircraft that established the firm’s reputation for outstanding aeronautical engineering.
Although the Long Island company also contributed significantly to commercial aviation, it was Grumman’s navy planes, particularly its series of World War II combat aircraft, that assured the company’s success. As Rear Admiral John S. McCain would note in 1942: “The name Grumman on a plane…[had] the same meaning to the Navy that ‘sterling’ [had] on silver.” To the Navy, Grumman aircraft were the highest quality planes that money could buy.
Six men started the Grumman Corporation on January 2, 1930, in a small garage in Baldwin, New York. Leroy Grumman (a former naval aviator) and William Schwendler headed the operation. They were both former engineers at the Loening Company, another successful builder of navy planes during the 1910s and 1920s, and the two understood the challenges of naval aircraft design. Albert Loening had sold his business in 1928, and Grumman believed it stood a good chance of filling the void left behind.
Grumman’s first major warplane was the innovative F4F Wildcat, a single-seat, single-engine, carrier-based strike fighter equipped with a unique Grumman invention called “sto-wings, which allowed a plane’s wings to fold in half for easy storage on cramped aircraft carriers. It had six machine guns and two 100-pound (45-kilogram) bombs and was also Grumman’s first mono-wing fighter.
Unfortunately, the Japanese Zero airplane was faster and often outperformed it. Nevertheless, many U.S. pilots still held their own in dogfights because of the Wildcat’s excellent diving and rolling ability. In fact, New York Times correspondent Foster Hailey believed the Wildcat “did more than any single instrument of war to save the day for the United States in the Pacific.”
Grumman built one of the classic combat planes of World War II, the F6F “Hellcat.” Essentially a more sophisticated version of the F4F Wildcat, Grumman engineers specifically designed it to defeat the Japanese Zero. It could fly about 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) faster than the Wildcat, about 300 miles (403 kilometers) farther without refueling, and carry more armament. Like the F4F, the Hellcat was a single-seat, single-engine, strike fighter with sto-wings.
The first Hellcats saw action in the Pacific in September 1943 and quickly gained a reputation for outstanding performance and craftsmanship. Many sustained extensive combat damage and still returned their pilots safely home. Airmen often referred to the Grumman company as the “Iron Works” because its planes seemed indestructible. Grumman produced 12,272 Hellcats from June 1942 to November 1945, the largest number of fighters ever made in a single aircraft factory.
Naval aviators racked up an impressive record with the Hellcats; of the 6,477 aerial victories they claimed during the war, 4,947 went to F6F pilots. In short, the Hellcat was a terrific and highly reliable plane and U.S. aviators loved it. One unidentified pilot simply noted about his beloved F6F: “If my Hellcat could cook, I’d marry it.”
From its humble beginnings in 1930, to its impressive production records and designs during the Second World War, Grumman established itself as one of the most important military aircraft builders of the century. But with the end of the war, the company would go through some substantial changes. Although Grumman would continue to secure navy business after the war, the government’s needs would change enough to force the company to reshape itself. By the late 1950s, Grumman would suddenly be building spacecraft and designing more planes for the commercial market.
Grumman TBM-3R Avenger HB–RDG
- Engine: 1x Wright R-2600-2 Twin Cyclone radial 1,900 hp
- Span: 54 feet 2 inches (16.51m)
- Lenght: 40 feet 11.5 inches (12.48m)
- Height: 15 feet 5 inches (4.70m)
- Weight: Empty, 10,545 pounds (4,783kg)
- Maximum, 17,893 (8,115 kg)
- Maxumum speed: 275 mph (442 km/h)
- Service ceiling: 30,100 feet (9,170 m)
- Range: 1,000 miles (1,610 m)
- Crew: 3 – Pilot, gunner, plus radioman in fuselage station
- Armament: 1 x 0.30 inch (7.62 mm) nose-mounted M1919 Browning
1 x 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) dorsal-mounted M2 Browning
Up to eight (8) forward firing rockets
Up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg) bombs or
1 x 2,000 pound (907 kg) Mark 13 torpedo
The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air or naval arms around the world.
The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite losing five of the six Avengers on its combat debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s.
Increasingly effective anti-aircraft capabilities, combined with the vulnerable attack profile of a slow-flying torpedo bomber, rendered torpedo attacks rare after Midway. Thus Avengers were used in a variety of other roles, including reconnaissance, antisubmarine, light transport or cargo work, medical evacuation and close air support.
Grumman’s TBF “Avenger” also contributed significantly to the Allied victory over Japan and Germany.
With a machine gun turret mounted behind the pilot, the Avenger was a formidable combat plane and performed extremely well on low-altitude attacks and dive-bombing runs. The Navy used the Avenger effectively against enemy submarines, particularly in tandem with Wildcats. Grumman delivered the first TBFs to the Navy in January 1942.
Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat
Aircraft specs (F8F):
• Length: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
• Wingspan: 35 ft 10 in (10.92 m)
• Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.21 m)
• Empty weight: 7,650 lb (3,207 kg)
• Loaded weight: 10,200 lb (4,627 kg)
• Max takeoff weight: 13,460 lb (6,105 kg)
• Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W two-row radial engine, 2,250 hp (1,678 kW)
• Maximum speed: 455 mph (405 kn, 730 km/h)
• Range: 1,105 mi (1,778 km)
• Service ceiling: 40,800 ft (12,436 m)
• Rate of climb: 6,300 ft/min (32.0 m/s)
• Power/mass: 0.22 hp/lb (360 W/kg)
• Guns: 4 × 20 mm (.79 in) M3 cannon
• Rockets: 4 × 5 in (127 mm) unguided rockets
• Bombs: 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs
The Grumman F8F Bearcat (affectionately called “Bear”) was an American single-engine naval fighter aircraft of the 1940s. It went on to serve into the mid-20th century in the United States Navy and other air forces, and would be the company’s final piston engined fighter aircraft.
Modified versions have broken speed records for propeller-driven aircraft, and are popular among warbird collectors.
The Bearcat design was the Grumman response to the US Navy’s request in the latter war years for a fast responsive fighter to be deployed in the Pacific Theatre. The type did not see operational service during the Second World War as the conflict ended but it was used to great effect in French Indo-China with the French Air Force. The Bearcat could actually outperform many of the early Jet fighter aircraft of the period.
Gruman FM 2 Wildcat
Aircraft specs (FM-2):
- Wing Span, 38 feet
- Length, 28 feet 11 inches
- Wing Area, 260 square feet.
- Weights: Empty, 5448 pounds; Gross, 8271 pounds
- Powerplant: One 1,350 horsepower Wright R-1820-56 “Cyclone” single-row radial engine.
- Armament: four .50 caliber Browning machine guns; Two 250-pound bombs or six 5-inch rockets.
- Maximum Speed, 332 m.p.h., 28,800 feet).
In 1942, automobile manufacturer General Motors converted several of its east coast factories to aircraft production under the name Eastern Aircraft Division. Eastern received contracts to build F4F-4 “Wildcat” fighters and TBF-1 “Avenger” torpedo planes, allowing Grumman to gradually reconcentrate its energies on the new, urgently-needed F6F “Hellcat” fighter. The GM F4F-4s, redesignated FM-1s, had only four .50 caliber machine guns, but were otherwise little changed from the original model. Well over a thousand FM-1 fighters were delivered in 1942-43, including some three hundred for the British Royal Navy.
Meanwhile, Grumman had prototyped a new “Wildcat” under the designation XF4F-8, which was to be produced by Eastern Aircraft as the FM-2. With lightened structure and a more powerful Wright R-1820 radial engine, the FM-2 was notably quicker, faster climbing, longer ranged and more maneuverable than its predecessor. To help control the increased power, the new plane had a distinctive, taller vertical tail. All-in-all, it was a great improvement, and more than four thousand FM-2s were built in 1943-45. Of those, over three hundred went to the British.
The U.S. Navy FM-2s operated exclusively from escort carriers (CVEs), small ships with notoriously lively flight decks. They were used in the Atlantic, teamed with TBM “Avengers” for anti-submarine work, the escort carriers’ original purpose. In the Pacific, CVEs did ASW too, but also employed their “Avengers” and “Wildcats” to provide air cover for invasion forces and close air support for ground troops. Those missions produced opportunities for aerial combat against Japanese planes, and two Navy pilots achieved “ace” status in FM-2s. The GM “Wildcat” also played an important role in the 25 October 1944 Battle off Samar, in which a force of the slow CVEs and their escorts out-fought a vastly superior Japanese surface fleet.