The F4F-3 had a total of four 12.7mm Browning machine guns (two mounted in each wing) and could carry up to 90 kilograms of bombs. The landing gear of the F4F-3 was retractable, but the craft did not incorporate folding wings, a crucial aspect for carrier-based service. Its rugged design and superior firepower gave pilots a fighting chance against the Japanese Zeroes. The total weight of the craft was about 3,175 kilograms combat loaded. The F4F-3's length was around 28 feet and 10 inches (about 8.8 meters) with a wing span of 38 feet (about 11.6 meters), giving it a stubby, barrel-like image.
The maximum range of the Wildcat was 1,239.1 kilometers with a service ceiling of approximately 12,039 meters. Originally, the fuselage, directly behind the cockpit, contained an inflatable life raft. Later on, it was removed and put into the pilot's survival pack. The aircraft was capable of carrying 450 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition for the machine guns. Early on, the F4F-3's armament were prone to jamming. When fully loaded (450 rounds), the gun's ammo belts would move and shift around during flight. The problem was eventually fixed when spacers were inserted into the ammunition cases.
If one's hands were to slip while cranking the landing gear, the lever would spin around madly, possibly injuring the pilot's wrist in the process.
The F4F-3 had several variants that were produced particularly in the early part of WWII. The first of these variants was the F4F-3A which had a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 Engine and apart from this, it was virtually the same as the original F4F-3. The final variant in the F4F-3 series was the F4F-3S Wildcatfish which was fundamentally a floatplane. There was also little difference to the original F4F-3 besides the floats. However, the F4F-3 series was followed by the F4F-4 which had a number of important modifications made to it that would lead it to great success during WWII. These modifications included folding wings, self-sealing fuel tanks, more armor protection, and a revised armament of six 12.7mm MGs in the wings instead of the previous four.
The F4F-4 had its own sub variant just like the original F4F-3 and this was the F4F-4B which had a modified engine cowling. This model was made for exportation. The F4F-7 like the F4F-3S Wildcatfish was produced in very small numbers and it was a photo reconnaissance variant that had rigid wings and additional fuel added. The FM-1 and FM-2 models were both produced by GM and had revised engines. They were not very different from existing F4F models, although some models could carry up to six rockets under their wings. The British had been sent many F4F Wildcats and as such they designated them Martlets. These are just regular F4Fs that have been redesignated or slightly modified.
The first of these models was the Martlet I which was based on one of the later F4F-3 prototypes called the G-36A. The Martlet II was based on another prototype model called the G-36B. The Martlet II had a new Twin Wasp Engine and yet again, a revised engine cowling. The next in the series would be the Martlet III which was just a Martlet II that accidentally had its folding wings removed. The Martlet III(A) was the correction to this error. In total, the first ten aircraft in the shipment to Great Britain were Martlet IIIs while the last thirty were Martlet III(A). The rest of the Martlets in the series are simply redesignations such as the Martlet IV being simply a F4F-4B.
Towards the end of 1935, the United States issued a request for a new carrier-based aircraft. Grumman, the manufacturer behind the FF, F2F, and F3F, took on the challenge. The Wildcat first began development in 1936, as the XF4F-1. It was a carrier-based biplane, similar to its predecessors. At first, however, the United States Navy favored the prototype for the more modern XF2A-1 (which would later become the F2A Brewster Buffalo). In order to compete, the project's lead engineers decided upon a biplane design. The U.S. Navy accepted the change and designated the new variant as the XF4F-2. During trials to fill in the vacancy, the XF4F-2's engines failed and the X2FA-1 was deemed production-worthy. However, some officials saw future potential in the XF4F-2 and awarded Grumman with a contract to build an improved configuration (which would later become the XF4F-3). The United States Navy was impressed with the new model and ordered 78 of them. When the F2A Brewster Buffalo failed to meet expectations during the war, F4F-3s began to replace it. Eventually, the Buffalo was phased out of combat.
- Lüdeke, Alexander. Weapons of World War II. Parragon Books Ltd. (2007), Page 257