The first production model was the F6F-3 and it had a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp Engine that was capable of propelling it at speeds of up to 605 km/h. Its armament consisted of six 12.7mm browning machine guns and it was noted by its crews to be extremely reliable and the inclusion of armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks only further proved the F6F to be an excellent design.
Furthermore, the Hellcat was able to carry numerous types of payloads for ground and shipping attacks such as bombs, rockets, and torpedoes. A maximum of 900 kg worth of explosives could be carried.
The total weight of the system was about 4,100 kg while its total length was 10.3 meters. The F6F also had a service ceiling of 11,300 meters and an operational range of 1,500 kilometers, specifically designed so that the aircraft was well capable of fighting effectively in the Pacific.
The first variant of the Hellcat series was the Hellcat Mk I which was the British modification to the original F6F-3. Following came the F6F-3E night fighter conversion with radar equipment mounted in the wings. Next were 149 F6F-3N and 1,434 F6F-5N aircraft were fitted with an APS-6 radar unit in a pod attached to one wing, and also operated as night fighters. The F6F-5 and Hellcat Mk II modifications meanwhile both had modified air frames and engine equipment for combat operations. Like the F6F-3, there were two standard variants of the F6F-5 which were the F6F-5N night fighter and F6F-5P reconnaissance plane. Furthermore, some conversions had two 20mm autocannons mounted with two 12.7mm machine guns as secondary armament.
At least one example was tested with a searchlight in a modified radar pod.
The initial Hellcat contract was for two prototypes of a successor to the F4F Wildcat, incorporating lessons from the conflict in Europe and the opinions of US Navy pilots, in order to provide an insurance against failure of the XF4U-1. The contract was awarded to Grumman on June 30, 1941, The resulting XF6F-1 made its first flight on June 26, 1942, powered by a Wright R-2600 Cyclone producing 1,600 hp which, following consultation with US pilots who had fought the A6M Zero, was replaced in future examples with the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp.
The second prototype was the first example to use the new engine, making it's first flight as the XF6F-3 on July 30, 1942. Production of the F6F had been ordered on May 23, 1942, with the first ten being completed by the end of the year, the first of these flying on October 4, 1942. F6F-3s made their first combat flights on 31 August and 1 September 1943, from the carriers Yorktown (CV-10), Essex (CV-9), and the light carrier Independence (CVL-22).
- Green, William. Famous Fighters of the Second World War. Book Club Associates. (1975), Page 90
- Green, William - Fighters. Page 93
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