SkyMax Models SM1002 French Air Force Grumman F8F-1B Bearcat Fighter - Indochina, 1954 (1:72 Scale)
"United States policy with regard to French Indo-China cannot be formulated until after consultation with Allies at a forthcoming Combined Staff conference."
- President Roosevelt instructing Patrick J. Hurley, Ambassador to China, on post WWII Indochina affairs, November 1944
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.
Designed for the interceptor fighter role, the design team's aim was to create the smallest, lightest fighter that could fit around the Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine (carried over from the F6F Hellcat). Compared to its predecessor, the Bearcat was 20% lighter, had a 30% better rate of climb and was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster. It was also considerably smaller in size, as it was designed to be operated from small escort aircraft carriers, something the big Hellcat rarely did. Thus the F8F Bearcat was intended mainly as a replacement for the obsolete FM2 Wildcat, still the mainstay fighter of the many wartime escort carriers.
In comparison with the Vought F4U Corsair, the initial Bearcat (F8F-1) was marginally slower but was more maneuverable and climbed faster. Its huge 12' 4" Aero Products four-bladed propeller required a long landing gear (made even longer by the mid-fuselage position of the wing), giving the Bearcat an easily-recognized, "nose-up" profile. For the first time in a production Navy fighter, an all-bubble canopy offered 360-degree visibility.
The Bearcat concept was inspired by an evaluation in early 1943 of a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter in England by Grumman test pilots and engineering staff. After flying the Fw 190, Grumman test pilot Bob Hall wrote a report he directed to President Leroy Grumman who personally laid out the specifications for Design 58, the successor to the Hellcat, closely emulating the design philosophy that had spawned the German fighter, although no part of the German fighter was copied. The F8F Bearcat would emanate from Design 58 with the primary missions of outperforming highly maneuverable late-model Japanese fighter aircraft such as the A6M-5 Zero, and defending the fleet against incoming airborne suicide (kamikaze) attacks.
Unfortunately the target weight (derived from the land-based German aircraft) was essentially impossible to achieve as the aircraft had to be made stronger for aircraft carrier landings. As a weight-saving concept the designers came up with detachable wings; if the g-force exceeded 7.5g then the tips would snap off, leaving a perfectly flyable aircraft still capable of carrier landing. Unfortunately while this worked very well under carefully controlled conditions in flight and on the ground, in the field, where aircraft were repetitively stressed by landing on carriers and since the wings were slightly less carefully made in the factories, wings tended to break off while the vehicle bombed targets, and the aircraft would then crash. This was replaced with an explosives system to blow the wings off together, which also worked well, however this ended when a ground technician died due to accidental triggering. In the end the wings were reinforced and the aircraft limited to 7.5g.
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale diecast replica of a French Air Force Grumman F8F-1B Bearcat fighter that saw action in Indochina during 1954.
Wingspan: 5 inches
Length: 5 inches
Release Date: February 2009
Historical Account: "Bear" - Grumman's project pilot for the Bearcat series was legendary test pilot Corky Meyer, who also had this role on the F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F9F Panther, XF10F-1 Jaguar, and the F11F Tiger series. Meyer was head of Grumman Flight Operations at Edwards Air Force Base from 1952-56.
Another famous name is associated with the type; when asked his favorite aircraft to fly, Neil Armstrong's immediate and unequivocal answer was the "Bearcat". Armstrong had flown the type in 1950 during his Navy Advanced Training, field qualifying in it at age 19.