Hobby Master HA0302 USN Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat Fighter - Alex Vraciu, VF-6, USS Intrepid (CV-11), February 1944 (1:32 Scale)
"All available fighter pilots! Man your planes!"
- Message barked into the squawk box of the Essex' ready room when the ship's radar had detected three large groups of incoming Japanese planes during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 24th, 1944
The F6F embodied the early lessons learned by users of Grumman's previous fleet-defense fighter, the Wildcat. In June 1941, Grumman lowered the wing center section to enable the undercarriage to be wider splayed, fitting more armor-plating around the cockpit to protect the pilot while also increasing the fighter's ammunition capacity. When the prototype made its first flight, it was realized that a more powerful engine was needed to give the fighter a combat edge. A Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 engine was installed for added power.
The aircraft made its combat debut in August 1943, and from that point on, the question of aerial supremacy in the Pacific was never in doubt. Hellcats served aboard most of the US Navy's fleet carriers, being credited with the destruction of 4,947 aircraft up to V-J Day. The Fleet Air Arm was also a great believer in the Hellcat, procuring almost 1,200 planes between 1943-45. The Hellcat saw only limited service in the post-war years, being replaced by the more powerful F9F Bearcat. Of the nine F6Fs believed to be airworthy today, seven are based in the USA and two are located in the UK.
This particular 1:32 scale Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat was flown by Alex Vraciu, who was attached to VF-6, then embarked upon the USS Intrepid (CV-11), during February 1944.
Wingspan: 16-3/4 inches
Length: 12-1/4 inches
Release Date: July 2014
Historical Account: "Heart of a Champion" - Born on November 2nd, 1918, Alexander Vraciu became a leading US Navy fighter ace during World War II. Born of Romanian immigrant parents in East Chicago, Indiana, Vraciu lived briefly in Romania as a child. He graduated form DePauw University in 1941 and enlisted in the Navy that June. He was commissioned as a naval aviator in August 1942. Towards the end of March 1943, now a Naval Reserve Ensign, he joined Fighting Squadron Six under Lieutenant Commander Edward O'Hare, the navy's first ace of WW II. Butch O'Hare made Ensign Vraciu his wingman, and taught him everything he knew.
Vraciu entered combat in October 1943, flying from USS Independence (CVL-22) with Butch O'Hare as commander of Fighting Six. Vraciu scored his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on October 10th, 1943. In fact, both he and O'Hare scored that day. When they came across an enemy formation, O'Hare took the outside airplane and Vraciu took the inside plane. O'Hare went below the clouds to get a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero and Vraciu lost him, so he kept an eye on a second Zero that went to Wake Island and landed. Vraciu strafed the Zero on the ground, then saw a Mitsubishi G4M Betty bomber and shot it down. Alex Vraciu later told, "O'Hare taught many of the squadron members little things that would later save their lives. One example was to swivel your neck before starting a strafing run to make sure enemy fighters were not on your tail." Vraciu also learned from O'Hare the "high side pass" used for attacking the Japanese Mitsubishi Betty bombers. The high side technique was used to avoid the fatal 20-mm fire of the Betty's tail gunner.
The squadron later embarked aboard USS Intrepid (CV-11). Flying from "Evil I", Vraciu began scoring in multiples: three Mitsubishi G4M Bettys on January 29th, 1944 and four fighters downed at Truk Atoll on February 17th. With nine victories, he remained VF-6's leading ace throughout the war.
Rather than rotate home, Vraciu requested additional combat duty and joined VF-16 in USS Lexington (CV-16). By mid June he had run his score to 12 "kills", a record for carrier aviators at the time.
Vraciu's greatest day in combat occurred during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" on June 19th. Despite a malfunctioning supercharger, he intercepted a formation of Japanese dive bombers and "splashed" six in a period of several minutes. The next day, escorting bombers in an attack on the Japanese Mobile Fleet, he downed his 19th victim.
Upon return to the U.S., Vraciu was assigned to war bond sales, married his sweetheart Kathryn Horn, and wrangled a return to the Pacific. Joining VF-20, he flew only two missions before his Grumman Hellcat was shot down by antiaircraft fire over the Philippines in December. He was picked up by a guerrilla band and returned to safety six weeks later. He ended the war as the Navy's fourth-ranking ace.