Origins and Biplanes:
Synonymous with Long Island, the Grumman Corporation was one of the world’s premier military aircraft manufacturers.
It traces its origins, however, to a man named Grover Loening, an aeronautical engineer who had professional ties with Orville Wright and had later worked in the Army’s aeronautical engineering office before founding his own, namesake Loening Aircraft and Engineering Corporation in 1917, located in a three-story plant on New York’s East Side.
An attractive sales prospect, the fledgling aviation company was subsequently absorbed by the Keystone Aircraft Company, whose focus was a twin-engine bomber slated for the Air Corps, and the Loening personnel were given the option of relocating to its Bristol, Pennsylvania, headquarters, or becoming unemployed.
One of them was Leroy Randle Grumman. A key engineer in Philadelphia and test pilot for Loening’s own two-seat fighter, he was originally persuaded to relinquish his Navy service for a plant manager position with the Loening company itself in 1920, but now, along with its other employees, was forced to choose between the Keystone relocation or a jobless status.
He chose the latter, and elected to tap into his talents to found his own company, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, on January 2, 1930 instead. It would soon prove the tenets of pride, loyalty, and dedication upon which it rested.
Electing to focus on military designs, he tweaked out initial, aircraft-transitional revenue from the repair and remanufacture of the Loening amphibians with which his mostly ex-Loening staff had been familiar.
The first so-called “plant,” a rented, rectangular cinder block in Baldwin, had been inceptionally used by the Cox-Klemin airplane manufacturer, and it inauspiciously opened its doors to a spartan interior occupied by a scatter of furniture and engineering-related equipment, such as drafting tables, drill presses, and woodworking machines.
Initial activity, albeit of non-Grumman indigenous designs, served as the transitional link from the former Loening enterprise, but Grumman’s own military focus was soon established.
The Navy, operating a fleet of both landing gear- and float-equipped Vought Corsair scout and observation types, needed a hybrid design which would incorporate both modes, and Grumman devised a light-weight float into which its wheels could retract. Two, according to its contract, were built for test and evaluation purposes. Ultimately proving themselves, they were retrofitted, as Model A floats, to the Navy’s Corsairs and, in the process, created a connection between the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation and this service branch for its more than six-decade history.
Its second project, equally requested by the Navy’s Plans Division, was to replace the fixed undercarriage of its Boeing biplane fighters with a retractable one in order to decrease their drag and improve their speed. Unlike the relatively straightforward float installation, however, the aircraft’s slender fuselage needed considerable redesign, and Grumman viewed the obstacle as an opportunity-namely, to pitch its own-and first-airframe to replace it.
Despite the still-early evolutionary stage of aeronautical technology, the aircraft, designed to fill the Navy’s March 6, 1931 request for a High Performance Fighter, incorporated a significant amount of it. Featuring a 24.6-foot overall length, it employed an aluminum alloy, semi-monocoque fuselage; a Grumman-designed truss; staggered biplanes whose span stretched to 34.6 feet and produced a 310-square-foot area; a nine-cylinder, air-cooled, Wright Cyclone R-1820 radial engine; a drag-reducing cowling; an enclosed, canopy-covered, dual-person, pilot-and-gunner, tandemly-arranged cockpit; and the soon-to-become Grumman characteristic hand-cranked, vertically-retracting undercarriage, stowed in forward-fuselage wheel wells ahead of the wing leading edge.
First flying on December 29 in prototype form as the XFF-1, the 4,677-pound, carrier-based fighter was the first naval design to exceed 200 mph in level flight, and could climb at 5,000 fpm and reach a 22,100-foot service ceiling.
An order for 27 production FF-1s followed and most of them, replacing Boeing F4B-2s in 1933, were assigned to Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island in California.
A scout version, the SF-1, attracted an order for 34.
Space-constrained by his original Baldwin facility and therefore unable to fill the Navy’s fighter and scout orders, Grumman was forced to seek an alternate, and larger, plant, choosing a 200-by-100-foot concrete block eight miles to the west, in Valley Stream, in what itself had ironically been a former Naval Reserve Hangar. Internally unpartitioned, it facilitated a more streamlined production flow and offered the optimally-needed floor space, yet at the same time afforded aircraft testing because of its adjacency to Curtiss Field. The relocation occurred in November of 1931.
Still hungry for space to meet production demands and faced with the imminent expiration of its one-year lease in 1932, however, Grumman pulled up its roots for a second time and relocated 16 miles to the east again, selecting a building at the Fairchild flying field in Farmingdale. Originally used by the Fulton Truck Company, it had also been briefly occupied by Sherman Fairchild himself and the American Airplane and Engine Company.
Serving as residence for four and a half years, it witnessed production of the FF-1, the SF-1, and an amphibious version, which mated the former with the Grumman-designed Model B retractable undercarriage-provisioned floats and designated the “Duck.”
Despite the seeming impermanence of its plant locations, the Grumman Aircraft and Engineering Corporation established the connections and characteristics which would pervade its carrier-borne and amphibious aircraft history, all designed to fill Navy requirements and supported by defense contracts.
Because mostly Navy and Coast Guard contracts eventually exceeded even the capacity of its Farmingdale plant, and because its optimized enlargement would have entailed significant renovation and cost, Grumman once again turned his sights to a new location-in this case, a 120-acre one in Bethpage, relinquishing its existing facility to the Seversky Aircraft Company.
After half a year of construction, which began on October 26, 1936, the rapidly expanding manufacturer opened its new hangar doors on April 8 and the Bethpage facility soon became synonymous with, if not a fortress of, Grumman, rising from the once barren field in the form of Plant 1. Comprised of two 140-foot-long by 20-foot-wide low bay sections, it also sported a single, 400-foot-long by 120-foot-wide high bay, a 100-by-100 foot hangar, and, a short time later, a grass strip.
The location change signaled, for the first time, a strategy change. Although, like the Duck, the next significant design incorporated amphibious capabilities, it deviated by transitioning from the bi- to the monoplane configuration and it was aimed at the commercial market.
Designated the G-21 Goose, the ten-largest–and first twin-engine, non-military derivative aircraft-sported a two-step floatable hull, giving it a 38.3-foot length; a high wing with a 49-foot span; and two Pratt and Whitney nine-cylinder, 450-hp Wasp Junior radials mounted on and projecting forward of the wing leading edge. It was ground-supported by a single-wheeled, hand-retractable, conventional landing gear, which was flushly stored in either fuselage side. The equally retractable tailwheel was steerable. Piloted by two, it offered comfortable internal accommodation for six to eight passengers with a galley and a lavatory.
Intended as a personal and corporate aircraft with amphibious capability to replace the Loening Air Yacht and Commuter types, the project was overtaken by Grumman upon Loening’s suggestion, since he had lacked the plant capacity to proceed with it.
First flying on May 29, 1937, the 7,500-pound airliner, with a 175-mph cruise speed and 795-mile range, was awarded its Approved Type Certificate on September 29 and, as envisioned, was operated by wealthy individuals, oil and mining companies, and corporations.
KNILM, KLM’s East Indies subsidiary, served as its first commercial operator, and it proved ideally suited to third-level carriers whose challenging route topographies, comprised of remote islands and peninsulas, depended upon its rugged, reliable construction and land, ice, and water capabilities, as lifelines to small communities. It wore the colors of Alaska Coastal and Reeve Aleutian Airlines. Antilles Air Boats, which inaugurated service in 1964, ultimately operated 18 of the type, while registrations as far afield as Australia represented its diverse transport potential.
Military operators included the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Army Air Corps, and the Navy, the latter of which amassed a 35-strong fleet by the end of `1941.
Its durability, coupled with subsequent modifications, ensured more than five decades of service with operators in a wide range of roles, including those retrofitted with skis and hydrofoils and those powered by four piston and two turboprop engines.
Between 1937 and 1945, 345 G-21s were produced.
Because Grumman believed that the type’s size and cost limited its appeal, he commenced work on a smaller version, designated “Design 44,” which was intended to complement and succeed it.
Powered by two 200-hp, six-cylinder, air-cooled Ranger 6-440C-5 engines, the resultant aircraft, soon named the G-44 Widgeon, sported a 31.1-foot overall length and 40-foot span, optimizing it for four passengers. Comparatively, it offered a 3,000-pound lower gross weight, of 4,525 pounds, and first flew on June 28, 1940.
Although it proved versatile enough for a variety of roles, including seaplane trainers for Pan American Airways, utility liners, and search and rescue aircraft for the US Coast Guard, its production total of 276, along with 41 license-built by the Societe de Constructions Aero-Navales, proved little more than its larger predecessor’s had been.
The Avenger and the Cats:
Although still only manifesting itself as distant thunder, war’s reverberations had already caused Grumman to return to its military aircraft design roots.
In order to succeed the previous biplane fighter, the F3F, and offer superior speed, it drew up plans for the XF4F-1 in March of 1936, but it would have suffered from performance disadvantages over the competing, monoplane-configured Brewster B-139, thus prompting a radical redesign to deviate from its original FF-1 lineage.
Powered by a single, 1,050-hp Pratt and Whitney R-1830-66 engine, the cantilever, all-metal, mid-wing, NACA airfoiled monoplane sported a conventional tail and retained the Grumman characteristic landing gear. It was designated the “Wildcat.”
First flying from Bethpage on September 2, 1937 as the XF4F-1 and delivered to Naval Air Station Anacostia three months later, on December 23, it quickly revealed crankshaft deficiencies and was rejected by the Navy, prompting yet further redesign. The succeeding XF4F-2, retaining the previous version’s fuselage, introduced increased-span and -area wings with square tips and the 1,200-hp two-stage, two-speed supercharger-equipped R-1830-76, which drove a Curtiss Electric propeller. However, flight tests equally revealed shortcomings, particularly those related to stability, and it subsequently incorporated wing dihedral and modifications to improve engine cooling.
As the definitive F4F-3 Wildcat, it attracted a 54-strong order from the Navy.
By the end of the decade, the mounting war clouds began to unleash their torrential conflicts, and in the US, President Roosevelt opened the country’s umbrella of arsenal protection by announcing a national defense policy, which advocated annual aircraft production of 10,000 units. Grumman, needless to say, was expected to provide a significant number of them.
The F4F would become the first link in what would eventually become a chain of five “cats,” each of which purred more loudly than the prior one.
The F4F-4, with a 28.9-foot length and 38-foot span, featured a 5,758-pound empty and 7,952-pound gross weight. Powered by the R-1830-86 powerplant, it offered feisty performance: a 1,950-fpm climb rate and a 318-mph speed at 19,400 feet, although its service ceiling extended as high as 34,000 feet. Carrier storage was facilitated by manually foldable wings.
Temporarily lifted State Department restrictions initially allowed sales of the first Wildcats to the French so that they could equip their two in-construction aircraft carriers. Because increasing war demands delayed their other Pratt and Whitney-powered airplanes, however, they were forced to revert to the Wright Cyclone, whose single-stage supercharger diluted its performance at high, thin altitudes. Yet, after France’s surrender, its intended fleet was delivered to Britain.
When the war clouds ultimately burst and rained havoc, they exerted unprecedented demand on Grumman, which, along with Vought, was thenceforth ordered to supply the Navy, with whose carrier-based design requirements it had become increasingly familiar.
War’s hunger seemed insatiable. Grumman, for instance, produced 459 Wildcats in 1941, yet, despite the reflection across the Bethpage runway of the 4,000-person Plant 2 rising from the ground since its construction had commenced in September of 1940, it could not satisfy it without a third such facility. Plant 2 itself ironically opened on December 7, 1941, the same day that the infamous Pearl Harbor attack screamed of the need for it, and Wildcat production could only be retained at the required pace by allowing Linden, New Jersey-based Eastern Aircraft, a division of General Motors, to license-build them as FM-1s and -2s.
Indeed, the eventual, 7,825-unit production consisted of 1,988 aircraft made by Grumman and 5,837 by Eastern.
Instrumental in the Pacific, both the F4F-3 and -4 were involved in the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 16, 1942, as well as taking part in the first carrier battle in the Coral Sea from May 7 to 8 and the Battle of Midway. They provided aerial protection during the amphibious landing in Guadalcanal.
Aside from the ubiquitous Wildcat series, Grumman quickly designed a second, also carrier-borne aircraft intended to fulfill the Bureau of Aeronautics’ requirement for a torpedo bomber. Of the 13 proposals submitted by Brewster, Douglas, Hall, Vought, Vultee, and Grumman itself, the latter’s, as the XTBF-1, was chosen the following April.
Like the Wildcat, it was a mid- and foldable-wing monoplane, but was powered by a 1,700-hp, 14-cylinder, air-cooled Wright R-2600-8 engine driving a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller. Resting on a tricycle undercarriage, it featured a hydraulically actuated internal bomb bay, and was considerably larger. Its three-person crew, housed in a canopied cockpit, included the pilot, the navigator/ventral gunner, and the radio operator/dorsal gunner.
Aside from the complement of bombs and torpedoes, its armament included a.30-caliber forward and aft machine gun and a.50-caliber one in a dorsal, motor driven ball turret. Its unique, Grumman-designed, foldable wing configuration entailed skewed axis movement, the wings themselves horizontally resting against the fuselage to minimize storage requirements. It was referred to as the “sto-wing.”
Stretching 40 feet and sporting a 54.2-foot span in the extended position, the 15,905-pound TBF Avenger first disconnected itself from Bethpage soil on August 7, 1941. Its maximum speed was 271 mph at 12,000 feet.
Despite its ever expanding production facilities, Grumman was unable to satisfy the Navy’s insatiable desire for aircraft, and, as had occurred with the Wildcat, entered into a license-building arrangement with General Motors/Eastern Aircraft, in which case they bore the “TBM” designation.
Of the 9,839 Avengers produced, Grumman itself assembled 2,293 and Eastern Aircraft the remaining 7,546.
TBF and TBM Avengers took part in all Pacific battles, supporting amphibious operations from escort carriers, and engaged in anti-submarine missions in Europe.
Aside from the obvious need for plant facilities in which to produce World War II’s fighters and bombers, and the ever-multiplying personnel to do so, formal training, particularly in aerodynamics and powerplants, was needed to prepare them for their functions. An initial, in-house training program, conducted by subject-proficient instructors, was subsequently replaced by courses taught by New York University’s Guggenheim School of Aeronautics professors at Hofstra University in the midst of Long Island’s cradle of aviation, where it had all begun.
By 1941, the gears of Grumman’s plants turned virtually 24 hours per day with two, ten-hour shifts, and vitally needed space was obtained with the temporary leases of buildings in Amityville, Baldwin, Lindenhurst, Syosset, and the 150,000-square-foot former Pan American base in Port Washington, to which an additional 62,000 square feet was subsequently added. These “satellite” locations accounted for some 3,000 Grumman employees.
In Bethpage, yet a third plant, primarily intended as an incubator to the Wildcat’s successor, opened on March 16, 1942.
It was initially conceived as an improved version with a more powerful engine, increased weights, and a wider undercarriage to augment ground stability. But, in order to take full advantage of the 1,600- to 1,700-hp Wright R-2600 engine, whose 33-percent increase in power production and larger-diameter propeller would have rendered it unsuitable for an F4F derivative, Grumman designed an altogether larger and more capable fighter, which only superficially resembled its predecessor-the F6F Hellcat.
Sporting a 33.7-foot overall length and 42.10-foot span, which gave it the greatest wing area and consequently lowest wing loading of any US fighter, the F6F-3, with a 15,487-pound maximum weight, could climb at 3,500 fpm, yet its slow approach speeds facilitated carrier operations. Its landing gear retraction method, deviating from the Grumman standard, entailed a backwards swing into the wing root.
First flying on June 26, 1942, the Hellcat, in its F6F-5 version, featured a 2,000-hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10 two-stage radial, a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller, and other improvements, and attained 410-mph maximum speeds. The type, in all its versions, featured the largest wing area of any single-engine fighter, stability as a run platform, speed, maneuverability, and easy transition for newly trained naval pilots.
Because of its design integrity, reliable powerplant, extensive armament, and maneuverability, it was responsible for 55 percent of all enemy aircraft destruction within a two-year period, accounting for 5,156 victories as opposed to 270 Hellcat losses, or a 19.1-to-1 kill-to-loss ratio.
Its principle Pacific opponent was the Japanese A6M2 Zero, whose zinc-based aluminum alloy, all-metal construction counteracted the otherwise minuscule power of its engine, giving the single-seat, low-wing, land- and carrier-based fighter particularly sprightly performance, although its thin wing skins severely eroded its structural integrity and rendered it heavily dependent upon maintenance and repair.
During the three-and-a-half-year period from June of 1942 to November of 1945, 12,275 F6Fhellcats of all versions were produced.
With the introduction of the new, 11,000-ton Independence and 27,000-ton Essex class aircraft carriers in 1943, Grumman/Eastern Aircraft and Douglas were mostly responsible for fleeting them, causing Grumman itself to reach its wartime pinnacles of 25,527 employees and 2,329,100 square feet of floor space in Bethpage. Indeed, of the 34,664 aircraft produced at this time, 18,768 emerged from Grumman’s plants, 15,466 from General Motors/Eastern Aircraft’s, and 330 from Columbia Aircraft’s.
Coupling the F6F Hellcat with the TBF/TBM Avenger was an early strategy to attain night-fighting capability in the Pacific. However, it demonstrated the need for a single design which could incorporate both search and attack elements, resulting in the next-and only dual-engine-one in the Cat series, the F7F Tigercat.
At 45 feet, 4 ½ inches in length, this single-seat, 51.6-foot spanned, mid- and foldable wing aircraft was powered by two, 2,100-hp R-2800-22W water-injected engines driving three-bladed propellers and was noted for its elongated, AN/APS-6 radar-installed nose. Heavily armed, it featured four.50-caliber guns and four 20-mm cannons, and had the capability of carrying two 2,000-pound bombs or a combination of torpedoes and rockets, yet had a 4,360-fpm maximum climb rate. Its all-up weight was 22,560 pounds.
Although the single design was initially intended to fill both the Army’s and the Navy’s requirements, with the principle differences between the two being the turbo-supercharged engines of the former and the mechanically charged ones of the latter, the Army ultimately withdrew its interest, despite having ordered two prototypes, leaving Grumman to exclusively optimize it for the Navy. Yet, its higher-than-standard approach speeds and the need for increased-capacity arresting gear and specialized barrier installations rendered it less than ideal and made it difficult to incorporate in existing naval operations, although it was cleared for them. As a result, it was relegated to mostly land-based missions during which its excellent performance and significant armament strengths could be more properly exploited.
As World War II wound down, so, too, did its production, ending at 364 airframes.
Partially to remain competitive-and perhaps repetitive-and also to restore its reputation, Grumman reverted to its next, and last, Cat model in the series, whose size was intended to approximate that of the one which had launched it all-the F4F Wildcat-but whose performance was intended to eclipse even that of the F6F Hellcat.
With a 27.6-foot overall length and 35.6-foot span, the aircraft, designated the F8F Bearcat, was powered by a single, 2,100-hp R-2800-34W engine driving a four-bladed propeller and first flew on August 31, 1944. Able to climb at 4,570-fpm, it could attain a maximum, 434-mph speed at 19,800 feet.
Although it exhibited outstanding performance, the raging war clouds had alas moved out, resulting in the cancellation of its originally massive order and restricting production to 1,265. It never saw World War II combat.
Nevertheless, the contribution of those Grumman fighters and torpedo bombers, which did, cannot be underestimated. According to government air combat records concerning Navy and Marine performance in the Pacific during this time, 1,295 Japanese airplanes had been shot down by Wildcats, 5,155 by Hellcats, and 98 by Avengers, and its wartime production achievements merited receipt of the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1948 and the Daniel Guggenheim medal for “outstanding achievement in successfully advancing aircraft design for naval and peacetime use.”
World War II, which had been the catalyst of 2,650,000 square feet of factory floor space and a single-plant production record of 664 aircraft in March of 1945, was over. But new conflicts would soon erupt. And Grumman would once again make its contribution to their resolutions-this time with a new powerplant type.
Early Jet Fighters:
Once fueled by war and fed by defense contracts, Grumman realized that its tanks had run dry by the end of 1945, forcing it to lay off three-fourths of its 20,500-strong work force, putter along with short-term Tiger- and Bearcat production, and altogether terminate that of the Hellcat. Robbed of its military raison d’être, it contemplated alternative strategies so that it could, as a company, continue to survive, and initially returned to the amphibious roots it had first planted with the Goose and later cultivated with the Widgeon.
But, although the succeeding, twin-engine, high-wing, boat-hulled Mallard was more advanced and offered a 12-passenger capacity to commuter and feeder airlines, it mostly fell victim, like all flying boats, to post-war airport construction whose runway proliferation obviated the need for aquatic-surface operations in all but island and remote route systems, yielding a paltry production run of 59.
Amphibious capability, however, was still integral to certain aerial missions-particularly those conducted for the purpose of search-and-rescue-and Grumman next offered the twin-engine, high-wing Albatross, its hitherto largest design, accommodating 14 passengers or 16 liter patients. First flying in 1947, it was ordered by the now independent Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Navy, and several countries.
But these efforts could hardly sustain the type of mass production to which it had become accustomed during the war, and it would once again need to contemplate a military design with fighter capabilities if it wished to return to this mode.
Since the Wright Brothers had first conquered heavier-than-air flight in 1903, aviation had embarked on a path paved by ever-advancing technology. By the mid-1950s, the pace of that development seemed to reflect the speed that that development afforded, the increasing thrust capabilities of evolving powerplants outdating what a short time ago had seemed “state-of-the-art” and changing the profile of the Navy’s carrier-borne fleets. While they had once featured gross weights of 15,000 pounds, these had now sustained three-fold increases, thus able to serve as weapon-carrying platforms.
Although the F8F Bearcat represented the pinnacle of piston fighter development, it equally detracted from the conceptualization and design of a pure-jet counterpart, handing the market to McDonnell. Grumman, therefore, had little choice but to explore this realm.
The Korean War marked the technological transition from the piston to the pure-jet engine, and its own entry powered by it, the F9F Panther, served as its expression of that leap.
Sporting a 5,000 thrust-pound Rolls Royce Nene turbojet, the aircraft, with a 37.5-foot length, featured wing root air intakes; a mid, straight wing, whose span was only half an inch more than its length; unjettisonable, 120-US gallon tip tanks; a cross-of-loraine tail; and a tricycle undercarriage. Climbing at 6,000 fpm, it had a 525-mph maximum speed and 44,600-foot service ceiling. Its gross weight was 19,494 pounds.
First divorcing itself from the runway in Bethpage on November 21, 1947, the jet fighter entered production as the F9F-2, and was followed by the 4,600 thrust-pound Allison J33-A-8-powered F9F-3 two years later.
The lighter, more maneuverable, and swept-wing MiG-15, which served as its Korean War opponent, restricted the Panther’s initial role to that of a carrier-borne attack aircraft, but it did become the Navy’s first jet fighter to fly in combat, spending much of its service life as a bomber. Removed from operational fighter squadrons in 1956, the early F9Fs enjoyed a 1,385-unit production run.
The MiG performance nevertheless alerted Grumman of the need for a higher-speed version, which could only be attained with a swept wing.
On March 2, 1951, the Bureau of Aeronautics awarded the Bethpage manufacturer a contract to design an aircraft with the prerequisite geometry, and it elected to use the existing F9F-5 Panther as its platform, mating its fuselage and flight surfaces with a 35-degree swept wing and also a swept tail. Slow, carrier-dictated approach and landing speeds were maintained with the installation of larger-chord leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps.
A two-foot forward fuselage stretch, intended to eliminate the tip tanks, yet retain range, was coupled with a hydraulically-actuated flying tail, while power was provided by a single, 7,000 thrust-pound Pratt and Whitney J48-P-6, water-injected turbojet.
First flying as the F9F-6 Cougar on September 20, the aircraft was able to verify its impressive performance parameters: a 6,750-fpm climb rate, a 654-mph maximum speed, and a 44,600-foot service ceiling.
The F9F-7 was powered by a 6,350 thrust-pound Allison J33-A-16 engine.
The type became Grumman’s first swept wing, carrier-borne Navy aircraft. Like the straight-wing Panther, the Cougar was also flown by the Blue Angels.
But, also like the F8F Bearcat-which appeared too late for World War II combat-it missed its intended Korean War target. Nevertheless, it became the numerically most prevalent, carrier-based fighter during the 1950s, demonstrating its performance capabilities in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific, and had a production run of 1,988 between 1951 and 1960.
Obsolescence in this era of ever accelerating advancement soon proved the type’s ultimate enemy, forcing removal from its front-line positions. Indeed, as technology accelerated, so, too, did the designs which incorporated it-in this case, to true supersonic proportions.
The pure-jet engine and swept wings had served as the threshold to this flight realm; a new design, with an area rule fuselage, would serve to transcend it.
Tracing its origins to the F9F Cougar, it emerged with mid-mounted, 35-degree, downward-folding wings whose thin panels were milled from heavy aluminum; an area rule fuselage, whose narrowing width at the wings’ attachment line reduced transonic drag; and a conventional tail. Flight controls were hydraulically actuated. Powered by a 7,400 thrust-pound Wright J65-W-8 engine, the single-seat fighter, with a 23,459-pound maximum take off weight, could climb at 6,300 fpm and attain 754-mph supersonic speeds, facilitated by 10,500 pounds of afterburner engine thrust.
Although the Bureau of Aeronautics ordered three prototypes on April 27, 1953, the aircraft to be known as the F11F Tiger and initially powered by a non-afterburner-equipped J65-W-7 turbojet, crashed due to engine flame out during its flight test, prompting its program relocation to Edwards AFB. Stability and control deficiencies subsequently necessitated a longer nose and a narrower-chord rudder.
Despite Grumman’s gallant first supersonic attempt, the F11F was powered by a marginally reliable engine and exhibited inferior performance in comparison to that of the competing Vought F8U-1 Crusader’s. Consequently, it had a meager production run of 201.
Because of the pure-jet Panther’s, Cougar’s, and Tiger’s necessarily higher rotation and touchdown speeds, Grumman extended its runway to 6,550 feet to cater to them. But the land-locked plant complex, increasingly encroached upon by suburban sprawl, soon proved inadequate, and once again spurred the search for larger facilities.