This Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is the only surviving one of the more than 12,200 ever built. It was ditched off the coast of San Diego in 1945 and stayed in 1,800 feet of water until recovered in 1971. Hellcats debuted in combat in 1943.
Hellcat pilots were credited with destroying 5,223 aircraft while in service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, more than any other fighter plane. (The P-51 came in second.)
The aircraft was powered by a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800, a two-row, 18-cylinder, air-cooled radial aircraft engine. The same engine powered both the Navy's earlier Chance Vought F4U Corsair and the Army Air Force's (USAAF) Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. Some military observers tagged the Hellcat as the "Wildcat's big brother" as it looked like the F4F-3 Wildcat.
In its lifetime, this particular gull-winged FG-1D recorded 28 confirmed kills. The museum says the history of the aircraft design dates to World War II when businesses ranging from small, family-owned companies to large corporations shifted production from peacetime wares to weapons of war.
Among them was the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., which built everything from components for B-29 Superfortress to rafts, and self-sealing fuel tanks during the war. Goodyear's greatest contribution to the war effort started with a contract from the U.S. Navy to build versions of a gull-winged fighter that would become one of the most produced aircraft in history—the F4U Corsair.
The Corsair prototype made its maiden flight in 1940. Hoping to speed production, the Navy turned to Goodyear and Brewster Aeronautical Corp. to augment the Vought assembly lines turning out Corsairs. The two companies produced over 35% of all Corsairs built, with 4,006 of them produced by Goodyear, which designated them FGs.
Like their Vought-built contemporaries, the early Goodyear Corsairs flew primarily from land bases early in their service due to problems operating from aircraft carriers, including soft oleo struts that caused the aircraft to bounce. The fighter also had a tendency to stall during slow carrier approaches. Not until April 1944, would the Corsair be approved for carrier duty. The F4U-D/FG-1Ds were the first versions assigned to carrier-based squadrons. In the hands of Naval Aviators, Corsairs accounted for 2,140 Japanese aircraft shot down in World War II. The sound the aircraft made when it was flying close inspired the Japanese to call the plane "Whistling Death". By war's end, some 55 squadrons and other units had versions of the FG Corsair in their inventories. Among them is this FG-1D, which entered service in July 1945.
The cutaway image is of the J-65 jet engine's compressor. This engine powered early A-4 Skyhawks and F-11F Tigers, the Navy's first supersonic, carrier-based jet fighter.
The large aircraft is the PB2Y-5R Coronado. The museum says that on Christmas 1941, it flew Admiral Nimitz from San Diego to Pearl Harbor so the Admiral could view the carnage from the Japanese attack. This was also the first aircraft to land in Japan after hostilities ended. It had R-1830 engines, which are a two-row, 14-cylinder, air-cooled radial design.
The twin-engine, carrier-based aircraft in the foreground is an F7F-3 Tigercat. The engine on the stand is a 2,000-hp R-2800-34W. 125,334 of these engines were produced from 1939 to 1960.
The museum documents the story of the NC biplanes and their design which date back to 1917, just months after America's entry into World War I. Rear Admiral David W. Taylor, Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, tasked engineers with designing an aircraft that could fly across the Atlantic to the coastlines of Europe and be ready to patrol for German U-boats upon arrival.
Over the course of the ensuing weeks, the Navy consulted with aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss, the designer of most of the Navy's early aircraft. The two parties soon embarked upon a joint effort to construct what would become known as the NC boats, 'N' denoting Navy and 'C' denoting Curtiss. Work on NC-1, the first of the aircraft, commenced in December 1917.
The design incorporated intricate wood work, a maze of wire struts, and many square feet of fabric covering their wings. So large that they could not be assembled in one location, the aircraft components were completed at a host of small factories in the northeast, many of them boat manufacturers.
When completed, a mammoth wooden hull constructed of two levels of cedar planking supported sweeping wings that stretched to 126 feet. Tanks containing 1,891 gallons of gasoline fed four Liberty V-12 engines which together cranked out 1,600 hp. The aircraft flew top speed at 85 knots when it was fully loaded and weighed 28,000 lb.
Delivery of the NC-1 occurred in late-1918, just weeks before the signing of the Armistice ending the war that had prompted it construction. The NC boats were an aircraft without a mission.
But in an effort to claim the title of the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic, the family of three NC planes (NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4) took flight on May 8th, 1919 from Long Island. Nineteen days later, the keel of the NC-4 flying boat sliced through the waters of the harbor in Lisbon, Portugal to become the first to fly the Atlantic.
The National Naval Aviation Museum celebrates fifty years of educating aviation enthusiasts and saluting veterans. These photos and stories of aircraft design are true examples of engineering challenges and feats.