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F7F Tigercat
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F7F Tigercat

Grumman F7F-4N Tigercat
Role Heavy naval fighter
Crew 1 or 2
First Flight December 1943
Entered Service April 1944
Manufacturer Grumman
Length 45 ft 4 in 13.8 m
Wingspan 51 ft 6 in 15.7 m
Height 16 ft 7 in 5.1 m
Wing area 455 ft² 42.3 m²
Empty 16,270 lbs 7,380 kg
Loaded lbs kg
Maximum takeoff 25,720 lbs 11,670 kg
Engines 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp
Power 2 × 2,100 hp 1,600 kW
Maximum speed 460 mph 740 km/h
Combat range miles km
Ferry range 1,200 miles 1,900 km
Service ceiling 40,400 ft 12,300 m
Rate of climb ft/min m/min
Wing loading lb/ft² kg/m²
Power/Mass hp/lb kW/kg
Radar AN/APS-19
Guns 4 × 20 mm cannon
4 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Bombs 2 × 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs under wings
Other Torpedo under fuselage

The Grumman F7F Tigercat was the first twin-engined fighter aircraft design to enter service with the United States Navy. Designed for the new Midway class aircraft carriers, the aircraft were too large to operate from earlier decks. Although delivered to United States Marine Corps combat units before the end of World War II, the aircraft did not see combat service in that war. Most F7Fs ended up in land-based service, as attack aircraft or night fighters; only the later F7F-4N was ever certified for carrier service. They saw service in the Korean war, and were withdrawn from service in 1954.

Grumman's aim was to produce a plane that out-performed and out-gunned all existing fighter aircraft, and that had an auxiliary ground attack capability. Armament was heavy; four 20 mm cannons and four 0.50 in machine guns, as well as underwing and under-fuselage hardpoints for bombs and torpedoes. Performance met expectations too: the F7F Tigercat was one of the highest-performance piston-engined fighters, with a top speed well in excess of the US Navy's single-engined aircraft - 80 mph (130 km/h) faster than a F4U Corsair at sea level. The opinion of the Navy flight testers read, in part, "in addition to its potentialities as a night fighter, this airplane is the best medium-altitude day fighter, Army, Navy or foreign, yet evaluated."

All this was bought at the cost of heavy weight and a high landing speed, but what caused the aircraft to fail carrier suitability trials was poor directional stability with only one engine operational, as well as problems with the tail-hook design. Therefore, initial production was only used from land bases by the USMC, as night fighters with APS-6 radar. At first they were single-seater F7F-1N aircraft, but after the 34th production aircraft a second seat for a radar operator was added; these planes were designated F7F-2N.

The next version produced, the F7F-3, and modified to correct the issues that caused the aircraft to fail carrier acceptance, and this version was again trialled on the USS Shangri-La. A wing failure on a heavy landing caused the failure of this carrier qualification too. F7F-3 aircraft were produced in day fighter, night fighter and photo-reconnaissance versions.

A final version, the F7F-4N, was extensively rebuilt for additional strength and stability, and this did pass carrier qualification, but only twelve were built.

Marine Corps units flying Tigercats saw action in the early stages of the Korean War, flying night interdiction and fighter missions. This was the only combat use of the aircraft.

Most F7F-2Ns were modified to control drones for combat training, and these gained bubble canopies over the rear cockpit for the drone controller.

Two Tigercats were evaluated, but rejected, by the British Royal Navy in 1945.

A number of Tigercats were used as water bombers to fight forest fires in the 1960s and 1970s, and for this reason twelve examples exist today. Six of these are still airworthy.

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