The F8F-1 Bearcat was the last piston-engine carrier-based fighter plane built by Grumman. Production of the F8F-1 began six months after the first flight of its prototype. Affectionately called “Bear”, it was intended to be an interceptor aircraft. The planes design was influenced by an evaluation of a captured German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter in England. It carries the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, which was the most powerful and reliable radial engine of its time. By building the smallest and lightest airframe possible, Grumman was able to produce a fast and highly maneuverable plane. The Bearcat was 20% lighter and had a rate of climb that was 30% higher than its predecessor, the Hellcat. Pilots often called it “hot rod” for its fantastic acceleration and climbing ability. It was the first Navy fighter to have an all-bubble canopy, offering the pilot a 360-degree visibility. The first production aircraft was delivered in February 1945 and the first squadron was operational by May, but before the Bearcat could see combat the Second World War had already ended.
Postwar, the Bearcat became a major part of the United States Navy, equipping 24 fighter squadrons. It is often mentioned as one of the best handling piston-engine fighters ever built, even outperforming many early jets. It is also capable of aerobatic performances and was flown by the Navys Blue Angels in 1946. The French and Thai air forces have also operated the Bearcat. Under the French, it served as a fighter-bomber in the First Indochina War during the early 1950s.
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