The Hellcat was the primary fighter for the U.S. Navy during the last two years of the Pacific War. During the Gilbert and Marshall Operations (the Battle of the Philippine Sea and at Leyte Gulf) the entire fighter complement of the Fast Carrier Force consisted of nearly 550 F6Fs. F6F-3s made their first combat flights on 31 August and 1 September1943, from the carriers Yorktown (CV10), Essex (CV9) and the light carrier Independence. The Hellcat immediately outclassed its opponents with a higher speed and greater rate-of-climb, as well as being well-armored and carrying an effective armament of six 0.5-inch Browning machine-guns. The arrival of the F6Fs in late 1943, combined with the deployment of the new Essex and Independence Class carriers, immediately gave the U.S. Pacific Fleet air supremacy wherever the Fast Carrier Force operated. The F6F was also used extensively as a search aircraft and fighter-bomber, playing a major and increasing part in strikes on Japanese warships and mercantile shipping in 1944 and 1945. In this role, and for ground attack, it could carry up to 2,000 lb. of bombs, or be armed with six 5-inch rockets on underwing pylons.
It was the speediest prop-driven fighter that Grumman ever produced, but it arrived too late to see combat in World War II. Designed as a follow-on to the successful F6F Hellcat, the F8F Bearcat was 20 percent lighter and almost 50 MPH faster. The Bearcat was intended as an interceptor fighter. First flown in 1944, the Bearcat prototype outperformed its heavier predecessor, notably with a 30 percent better climb rate. Grumman then delivered the first production model in February, 1945, only six months after first flight! The F8F featured all-metal construction, a cantilever low-wing monoplane design, folding wings for carrier operations, self-sealing fuel tanks, four .50 caliber machine guns, pilot armor, a retractable tailwheel, and the 18-cylinder P&W powerplant.
Development of the Corsair began in 1938, when the US Navy issued a request for a new single-seat carrier-based fighter. The prototype of the Corsair was first flown on 29 May 1940, but due to design revisions, the first production F4U-1 Corsair was not delivered until 31 July 1942. Further landing gear and cockpit modifications resulted in a new variant, the F4U-1A, which was the first version approved for carrier duty. The Corsair quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter/bomber of the war. Production ceased in 1952. Over two dozen Corsairs are believed to be still airworthy, most in the United States.
The Cougar first entered squadron service in November 1952, but was too late to fly combat sorties in Korea. Immediately following the Korean War, large numbers of Cougars entered service with carrier-based Navy fighter squadrons. By the mid-1950s, the Cougar was the most prevalent carrier-based fighter in service. The Cougar was popular with its crew, who admired it for its pleasant handling properties and its strong airframe. However, the Cougar was destined to have a short front-line operational life because of the rapid development of more advanced supersonic carrier-based fighters. In the late 1950s, the Cougar was replaced in the fighter and reconnaissance roles by the Tiger and the Crusader, and Douglas A4D Skyhawks replaced the Cougar in the light attack role. The last F9F-8 and F9F-8B Cougars were phased out in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets in 1958 and 1959, respectively. The Blue Angels flight demonstration team flew F9F-8s from 1954 to 1957, when they converted to the F11F-1 Tiger.
First manufactured in March 1955, The F-8 Crusader was the last carrier-based American fighter with guns as the primary weapon. The RF-8 Crusader was a photo-reconnaissance aircraft that played a crucial role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, providing essential low-level photographs impossible to acquire by other means. Naval Reserve units continued to operate the RF-8 until 1987. Coming from a previous generation, the Crusader was the best American fighter for dog fighting with Vietnamese MiGs. The Crusader would be credited with the best kill ratio of any American aircraft in the war, 19:3. A unique feature of the Crusader was its variable-incidence wing, capable of being raised at the front. Additionally, the entire leading edge was slatted, and the ailerons drooped with the flaps. This allowed for better low-speed performance and visibility, by permitting both a nose-low fuselage and a high angle of attack, during carrier landings. Nevertheless, the Crusader's low speed yaw behavior was always dangerous, in spite of the vertical fin increase, installation of skegs and strong dihedral built into its horizontal tail, among other modifications of the original project. Several modified F-8s were used by NASA in the early 1970s, proving the viability of both digital fly-by-wire and supercritical wings.
F-4B II Phantom
By any criterion one of the five or six most important warplanes ever produced and the only Western warplane to be built in numbers exceeding 5,000 since World War II, the Phantom II is still in service. Named Phantom II in July 1959, the F4H was thus the first U.S. all-missile fighter with a radar fire-control system that removed the need for surface radar assistance. Performance was thus optimized for climb rate, speed and range, and estimates of flight characteristics suggested Mach 2+ performance. The design used a wing based on flat inner panels supporting dog toothed outer panels set at a dihedral angle of 12 degrees that could fold upward for reduced carrier borne width. Directional stability at high angles of attack was provided by slab tailplane halves set at an anhedral angle of 23 degrees. Engine aspiration was prevented by variable-geometry inlets designed with moving ramps for optimum pressure recovery through the full operating envelope. Prototype construction was authorized in December 1956, and the first XF4H-1 was completed in April 1958 fitted with two J79-GE-3A turbojets each rated at 9,300 lbs dry and 14,800 lbs with afterburner.
Overall, The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was without equal among the other fighter aircraft. Six long-range AIM-54A Phoenix missiles could be guided against six separate threat aircraft at long range by the F-14's AWG-9 weapons control system. For medium-range combat, Sparrow missiles were carried; Sidewinders and a 20mm are available for dogfighting. In the latter role, the Tomcat's variable-sweep wings gave the F-14 a combat maneuvering capability that could not have been achieved with a "standard" fixed planform wing. From its first flight on 21 December 1970, the F-14A went through years of development, evaluation, squadron training and carrier deployments to become the carrier air wings' most potent fighter. In addition to its outstanding fighter capabilities, the Tomcat was configured as a potent, adverse weather, medium-range strike aircraft with the ability to launch Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), coupled with an INS/GPS integration and off-the-shelf electronic countermeasure improvements. The Tomcat provided a multi-mission strike/escort capability until its retirement in 2006.
F/A-18F Super Hornet
Due to a mixture of political and financial procurement decisions during the 80s and early 90s, the U.S. Navy found itself reliant on the FA-18 to field its 15 Carrier Air Wings as the replacement for the aging A-6E and F-14As. Ultimately, the Navy developed the FA-18E/F "Super Hornet." The E/F represents a significant increase in capability, particularly with respect to the known deficiencies of the F/A-18C/D Hornet in range and payload. The FA-18E/F is 4.2 feet longer than the "C" model and has 25% more wing area. An increase of 33% in internal fuel capacity enables a 40% increase in range and 50% increase in endurance. Extra weapon stations allow more flexibility in weapons carriage and the carrier recovery payload is significantly increased-an important factor in these days of expensive "smart" weapons. The current inventory consists of aircraft fitted with the new APG-79 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. The FA-18E/F can operate most weapons available in the USN arsenal and has up to 11 available weapons stations. Able to operate AIM-7, AIM-9 and AIM-120 air to air missiles, the E/F can also carry all currently fielded guided and unguided air-to-ground weapons, including the latest JDAM and JSOW. Considerable development potential has also been built in with several classified weapons and weapon systems programs being in progress.