The Hellcat Was Built to Defeat the Zero
"Everybody knows” that the Grumman F6F Hellcat was designed to defeat the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Numerous books and articles have repeated the assertion for decades.
According to legend, when the United States obtained an intact Zero in the Aleutians in June 1942, the Mitsubishi’s secrets were revealed and helped Grumman design the Hellcat, which then dominated Pacific skies from 1943 to 1945. It is not remotely true.
The fact is that Grumman contracted for the XF6F-1 in June 1941 and was already working on the F4F Wildcat’s successor well before Pearl Harbor. The prototype Hellcat first flew in June 1942, the same month the Zero wound up in the Aleutian bog. It is true that the restored Mitsubishi was flown against American fighters for tactical evaluation, but the design and engineering had been underway for approximately a year.
Make no mistake:
The Hellcat destroyed Japanese airpower, downing almost as many enemy aircraft as all Army fighters in the Pacific and China combined. But the “battle of Long Island” was fought and won long before the U.S. Navy ever saw a Zero.
Below: The prototype Hellcat flew the same month that the captured Zero landed in the Aleutian bog. Thus, the F6F design was not influenced by the “Zeke.” (Photo by John Dibbs/planepicture.com)
Above: The Zero that was recovered from the Aleutians after the attacks on Dutch Harbor was heavily evaluated but contributed little to the actual design of the Hellcat. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)