The Hell­cat Was Built to De­feat the Zero

Flight Journal - - 10 AVIATION MYTHS OF WORLD WAR II -

"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)

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