In 2013, there are four F3F-2s in the U.S., one on static display and three flyable. Two are based in Florida and one each in California and Texas.
The aircraft on static display is at the National Naval Aviation Museum (formerly known as the National Museum of Naval Aviation) in Pensacola, Florida. This aircraft, BuNo 0976, had been assigned to the U.S. Marines on 21 December 1937. On 29 August 1940, a Marine pilot was conducting carrier qualifications aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) off the coast of California. The pilot switched fuel tanks and the engine quit forcing him to ditch the aircraft which sank. In June 1989, the Navy deep submergence vehicle Turtle unintentionally happened upon the wreckage in 1,800-feet (549-meters) of water while searching for another crashed aircraft off the coast of Del Mar, California. The aircraft was lifted out of the ocean in April 1990 and restored by the San Diego Air & Space Museum in San Diego, California. In October 1993, the aircraft was flown to the naval museum and put on display.
Another Florida-based aircraft is BuNo 1028 (now registered N26KW) located in the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City. This flyable aircraft, and the two listed below, is one of four that was rebuilt at the Texas Airplane Factory, Meacham Field, Ft. Worth, Texas, from original parts found in Hawaii and replicated parts.
The California-based F3F-2, BuNo 1033 registered N20FG, is owned by the Greatest Generation Naval Museum and is based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.
The Texas-based aircraft, BuNo 0972, now registered N20RW, is located at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas.
0264...............F3F-1 converted to XF3F-2 and later F3F-2
1031...............F3F-2 converted to XF3F-3
9727...............The first three XF3F-1s.
0264...............F3F-1 converted to XF3F-2 and later F3F-2
1031...............F3F-2 converted to XF3F-3
9727...............The first three XF3F-1s.
First two XF3F-1s: 650 Horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72
Third XF3F-1 and F3F-1: 650 Horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1535-84
All others: 850 horsepower Wright R-1820-22
Wing span: 32-feet (9.75-meters)
Wing area: 261-square-feet (24.25-square-meters)
Third XF3F-1, F3F-1 & XF3F-2: 23-feet (7.01-meters)
F3F-2, XF3F-3 & F3F-3: 23-feet, 1.5-inch (7.03-meters)
Third XF3F-1 & F3F-1: 10-feet, 5-inches (3.20-meters)
All others: 10-feet, 9-inches (3.27-meters)
Third XF3F-1: 2,868 pounds (1,301 kilograms)
F3F-1: 2,876 pounds (1,305 kilograms)
XF3F-2: 3,078 pounds (1,396 kilograms)
F3F-2: 3,258 pounds (1,478 kilograms)
F3F-3: 3,276 pounds (1,486 kilograms)
Third XF3F-1: 226 miles per hour at 7,500-feet (364 kilometers per hour at 2,286-meters)
F3F-1: 231 miles per hour at 7,500-feet (372 kilometers per hour at 2,286-meters)
XF3F-2: 254 miles per hour at 7,500-feet (409 kilometers per hour at 2,286-meters)
F3F-2: 256 miles per hour at 17,500-feet (412 kilometers per hour at 5,258-meters)
F3F-3: 263 miles per hour at 15,200-feet (423 kilometers per hour at 4,633-meters)
Third XF3F-1: 29,500-feet (8,992-meters)
F3F-1: 27,500-feet (8,382-meters)
XF3F-2: 32,600-feet (9,936-meters)
F3F-2: 30,200-feet (9,205-meters)
F3F-3: 30,000-feet (9,144-meters)
Third XF3F-1: 910-miles (1,465-kilometers)
F3F-1: 885-miles (1,424-kilometers)
XF3F-2: 750-miles (1,207-kilometers)
F3F-2: 885-miles (1,424-kilometers)
F3F-3: 980-miles (1,577-kilometers)
Third XF3F-1: Two .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns in the cowling plus 200 pounds (91 kilograms) of bombs
All others: One .50-caliber (12.7 mm) and one .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the cowling plus 200 pounds (91 kilograms) of bombs
by Jack McKillop
The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
Leroy Randle Grumman was born in Huntington, Long Island, New York on 4 January 1895, the son of a carriage-shop owner. After graduating from high school, he entered Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and pursued a degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated in 1916 with a Bachelor of Science degree and after graduation, he obtained a job in the engineering department of the New York Telephone Company. In June 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as an enlisted man (machinist's mate, 2nd class), and was sent to Columbia University in New York City for a six week course on "subchaser" engines.
He applied for aviation duty and after being accepted, he was sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts for ground training. Flight training was held at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miami and NAS Pensacola, Florida. Grumman graduated in September 1918, was designated Naval Aviator No. 1216, and was commissioned an ensign prior to be assigned as a pilot instructor in the Naval Air Training School at Pensacola. In 1919, after completing the four month Naval Course in Aeronautical Engineering at MIT, he was transferred to the League Island Naval Yard on the Delaware River just south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as an acceptance test pilot for Curtiss and Navy-built flying boats and as Project Engineer for the Loening M-8-1 observation monoplanes about to be built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Grover Loening, the president of the Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company, was so impressed with Grumman’s work that he offered him a job. After a reduction in rank from lieutenant to ensign in the peacetime U.S. Navy, Grumman resigned his Naval commission in October 1920, becoming a test pilot flying various types of Loening amphibians while doing some design and development on these aircraft. He quickly moved up in the Loening organization, becoming the factory manager and then general manager with responsibility over aircraft design, a position he held until the company was sold in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression to Keystone Aircraft. Though well-run, Loening had begun to falter and in 1928 Grover Loening sold his company to the Keystone Aircraft Corporation which at the time was building a twin-engine bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Under the terms of the sale, Loening's factory in New York City would be shut down and all the employees were assured employment if they moved to Keystone's main facility in Bristol, Pennsylvania.
Grumman and his two closest friends did not want to move out of the New York City so they made plans to form their own company. On 5 December 1929, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company was born and opened its doors for business on 2 January 1930. They set-up shop with USS$64,325 (US$905,986 in 2013 dollars) in capital in an abandoned automobile showroom-garage in Baldwin, Long Island, New York that had once been the Cox-Klemin Aircraft Co. factory. Grumman then set about to recruit the 30 most skilled employees at the Loening plant. Being a financially cautious man, Grumman determined that his new company would only seek the business of the U.S. military, preferably the U.S. Navy given Grumman's background as a naval aviator and their long history of doing business with the sea service during their employment with Loening.
Grumman’s first design proposal was for the U.S. Navy, which at the time had a two-seat scout biplane, the Vought O2U Corsair. The Corsair could be fitted with floats for operation from cruisers and battleships or it could be fitted with landing gear for operation from aircraft carriers. Grumman's proposal was for a new float that was not only lighter and stronger than the existing main float used on the Corsair, but it would also incorporate a fully-retractable landing gear to allow true amphibious capability. In 1930, the fully-retractable landing gear were a novelty, On the Loening amphibians, the landing gear simply swung upward out of the way but what Grumman and his team proposed was a streamlined arrangement in which the gear would be fully retracted into the sides of the central float.
On 2 April 1931, the Navy signed a contract for one prototype aircraft, the two-seat XFF-1 fighter a two-seat fighter with the Navy’s first fully retractable landing gear, a fully enclosed cockpit and a Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine. This is the first aircraft to have all three features in the same airframe. That same year, Grumman looked for larger facilities and a vacant Naval Reserve hangar was discovered adjacent to Curtiss Field (40º39'37"N, 73º43'17"W) in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. A small building that would house the engineering department and the corporate offices was alongside the hangar. On 4 November 1931, the three day move occurred and work on the incomplete XFF-1 resumed.
Grumman realized they would need additional space if they received a contract for the FF-1s so in November 1932, a lease was secured to occupy a building with adjoining manufacturing space located at the Fairchild Flying Field (now Republic Field, 40°43'44"N, 73°24'48"W) in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.
On 2 November 1932, Grumman signed a contract with the Navy for the XF2F-1, a prototype of a single-seat fighter. A contract for 54 F2F-1 aircraft was signed on 17 March 1934. As the company expanded, they elected to build their own airfield and manufacturing facilities on Long Island. In 1936, a local townsman successfully persuaded his friend Leroy Grumman to relocate his expanding aircraft business from Farmingdale to Bethpage. Grumman purchased the farm land and also acquired the polo grounds known as the Central Park Hunt Club. They opened their first plant in 1936 at Grumman Bethpage Field (40º44'40"N, 73º29'32"W), soon becoming Bethpage's (and Long Island's) largest business concern. The Bethpage airfield was closed at some point between 1987-94.
The tableon the left lists the annual aircraft deliveries between 1931 and 1945.
In 1994, the Northrop Corporation acquired Grumman for US$2.17 billion (US$3.42 billion in 2013 dollars), forming the Northrop Grumman Corporation.
The U.S. Navy purchased 54 F2F-1 single-seat fighters which were delivered between January and August 1935. The two major problems with these aircraft were (1) marginal directional stability and (2) it tended to go into a spin easily.
The F3F, the last biplane carrier-based fighter put into service with the Navy, was an improved version of the F2F with a stretched fuselage, greater wing span and a larger tail assembly that was designed to overcome the deficiencies of the F2F.
The F3F was an all-metal, single-seat biplane fighter. The wings were unequal span with aluminum alloy spars covered with fabric; the ailerons were on the top wing only. The fuselage consisted of aluminum alloy sheet and the tail surfaces were covered in aluminum alloy sheet while the movable surfaces were fabric covered. The main landing gear retracted into recesses in the fuselage and was operated by the pilot turning a crank in the cockpit for 32 turns. The tail wheel and the tail hook also retracted into the fuselage. The cockpit, with a sliding enclosure, was over the trailing edge of the lower wing and a large baggage compartment and radio compartment was aft of the cockpit.
The Navy acquired 166 F3Fs between March 1935 and May 1939.
XF3F-1: The Navy signed a contract on 15 October 1934 for US$75,850 (US$1.33 million in 2013 dollars) for design, test and construction of one aircraft to be powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 engine. This aircraft was the last F2F-1 ordered on the F2F contract completed as the XF3F-1. The aircraft incorporated all of the modifications to alleviate the two problems incurred with the F2F. In addition, it had a more powerful 650 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72 14-cylinder, two row air-cooled radial engine. This aircraft crashed on 22 March 1935 during a test flight killing the pilot. A second prototype, with the same manufacturer’s serial number (msn) and Bureau of Aeronautics number (BuNo) was delivered by Grumman. This was also powered by the R-1535-72 engine. This aircraft also crashed during tests on 9 May 1935. The third XF3F-1, with the same msn and BuNo, was flown to NAS Anacostia, District of Columbia, in June 1935 and successfully completed all tests. The third aircraft had been modified by increasing the vertical fin area below the horizontal stabilizer and was powered by a 650 horsepower R-1535-84 engine. These changes improved the directional stability but did not significally improve the tendency to spin.
F3F-1: The Navy ordered 54 F3F-2s on 24 August 1935 and they were delivered between January and September 1936. These aircraft were similar to the third XF3F-1 including being powered by the R-1535-84 engine driving a two-bladed propeller.
XF3F-2: In July 1936, Grumman proposed replacing the Pratt & Whitney R-1535 engine in previous models with an 850 horsepower Wright R-1820-22 nine cylinder, single-row air-cooled radial engine driving a three bladed Constant speed propeller. A larger rudder was installed and and the aircraft had increased fuel tankage. In April 1938, this aircraft were modified to full F3F-2 standards and assigned to an operational unit.
F3F-2: Production model of the XF3F-2 with the Wright R-1820-22 engine driving a three-bladed constant speed propeller. Eighty one aircraft were ordered on 23 March 1937 and delivered between July 1937 and May 1938.
XF3F-3: In May 1938, the 65th F3F-2 was returned to Grumman for installation of a new windshield, a more closely streamlined cowling and revised wing leading edges. In October 1938, split flaps were installed beneath the upper wing, inboard of the ailerons for testing. The flaps did reduce approach and landing speeds but were never fitted to production F3F-2s.
F3F-3: The final production aircraft with the Wright R-1820-22 engine driving a three-bladed constant speed propeller. Twenty seven aircraft were ordered on 21 June 1938 and delivered between December 1938 and May 1939. The F3F-2 cockpit canopy was retained and framing was added on the rear-sliding canopy.
The first operational squadron to operate the F3F-1 was Fighting Squadron Five Battle Force (VF-5B) serving in the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4). They received their aircraft in March and April 1936. They were followed in June 1936 by VF-6B serving in the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3). [In 1937, VF-5B was redesignated Fighting Squadron Four (VF-4) and VF-6B was redesignated VF-3.] In January 1937, Marine Fighting Squadron Four (VF-4M) assigned to Base Air Detachment Two (BAD-2), NAS San Diego, California, transitioned to the F3F-1. (In 1937, VF-4M was redesignated VMF-2.) In June and July 1940, VF-7 (redesignated VF-71 on 15 October 1940) serving in the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (VF-7), was equipped with F3F-1s of VF-3 which had been re-equipped with Brewster F2A-1 Buffalos. VF-7 re-equipped with Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats in August 1940 and the F3F-1s were phased out of carrier squadrons by June 1941.
The F3F-2s were delivered between July 1937 and May 1938. By June 1938, VF-6 serving in the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) and two Marine squadrons, VMF-1 at BAD-1, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia and VMF-2 at BAD-2, NAS San Diego, California, were equipped.
The F4F-3s were delivered between December 1938 and May 1939. Most of the F3F-3s were assigned to VF-5 serving in the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5).
By 1940, monoplanes began replacing biplanes and VF-3 in USS Saratoga transitioned to the Brewster F2A-1 Buffalo. The two Marine squadrons, VMF-1 and VMF-2 (redesignated VMF-111 and VMF-211 in July 1941) traded in their F3Fs in 1941. VMF-111 re-equipped with the F2A-1 in July while VMF-211 acquired Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats in October.
The last flyable F3F, an F3F-2, was struck off charge in November 1943.
On 31 December 1941, the USN had 117 F3Fs in the inventory:
One hundred one of the these aircraft were based at three training bases, NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, NAS Miami, Florida and NAS Norfolk, Virginia. They were:
Battle Force, Pacific Fleet, NAS San Diego, California: 10 F3F-2s
Marine Base Air Detachment 2, NAS San Diego, California: 4 F3F-2s
NAS Corpus Christi, Texas: 14 F3F-2s, 1 XF3F-3 and 16 F3F-3s
NAS Miami, Florida: 28 F3F-1s, 18 F3F-2s and 4 F3F-3s
NAS Norfolk, Virginia: 1 XF3F-1, 11 F3F-1s; 7 F3F-2s and 1 F3F-3
NAS Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii: 1 F3F-2
NAS Seattle, Washington: 1 F3F-3