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Nekrosmas

The not so "Grumman" F4F Wildcats

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Hello everyone,

 

Since I saw a thread somewhile ago was talking about Wildcat, it reminds me of this interesting piece of story behind the F4F Wildcat.

 

While Wildcat was never considered as good as the Zero, but it continued it's service until WWII Ends. Quite incredible that, considering how quickly technology is growing at the time. It is still undoubtedly the savior of the US Navy and the Marine Corps before 1943, which it's replacement - the F6F-3 Hellcats arrives in numbers - Yet, Wildcat still serve longer than it (Largely due to it's introduced earlier but both "Retired" at around the same time to let go for Jets, and of course the ever-lasting A-1 Sky Raider and the legendary F4U(-5)).

 

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The F4F Wildcat.

 

However, in 1941, it may not be as good as the Zero, but it is still probably the Single only Fighter that stand a chance against them either. You don't want Buffalos or hell even F3Fs going up against Zeros - they'll just get smashed.

Grumman is not an Ultra-big company at the time - Yet, they have 2 Major Aircraft that the Navy and the Marine use - The F4F and the TBF Avengers (TBDs are already being replaced, but not quite yet) - and they need to develop the next -generation of Naval Aircraft for the Navy as well!

 

Well then call the other experienced company to help then, you may say.

You would think US is known for their Huge Industrial capability that they won't have a problem building loads of these in a short time - Yes thats true, but this is still 1941 we're talking about and EVERYONE needs a lot of weapons. Sorry, not much the other manufacturers can help out either. What can be done then? The needs for aircraft is still incredibly desperate and this cannot be allowed to continue or else the Navy and the Marines can't keep up with the Japanese.

 

US Navy comes up with the solution - and it is the company you may heard about a lot still today - General Motors, well known as GM.

GM is a Huge company at the time and it's factories size is Miles ahead of Grumman - BUT they have no experience of making any Naval Aircraft - Grumman meanwhile is very experienced and trusted by the Military - BUT they lacked the Productivity of GM.

 

However, the Americans aren't the first in doing this.

In fact, the Japanese are doing this for ages now. Mitsubishi may be the people develop the Zero, Nakajima is the one who produced the Zero - Mitsubishi would be concentrating on improving the Zero. And So is the Army Aviation (Basically the US Air Force, but they are not yet independent). The B-24 Liberator is developed by Republic, the one who produced it...... You Guess it! Ford - In that way Republic can focus on the P-47 Thunderbolt.

 

JSpdMft.jpg

B-24s being make in Ford's Factories.

 

However, it is not easy for even such an gigantic company like GM to adopt to Aircraft Manufacturing. Thankfully, GM CEO at the time, Alfred Pritchard Sloan, JR, is a Master of management. The First thing after he signed the contract with the Navy is combined 3 Factories and renamed them as the "Eastern Aircarft". According to the contract, the first aircraft should be finished in the Autumn of 1942 - not much time that - Probably not even a year.

 

3yoBzMa.jpg

Alfred Pritchard Sloan, JR.

 

There are a lot of problems during this period.

GM are used to produce cars by putting parts together that is make in different places or division, but this don't really work in producing aircrafts.

Navy insist that the F4F and the GM produced F4F (Later Renamed the FM-1) has to be similar enough to use each other parts to ensure repairing them is just as easy.

However, in Car production there is a Strict design to follow and you just need to follow it - It doesn't work like this in Aircraft!

There is NO Strict limits on how a aircraft is built - and more often or not each aircraft is different from the original design in some way. Grumman handmade these aircrafts, and as mentioned, there is little "Unification" in each of the aircrafts, but this also means it takes a lot of time to make one either.

 

GM and Eastern solve this by firstly, Re-create the overall structure and the drawing of the F4F (And the TBF) to follow the "General Direction" of building one, and then they spend another month to draw out all the details of the smaller parts for a unified size/value/number. And FINALLY, things can start.....

 

And then the Navy comes in again and asked GM and Eastern to modify the Wildcat in 4000 ways after the 10th aircrafts is built! Being a Car manufacturer, they are used to fixing the design, but this is not as simple as that in Producing Military Products. And for that, GM and Eastern designers thought, Screw this! They decided we may as well just make one part individually and instead Modify the machine that produced them to match the constant change in design, instead of the old method of making large quantity of identical cars in a short period of time. This way, although the productivity is lowered, but with the size of GM and Eastern, the production rate is still incredible when you consider Grumman are still hand-making aircrafts!

 

And Finally, they produced 20 aircrafts by the Autumn 1942. Sounded nothing special? This number Insta-Jumps to 4-digit in 1943. Grumman are Finally relieved from the production of F4F and instead, focuses on the F6F Hellcat. The Swarms of aircrafts is finally overcoming the Zeroes, with Both Quantity and Quality.

 

nsXbyfs.jpg

Eastern Aircraft in action.

 

Having been so successful in the production of F4Fs and TBMs, the Navy gives GM even more responsibility.

They asked GM to Individually improve the now renamed FM-1 Wildcats. And they did. At least 300 FM-2 is already finished before Christmas of 1943.

Their main feature being a Larger tail for improve handling as well as a more powerful engine, yet still keeping the reliability and easy handling of it for the Escort Carriers and the Marines. They are now capable to go up against the Earlier version of Zeroes directly with ease, and also the "Improved" (Which in fact in many way worsened it) lateral version A6M5.

 

8xJlNbS.jpg

FM-2. (Noticed the slightly taller Tail)

 

Production of TBMs are going well too. Having finished already >1000 aircrafts by 1943 - Eastern and GM are so confident that they told the Navy "We shall produce another 1000 TBMs with 1/3 of the time of the first 1000!". Considering this company is still making cars in 1941 and completely inexperienced, this is an Incredible Achievement.

 

And remember, such achievement also benefited Grumman. Grumman, as mentioned is an experienced manufacturer, but in terms of productivity? Miles behind GM. For example, how to manage the large quantity of inexperienced workers that they are about to hire to built F4Fs, F6Fs or TBFs? They learnt a lot of extremely useful management and production experience from GM (and Eastern) - and continue to develop the "Cat" Family til the F-14 Tomcat. It is a Win-Win-Win situation for all the parties. US got another new manufacturer that had Huge production potential; GM learned themselves another field of production and of course the $$$ from the Navy; Grumman learnt a lesson of management from GM.

 

4bRcsoS.jpg

The last TBM-3E produced by Eastern Aircraft.

 

If you read until here, you are a legend. Hope you learnt something interesting! :)

Edited by Alvin1020

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Great post.  Mass Production ~ that key Civ tech that only the Americans had in WWII.

Its why everyone else was doomed to loose to 'Murica. Designs are always overrated, tanks, planes, ships, etc. etc., only American industry could delivery in quantity AND quality. Everyone else, UK, Japan and Germany,  still built everything by cottage industry. 

60 years later, most countries still can't do it.

America taught it to Japan in the '50s, and German's finally figured it out in the '90s.

 

The English tried, failed, went on strike and  gave up in 1984.

 

 

Edited by Gorbon_Rubsay

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Its why everyone else was doomed to loose to 'Murica. Designs are always overrated, tanks, planes, ships, etc. etc., only American industry could delivery in quantity AND quality.

 

Unfortunately, I have yet to see any country to achieve this on a weapon again in the 21th century.

 

The last weapon to achieve the "Perfect" Balance between Quality and Quantity is the T-72. But since then none can achieve this again.

 

May be one day, the evolution of technology will bring us another one of these classics again.

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you should write this up with a full cross reference as part of an MBA assignment...

 

well written and a greate read ... 

 

definitely a +1

Edited by soccy

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F16C

 

Not really. It was intended to be a "Light" fighter with lower cost, but it is basically a "Lighter" heavy fighter after the C version. Definitely not after the recent Block 52+/60 (Which looks Absolutely incredible BTW).

 

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A10C

 

True. But the congress don't like it as it's too old and not "high-tech" enough even after the upgrades (i.e. not worth the $$$ to keep it). And rumor is the A10C will be retiring before 2020.

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lel, US Forces doesn;t like old thing, it seems

btw, where did u find this much data alvin?

 

Books and personal interest.

 

And oh boy how much I spend on books... >$3000 US dollars... maybe?
Edited by Alvin1020

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