From the end of World War I until the middle of the 1930’s, military aviation developed at a slow pace. The biplane configuration was most common. Improvements were generally made in small increments through the 1920’s. The relatively new Grumman Aircraft Company competed in the US Navy’s 1930 High-Speed Two-Seat Fighter competition. They were awarded a contract for 27 Model G-5’s as FF-1’s in 1931.

       The FF-1 was the first Navy aircraft to feature all aluminum structure, fully retracting landing gear and enclosed cockpits. Unbeknownst to those involved, this was the beginning of a long association with the US Navy suppling fleet fighters up to the F14 Tomcat series in the 1970’s. The FF-1 was improved into the single seat F2F-1. The F3F was the last incremental improvement of the original FF-1. BUT, things were about to change in 1935.

       In 1935, the British were preparing the Hawker Hurricane and Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire as the Germans were preparing the Messerschmitt Bf 109 for flight. These next generation fighter aircraft featured monoplane form, all metal structure, totally retractable landing gear, enclosed cockpits, more and more powerful engines, speeds approaching 300+ MPH, and generally heavier armament.

       In November of 1935, the Navy issued a requirement for the replacement of the F3F’s. Grumman put forth its Model G-16 and Brewster advanced its B-139 design. The Model 16 was a refined F3F biplane design. The winner was the Brewster 139 re-designated F2A. The Navy asked Grumman to withdraw the G-16. Grumman proposed an improved Model 18.

       They ordered one Model 18, a proposed monoplane fighter design as a back-up for the F2A. The Model 18, designated XF4F-2 was basically a monoplane improvement of the F3F. Tests, redesign and refinements lead to the full production F4F-3 model.

       The F3F-3 was ordered in 1939 and entered service in 1940. The final F3F-3 BuNo. 1897 became the XF4F-4. Engine/ supercharger problems with the -3’s P/W R-1830 series saw the Wright R-1820 powering the F4F-3A. Grumman built F3F-3 BuNo. 4057 was the last before line switchover to the F4F-4.

       In order to concentrate Grumman production of the new F6F Hellcat series, arrangements were made for GM’s Eastern Aircraft Division to build the F4F-4 as the Eastern FM-1 and later FM-2 at Linden, NJ and the TBF as the TBM at Trenton, NJ.

       Wildcats entered fleet service with deliveries to VF-4, later re-designated VF-41 late in 1940. Wildcats served in all theatres of ops, first as a front line fighter and later as fleet defense. The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm also operated Wildcats which they originally called Marltets. Later in the war, as new fighter aircraft entered the fray, the Wildcats became the staple fighter of the escort and jeep carriers covering fleet assets and supporting landing operations across the Pacific.

       Starting from the very beginnings of the war in the Pacific, the Wildcat faced the best Japanese day fighter of the war, Mitsubishi’s Type Zero. Although the Zero out preformed the Wildcat in almost every category, the leaders of the Navy and Marine squadrons opposing them figured out the Zero’s weaknesses and developed tactics to give Allied pilot’s the chance to use the Wildcat to best advantage. The overall toughness of the Wildcat allowed many pilots to survive their first missions and come back to fight another day. Sadly, not true for many Zero pilots who ultimately paid for the lack of protective armor and especially unprotected fuel tanks with their lives.

       The Grumman F4F and Eastern FM Wildcats served throughout World War II. Typically, at wars end, the Wildcat quickly disappeared from the active inventory. Luckily, the Wildcat is represented around the world in museums and approximately 15 airworthy examples allow the public to see and hear the Wildcat at airshows.

FF-1Grumman FF-1 9351 F3F-2Grumman F3F-2 0968 F3F-2Grumman F3F-2 0976
FM-1Eastern FM-1 Wildcat FM-2Eastern FM-2 Wildcat FM-2Eastern FM-2 Wildcat
FM-2Eastern FM-2 Wildcat F4F-3Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat F4F-4Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

       Tamiya 1/48 Scale Aircraft Series No. 34 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat was used for this project. Like all Tamiya kits that I have built it went together very easily. The assembly process starts with assembling the fuselage halves and tail surfaces. Next the highly detailed cockpit, firewall and landing gear support structure go together and are glued into the assembled fuselage assembly. The upper wing halves are attached to the lower wing and forward fuselage and then glued to the upper fuselage. At this point I taped off the cockpit opening and landing gear wells to prepare for painting the model.

       The kit comes with decals for four different Wildcats which require two different paint schemes. The first paint scheme involved two colors, Blue Gray upper surfaces and Light Gray under surfaces, the second scheme was the three color (Sea Blue uppers, Intermediate Blue sides and white lower surfaces. The first scheme was used from February 1942 until January 1943 when the second (three color) scheme became the US Navy standard. For this aircraft I chose the option offered for an Wildcat that served aboard the USS Ranger in early 1942, before Operation Torch.

       I use Testors Model Master laquers for most of my model painting needs. In most cases I can find an exact match, many times by the FS number, for color I need. A little bit of research on the IPMS Stockholm color charts gave me the FS numbers for US Navy NS Blue Gray (FS35189) and NS Light Gray (FS36440). FS36440 was easy to match as many US Navy aircraft upper surfaces from the 60's and 70's are FS36440 Light Gull Gray. FS35189 had no direct match, the closest available was Model Master Navy Blue Gray #2055, which was too gray so 50 drops of #1717 Dark Sea Blue were added to the bottle which made it more of a match to the color that was needed.

       Once painting was completed I began placing the original kit decals. The rudder stripes went on easily but when I started placing the national insignia I ran into trouble, the decals disintegrated when I went to place them on model. I had to find a new set of decals and I really wanted to continue with my chosen scheme of an aircraft aboard the USS Ranger. Luckily Tecmod decal sheet 48018 Grumman Wildcat F4F-4 offered markings for Wildcat 41-F-1 flown by Lt. Cdr. Thomas Booth II aboard the US Ranger in early 1942. Lt. Cdr. "Tommy" Booth was the skipper of VF-41 the "Red Rippers". I was able to obtain this sheet on Ebay.

       I was a bit disappointed in the accuracy of the Techmod decal sheet as the BuAer number was not included. However research showed that the rest of the scheme was accurate. I was able to find out that the fighter compliment on board the Ranger consisted of F4F-3 Wildcats until 7 April 1942, on 15 April 1942 the Ranger was at NAS Norfolk ( see link below for US Navy History and Heritage Cmd - location of aircraft ) and lists VF-41 as being part of the compliment on board the carrier and it was equiped with F4F-4s. On 15 May 1942 BuAer directed that the red disc in the national insignia and the red and white stripes on the rudder be eliminated ( see link below for US Navy History and Heritage Cmd - aircraft markings ). From these two bits of information I deduced that this scheme shows an aircraft on board the USS Ranger sometine in the spring of 1942, certainly before it would have participated in Operation Torch, in November 1942, when it would have had a yellow circle around the national insignia on the fuselage.


       The Wildcat in WWII, Author: Barrett Tillman

                   Published By The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America., ISBN: 0-933852-32-0

       Navy Air Colors - United States Navy, Marine and Coast Guard Aircraft Camouflage and Markings - Vol. 1 1911-1945

                   By Thomas E Doll, Berkley R. Jackson, William A. Riley Illustrated By Don Greer

                   Published By Squadron/Signal Publications 1983, ISBN: 1-888974-18-4

       Detail & Scale Volume 65 - F4F Wildcat, Author: Bert Knizey

                   Published By Squadron/Signal Publications 2000, ISBN: 0-89747-143-1

       F4F Wildcat In Action Aircraft Number 191, Author: Don Greer

                   Published By Squadron/Signal Publications 2004, ISBN: 0-89747-469-4

       Aircraft Pictorial #4 - F4F Wildcat, Author: Dana Bell

                   Published By Classic Warships Publishing, ISBN: 978-09823583-9-9

       US Navy History and Heritage Cmd - Archives - research - histories - naval-aviation-history - location-of-us-naval-aircraft

       US Navy History and Heritage Cmd - Archives - research - histories - naval-aviation-history - aircraft-markings

       IPMS Stockholm Color Charts

       Valor Awards for Thomas Booth II

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