The Grumman F6F Hellcat design was greatly influenced by feedback from squadrons flying her
direct ancestor, the F4F Wildcat, in the Pacific Theatre as well as input from studying European
Theatre air combat reports. The Hellcat was ordered by the US Navy in June 1941, and less than a
year later the prototype XF6F-1 flew. During prototype flight trials it was realised that a more<
powerful engine would give the Hellcat an edge in combat and so she was mated with a 2000hp
Pratt & Whitney R2800-10 and subsequently re-designated the F6F-3. It was in this guise that she
made her combat debut in August 1943.
The Hellcat must be considered one of the best carrier-borne aircraft of all time, with outstanding
performance at any altitude. The type made its presence known by accounting for 75% of all US
Naval aerial victories securing air supremacy across the Pacific Theatre. The Hellcat also holds the
distinction of destroying more enemy aircraft, over 5000, than any other Allied aircraft. In addition
to her US Naval service, the Hellcat also served with the US Marine Corps in the Pacific and with the British Fleet Air Arm in Europe where she was initially known as the Grumman Gannet Mk.I before reverting back to her American name in early 1943.
The Fighter Collection’s Hellcat is the only example flying outside of America and is presented in the
colours of US Navy Ace Lt Alex Vraciu who flew this particular aircraft. Vraciu finished the war as the
US Navy’s fourth highest ace with 19 aerial victories, 9 of which whilst flying this particular aircraft when assigned to Navy Squadron VF-6 aboard USS Intrepid (CV-11).
Our Hellcat was built in late 1943 and issued directly to VF-6 where she amounted 115.7 flying hours
before being transferred to the newly-formed VF-18 which was undergoing pre-deployment workups
at Hilo in the Hawaiian Islands. A further 200 hours were clocked up with VF-18 being flown by a
number of pilots who went on to become Aces, before being transferred to the Naval Air Technical
Training College (NATTC) in Chicago during August 1944. It was whilst she was at the NATTC that she
was re-united with Alex Vraciu during a War Bond fund raising tour of the Mid-West. Following a
major rally in Chicago, she was left on show at a naval base in the city until being struck off charge
when the NATTC closed. The Chicago vocational training school duly opened in its place and our
Hellcat continued to serve as a training aid for the next 20 years.
The Hellcat was then acquired by collector Earl Rienhart and displayed as part of his Victory Air
Museum outside at an airstrip in Mundelein, Illinois. In 1979 she passed to Ed Maloney and was
moved to the Planes of Fame collection in California, where she was stored until around 1983 when
she moved into the ownership of Tom Friedkin to assist in the rebuild of his own Hellcat which
suffered serious damage as a result of a forced landing following an engine failure in April 1979.
The restoration incorporated the port wing from the crashed example and an unused, crated
starboard wing along with the fuselage from our Hellcat, but used the identity of the Friedkin’s
machine (F6F-5K Bu No 80141) for convenience. Before the rebuild could be completed she passed
to the Yankee Air Corps at Chino, California. In 1988 the incomplete Hellcat became part of The Fighter Collection when Fighter Rebuilders, also at Chino, were commissioned to continue the rebuild following which she was shipped to the UK where she arrived in August 1990.
The Fighter Collection contacted Alex Vraciu, who confirmed its war record, provided details of her colour scheme and even lent owner, Stephen Grey, his original flying gloves for his first flight in the recently completed Hellcat. Alex was even able to reacquaint himself with his old mount when he travelled to Duxford.
Since her arrival our Hellcat has been a popular performer appearing at many airshows across Europe demonstrating the type’s amazing performance which made such an impact across the Pacific Theatre during World War Two.