The Grumman F3F Buffalo

The Grumman F3F Biplane

The Grumman F3F Biplane

The Grumman F3F was the last biplane fighter in U.S. Navy. The designed was an improvement on the single-seat F2F and it entered service in 1936 and was shortly retired from front line squadrons at the end of 1941 before it could serve in World War II.  Brewster F2A Buffalo first replaced it and quickly earned the name as the “Flying coffin” due to the boxie appearance and its unforgiving handling characteristics. The F3F which inherited the landing gear configuration first used on the Grumman FF served as the basis for a biplane design ultimately developed into the much more successful F4F Wildcat. When it entered combat, the Wildcat would quickly replace the Buffalo as the primary fighter of the Navy and Marines in the first part of World War II.

The Navy’s experience with the F2F revealed issues with stability and unfavorable spin characteristics. The contract also required a capability for ground attack, in addition to the design’s fighter role. Powered by the same Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72 Twin Wasp Junior engine as the F2F, the fuselage was lengthened and wing area increased over the earlier design. A reduction in wheel diameter allowed greater fuselage streamlining, eliminating the prominent bulge behind the cowling of the F2F.

Grumman, wanting to take advantage of the powerful new 950 hp (708 kW) Wright R-1820 supercharged radial engine, began work on the F3F-2 without a contract; the order for 81 aircraft was not placed until 25 July 1936, two days before the type’s first flight. The engine’s larger diameter changed the cowling’s appearance, making the aircraft look even more like a barrel, though top speed increased to 255 mph (410 km/h) at 12,000 ft (3,658 m).

The entire F3F-2 production series was delivered in between 1937 and 1938; when deliveries ended, all seven Navy and Marine Corps pursuit squadrons were equipped with Grumman single-seat fighters. Further aerodynamic developments were made to an F3F-2 returned to Grumman for maintenance; it became the XF3F-3, and featured a larger-diameter propeller, among other improvements. On 21 June 1938, the Navy ordered 27 improved F3F-3s, as new monoplane fighters like the Brewster F2A and Grumman’s own F4F Wildcat were taking longer to develop than had been planned.

The better known F4F Wildcat of World War II was a monoplane development of an improved F3F biplane design. This XF4F-3 prototype clearly shows the family lines.

With the introduction of the Brewster F2A-1, the Navy’s biplane fighter days were numbered. All F3Fs were withdrawn from squadron service by the end of 1941, though 117 were assigned to naval bases and used for training and utility duties until December 1943.

A few F3Fs were used by the U.S. Army Air Force as ferry-pilot trainers, under the designation UC-103.

A civilian aerobatic two-seat variant, the G-32A “Gulfhawk II,” was constructed in 1938 and flown by Major Alfred “Al” Williams (Ret.), head of Gulf Oil’s aviation department

A Grumman F3F-2 was ditched off the coast of San Diego on 29 August 1940 while attempting a landing on Saratoga. The fighter was rediscovered by a navy submarine in June 1988, and recovered on 5 April 1991. It was restored at the San Diego Aerospace Museum.

Today, four other surviving aircraft are flying, three F3F-2 models and the Gulf Oil G-32A, which were restored by Herb Tischler’s Texas Airplane Factory in Fort Worth. The restorations took four years and consisted of rebuilding the G-32A, from original blueprints with tooling built at the Texas Airplane Factory. The main components of three -2 aircraft which had originally crashed in Hawaii were utilized to complete the other restorations. One of the resulting restorations is on display at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida.

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