Aircraft Model#: F7F-3
Name/NoseArt: Bad Kitty
Civil Registration: N6178C
The following info is from historicflight.org.
The Grumman brain trust saw the jet age coming—indeed, they produced the F9F Panther jet in 1947. But with the Tigercat, Grumman refused to give up on piston-driven innovation. The mandate was to give the United States Navy not just its first twin-engine fighter, but a fighter that could launch and land from Midway carriers. Grumman delivered a plane powered by a 2800 HP Pratt & Whitney engine that outperformed all existing fighters. The plane was big, but “compacted” neatly with retractable wings, wheels, and nose landing gear. It could reach speeds of 450 MPH and take off quickly with 3000 pounds of weaponry, four 20mm cannons, and four 50-caliber machine guns. And it was a prime choice for ground attacks—in particular the night missions that made all the “cats” such great stalkers.
1944: Delivery, but No Service
Fabulous performance came at the cost of heavy weight and high landing speed. Pilots were wild for the deft, responsive flight experience. But it couldn’t pass carrier landing tests–a stubborn “tail hook” drove the plane’s nose onto the deck, and it was prone to wing failures. So while the plane was delivered to Marine combat units in 1944, it never saw WWII service. Grumman kept working to meet carrier suitability, but out of 1,500 planes originally commissioned, less than 500 were produced, among them 189 F7F-3s.
1948-1954: Right Plane, Wrong Time
The plane’s fighter capabilities did see air time after WWII and during the Korean War. Our Bad Kitty offered a streamlined, two-seat design and the ability to travel farther and faster than previous models. It proved a sublime ground fighter, equipped to spot the enemy by day or night, shoot hard, bomb close-in, gather photo reconnaissance, and more. Though we’re mixing metaphors, Bad Kitty was a great Warbird, one that emerged too late in the game to really sing. The plane flew for only 46 hours, and then went to the infamous Litchfield “graveyard” in Arizona. Her sisters continued to work through the Korean war, but by 1954, nearly all Tigercats sat waiting for the scrapper.
1962-1970s: The Comeback Cat
The salvage heap turned into salvation: We put the cats to work as firefighters. Sis Q Air Service purchased Bad Kitty and a few other cats on the cheap, and then fit them with belly tanks that held fire retardant. After winning the 1962 National Forest Service competition, Sis Q sent the planes to Oregon and California, where they dove into the heat of the worst fires and slipped quickly in and out of the deepest canyons. Pilots experienced a plane that responded to the lightest touch. The cats proved they were still the best damn fighters around. Wins don’t always come in the package you expect, but that doesn’t take away from the victory. Bad Kitty saw more than 1,300 hours as a fire fighter, so we can put aside the carrier landings and say the plane did meet its potential.
2003-2009: Coveted Classic
Bad Kitty is now one of the rarest Warbirds on record–quite a turn from final landing as a beer can. Less than 20 Tigercats were salvaged from Litchfield, and to date, only six are in flying condition. Historic Flight acquired Bad Kitty in 2003 and gave the plane what it deserved: Full restoration. The belly tank’s gone, but we honor her second career. What you see flying is Grumman’s original vision, a sleek blue aircraft with a growling cat’s face.
Photos by: Al Sauer