A Tigercat Roars Again

James Slattery's Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat made its debut at the EAA AirVenture this summer. [Image: Jim Koepnick]
James Slattery's Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat made its debut at the EAA AirVenture this summer. [Image: Jim Koepnick]

The only reason to restore a Grumman F7F Tigercat is because it’s so beautiful. The airplane was rejected as a carrier-borne fighter, the role for which it was designed. Too fast and large for anything but the Navy’s Midway-class fleet carriers, it blew two carrier-qualification tests, one because of a bad tailhook design and dodgy single-engine handing, the next because a wing failed during a hard landing. Its entire combat career was brief and inconsequential; the only opponents that ever fell to a Tigercat’s four .50s and four 20mm cannons—its nosecone was a broadside in a box—were two ancient Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes during the Korean War. The airplane stayed in service for barely 10 years, and not a single foreign air force ever used it. Even Grumman knew the Tigercat was a mistake, and it quickly engineered the F8F Bearcat to do what the Tigercat couldn’t.

Never mind. It’s perhaps the most beautiful twin-piston-engine airplane ever built, every bit the equal of Geoffrey de Havilland’s Comet, and for those who love the sound of one Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the trumpeting of two is twice as tingly.

Which, we have to assume, is why James Slattery has had WestPac Restorations renovate a good-as-new F7F-3N. He also owns a second Tigercat that will be restored by Steve Hinton’s company, Fighter Rebuilders, and the two double-breasted felines will join a collection that already includes 44 historic aircraft. Slattery plans to soon open the Greatest Generation Naval Museum, in San Diego, to exhibit them.

His WestPac Tigercat is said to be the most unmolested of the dozen or so complete F7Fs that still exist—four on static display, the balance either airworthy or under restoration to flight status. Never flown in civil use, it was acquired in a trade directly from the Marine Corps Museum back when that was still possible. (The Navy has since then claimed ownership of everything it or the Marine Corps ever flew, including yet-undiscovered wrecks.) When WestPac started Bu. No. 80375’s engines late last April, it was the first time they’d been run in 60 years, back in the days when the airplane had been in service with the Marines as a two-seat night fighter with a RIO behind the pilot in a separate sliding-canopy cockpit.

 

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