View Full Version : F7F Tigercat was terror of night skies in Korea

04-23-04, 10:43 AM
Issue Date: April 26, 2004

The Lore of the Corps
F7F Tigercat was terror of night skies in Korea

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

Soon after Marines stormed ashore at Inchon, South Korea, in the September 1950 invasion that turned the tide of the first phase of the Korean War, an odd-looking aircraft showed up on liberated airfields. First to arrive in the aftermath of Inchon was squadron VMF(N)-542 — the “Flying Tigers” — under Lt. Col. Max J. Volcansek. The squadron’s aircraft was the two-seat F7F-3N Tigercat, a twin-prop craft designed to take back the night from North Korea’s small, propeller-driven air force.
A distinctive, twin-engined craft on tricycle landing gear, the Tigercat seemed beautiful from some angles, utilitarian from others. It was built by the Bethpage, Long Island, N.Y., company dubbed the Grumman Iron Works for its robust warplanes.

The F7F evolved form Grumman’s earlier XF5F-1 Skyrocket, which never won a production order but became a familiar sight in the “Blackhawk” comic books of that era.

The XF7F-1 Tigercat prototype flew for the first time on Dec. 2, 1943.

Armament was slightly different on various F7F models. Most carried four 20mm cannons mounted in the wing roots with 800 rounds of ammunition. The Tigercat had provision for eight 5-inch (12.7-cm) high-velocity aircraft rockets, or HVARs, and it also could carry three of the enormous — and completely misnamed — 11.75-inch (29.85-cm) Tiny Tim air-to-ground rockets.

With a maximum speed of 435 mph, a rate of climb of 5,300 feet per minute and range of 1,200 miles, the Tigercat was a real performer. Always flown by one pilot — the second crew position on night fighters was for an equipment operator — the Tigercat was “hot to handle” and could be unforgiving in a variety of situations. Marines who mastered this aircraft were entitled to feel they were excellent pilots.

The Tigercat just missed serving in World War II.

Marine Corps Squadron 533 reached Okinawa with F7F-2N night fighters on Aug. 14, 1945, the day before Japan surrendered. Once the surrender was inked, the Marines took their Tigercats to China for adventurous flying in the middle of a revolution. Then, in 1950, they took the Tigercat into battle in Korea.

On Sept. 23, 1951, an F7F-3N Tigercat of the “Flying Nightmares,” VMF(N)-513, flown by Maj. E.A. Van Gundy and Master Sgt. T.H. Ullom, was aloft searching for a “Bedcheck Charlie” Polikarpov Po-2 biplane and made radar contact.

The Tigercat pilot purposely went down to minimum speed to avoid overshooting the slower biplane. At a range of about 500 feet, Van Gundy made visual contact and fired about 100 rounds of 20mm ammunition at it. The Polikarpov burst into flames instantly and was seen burning on the ground as the F7F-3N returned to base.

The F7F Tigercat remained in service with the Marines until the late 1950s. A few Tigercats have reached the civilian world and have been used for fire-fighting duties. The Marine Corps museum system owns an F7F-3 Tigercat, which is on loan for display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of numerous books, including “Air Force One.” His e-mail address is robertdorr@aol.com.