Octopus (Pavla) 1/72 Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat
By Norm Filer
During the 1930s many countries explored the concept of twin-engine fighters. The U.S. military was no exception. The perceived advantages were many; more power, better performance, safety and perhaps more range all appealed. With a few exceptions, actual combat experience would prove that the bigger and heavier twin-engine fighters did not do very well against lighter single engine fighters. But that lesson was still in the future.
When the U.S. Navy decided to explore this concept who better to turn to than the folks who provided almost everything that flew off a carrier deck during that time frame-Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp.
To say that Grumman Engineers started with a whole new sheet of paper is almost an understatement. The resulting XF5F Skyrocket was indeed different. No nose forward of the low set wing, and twin vertical tails made for a very unusual appearance. Apparently it also made for a rather temperamental airplane. Between changes mandated by the Navy and engine cooling, control and landing gear problems, the XF5F spent a lot of time sitting on the ground, and eventually, four and a half years after it’s first flight, it crashed. But both Grumman and the Navy learned a lot about designing and operating compact high performance twin-engine airplanes.
The U. S. Army Air Corps took a long look at the XF5F performance potential and made the decision to revise the design a bit and see what they could do. The resulting XP-50 was still similar to the XF5F, but now sported a mid fuselage mounted wing, a much deeper fuselage, and even a nose; the last necessary to house the then unconventional tricycle nose gear. At this point the eventual Tigercat starts to become apparent.
The performance potential demonstrated during a very brief flight test program of only three months was very impressive, and it was a contender for the new Army interceptor that was won by Lockheed’s P-38. The single prototype was lost when a turbocharger failed in May 1941. While the potential was there, the Army chose not to build another XP-50, nor to award a contract for production.
Grumman engineers took what they had learned with the XF5F and XP-50 and returned to the drawing boards. The results were the XF7F Tigercat. The XP-50 heritage is apparent, but the engine nacelles are at least twice as large to accommodate the new much bigger Wright Cyclone R-2600 engines and it now had a conventional single vertical fin. During the design and prototype-build process, the Navy switched to the new P & W R-2800. Even with the changes this required the prototype was ready to fly in October 1943.
A very prolonged flight test program revealed several problems. One of the major shortcomings was unsatisfactory behavior around the boat. Between the long flight test/modification process and the poor carrier performance, the Navy made the decision to curtail the program and relegate the Tigercat to the Marines for use as a ground support aircraft and night fighter.
After several bumpy starts with several different versions, Grumman delivered a bit over 100 F7F-3N night fighters between mid 1945 and June 1946. It would be the most-built version of the Tigercat.
Too late for WW II service, the Marines used the Tigercat in Korea for both close air support and as a night fighter. It was in the night fighter roll that most of us have come to recognize the Tigercat.
The Russians had used the Polikarpov U-2 (later Po-2) biplane with considerable success as a night harassment/heckling bomber against the Germans in WW II, and the North Koreans were initially having much the same success using the same biplane in the early stages of the Korean War. The fact that the Po-2 was a fabric covered very small, slow biplane made it just about impossible to track with radar directed AA guns, and the other difficulty in shooting them down was that their top speed was considerably slower than the stall speed of most allied night fighters.
Marine Night Fighter Squadron VMF(N)-513 operated a mixed bag of F7F-3N Tigercats and F4U-5N Corsairs. On the night of July 1, 1951 the squadron got its first Po-2 kill and the first Tigercat kill. By the early summer of 1952 the night fighter Tigercats had made the night harassment mission a very risky business. But the success was short lived. With the arrival of the new F3D-2 Skyknight the end was at hand for the night fighting VMF(N)-513 Tigercats.
In retrospect, not one of Grumman’s most successful designs. The prolonged and troublesome flight test program, coupled with poor carrier suitability made it a difficult airplane to sell to the Navy. But the impressive performance and availability made it the ideal Marine close support and night fighter prospect. The interesting antique biplane kills in Korea and all black color scheme provide an unusual and interesting modeling subject.
Well, let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. This thing comes in a crappy box! It is flimsy, end opening and is covered with artwork that makes it look like it contains a bathtub toy for your 5-year-old kid. If you stack another kit or two on top of it, the next thing you know the end flap is open and you have parts scattered around and/or broken. Please Pavla, (and several others as well) a sturdy top-and-bottom box would really be nice.
So what does the kit look like? Well, there is a LOT of parts. Two very full trees of parts and a full bag of resin are immediately apparent. The fuselage is a one part per side molding, with the bulbous nose integral. Apparently there are no plans to go backwards to the earlier versions. Perhaps a careful combining of this and the old Monogram Tigercat would be in order to provide those early versions.
The wing -to-body joint and the horizontal tails are a simple butt joint. No tabs or other alignment or strength help provided. A large tab would interfere with the rear cockpit, but some type of wing help is clearly in order. This bird will require a considerable amount of weight in the nose in order to make the thing sit on the nose gear. While the instructions show this requirement in a big weight going into the nose area, they don’t suggest any amount. I think the reinforcement of the wing body joint may prevent all that weight from over stressing the wing joint.
Scribing is very nice. Just heavy enough to survive construction and paint, but not so heavy it would be distracting. I could not find any line overruns, fading out or other scribing flaws. It is very nice indeed. Another very nice touch is the fabric effects on the control surfaces. Just enough of the effect to be realistic, and different from the surrounding metal surfaces. This fabric effect poses a question. This A/C has flaps both inboard and outboard of the engine nacelles. The kit has the outboard ones as fabric and the inboard as metal. Is this accurate?
Wheel wells get a pretty full treatment. Walls, frames and even the indication of the engine oil tanks in the main wheel well roofs. The forward wheel well frames even have lightning holes in them.
Front and rear cockpits are especially well done. The front cockpit tub is a one part resin casting with inward sloping side walls that will be difficult to paint, but impressive when done. Both instrument panels have delicate raised and accurate details. Strangely, the front is injection and the back is resin. Both seats are identical resin buckets with very fine seat belt/shoulder harness cast in.
The R-2800 engines are single row resin castings that should detail out very well. They are very nice. For those wanting to go the extra step, they show a complete two-row R-2800 in dotted lines as an alternative. This is Pavla detail set No. 7217 (not included). One anticipated delicate operation is the props. The hub is a very nicely done resin part with a short prop shaft. Each of the three blades is plastic. No provision for drilling the holes for the blades or aligning them properly. When (and if) you get the props done, you have to carefully drill out the engine to accept the prop shaft. I can see some very careful work in this area. (Or maybe another kit minus its props!)
Landing gear assembly will be interesting as well. Each main gear strut has nine (!) parts not including the doors or wheels. When done it just might look really great.
One of the rather unusual aspects of these Czech Republic kits is the use of the funny little “dumbbell” symbol. The instructions say this is the “to make new” symbol. I have mixed feelings about it. Generally, they restrict this to small obscure parts like throttle handles, antenna and gun barrels. I have visions of opening a box someday and finding a great big “make new” dumbbell symbol inside. The ultimate scratch built kit!
Canopies are the usual vacuformed style. Unfortunately only one of each. Why do we worry about only one of the canopies? We only get one of all the other parts and that does not seem to bother us much.
Decals are provided for two different Marine birds. A very scruffy looking all black with a lot of the original Sea Blue showing through. Tigercat with red markings from VMF(N)-513, and a more normally marked blue bird from VMF(N)-531. The black one should be a real star if done properly. The flip side of that is that if done properly, it may look like your 12-year-old son’s first model.
This is a very nice kit. There have been a few attempts to make resin conversion kits for the very old Monogram Tigercat over the years. This makes all that unnecessary. The kit is impressive in the number of parts, and details provided. Everything looks first rate and the finished model should be a real conversation starter. It looks unusual, has a very non-standard color scheme, and is as scruffy as a paint job can get. A wonderful opportunity to try something totally different.
It can also go on the shelf along side those other Grumman fighters. It is actual proof that everything Grumman did during WWII was not a roaring success.