©Copyright Brian Emch SoCalAirshowNews@aol.com

The Southern California Wing acquired the “Bearcat” in 1991 when Lefty Gardner flew the airplane from Chino, California to the Camarillo Airport after the airplane had been sitting idle for about eight years. The Wing’s maintenance crew did a complete restoration of this airplane, making it one of the most prestigious airplanes of its kind. All the fluid lines, electrical wiring, and instruments were replaced, and the airplane was given a new blue paint job. After eighteen months of continuous restoration work, the airplane made its first flight in 1993, again with Lefty Gardner at the controls doing the test flight. This beautifully restored “Bearcat” is the hit of the many air shows that it attends.

Crew Chief: Ken Kramer

Bearcat Crew: Gary Barber, Jason Somes, Shari Heitkotter

Photo by Eric Van Gilder and Julie Sims

The Bearcat Engine Replacement is complete but we are still raising funds to help pay off the balance left over from the engine overhaul. Can you help us and play an important part in keeping the Bearcat flying and available for all to see at air shows and other events?

Steve Barber made an emergency landing at Burbank Airport on March 28, and the engine was “totaled.” Steve did an amazing job of getting the Bearcat on the ground safely

Development of the Grumman F8F Bearcat

Thanks to Col. Terran Tidwell for the use of the historical material in the following article. Thanks also to the author, Col. Paul Koskela.

(BuNo 122674) (by Paul Koskela, Jan 2000)
In July 1943 Roy Grumman proposed to develop a small fighter plane which could be used on large or small carriers, with a performance superior (in every way) to the F6F. The unsolicited proposal to BuAer got immediate attention. A fast climbing piston-powered fighter was one of their highest priorities because the Japanese were expected to introduce fighters with performance that was much improved over the Zero.

The subsequent Bearcat design had the largest reliable engine available at the time (P&W R-2800) fitted to the smallest possible airframe. Some pilots likened it to “an engine with a saddle!” This was the same design philosophy behind the famed Gee Bee (Granville Brothers) racers. Test pilot and aircraft designer R.L. (Bob) Hall was involved in the development of both.

The Bearcat, smaller than the Wildcat (2.5 ft shorter wingspan; 1 ft shorter length) and more powerful than the Hellcat, was first flown on 31 Aug 1944 by Bob Hall. The last Bearcat was delivered 14 Apr 1949. A total of 1263 F8Fs were built, plus two civilian aircraft (Grumman design G-58A).

There were three basic variants of the Bearcat. Early F8F-ls were fitted with four 50-cal machine guns, late F8F-ls and all -2s had four 20 mm cannon, and the -2Ps had two 20 mm cannon in addition to photo equipment. The -2s had one-foot taller vertical tail surfaces for better longitudinal stability, automatic engine control, dive recovery flaps, and a higher hp engine. The -2N operated briefly as an unsuccessful night-fighter; the externally wing-mounted radar adversely affected performance.

Standard features were sacrificed in order to reduce weight: fewer guns, less fuel, and no adjustable seat. Seat adjustments were made with cushions. Once extended, the tailhook stayed that way until flight-deck crewmen muscled it back. The outer 6 feet of the wings were folded manually in a simple upward-fold, unlike the “stow-wing” style used on other Grumman aircraft. On a flight deck, 50 F8Fs fit in the space taken by 36 Hellcats. The full-blown bubble canopy was a first for Navy fighters.

The outboard 3 feet of each wing was designed to break away if the wings were overstressed, thereby preventing catastrophic failure of the entire wing structure. Explosive bolts would automatically discard one wing tip if the other wing was broken off by stress. These “Safety Wing Tips” were not as safe as expected, and were eliminated after some fatal accidents. Several pilots shed their wing tips and augered in during dive-bombing pullouts; others had wing tip blow-offs during carrier landings, injuring deck crewmen.

Bearcat-equipped VF-19 was aboard the USS Langley enroute to the western Pacific when the war ended. Although too late to see combat with the US Navy, 24 squadrons were flying the Navy’s “hot rod” by the end of 1948. Bearcats later saw service in Indochina with the French,


The Engine Replacement is Complete!!!

After a great team effort and many, many late nights it has actually happened, the Bearcat motor swap is complete and the test runs went great!!! After a few orbits around Burbank with the Hellcat as a chase plane the Bearcat flew triumphantly back home to Camarillo just in time for the airshow as promised. What a great sound to hear her run again!!!

A HUGE thanks to all involved and there were many. Come hear the new engine run.

Steve and Gary Barber and Ken Kramer – Glad to see their baby running again, they were all involved in the original restoration.

Videos of Bearcats

Jason Somes flying the Bearcat in the 2010 Thermal Airshow

SoCal’s F8F Bearcat Engine Test Run

CAF SoCal’s F8F Bearcat Night Engine Test Run

CAF SoCal’s F8F Bearcat Night Engine Test Run

SoCal Wing’s F8F Bearcat First Takeoff after Engine Replacement


Lots of smiles from three happy Bearcat Pilots –
Jason Somes,Steve Barber Sr. and Ken Gottschall


The Grumman F8F Bearcat on the ramp at Midland Airshow 2009

August 20, 2009 – The first Engine Runs of the new Anderson Aeromotive Pratt Whitney 2800.

Bearcat Engine Replacement Update – July 10, 2009/,

Today the overhauled engine and Bearcat are now one! The engine installation went incredibly well thanks again to Don and Randy and their skilled forklift operations. Lots to do now installing components and finalizing the modification process.

Bearcat Engine Replacement Update – June 30, 2009

Well it was a big day at the Burbank Bearcat Bunker, the overhauled engine arrived and the old engine was removed from the airframe. A huge thanks to Don and Randy as they both did a masterful job in forklift operations, which made for a very smooth engine removal. Mike is still hard at work on the necessary modifications while John and Ken work on getting the new engine ready to install.

Bearcat Engine Replacement Update – June 22, 2009

2800 Run

The replacement engine is completed and has passed the test runs with flying colors. Delivery date for the engine to Burbank is June 30th. Mike, Ken, John and Matt are working hard at Burbank to ready the airframe for the overhauled engine.

Bearcat Engine Replacement Update – June 9, 2009

renoud and Ken Gottschall have been sneaking over to the hangar where the Bearcat is presently stored whenever they can to try to accomplish any work that can be done in advance of the engine arrival. The failed engine is being left on for now as it will be removed at the same time the overhauled engine is installed. All of the accessories have been removed and several have been sent out for overhaul. The next biggest project is relocation of some of the hydraulic and oil components within the accessory section. This is required as the overhauled engine will be a CB type of Pratt and Whitney 2800. The blower section on this model engine is longer necessitating moving the oil tank aft, which in turn requires relocation of components mounted to the firewall. Presently lots of planning and fabrication are underway, but for now it’s looking a little sparse in the Bearcat’s engine accessory compartment.

Bearcat Engine Replacement Update May 26, 2009

To date we have gathered enough funds to place an initial deposit for the new engine build and work has begun. We still need lots of help, so please contribute and watch the engine being built over the coming weeks. Contribute and know that YOU are the reason the Bearcat will be flying once again.

Some photos of Anderson Aeromotive in Grangeville, Idaho hard at work on our new engine. Many thanks to them for contributing where they can to lower the costs involved, and for the superior workmanship.

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Specifications F8-2 Bearcat

General characteristics

Crew: 1 pilot
Length: 28 ft 3 in (8.6 m)
Wingspan: 35 ft 10 in (10.9 m)
Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.2 m)
Empty weight: 7,070 lb (3,210 kg)
Loaded weight: 9,600 lb (4,400 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 12,947 lb (5,870 kg)


1× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W “Double Wasp”
two-row radial engine, 2,100 hp (1,600 kW)


Maximum speed: 421 mph (366 knots, 680 km/h)
Range: 1,105 mi (1,780 km)
Service ceiling 38,700 ft (11,800 m)
Rate of climb: 4,570 ft/min (23.2 m/s)
Power/mass: 0.22 hp/lb (360 W/kg)


Guns: 4× M3 20 mm cannons
Rockets: 4× 5 in (127 mm) unguided rockets
Bombs: 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs