The Grumman F2F was the company’s first single seater, and was developed from the two-seat Grumman FF, which had been its first successful aircraft design.
Grumman’s first contract from the US Navy was for a set of floats to convert land planes into amphibians. These floats included a novel type of retractable undercarriage, with the main wheels retracting up into the side of the floats. The Navy was interested in converting its existing fighters to use this system, but Grumman countered with a proposal for a two seat fighter design of its own. The Grumman G-5 used the retractable undercarriage, was of all metal construction with a semi-monocoque aluminium alloy fuselage, and an aluminium wing structure with fabric covering and sliding canopies over the two cockpits. On 28 March 1931 the Navy ordered a single prototype of the G-5, as the XFF-1. This aircraft made its maiden flight on 29 December 1931, and was seven mph faster than the Navy’s faster service fighter, the Boeing F4B-2.
Unsurprisingly this triggered interest in a single seat version of the FF. Grumman submitted a design for the Grumman G-8 in June 1932, and the Navy ordered a prototype on 2 November 1932, as the XF2F-1. The expectation was that this aircraft would outperform both the Grumman FF and Boeing F4B.
The XF2F-1 had the same basic layout as the Grumman FF, but was slightly smaller in every dimension, and was around 1,000lb lighter when fully loaded. It was of all metal construction, with a semi-monocoque aluminium fuselage and fabric covered wings with an aluminium structure. The upper wing was level and carried the ailerons, and the lower wing had a slight dihedral. The FF had been powered by a Wright engine, but the XF2F-1 used an experimental 625hp Pratt & Whitney XR-1535-44 Twin Wasp Junior. It was armed with two forward firing 0.30in Browning machine guns carried in the upper deck of the forward fuselage, and could carry two 116lb bombs under the wings. It had an enclosed cockpit, the first Navy single seater to be equipped with one. Unlike the FF-1, the XF2F-1 didn’t use flotation bags – instead it had a watertight compartment just below the pilot to keep the aircraft afloat if it had to ditch. This system was also used on the F3F.
The prototype made its maiden flight on 9 October 1933 with the test pilot Jimmy Collins at the controls. On 18 October it went to the Navy for six months of trials, where it reached a top speed of 229mph at 8,400ft (22mph faster than the FF-2) and an initial climb rate of 3,080ft. However the short, stubby fuselage (exaggerated by the space needed for the retractable wheels near the nose) produced some directional instability which made it too easy to go into a spin Even so, on 17 May 1934 the Navy placed an order for 54 F2F-1s.
The F2F-1 differed from the prototype in several minor ways. The upper wing was made 6in longer, the cockpit canopy was enlarged, and the smooth NACA cowling used on the prototype was replaced with a smaller cowling which needed blisters over the top of the rocker arms. It was powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72 Twin Wasp Junior, rated at 650hp or 700hp in different sources. It reached a top speed of 231mph, very similar to that of the prototype. The first aircraft was delivered on 28 January 1935. One aircraft crashed on its delivery flight on 16 March and an order was placed for a replacement. The last standard aircraft was delivered ten months after the first. The final aircraft on the F2F contract was delivered as the prototype XF3F-1.
The first squadron to start to convert to the type was VF-2B (‘Fighting Two’), on USS Lexington, which received the first of its new aircraft on 19 February 1935 and had fully converted by the middle of the year. This squadron kept its F2Fs until 30 September 1940 when the surviving 18 aircraft were flown to NAS Pensacola to become advanced trainers.
The second squadron to receive the type was VF-3B on USS Ranger, which had also converted by the middle of 1935. This squadron moved ship twice while operating the F2F – first to the Yorktown in 1937, becoming VF-7B and then becoming VF-5 to match the carrier’s hull number of CV-5. The squadron converted to the Grumman F3F in 1939.
The F2F-1 was also briefly used by VF-5B while it waited for its F3F-1s. The same aircraft were also briefly used by VB-5B in 1936. VF-7 used two and VF-4M (later VMF-2) operated three in 1937, again while waiting for the F3F-1.
Once they had been withdrawn from front line service the F2Fs became gunnery and advanced trainers, attached to various Naval Air Stations and patrol wings. Most ended up at NAS Miami and NAS Pensacola. The last F2F-1 left service during 1942.
Engine: Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72
Power: 650hp or 700hp
Span: 28ft 6in
Length: 21ft 5in
Height: 9ft 1in (10ft 6in in SS)
Empty weight: 2,691lb
Gross weight: 3,847lb
Max speed: 238mph or 231mph at 7,500ft
Climb Rate: 2,050ft/ min
Service ceiling: 27,100ft
Endurance: 985 miles
Armament: Two fixed forward firing 0.30in guns