Chapter 1


Chapter 1

Grumman F4F Wildcat - Harry A Bagley Jr

The tubby, awkward, frog-like appearing little F4F Wildcat built by the Grumman "Iron Works" was the only fighter available in production quantities to the U.S. Navy during the first eighteen months of World War II. The sleek Japanese fighters could outclimb, out-maneuver, and run away from this portly barrel of sheet metal and rivets. However, the Wildcat redeemed itself by being structurally rugged, difficult to shoot down because of armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, stable and easy to fly, and able to outdive the Japanese fighters. The F4F could sustain as much as fifteen minutes of gunfire from the Zero, but could blast the enemy fighter out of the sky generally within six seconds after opening up with the four (or six) .50 caliber machine guns.

The rugged F4F Wildcat.
The rugged F4F Wildcat.

During most of the year 1942 and the first half of 1943, the scrappy F4F Wildcat won its greatest glory. In December, 1941, over Wake Island, U.S. Marine pilots got the Wildcat's first kills of the war. In the Battle of the Coral Sea, in May of 1942, the Wildcats effectively shot down at least 21 opposing carrier based aircraft in two days of fighting. At Midway, F4F squadrons helped to defeat the Japanese forces. For almost a year after June 1942, Grumman Wildcats helped break the back of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Solomons campaign by ripping their aircraft out of the sky. The Battle of Guadalcanal was won because of the effective air cover provided by F4F's, so that U.S. dive-bombers and attack aircraft could do their telling work on enemy troops and installations. All in all, by the time it was replaced by later model fighters, the gutsy, beer-barrel F4F had a kill ratio of seven enemy fighters shot down for every Wildcat. Not bad for a "second rate" aircraft that turned out to be an unsung hero!

Grumman F4F Wildcat Plan. Outerzone planID:3495
Grumman F4F Wildcat Plan. Outerzone planID:3495



The model built and shown is one of the early production model F4F-3 Wildcats and does not have an external air scoop on top of the engine cowl. It also has only four machine guns in the fixed wings, and a long, straight type pilot tube in the left wing.


This model depicts the specific aircraft of Commander James Thach of VF-3, as well as the general style of markings used on production Navy fighter aircraft during late 1941 and early 1942. You can find various other markings and coloration contained in the Profile publication of "The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat," and an excellent booklet written completely in Japanese with terrific color renderings and photos titled F4F "???," dated 1971. This Japanese booklet is called the KOKU-FAN and is the January 71, Vol. 20 No. 2 issue. It is published by Bunrin-Do Company, Ltd. and can be obtained from Beaumont Aviation Literature, 11 Bath St., London EC1.


The wing for this model is made up of two separate panels. Each panel can be completely built, covered and finished, then plugged into the finished fuselage.

First, cut all ribs from medium soft quarter grained sheet balsa. W-1 is 1/16 inch sheet and all other ribs are 1/32. Next, cut out and taper the leading and trailing edges from straight-grained medium soft balsa.

Place trailing edge and bottom front spar strip on top of plan in proper locations and fasten down. Fit ribs W-2 through W-9 in place and cement to trailing edge and bottom spar strip, making certain that all ribs are perpendicular to work surface. Allow cement to dry thoroughly. Place rear spar strip in notches on top of ribs, allowing extra length to hang over location where W-1 will be located, and cement to ribs W-2 to W-9. Install front top spar in notches in top of ribs and locate W-11 spar joiner accurately at ribs W-3 and W-2. Now rib W-1 can be located and set accurately in place between trailing edge and all spars.

Remove wing from board and install 1/16 inch strips and oil cooler platform. Cement leading edge and wing tip in place, and complete careful final sanding of all wing elements. Brush on two coats of thin dope (50% thinner to 50% dope) on the structure where covering tissue will be attached. Sand very lightly, then brush on a coat of full strength dope.

Even the framework of the Wildcat model seems more rugged than some of its contemporaries, however with proper selection of materials, it need not be sluggish.
Even the framework of the Wildcat model seems more rugged than some of its contemporaries, however with proper selection of materials, it need not be sluggish.

Covering each wing panel on this model is accomplished with standard blue Japanese tissue on the top surface, and white on the bottom. Apply only a light mist of water to eliminate possible warping. When wing is completely dry, spray or brush on two coats of thin clear dope. Add an adjustable tab to right wing (only) made from bristol board and thin copper wire for hinges. Color top and bottom to match wing.


These are made up of separate right and left panels in the same manner as the main wing. Each can be completely finished, then plugged into the fuselage vertical fin.

Much of the basic structure is cut from strips of 1/16 square balsa. The tips, trailing edges, and joining plates at centerline of airplane are all cut from 1/16 sheet to exact shapes shown. Add 1/32 thick by 1/16 wide cap strips to rib structures S-1 through S-5.

Cut 1/32 tip pieces to shape and cement to top and bottom of tips. Last, cut and cement 1 /32 strips to top and bottom of trim tab intercostals between ribs S-3 and S-4 and top and bottom of plug-in boxes as shown. Now carefully sand the whole structure to a streamline airfoil shape. This is known as the "Stahl" type airfoil. Cover both panels in the same manner as the wing. Attach completed trim tabs with small, soft copper wire. Mark off control surfaces on main tail panels with India ink.


The fuselage structure shape for this model requires the building of the vertical tail furfaces as a part of the fuselage itself. The fuselage is of the half-shell type, complete with keels, stringers, and half-bulkheads.

Cut all bulkhead halves from quarter grained sheet balsa. Pin down the top and bottom keel pieces over the drawing. Note that portions of the fin and rudder are included in the half-shell structure.

Cement the left side half-bulkheads F-2 through F-5, and F-7 through F-13 in place between top and bottom keels. Insert precut side keel F-18 in bulkhead notches and cement in place. Add top partial bulkhead F-6 between top and side panels as required. Install 1/16 square stringer that is located immediately above side keel F-17 and cement to bulkheads F-5 through F-9 only. Cement root rib piece F-19 in place after pre-trimming inside top edge to clear stringer just mentioned. Cement bottom piece of root rib, F-20, in place in area shown. Cut to length and install the 1/16 square horizontal tail support pieces between bulkheads F-12 and F-13. When dry, remove this left side assembly from the plan.

Lift the tracing of the plan, turn it upside down, and refasten to work surface. Invert the left fuselage assembly and set with top and bottom keels on 1/4 inch thick, 1% high by 1 inch wide spacer blocks mounted on edge at intervals around the plan. Check alignment, pin fuselage assembly to spacers, then proceed to add the right side half-bulkheads (also F-6B) and the amount of structure that has been added to the left side to this point. Remove fuselage assembly from the spacer jigs and add all other stringers to both sides alternately... except the side stringer immediately below the F-18 side keels.

The familiar retracting gear, first used on tha F3F and earlier Grumman biplane fighters, is a complicated bunch of arms and pivots, which may be simplified if you intend to fly it often. Wing and stabilizer panels are built separately, and may be completely finished before plugging into appropriate slots and glued. Inlaid 1/32 sheet is glued over bulkheads, between stringers.
The familiar retracting gear, first used on tha F3F and earlier Grumman biplane fighters, is a complicated bunch of arms and pivots, which may be simplified if you intend to fly it often. Wing and stabilizer panels are built separately, and may be completely finished before plugging into appropriate slots and glued. Inlaid 1/32 sheet is glued over bulkheads, between stringers.

From bulkhead F-4 through F-6, and F-6 through F-8, inset and cement trimmed pieces of soft 1/32 balsa between top keel F-14, and the first top stringer below and adjacent to it on each side of centerline. Inset and cement similar trimmed balsa pieces between same bulkheads on bottom of fuselage between same bulkheads on bottom of fuselage between bottom keel F-17 and first stringer above and adjacent to it on each side of centerline. From bulkhead F-2 to F-3, pieces of 1/32 soft balsa should be inset, trimmed, and cemented between all adjacent stringers and keels in the complete area under the engine cowl.

Cement the 1/8 inch bulkhead F-1 to F-3, including all inset pieces, to a smooth cross-sectional fuselage shape. Cut top and bottom engine cowl outer skin pieces from 1/32 sheet soft balsa, trim for accurate fit, and cement into position.

From small, soft pieces of scrap balsa, cut out and sand to rough shape the left and right sides of the tail cone. Hollow out both pieces for ultra light weight, and cement to F-13 and tail cone structure. Finish sand the complete tail cone to a smooth contour.

At this point, fit, trim and glue the 1/32 ribs in the vertical fin and rudder. Construct the trim tab, either from a single piece of very light balsa, or build up as shown on plan. Cement light, soft copper wire to tab for hinges, but do not attach to rudder at this time. Sand entire vertical tail including ribs, leading edge, trailing edge, and tip to final streamlined shape.

After cutting aft motor peg supports from 1/32" ply, cement to aft side of bulkhead F-12, top side of side keel, and the stringer above the side keel as shown on plan.

At this stage, the fuselage is ready for covering with Japanese tissue. Brush on a first coat of thin clear dope on all exterior surfaces of sheet balsa covering and all stringers and keels. After that, add two more coats of full strength clear dope. Sand lightly before the last coat. The fuselage is covered with strips of tissue running lengthwise, with a separate piece for each adjacent pair of stringers. When each piece of tissue is in correct position either on the stringers or on the sheet balsa, brush thinner through the paper to secure it. (For a unique method of covering with large pieces of tissue, see McHard's how-to article.) When shrunk and dry, brush or spray on two coats of thin clear dope over the entire outer surface of fuselage covering.

Cut, trim, and sand to fit, lower keel fairings in front and back of the wheel well location on either side of keel.

Form the lower V-struts for the landing gear from 1/32 wire to shape shown on plan. Insert into position in the bottom edge of lower keel, align, and cement securely to keel. The outboard free ends of the wire can be soldered or epoxied to the main landing gear wire strut which is already in position in the fuselage. All wire struts can be covered with plastic tubing or shaped balso to give realistic thickness to the struts. The wheel wells can be simulated by cutting pieces of black tissue to their exact shape, then attaching them to fuselage covering using thinner followed by a coat of clear thin dope. The small windows aft of the wheel wells on the lower fuselage can be done in the same manner. Exposed portion of lower keel at landing gear location can be painted a medium gray.

Cut the front cowl formers, C-2, C-3, and C-4 from 1/8 sheet balsa, and C-1 from 1/16. Stack and align formers carefully, then cement together. After drying, tack glue the stack of formers to front of finished fuselage. Carve and sand exterior carefully to match shape of fuselage. After final sanding, remove from the fuselage and carve out interior with a small power tool. Sand interior smooth, and use colored dope or enamel to paint inside a matt black or dark gray.

Paint forward surface of bulkhead F-1 the same color. Paint exterior of cowl front blue on top and off-white on bottom to match the colored tissue used on fuselage, and cement permanently to front of fuselage.

The nose block is built up on either side of a 1/32 inch thick circle of plywood. Cylinders can be simulated by pieces of drawings or photos glued in proper locations on front of 1/32 ply circle.

The cockpit canopy is molded from a small sheet of clear plastic that is heated and stretched over a carved form block. The actual canopy frame is simulated by applying strips of Japanese tissue using clear dope as an adhesive. If desired, the strips can be painted to match the color of the top fuselage.

The author
The author's model is decorated in the markings of late 1941, early 1942, with blue tissue on top, and white on the bottom. A little cockpit detailing goes a long way toward improving the appearance of any scale model. Very little weight is added.


A 6 or 7 inch plastic or carved balsa propeller can be used. These, of course, are of the standard two-bladed type. Also, a laminated sheet balsa prop could be constructed with the blades formed, when wet, over a curved surface such as a glass jar or a tin can. Various rubber motor combinations can be tried, with anything from a single loop of 1/8 flat rubber 13 or 14 inches long to, perhaps, two loops of 3/16 inch flat rubber of about the same length. Don't use too much power, but do try different reasonable combinations with different propellers.


With the rubber motor installed, the model should balance at approximately the front spar of the main wing. Set rudder trim tab to give a slight left turn in glide. With all the drag of the landing gear struts, and the model being a mid-wing design, very little to no down-thrust may be needed to control powered flight. However, a slight amount of left thrust may be set in, if the right wing aileron tab is set to keep the left wing up in turns. Begin with low power (100 turns maximum) and increase the number of turns as trim adjustments give more and more stable flights. Good luck.

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