The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a general purpose fighter, designed for use onboard aircraft carriers during World War II. The aircraft, an improvement on the F4F Wildcat, intended to destroy enemy aircraft, specifically Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft and installations. Hellcats were capable of bombing and rocket attacks. Following tests, the first aircraft flew in September 1943, with British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm also eventually using the fighters.
Upon further modifications with improving dive speed and pull out restrictions, the Hellcats received the designation of F6F-5. During the war, the aircraft achieved an unsurpassed fighter record of downing 5,155 enemy aircraft. This record was also achieved in less than two years of combat operations. As the war in the Pacific progressed, Grumman F8F Bearcat and Vought F4U Corsairs assumed larger roles and production on the F6F began to drop off.
Following the war, Hellcats were utilized for Naval Reserve fighter squadrons. In 1946, the aircraft became the first to fly with the Blue Angels flight exhibition team. Also in that year, some aircraft were converted to drones and partook in Operation Crossroads, the nuclear tests off Bikini Atoll. During the Korean War, some Hellcats with designation of F6F-5K launched assault-drone attacks against North Korea. In the remaining decade, the aircraft was slowly phased out with the last flight at Point Mugu, California, in May 1961.
Image: 80-G_425137: Grumman F6F's in flight over Naval Air Station, Sand Point, Seattle, Washington, September 1943. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.