August 31, 1943 – The first combat mission of the US Navy’s latest fighter aircraft occurred when F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of VF-5 operating from the carrier USS Yorktown assisted in an attack on Japanese installations on Marcus Island. This was a mere eighteen months after the prototype’s first flight. Altogether some 2,545 examples of the F6F-3 aircraft were delivered during 1943. The F6F Hellcat design started development as a upgraded version of the F4F Wildcat design, but by the time a final design was completed it had became a completely different breed altogether, not even sharing any parts with her predecessor. F6F Hellcat fighters were designed to be produced efficiently, and additional features such as heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks were installed to provide additional safety to the pilots. The first of these carrier fighters took flight on 26 Jun 1942 and the first combat-ready squadron was deployed aboard USS Essex in Mar 1943. They first saw action against the Japanese six months later when F6F Hellcat fighters of USS Independence attacked and shot down a Japanese seaplane. On 23 Nov 1943, F6F Hellcat fighters engaged Japanese Zero fighters over Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and scored 30 kills at the loss of only one. Repeated overwhelming victories hinted that the United States had finally produced a fighter design that not only matched but exceeded that capabilities of the feared Zero. By the end of the war, they participated in nearly every engagement in the Pacific since their introduction in 1943 and achieved a kill:loss ratio of 19:1. US Navy Ensign George Orner, a F6F Hellcat fighter pilot aboard USS Franklin, recalled his liking for his fighter. The Hellcat was a terrific airplane and very effective fighter. It was positively a piece of cake to fly; just a dream…. The difference between the F4F [Wildcat] and the F6F was night and day. We had more range, more speed, more power… more everything. US Navy Ensign Byron Robinson, an aircraft maintenance officer also of USS Franklin, also shared similar fond memories of F6F Hellcat fighters. “I dearly loved the F6F”, he said, “I could keep almost ninety percent of those aircraft in the air. It was very simple airplane to maintain because there was little [in the] way of a hydraulic system.” The simplicity in design was a reflection of Roy Grumman’s motto “build it strong, keep it simple, and make it work.” 1,264 F6F Hellcat fighters were also sent to the British Fleet Air Arm under the Lend-Lease Act. The British initially called them Gannet fighters, but by early 1944 the designation of Hellcat was unified across Allied command. Under British command, the F6F Hellcat fighters saw action off Norway, in the Mediterranean, and in the Indian Ocean. The British F6F Hellcat fighters did not achieve as great a kill:loss ratio as their American cousins, but they were still considered great carrier fighters by British pilots. In addition to the F6F Hellcat standard fighter variants, a night fighter variant and a photo reconnaissance variant were also produced. The 12,272th and last F6F Hellcat fighter was completed in Nov 1945. The stunningly high number of aircraft built was also attributed to the purposeful simplicity in the design.