A great flying demonstration by the Commemorative Air Force Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat was conducted at the Planes of Fame Airshow 2015. The story of the Bearcat, a former US Navy fighter is an interesting one in aviation history.
Designed to counter any aircraft the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy may put into service, the Grumman F8F Bearcat was a very fast piston engine fighter (the last piston engine fighter produced by Grumman) that was introduced into US Navy service in February 1945 and was fully operational by May 1945. Despite being a highly capable and maneuverable fighter, with a top speed of 678 kmh / 421 mph (57 kmh / 41 mph faster than its Grumman F6F Hellcat predecessor) and heavily armed with 4 x 20mm cannons (initially .50 caliber machine guns), rockets and bombs it was too late for combat service in World War Two (VF-19 with Bearcats was on the USS Langley heading for the Pacific theatre when the war ended). The F8F would have been very handy in getting up fast and quickly stopping Japanese Kamikaze attacks in those desperate last days of World War Two!
By the time the Korean War erupted (1950-1953), the F8F was superseded by faster and more versatile US Navy jets and never saw combat there either. This wasn’t the end of the zippy Bearcat though…
F8F production ended in 1949 with 1,265 built and by 1952 the type was retired from service in the United States. None the less it served its time well in over 24 US Navy and Marine Corps squadrons in those post war years (following retirement many were converted to drones for weapons training and were re-designated F8F-1D and F8F-2D). The F8F was even being used by the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team from 1946 to 1950 (when the unit was put back into operational service due to the outbreak of the Korean War). The Bearcat was also operated by the French, Thai and South Vietnamese Air Forces.
It was not until in service with the French Air Force that the F8F saw combat including during the infamous 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This was during the First Indochina War between French and Communist Viet Minh forces from 1946 to 1954 (with a French defeat this saw and end to their colonial rule over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). 200 Bearcats were purchased by the French and 28 of these were later given to the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) in 1954, which were not retired from service until 1963. The Thai Air Force retired their last F8F in 1960.
Although long retired from military service that was not the last of the Bearcats. In more recent years Bearcats have been used as a racing aircraft at the Reno Air Races in Nevada and naturally a number are still flying as warbirds at airshows too. The F8F flying demonstration at Planes of Fame Airshow 2015 was impressive as always.