The Grumman brain trust saw the jet age coming—indeed, they produced the F9F Panther jet in 1947. But with the Tigercat, Grumman refused to give up on piston-driven innovation. The mandate was to give the United States Navy not just its first twin-engine fighter, but a fighter that could launch and land from Midway carriers. Grumman delivered a plane powered by a 2800 HP Pratt & Whitney engine that outperformed all existing fighters. The plane was big, but “compacted” neatly with retractable wings, wheels, and nose landing gear. It could reach speeds of 450 MPH and take off quickly with 3000 pounds of weaponry, four 20mm cannons, and four 50-caliber machine guns. And it was a prime choice for ground attacks—in particular the night missions that made all the “cats” such great stalkers.

1944: Delivery, but No Service

Fabulous performance came at the cost of heavy weight and high landing speed. Pilots were wild for the deft, responsive flight experience. But it couldn’t pass carrier landing tests–a stubborn “tail hook” drove the plane’s nose onto the deck, and it was prone to wing failures. So while the plane was delivered to Marine combat units in 1944, it never saw WWII service. Grumman kept working to meet carrier suitability, but out of 1,500 planes originally commissioned, less than 500 were produced, among them 189 F7F-3s.

1948-1954: Right Plane, Wrong Time

The plane’s fighter capabilities did see air time after WWII and during the Korean War. Our Bad Kitty offered a streamlined, two-seat design and the ability to travel farther and faster than previous models. It proved a sublime ground fighter, equipped to spot the enemy by day or night, shoot hard, bomb close-in, gather photo reconnaissance, and more. Though we’re mixing metaphors, Bad Kitty was a great Warbird, one that emerged too late in the game to really sing. The plane flew for only 46 hours, and then went to the infamous Litchfield “graveyard” in Arizona. Her sisters continued to work through the Korean war, but by 1954, nearly all Tigercats sat waiting for the scrapper.

1962-1970s: The Comeback Cat

The salvage heap turned into salvation: We put the cats to work as firefighters. Sis Q Air Service purchased Bad Kitty and a few other cats on the cheap, and then fit them with belly tanks that held fire retardant. After winning the 1962 National Forest Service competition, Sis Q sent the planes to Oregon and California, where they dove into the heat of the worst fires and slipped quickly in and out of the deepest canyons. Pilots experienced a plane that responded to the lightest touch. The cats proved they were still the best damn fighters around. Wins don’t always come in the package you expect, but that doesn’t take away from the victory. Bad Kitty saw more than 1,300 hours as a fire fighter, so we can put aside the carrier landings and say the plane did meet its potential.

2003-2009: Coveted Classic

Bad Kitty is now one of the rarest Warbirds on record–quite a turn from final landing as a beer can. Less than 20 Tigercats were salvaged from Litchfield, and to date, only six are in flying condition. Historic Flight acquired Bad Kitty in 2003 and gave the plane what it deserved: Full restoration. The belly tank’s gone, but we honor her second career. What you see flying is Grumman’s original vision, a sleek blue aircraft with a growling cat’s face.

5 Responses to “Tigercat Backstory”

  1. William Christopherson says:

    My uncle, Robert G. Christopherson, fought fires all over the west, along with crop dusting and corporate flying. He lost his life in a F7F Tigercat on a solo mission hitting a tree top which knocked out an engine then subsequently crashing into a canyon wall trying to get out of a difficult area on one engine. That is the most information I have other than the crash started another fire named the Shasta-Trinity fire. This was in 1962. The F7F was fast, but suffered from some instability based on the placement and construction of the fire retardant tank.

  2. Heijo Kuil says:

    Bad Kitty, F7F-3P, Bu No 80483, N6178C, was flown by Paul Warren Wilson from Oakland – Sioux City – Minneapolis – Sudbury – St John’s – Santa Maria – Manston – Duxford arriving November 13th 1988.
    After serving with the USMC, she became Tanker E-43 with Cal-Nat Airways, Sis-Q Flying Services before owned by Kermit Weeks who sold her to Lea Aviation to be opreated by Plane Sailing Air Displays, Duxford.

  3. Sandy Tweedie says:

    When Mike Wight ferried TFC’s F7F to the UK during the 1990’s, he got a hydraulic leak and diverted to Prestwick-Scotland Airport, where I worked. Having recently helped the RNLAF locate a spare suitable part for a P-3 Orion, I felt confident I could do the same for the ‘Cat. A short while later we were in the Royal Navy stores and sure enough they had a part that might just work, and days of possible frustration suddenly became delivery on the same day again.
    We topped up the hydraulic reservoirs, and after some thorough checks, it was all good and Mike was able to continue to Duxford before dark. Just.
    Love the Big Cat, it is so beautiful. I am not sure if this Bad Kitty here is the same one, I do think this one was the late John Watts’. If it is the same one, it owes me a drink. If if is John’s then I will stand and salute and shed a tear for a great aviator. I aint an old guy, I grew up in the 70’s but I love my old a/c and you guys who have posted before me, I love reading your tales of Sis Q and TBM days. Some real heroic duties goin on all in a day’s work.
    Keep tellin them because people need to hear them.
    Kindest regards,

  4. C. E. Pulliam says:

    September 29, 2012
    I watched the beautiful Bad Kitty take off about noon today making a number of passes over Paine Field so we all could get many shots and then again at 3:00.
    What a thrill!! Many, many thanks to all who restored it and fly it today so we can enjoy it. Thank you, thank you….
    Please put it in the line up for 2013 season..

  5. Donald Baty says:

    Today I received a phone call, I thought I would never receive.
    Mike Fagan Jr. the son of Mike Fagan Sr. who lost his life in 1974, while fighting a fire out of Rohnerville tanker base, found this site and contacted me.
    Mike Fagan Jr. was so pleased to have contact with someone who may have known his father. As I shared with Mike, I only knew his father for about ten minutes. From the time Mike Sr. rolled onto the pad, and I loaded him with retardant, until the time he rolled off, was only ten minutes at the very most.
    Being one of the individuals who pulled Mike Sr. from the wreakage, I was so blessed to spend time with Mike Jr. on the phone.
    I will gather up photos and articles for Mike Jr.
    I hope to see him in the near future.
    Mike, I hope our conversation helped. I hope to sit and visit with you in the near future.
    From a friend who shares a common bond….Donald Baty.
    I can be reached at 775-934-9185…..Elko, Nevada.

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