There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn't enough.
The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.
An F6F Hellcat takes off from USS Ticonderoga during combat operations. (US Navy photo)
Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy's leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.
One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, "Ensign Eliminator." By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.
The combination docility and performance of the Hellcat made it ideal for carrier operations. (US Navy photo)
This classic warplane that won control of the skies over the Pacific decades ago is hardly seen in the sky today – only 11 F6Fs are listed with the FAA.
Tell us, would you prefer to fly a Hellcat or Corsair?