Flying Cats in the Family Tree

The durability of Gulfstream jets stems from the founder's experience designing military aircraft
history, aviation, technology
Written By J. Mac McClellan

How would you feel flying an aircraft designed and built by a company nicknamed The Iron Works? Invincible, whether you were a U.S. Navy aviator 75 years ago or a Gulfstream Operator today.

Grumman perfected the manufacture of rugged airplanes by creating military aircraft during the company’s early days. The fledgling planes, the Wildcat, Hellcat and Bearcat, were renowned for surviving combat missions during World War II, and the sturdiness of the Grumman airframe led to the Iron Works moniker.

Grumman applied its aircraft manufacturing expertise to create a postwar class of aircraft that had not previously existed. The same durability and reliability exhibited by the so-called “Grumman Cats” would be designed into the world’s first purpose-built business aircraft, the Gulfstream I. Strength remains a hallmark of Gulfstream aircraft today. Several innovations, such as trailing-link landing gear and fuselage spines for airframe stability, as well as the cutting-edge aerodynamic engineering that gives Gulfstream jets superb speed, efficiency and maneuverability, demonstrate Grumman’s lasting influence.

As for the Iron Works handle, of the nearly 2,500 business jets manufactured by Gulfstream since 1958, 95 percent remain in service.

Fighting Cats

Grumman’s reputation for manufacturing “iron aircraft” dates to the prewar design of the Wildcat.

The stout, stubby fighter was developed in 1935 and was still the U.S. Navy’s top-line aircraft carrier-based fighter when the Americans joined the war in late 1941. The beefy Wildcat couldn’t climb as fast or turn as tight as lighter-weight fighters, but the aircraft could withstand much more punishment. And the Wildcat’s strength allowed Allied pilots to fly maneuvers that would have pulled the wings off lesser airplanes.

Grumman’s improved version of the Wildcat, the Hellcat, was hurried through design and went into production by 1943. The Hellcat featured a more conventional design than the Wildcat, with a low wing and main landing gear that retracted into the wing and nearly twice as much power, making it more maneuverable. Hellcat pilots accounted for more victories—5,000 plus—than those of any other Allied fighter.

Grumman added two more fighting Cats to its litter before war’s end: the Tigercat and the Bearcat. The twin-engine Tigercat was initially intended for aircraft carrier operations but was too big for the carriers of the day. The aircraft was utilized successfully by the Marines for ground missions. The Bearcat, meanwhile, resembled the Wildcat and Hellcat with a barrel-shaped fuselage typical of radial engine-powered aircraft but was significantly lighter and more aerodynamically efficient.

Grumman developed four jet-powered Cats following World War II’s end. The Panther was the first, followed by the Cougar, Tiger and finally the instantly recognizable swing-wing Tomcat. The Tomcat was a star in the Cold War but gained mainstream fame as the lead actor in the most successful military aviation action movie of all time, “Top Gun.”

Lasting Innovations

The Grumman Cats cemented their reputation as “iron aircraft” outside their combat duties.

The Blue Angels flew Cats from the demonstration flying team’s founding in 1946 through 1969. Durability, reliability and maneuverability were musts for the Blues, so the U.S. Navy naturally chose Grumman aircraft. The Blue Angels developed their signature diamond flight formation while operating the Bearcat and spent 13 years flying the Grumman Tiger, one of the first supersonic jets.

The Blue Angels weren’t the only pilots to showcase the light and fast Bearcat at major air shows. The aircraft set a number of speed records for piston airplanes following its military retirement. One particular Bearcat, a modified aircraft known as Rare Bear, held the closed course world speed record and the 3,000-meter time-to-climb record for many years. The Rare Bear has been a major attraction at the Reno National Championship Air Races since 1980 and has been clocked at a world record 528.33 mph/850.26 kph, a speed that rivals many business jets.

Speed and efficiency are just two features of the Grumman Cats that can still be found in Gulfstream aircraft.

Gulfstream aircraft, meanwhile, hold more than 75 speed records, including the 3,000-meter time-to-climb for a civil aircraft. The GIV-SP holds that mark.

Speed and efficiency are just two features of the Grumman Cats that can still be found in Gulfstream aircraft. Trailing-link landing gear, developed for Cat jets designed to land on aircraft carriers, have provided smooth landings for operators of Gulfstream aircraft since the Gulfstream GII.

Grumman established the baseline for excellence, and Gulfstream made it legendary through decades of innovation, reliability and dependability that stems from a relentless pursuit to create and deliver the world’s finest aviation experience.

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