And This is Where We Found Out What "Performance" Really Means!
Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, '72 (or so),


Bearcat Greenemyer
Darryl Greenemyer's alter-ego was a Bearcat with it's puny little R-2800 replaced with a no-so-puny R-3350.

It's evident that this airplane was born about the time engineers were beginning to give some thought to the guy inside. Everything's mounted just about where you think it ought to be and nearly everything is easy to reach and figure out. The trim wheels are under your left arm, as in most military planes; the flaps move up and down by your left knee; and the gear handle sticks out of the canted portion of the left console just before it hits the panel.
The nose is an impossibly short distance away and it doesn't look as if there can be nearly enough room up there to house over 2,000 horses. It's easy to peer over the nose, because you sit very high in the airplane, which seems to be a typical Grumman trait. I guess they figured it helps if you can see what you are doing when trying to land on a flattop. From this vantage point, I was painfully aware of the tiny size of the airplane. What had been a behemoth from the outside looks like a homebuilt from the inside. The only thing that doesn't look ridiculously small, from the cockpit, is the prop; it stretched nearly halfway out to the wing tips.
I spent a lot of time camped in that cockpit learning where switches were, memorizing locations of gauges, and generally working up my nerve to fly it. Suddenly, there I was, the engine was running, Junior had crawled out, strapped me in, and turned me loose. I sat there, that big propeller disc covering everything in front of me, trying to pull me across the ramp, and I didn't seem to feel worried. It was very strange. In the Mustang, I had some apprehension, but everything about the Bearcat seemed so right that I just couldn't get uptight about the 2,200 hp up front. As I taxied down the long taxiway at Cox Field, I experimented with the tailwheel lock, so I'd know whether it was engaged or not. With the tailwheel in the locked position, no normal amount of one-wheel braking could move the tail sideways—that was comforting to know. The brakes were not oversensitive like the B-25's or the Corsair's; they didn't need pumping like the P-38. They were just like my old Pontiac's.
By the time I came to the end of the runway, I suddenly became very businesslike. I felt very professional as I cleaned up the flight deck. As I lined up in the center of the runway, I ran down the checklist one more time, making doubly sure I had locked the tailwheel. Junior said he figures some Grumman test pilot forgot to lock it once and that's where the name Bearcat came from. I hit the brakes alternately to make sure the tailwheel was firmly locked, made sure I was perfectly straight, and froze the nose attitude in my mind so I'd remember it when I came back to land. I'd been told that the direction I was heading when I let the hammer down was the direction I was going to go, so I made sure I was straight with the world. The night before, I had calculated the power loading of the Bearcat and it came out an unbelievable 3.5 pounds per horsepower, as compared to 12 pounds for a Cherokee or 5.5 for a Mustang. As I started the throttle forward, I remembered the figure and my hair stood on end.
I figured that tiny tailwheel would be my salvation in controlling the torque, so I sucked the stick up to my navel and fed the power in as fast as I could without inducing too much torque/P-factor. The acceleration was absolutely unbelievable. The noise wasn't as bad as the Mustang's, but the acceleration began to blur the sides of the runway. By the time I had full power, the airplane felt as if it were going to lift off three-point, so I neutralized the stick and let the tail come up. I was amazed, frightened and exhilarated all at the same time. In a matter of seconds, it leaped off the runway. I was off the ground before I even began to think about torque. There was absolutely none, not a trace. Not once did it swerve, or even give any indication it was going to.
I planned to leave the gear down first time around and stay in the pattern. I had to bring the power all the way back almost immediately to keep under 150 knots, and I cruised around the pattern as if I didn't have a care in the world. I remembered how frightened I'd been in the Mustang at this point, but the Bearcat felt so much like home, I was as calm as I've ever been.
Turning base, I held 140 knots. I knew I was too fast, because the recommended approach speed is only about 110 knots, but there was a 25-knot wind, slightly crossed, so I figured I could use the speed. I reached down and got half flaps on base and turned final. Then I put the rest of the flaps down and started bleeding off airspeed to have 110 knots or so over the fence. This crazy airplane flew the pattern as if it were on rails. It was as stable as a pool table. All I did on final was jockey the power a little to land just past the numbers. When you get below 29 inches manifold pressure, there's a little throttle lag, but it's not noticeable unless you need a lot of power in a hurry.
Junior had said the Bearcat would quit flying the second I brought the nose up, so I waited until I was in ground effect before I leveled off. The Bearcat has absolutely zero float, and as I leveled out, I could see I would have to pull fast to get into a three-point attitude. As the stick came back toward the rear of its travel, the pressures, which had been very light up to this point, suddenly got heavier and heavier. This caught me by surprise, and I hit the ground main gear first.
In most airplanes this would have set up a good little bounce, but when a Bearcat is down, it doesn't go anywhere. The gear is stiff, and instead of bouncing, I bobbled from corner to corner. The rollout was so straight I could have had my legs crossed (instead of my fingers).
I made the first turnoff and stopped on the ramp for a second while Junior jumped on the wing and his ground crew gave the airplane a quick walk-around. I must have been grinning like an idiot because everybody started laughing. He told me to go ahead and climb out of the pattern and play with it for a while. This time when I taxied out, I really felt good. Not once during the entire pattern did I get behind the airplane. It had nothing to do with me, it's just that the airplane was so stable and easy to control.
One of the really critical things in a Bearcat is its ridiculously low gear speed of 140 knots. I was determined to get the gear up before I left the pattern, so this time I planned to crosscheck the airspeed on takeoff. The last time I had stayed on the runway much longer than necessary. Tailwheel locked, trim set, cowl flaps open, I started the power ahead. As soon as I had full power, I let the tail come up and checked the airspeed. It was impossible! It had only been a second. The airspeed indicator went through 120knots like a shot. I hauled the nose up and started seeking an attitude that would give me 140 knots. Just in the act of rotating, I accelerated to 160 IAS! The nose came up, and the airspeed kept climbing. I kept moving the nose up until the airspeed finally stabilized at 150 knots—still too fast. I brought the nose higher.
When I finally got 145 knots, I could see that I had broken one of the FARs because my nose attitude was easily 45 degrees, and 30 degrees qualifies as aerobatics. Who would believe a takeoff would be an aerobatic maneuver? I felt as if I were going nearly straight up and there was no way I was going to pull the nose up any higher, so I reached down and brought the gear up. I knew the left leg would fold first and I felt a slight yaw to the right when it did. The gear indicator still showed the right one down and locked, so I cycled it again. I cycled the gear twice before the checkered flag showed up in the appropriate window. The people on the ground said it had folded all three times, so it must have been a sticky microswitch sending out the wrong message.
All the time I was monkeying with the gear, I was still trying to get 140 knots and was still at nearly takeoff power. I had reduced power only slightly and still had about 50 inches of manifold pressure. When I got the gear-up indication, I figured I'd better turn out of the pattern, as I had been climbing out straight ahead and was now about three-quarters of a mile south of the airport. I was still close enough to the runway that I couldn't see it behind the wing. From takeoff to the time I started thinking about turning out, not more than a minute and a half had passed. As I started the turn, I glanced at the altimeter and it showed an amazing 6,000 feet and building rapidly! No wonder the airplane held the takeoff-to-10,000-feet record for years. Supposedly, with a honcho on board instead of a pasture pilot, the Bearcat will reach 10,000 feet in 91 seconds from brake release. We were well up into the century series fighters before a jet finally beat it.