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