In 1941 Grumman began design work on a hard-hitting high-performance twin-engine fighter to operate from the Midway class of US aircraft carriers -the F7F Tigercat. As the Tigercat developed it was apparent that it was going to be heavier and faster than all previous US carrier aircraft. It was also unusual in that it had a tricycle undercarriage, although it retained the usual arrester hook and folding wings for carrier operations. Even before the prototype flew in December 1943, the US Marine Corps had placed an order for 500 of the F7F-1 version. They wanted to use the Tigercat primarily as a land-based fighter in close support of Marines on the ground. Although deliveries began in April 1944, the big fighter arrived too late to be cleared for use in World War II.
Wartime production had diversified to deliver the F7F-2N nightfighter, which differed from the F7F-1 by the removal of a fuel tank to make way for a radar operator cockpit and the removal of nose armament for the fitting of the radar.
An improved fighter-bomber version was also developed, the F7F-3, and had different engines for more power at altitude, a slightly larger fin and bigger fuel tanks.
Tigercat production continued after the war’s end with F7F-3N and F7F-4N nightfighters, both having lengthened noses to house the latest radar and a few of these aircraft were strengthened and equipped for carrier operations. Some F7F-3s were modified for electronic and photographic reconnaissance missions.
Although it missed action in World War II, the Tigercat did see combat with the Marine Corps over Korea. USMC fighter unit VMF(N)-513 was based in Japan when the Korean War broke out. Equipped with Tigercat nightfighters, they went into action immediately as night-intruders and performed valuable service.
For night interdiction work the F7F-3N was well armed. A typical load consisted of eight 127-mm rockets under the wings and tour 20-mm cannon, two in each wingroot.
The US Marines were the only operators of the Tigercat.