Jason Somes and Ken Gotshall are pilots with the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. At the 2009 Pacific Coast Dream Machines show, Jason brought up the CAF F6F Hellcat and Ken brought the CAF Zero.
I got the chance to sit down with them and compare and contrast these two amazing World War II fighters
Evan: What are the main differences between the Hellcat and the Zero?
Jason: Well Evan, the Zero was manufactured in the late 30s and then throughout the war. It was a lightweight airplane with no armor plating and no self sealing fuel tanks, at least initially, and was meant mainly to be an air superiority airplane.
Ken: The Zero was a lightweight, very maneuverable airplane, and it was intended to be an attack aircraft as much as defensive aircraft. The power to weight ratio is optimal for maneuverability, it’s a 5600 pound airplane with 1200 horse power and it flies really well but it sacrifices self sealing fuel tanks and armor plating so it suffers for that maneuverability so it's give-and-take.
Jason: And the wing design of the Zero was made to be a turning and climbing wing which has a speed limitation. The Zero, at least the version we're flying, seems to hit a wall at around the 220 knot range where it takes a lot of power and energy to go any faster than that. Whereas when you compare it to the Hellcat, the Hellcats wing design and its great weight allows for great speed while sacrificing maneuverability a bit, but it allows the airplane to penetrate much better, especially when diving.
Evan: How does it feel to fly these amazing planes? It must feel great to fly a piece of living history
Jason: You know, this museum we fly with, the Commemorative Air Force, it's a great opportunity. The Hellcat we brought out today is one of five remaining examples in the world that's flyable - probably only one of three or four that actually do still flying. Flying a piece of history itself is just an amazing opportunity and a huge responsibility. You know our goal is to go to the shows, to preserve the history, and to show the airplanes and do it safely - meaning again and again and again. So we take a lot of care of the airplanes to ensure the maintenance is all done properly and we fly only when the weather's good. Things like that so we can show the airplane for many years to come. But personally it's a huge honor to fly an airplane there are so few of and to fly an airplane that’s preserving the history that our grandfathers and fathers basically operated in a time of war. We get to operate in a time of peace and in a nice fun environment. So it's a huge and great opportunity.
Ken: I'll totally second that. A lot of people ask me is it fun to fly that airplane, and well it is! But when you're in the cockpit and you're so focused on the task at hand and that's taking care of a piece of living history that's not just sitting in the museum, we’re out here flying it. And yeah like Jason said, it's a huge honor not only just for the general public to come out and see us at air shows, but the fact that it that our organization trusts us with these airplanes. It's a big job and it's a big responsibility and it's great to get out of here so people can see them.
Evan: Which do you think would win in a dogfight at, let’s say, 15,000 feet?
Ken: Well seeing as how the Zero is the one that has the smoke system it only seems the Zero loses! I don't know, I've actually been gathering all sorts of comments and information from guys that actually flew them in World War II. There was different tactics and it really depended on who was in the cockpit. You know Jason says the Hellcat's the best but we did a really good thing by bringing our veteran pilots home to train the new pilots where the Japanese and the Germans didn't do that and that really helped us out. So if you had a lot of new Japanese pilots going up against some of our new pilots yet ours were trained so well, it was really flying tactics thatt took over and just sheer numbers by the end of the war.
Jason: Like Ken said, the Hellcat was introduced mid war basically as a response to the Zero so I think it would definitely, if pilot training was equal, I think the Hellcat would have a definite advantage. You know the Japanese, especially at the end of the war, as Ken indicated didn't have any more pilots that were worth a damn. They were all shot down basically earlier in the war and there was no one there to teach the new pilots. So hands-down I would give it to the Hellcat at any altitude as long as it could have a well, actually I wouldn't say that. Down low at sea level or on the deck, you probably would have a pretty even fight because the Hellcat couldn't dive out if things got pretty rough. My votes for the Hellcat because he I flew it in today!
Evan: If the Zero had a height advantage would it win a dogfight?
Jason: If the Zero had a height advantage, I guess, and if the Hellcat didn't see it coming, he would have the initial attack advantage, but it couldn't dive away. He wouldn't have the energy after the attack to dive away and the Hellcat could follow it on down. So if you talk to or read any of the stuff from the Red Baron of World War I, I think he said only one in 11 kills ever saw him coming, so he used to sneak attack from the sun above. So I'd say with any airplane you would definitely have the advantage if he came from a higher altitude. So if the Zero was able to take the Hellcat out in the first attack, it could definitely handle it.
Evan: What are some good things about the Zero and Hellcat?
Jason: Well, I will talk about the good things in the Hellcat and Ken can talk about the good thinks in the Zero. The good thing about the Hellcat, a lot of internal fuel so you get good range, it’s easy to fly, easy to land which is good because if you can't bring the airplane back home and put it back on the carrier, then what good is it? You have an airplane that you can put an 18-year-old or 21-year-old kid in it with 200 hours, have him fly a mission and then get home successfully. You could take a lot of battle damage with the self sealing fuel tanks. It's just a large airplane that can take a lot because it's so big and has so few systems, it has a lot airplane to shoot at that isn't critical. The motor is extremely reliable, the Pratt & Whitney or 2800 is a great motor, an 18 cylinder twin row motor is a great reliable motor. It was just a well engineered and well-built airplane from the Grumman Ironworks.
Ken: Good things about the Zero, well everybody pretty much knows that it's a great flying airplane. It's an easy airplane to fly, it's lightweight and doesn't have any bad habits, and it’s a total cake to land because the landing gear is spread far apart. A little tail wheel time and it's an easy airplane land. So it flies well. And of course that suited it well for the war. Some of the bad things well, the systems. The systems for me being a six-foot guy, it was definitely made for a smaller person there's no doubt about it. It's not like you're crammed in the cockpit. Some American fighters are smaller, but the systems like the flap and the gear handles aren't laid out really well. The hydraulic pressure gauge is all the way behind my right shoulder. So it's difficult to get to some of the systems to make the systems work. It's got five fuel tanks so there's a bit of fuel management you know. You've got two outer tanks of 11 gallons each and there's a total of 137 gallons so does have some pretty good range. It's a fun fly an airplane I just wish the systems were laid out a little better.
Evan: How bout some bad things about the Hellcat
Jason: Bad things about the Hellcat, well, if you're paying for the gas it's thirsty. That's a bad thing about the Hellcat you don't want to be paying the fuel bill too much. It burns about 87 gallons an hour on cruise. It gets along pretty good but the definitely don't want to be paying the gas bill! I can't think of much bad with this airplane is just a straightforward good airplane. You know it's heavy. The control harmony, I'd say it's not as good as some of the later airplanes like the Bearcat which was definitely refined. I think the ailerons are a bit ineffective. I don't think it's maneuverability is as good as it could be. The ailerons are a bit small and I think they tend to snatch a bit at full deflection. I think it's a bit of an aerodynamic issue that would be refined better in the Bearcat. But I wouldn't call it a bad habit it just doesn't have as good a control harmony has some of the later airplanes or even the Zero. The Zero has a real nice feel to it. It's really a nicely designed airplane.
Jason: We like them both and chicks dig them!
Jason Somes and Ken Gotschall
(See Jason is messing with me!)
Ken and Jason are great guys and awesome pilots! It was great getting to chat with them.
Be sure to check out your local wing of the Commemorative Air Force!