This version was less popular with American pilots because the same amount of ammunition was spread over two additional guns, decreasing firing time. With the F4F-3's four 50-caliber guns and 450 rounds per gun, pilots had 34 seconds of firing time; six guns decreased ammunition to 240 rounds per gun, which could be expended in less than 20 seconds. The increase to six guns was attributed to the Royal Navy, who wanted greater firepower to deal with German and Italian foes. Jimmy Thach is quoted as saying, "A pilot who cannot hit with four guns will miss with eight." Extra guns and folding wings meant extra weight, and reduced performance: the F4F-4 was capable of only about 318 mph (512 km/h) at 19,400 ft (5,900 m) Rate of climb was noticeably worse in the F4F-4, while Grumman optimistically claimed the F4F-4 could climb at a modest 1,950 ft (590 m) per minute, in combat conditions, pilots found their F4F-4s capable of ascending at only 500 to 1,000 feet (300 m) per minute. Moreover, the F4F-4's folding wing was intended to allow five F4F-4s to be stowed in the space required by two F4F-3s. In practice, the folding wings allowed an increase of about 50% in the number of Wildcats carried aboard U.S. fleet aircraft carriers.
The F4F-4 in Aces High II
American carrier based fighter, it is a pretty decent plane when you go through each of its attributes one by one. Good firepower, small hard target, good maneuverability, tough airframe, all things that make what would be an excellent fighter. The problem with the F4F-4 is that it is very underpowered and vastly out-classed in speed by most of the common opponents it will face in the Late and Mid War arenas. This makes for a tough fight since the Wildcat will most likely not be able to dictate the fight unless an enemy chooses to stay around and turn-fight it. However, since the introduction of the arena split, the Early War arena gives the tubby little Grumman a chance to shine on a more competitive level.
The F4F-4 mounts a single Pratt & Whitney R-1820-86, generating 1200hp. The result is an aircraft that is somewhat overweight and underpowered. This is especially noticeable in vertical maneuvering and climb performance. She also lacks WEP, meaning there's no additional power that can be coaxed out of the engine.
Aces High II Performance Charts
Typical of American fighters, the F4F-4 has good firepower in the form of the heavy Browning .50cal M2 machine gun, with options for either four or six gun packages. This gives the Wildcat an excellent balance of hitting power, range and accuracy.
In the six-gun package the F4F carries 240rpg. This packages gives an increase in weight of fire at expense of duration of firing time, and the outer pair of guns is set further out on the wings so may cause some convergence issues. With four guns, ammo load is increased to a whopping 430rpg, more rounds of .50cal than any other American fighter except the P-38 in the heavy loadout. Although volume of fire is decreased, duration is almost doubled, and there's some advantages to the reduction in weight by removing the extra pair of Brownings.
The Wildcat's maneuverability has been historically somewhat underestimated, as she's frequently been compared unfavorably with her main opponent, the highly nimble A6M Zero. However the F4F should be treated with care in any angles fight. Rate of roll is solid, if not remarkable, greatly assisted with use of rudder. The main detriment to the F4F in a sustained turning engagement is lack of power, however in the Early War Arena this is less pronounced, and with flaps she can generally hang with most opponents at low speeds. The lack of power is particularly noteworthy in nose-high vertical maneuvers.
At mid to high-speeds the F4F, typical of US Navy iron, is quick and responsive. She corners well and will out-turn much of her opposition in this range, including the vaunted Zero. The Wildcat also maintains control authority (and airframe integrity) up to insanely high speeds, and can can continue maneuvering long after most opponents lock up or start to shed parts.
Fighting in the F4F-4
The Wildcat is a good fighter, showing an excellent blend of attributes that made it a good plane. The main problem with the Wildcat is that is simply doesn't have enough engine power to play with the likes of most of the planes in the two later periods at anything near an even battle. This isn't to say that it's useless, it isn't, but in most cases it will have to use other factors in order to create fights and then force them to conclusion.
The F4F-4 has no WEP and engine power is at a premium already. This makes for a slow aircraft, so slow that it is unlikely to catch anybody in a straight pursuit. Sea level speed is 283mph, increasing to around 320mph at 19K, amongst the slowest aircraft in the game. Climb times to 19K are long with even the best climb rate only being in the range of 2100ft/minute as compared to most planes who can average at least 3000ft/minute or more.
The Wildcat is very maneuverable when it has speed. It can corner very quickly, probably a lot better than most people expect. I found that while this instantaneous turn rate was great, the long term situation wasn't nearly so rosy. The sustained turn rate without losing altitude starts to force you to lighten up on the stick or lose control through lack of speed. The horsepower of the engine just can't replace nearly the energy expended in hard turning and thus your sustained turn-rate is much less. The F4F-4 also seems a little unstable at low speeds, developing some lateral mushiness as if the tail were not quite large enough. It feels a little like the P-47D30 which also experiences this at low speeds (and usually high external loads). Fighting nose up is pretty much useless as you will find yourself well below your corner speed. The Wildcat is a very good angles fighter though, at least while it's speed is still up. I found that a descending spiral attack when speeds got low seemed to help extend the excellent turn rate.
The weapons of the F4F-4 are very good, packing six 50 caliber weapons on par with a lot of late war models. The accuracy of these weapons is great out to long ranges so taking shots out to D800 is often possible though D500 is more typical of maximum range for most shot opportunities. Snap-shots, high-deflection, or even merging shots are all good ideas. The guns are well positioned and have quite a bit of ammunition so I wouldn't be shy using them to try and take pieces out of bogies.
The F4F-4 is also incredibly strong and an excellent diver. It isn't quick to build speed in a dive but once in a steep dive can retain control and not rip apart at unreal speeds. I've flown a F4F-4 in a 550mph vertical dive and still had good control response. Even at 575mph the plane is creaking but controls are still reasonably effective and recovering from a dive is not overly challenging. I understand that the Wildcat can also take serious punishment from aircraft fire too. A diving escape is sometimes possible to at least extend the encounter till help can arrive.
Your best plan is going to be to try and corner an enemy near the edge of a fight, one who is in a plane that is not clearly superior to you in E or position. Be above the enemy and then work them over in a BnZ style of fight using your good snapshot and instantaneous maneuverability to bring the nose into firing positions. If the fighter deteriorates to low altitudes before you have a kill then your turn-rate still should provide a good option against all but the best turning opposition. Trying to escape though is a problem since your top speed could likely be 80mph less, or worse, than the enemy you are facing. Most fights will be to the end, though if you can trap an enemy you should have the right tools at hand to get the job done.
In the Early War setup the F4F-4 is a somewhat different animal, and on much more even ground with her opponents. Spitfire pilots love trying to turn with everyone, and the F4F is liable to give them a nasty surprise. Even Hurricanes will experience problems attempting to fight the F4F in a turning contest, and will find catching or running on the little Grumman difficult. The story against German iron is much the same.
In the Early War arena the Wildcat's lack of engine power is much less notable. The F4F's durability is even more pronounced, as armament of most rides in the Early War is significantly lighter than can be found in Mid and Late War. Her own guns give her even more of an advantage, when most opponents are carrying the small-calliber .303s, .30s and 7.7mm machine guns.
All the tactics the Wildcat can utilize against the more powerful aircraft of the Mid and Late War Arenas can also be applied in Early War, with the distinct difference that the Wildcat is now much more competitive in the vertical and in maximum speed. Neither are mind-blowing, but she's faster than and will out-climb the Hurricanes, and she'll out-maneuver most of her remaining opponents. Rate of roll is not spectacular, but is greatly assisted with rudder.
The one opponent the F4F needs to be particularly mindful of is the A6M Zero. The Zeke is faster, more maneuverable and a much better climber than the Wildcat, so will win any sustained angles contest at low speeds. However the F4F is more rugged and much better armed with four or six Browning .50cal, against the twin 7.7mm cowl guns and 20mm cannon of the Zero. The 7.7mm will do little more than tickle the F4F and the ballistics properties of the cannon are horrible, so the Wildcat can generally afford to take a few hits. Even hits from the 20mm may not ensure a kill, as the F4F can soak up a ton of damage without shedding parts. Against Zeros the best strategy is to keep plenty of altitude to work with, and enter the engagement from above. The Wildcat dives and retains E very well, so hit-and-run tactics should be utilized. Set a minimum engagement altitude, so if you run into trouble you can point the nose down and dive out of Dodge. The Zero will not be able to follow your dive speed, and while the Wildcat maintains excellent control at extreme airspeeds, the Zero suffers control loss and may even lose parts.
Take every shot you can get. If the Zero presents you with a HO take it as it may be the only opportunity you have. The Zero's poor guns and lack of armor virtually ensure you'll get the better of this exchange, as even light hits can be fatal.
Fighting against the F4F-4
The Wildcat is actually a dangerous opponent and should not be underestimated. That said, it is usually a rather easy opponent to escape from or to kill. If you get trapped by an Wildcat, and maybe his friends, then you could find yourself in deep trouble.
To attack a Wildcat I would plan on using your top speed and vertical potential. The Wildcat has a dismal climb rate and it is not typical to find one that has maneuvered at all to be flying at more than 260mph at low level. That low speed should make attacks and extensions reasonably easy without much of a threat of retaliatory attacks. Be careful of the firepower of the Wildcat though, he may be happy just presenting you Head-On after Head-On to try and maximize the strength of his airframe with the above average firepower he can bring to bear at long ranges. Any extension would probably be best served with a vertical component since the Wildcat is so poor in climb. Wildcats also become marginally stable at very low speeds and don't hang on their props well, but with the good firepower the possess they may try and spray from long ranges at you if you are also slow. If the fight appears to be going poorly, simple reverse direction and egress before initiative is lose. Extensions should be relatively easy.
Escaping from a Wildcat can present some problems especially if he is holding a significant E advantage in altitude or speed. If you feel you can match his speed in a dive then you can attempt this, level at top speed, and then extend with little chance of him catching you. The Wildcat doesn't appear to accelerate well in the first part of it's dive, so you may be able to build up some distance early and then use that as a buffer when you run. The Wildcat is highly maneuverable though at high speeds so it is best to not try and aggressively maneuver for position or to try and create an overshoot. You are just as likely to face barrage of .50 cal fire as the Wildcat maneuvers with you and slows you down. Gross overshoots are fine though when a very high speed diving Wildcat is bound to overshoot. Gain speed for a defensive maneuver, execute it in time to avoid the wrath of the .50's and then reverse to extend away.
A couple of additional points to be concerned about. The Wildcat is a small fighter and can be quite darty and nimble. Holding it in the gunsight can be tough and the excellent turn rate can trick you into attempting impossible lead pursuits and set you up for reversals. The Wildcat is also prone to take longer range shots, like many planes with good long range firepower. The Wildcat is even more prone to this because the pilot tends to fight more desperately and try anything in order to swing the fight in his favor, extensions should always involve enough room to escape cleanly from range of his .50's, at least D1.0 is a good margin. The Wildcat is also not a one pass kill type of plane so don't overcommit yourself to a single shot opportunity. You may need to make a second or even third successful pass in order to finish off a F4F-4. Finally, if that wasn't enough, be careful of collisions. The small, darty, and slow nature of the F4F-4 can make collisions a real possibility. Over-committing to an attack you may find yourself on a collision course with something that is as much as 100mph slower than you are.
Soda's Aircraft Evaluations