With the urgent need at Grumman to concentrate on the development of the F6F Hellcat, it was decided that production of the F4F Wildcat would be undertaken by General Motors' Eastern Aircraft Division. The first FM-1 (equivalent to the F4F-4) was delivered in August, 1942, and over 1100 of this model were delivered.
During this time, General Motors began work on an improved version-- the FM-2--based on the XF4F-8 prototype. This aircraft had a more powerful R-1820-56 Cyclone 9 radial engine, producing 1350 HP, an increase of 150 HP over the -76 engine in the F4F-1 through -4. The vertical tail was enlarged to provide directional stability to counteract the increased torque of the engine, and airframe weight was carefully studied and reduced where possible. Armament was reduced to four .50 caliber machine guns, with an increased ammo load, 450 rpg vs. the F4F-4's 240 rpg.
The net result was the ultimate Wildcat! Top speed increased from 318 mph (F4F-4) to 332 mph. Performance overall was better, as the aircraft was lighter, and the enlarged tail surfaces provided a boost to maneuverability.
According to Jane's 4,777 FM-2s were produced, making it the most numerous subvariant of the Wildcat series. Britain received 370 as Wildcat Mk. VI, the earlier "Martlet" name having been dropped in 1944.
The FM2 in Aces High II
Slow, small, and tubby, if any aircraft in the game could be considered the hidden gem of the Aces High II plane set, the FM-2 Wildcat may be it. In an arena full of F4Us, 190s, Spits and La-7s, the little Grumman is easily overlooked. But hidden in this unassuming aircraft is a surprisingly potent balance of characteristics that, in the right hands, makes the FM-2 as good as any other Mid and Late-war fighter.
The only real drawback of the FM-2 is in the engine, nonetheless, the FM-2 shows a marked improvement over the earlier F4F-4. In place of the earlier Wildcat's 1200hp Pratt and Whitney R-1820-86, the FM-2 mounts a single Wright Cyclone R-1820-56 rated at 1350hp. Despite the increased power, the new engine is actually some 250lbs lighter. Combined with reductions in weight elsewhere in the design, the result is an aircraft with both a greater top speed and much-improved rate of climb over her predecessor
Aces High II Performance Charts
The FM-2 carriers four of the heavy-hitting Browning .50cal M2 heavy machine guns. The Browning is one of the best machine guns in the game, with superb ballistics, muzzle velocity, rate of fire, and hitting power. Although outmatched by cannon in hitting power, the Ma Deuce is about as close to point-and-click as any gun in the game. She also carries a whopping 430rds per gun, of American fighters only the P-38 (500rds per gun in the overload configuration) has a bigger clip for the Ma Deuce. While the package is respectable, it can still be easy to miss the extra pair of .50s carried by most American fighters, even in the slower F4F-4. With only four guns the FM-2 can't rely on brief snapshots like American iron with the full 6-pack can.
Air-to-ground options are more limited to a pair of 100lb bombs and six 5" HVAR rockets.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the FM-2 is maneuverability. The FM-2 is lively and responsive at almost all speeds. Roll rate isn't spectacular but still good, and application of rudder will greatly assist. The Wildcat is one of the few fighters that's just as effective fighting at high speeds as she is hovering around the edge of a stall. Although outclassed by the Zero and turning with Hurricanes is a dicey proposition, the FM-2 will take all comers in a lufberry, including the vaunted Spitfires. Maneuverability uphill is less spectacular, though adequate, however in these sorts of fights the FM-2 begins to show her lack of power. Nose-low is a different story. Like the other American Navy iron, the Wildcat maintains superb control authority at absolutely ludicrous speeds. Maneuverability even at speeds up to 500mph remains excellent.
Fighting in the FM2
The FM-2, like her bigger sister the Hellcat, is docile, responsive, and easy to fly. She can ride the edge of a stall without fear of the wicked spins the Corsair is prone to. Perhaps the biggest advantage at your disposal is the element of surprise. It's rare to see anyone but a veteran take the FM-2 seriously. She's slow and underpowered, and this can lead many opponents to be foolishly overaggressive. However your options are limited by the fact that most opponents can run away from you at will.
Altitude in the FM-2 is very important for two reasons: First, the only way to get up enough of a head of steam is to build it up going down-hill. Second, and similarly, once you commit to a fight in the FM-2 you're there for the long haul and won't be able to run on anyone. If you need to get away, your only real option other than fighting it out is to point that nose down. The FM-2 is a superb diver. Dive acceleration is rapid, and the FM-2 can fall out of the sky like a cinder block with wings, attaining insane airspeed. More to the point: maneuverability at high-speed is superb. The FM-2 doesn't compress or lose parts easily. She also holds on to airspeed very well, and has an excellent zoom. However once that airspeed and altitude is gone it takes the FM-2 a while to get it back. Acceleration is acceptable, but rate of climb is average at best.
The four Brownings offer serviceable firepower, but one-pass kills will be a rarity. Plane on making several while knocking a little more off your enemy's plane on each one. However if your target offers you a good tracking shot, especially at convergence, take it. Four .50cal isn't as good as six, but can still make a serious mess of an enemy plane in convergence. As with all wing-mounted .50cal, set this close. 400 should be considered the maximum distance for acceptable hitting power. Closer is better, but the FM-2's low speed means you may rarely get shots that close.
Your best approach against faster opponents is to come in with altitude. Use your excellent dive speed and zoom to make repeated hit and run passes, or try to draw your opponent into a high-speed turning fight, as the FM-2's high-speed handling is quite good, and it gives you an opportunity to start bleeding your target of energy. While the FM-2 can go toe-to-toe with most opponents in a mid to high-speed fight, if you can corner your target low and slow the FM-2 will out-turn just about anything in the game. There's a special perverse joy in teaching this lesson to Spitfires especially, who almost always seem willing to oblige you by trying to get slow and turn with you. Many inexperienced opponents in other aircraft can also easily be lured into giving up their airspeed for a shot as well, only to miss and now find themselves at your mercy. Once you have them drawn in be aggressive and don't let them get away. The FM-2 doesn't have a lot of speed, so if you can't close the deal quickly you may give your target a chance to get a little room and accelerate away. However, do NOT get slow against Zeros, and beware against Hurricanes as well.
Fighting uphill in the FM-2 is generally inadvisable. Although her vertical performance is much improved over the F4F-4, the FM-2 still feels underpowered in nose-up vertical maneuvers. Rate of climb is average at best, and she can be very sluggish over the tops of loops. She's much better nose-down, where her quick dive acceleration and solid high-speed handling can be put to excellent use. Try to keep some altitude at all times, so if you encounter an enemy above you you have room to break under him, or draw him on an extended, diving tail-chase. The FM-2, as noted, dives very well and maintains excellent control at high speeds, so this can help equalize your opponent's energy surplus, especially if he's flying something that doesn't handle well at higher speeds. The Wildcat is also so slow that it's very easy to overshoot, which can give you a split-second to get a shot in that may knock something important off your enemy. However, the real idea is to bleed your opponent into at least a co-E state, if not reverse positions entirely. Your options are more limited if you're on the deck. However this, too, can be used to your advantage, as your opponent must be more cautious in his dive to keep enough air underneath himself to pull out again. Keep breaking under him at the last minute, and he'll either have to cut his run short to maintain E on his pull-out, blow a lot of his E with a hard pull-out to avoid slamming into the deck, or turn himself into a lawn-dart. Again, the idea is to bleed your target into either a co-E state where you can get inside him and tear him up, or regain altitude and reverse positions on him.
The Wildcat is a tough little bird. She can absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and still keep flying, and even fighting. It's not impossible to lose multiple critical parts and control surfaces, and still make it home to land your kills to the amazement of friends and foe alike. Capable of shrugging off even multiple cannon hits with little telling damage, the FM-2 may be, pound for pound, the most rugged fighter in the game. Adding to her ability to soak up damage is the fact she's a small, elusive target. She's short and stubby, and combined with her excellent maneuverability it can be very difficult to concentrate enough fire to put her down.
Fighting against the FM2
Unless you're flying an A6M or Hurricane, don't get slow. The FM-2 is one of the best pure turners in the game, and will handily out-turn almost anything in the air at low speeds. At mid to high speeds she can be a handful as well. The one clear advantage most of the plane set will have is speed and climb. Stay fast and use that to keep away from her, and never get suckered into slowing down and turning with her at close-quarters. If you're lining up for a shot and the FM-2 breaks out of your sights don't try to follow. F4Us, 190s, and Spitfires should use their rate of roll to keep changing directions and stay out of phase. Roll is ok in the FM-2, but not exceptional so use that to your advantage. Incorporate a vertical element in all your maneuvering when fighting against the Wildcat. Though superior to the earlier F4F, the FM-2 doesn't have a lot of power for nose-high maneuvering. Keep above her and force her to fight uphill, but watch for the zoom climb. The FM-2 is heavy for her size, so holds on to energy and zooms very well. She's less deceptive of her energy state than the F4U, however, so you shouldn't be taken by surprise too easily. High yo-yo's and lag rolls with a high initial vertical extension can be effective to follow her through breaks and avoid overshoots. The FM-2 is a very slow aircraft, so it's easy zip right past her if you're not careful. When diving down on her be sure to leave yourself enough room to pull out without scrubbing off too much E. Shallower attacks may be best, as the FM-2 will likely try and force you to neutralize your E and altitude advantage to more effectively fight on her terms. If you feel you're being drawn in, don't be afraid to back off and grab for altitude to come back from a better position.
The key for success for the FM-2 is altitude against most opponents, so she'll want to try and engage with an altitude advantage. She really cranks it up in a dive, and can attain some seriously high airspeeds without shedding parts or locking up. However once she runs out of steam it's very easy to pull away. If you're also in an aircraft that dives well try and drag her through an extended, shallow tail-chase. This gives you a chance to neutralize her altitude advantage without losing too much ground as you both accelerate, and if she doesn't catch you early you'll leave her in the dust. At that point just extend, grab altitude, and come back from a better E-state. Be careful, however, as the FM-2 dives very well and can attain insanely high airspeeds when the nose is pointed down, so if you misjudge the distance you have to work with she can creep into a gunnery position very fast.
Firepower in the FM-2 is average, with four Browning .50cal. They're good guns, well positioned, and carry a ton of ammunition, but with only four the volume of fire is nowhere near as significant as it is in aircraft like the Corsair and Hellcat. Snapshots can still knock off pieces, so it's still advisable not to get hit if you can help it as the FM-2 can easily even things up by picking apart your ability to fight by. Deny tracking shots at all costs. This should be relatively easily done, so long as you haven't made a mistake and blown off your altitude and E to let the Wildcat latch her claws on your six. The Wildcat may also take shots from longer range, since her opportunities to get in close where the Brownings are most effective will be limited.
The FM-2 is small and tough. She's can be very difficult to hit because of her small size and maneuverability. As a result it can be a challenge to concentrate fire on one point, and instead you may just end up scattering your shots all over the place as she jinks through your bullet stream. When you do connect the Wildcat can absorb more damage for her size than possibly any other aircraft in the plane set. She can shrug off a heavy snapshot without even losing pieces, and it's not impossible to put enough fire in to take off part of a wing, multiple control surfaces and damage the engine, only to watch her limp off home and land again. It's imperative that you take advantage of any shot the FM-2 gives you. Be prepared to hold the trigger down a little longer than you ordinarily would, as it may take a good solid tracking shot to do enough damage to bring her down.
Soda's Aircraft Evaluations