MCARA Aircraft > Grumman F4F-3P Wildcat
This was the first photo reconnaissance variant of the F4F fighter aircraft which had entered service with the Navy and Marine Corps in 1940. The basic fighter versions were made famous by VMF-211 defending Wake Island and later VMF-223 at Guadalcanal with the “Cactis” Air Force. The aircraft was a single seater, with non-folding wings powered by a R-1830-86 engine. It earned the distinction of being the first modern photo reconnaissance aircraft to enter service with the Marine Corps and see combat action.
The first Marine Corps F4F-3Ps were transferred from the Navy at San Diego and assigned to VMO-251 in June, 1942 after undergoing modifications at the North Island, Ca aircraft support facility. This modification involved removing the reserve fuel tank behind the pilot and installing two aerial cameras with necessary wiring and controls. The normal fighter armament was retained and put to use by VMO-251 upon arrival in the South Pacific in July, 1942. According to several records a total of 18 aircraft were converted to the 3P configuration but its not clear if all were deployed with VMO-251 in July of 1942.
The F4F-3Ps were range limited and did not deploy with external tanks so were of limited utility in supporting the initial Guadalcanal operations which began on 7 August 1942. Consequently, the aircraft were mainly used for air defense of their base at Espiritu Santo some 300 miles South of Guadalcanal. Beginning in October 1942 the longer range F4F-7P replacement aircraft began to arrive and began operations from Guadalcanal.
(Write up provided by Col H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret) from various public sources.)