"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
Above:  VF-16's #13 is stopped by the barrier on Lexington's flight deck. This is a much-published photo, but affords us an excellent view of the factory camouflage. Aircraft from VF-16, "The Pistol Packin' Airedales", can also be seen in our background photo, circa 11/43.

Below:  Empty drop tanks are skidded out to VF-8's waiting Hellcats prior to another mission in the spring of 1944 aboard Bunker Hill.

Above:  As more and more F6F-5s became available, the F6F-3s already in service with the fleet were replaced as quickly as possible. Some squadrons, as seen above, operated with a mixture of both types during this period (which stretched into the fall of 1944) and had to make allowances for the difference in performance between the two as the older -3s lacked water injection.

Below: LT Jim Swope, an ace with VF-11, awaits the signal to go during operations in rough weather aboard USS Hornet.  
Above:  An early production F6F-3 with gun fairings, forward canted radio mast and pre-June 1943 national insignia. 

Below: On 8/31/43, CAG CDR "Jimmy" Flatley, in his "00", leads Yorktown's Air Group Five on the Marcus Island strike for the Hellcat's combat debut. Extra drop tanks under the wing-stubs (in addition to his belly tank) allow him to loiter as he directs the attack from the air. Bars and surround have been added to the insignia.
Above:  The deck has been re-spotted and now fuel and ordnance men swarm around the Hellcats to prepare them for another strike.

Below:  Engines are warmed up and plane captains sit in the cockpits to monitor the instruments while pilots await the call "Pilots, man your planes!". These F6F-5s from VF-12 / VBF-12 are seen aboard USS Randolph sometime between February and May of 1945.
Above:  Although this pilot is unidentified, we know he is aboard USS Randolph and a member of VF-16 / VBF-16 between May and August of 1945. A study of the graffiti chalked on the bomb behind him helps us narrow the date down to 24-28 July, when strikes were being made on targets in the Kure area of Japan and his life vest is stenciled to "VF-16". Of note are his Type Z anti-G suit and the late-war items of  "pilot's personal equipment" which include his wrist compass and aviator's individual first aid kit. It also appears that he is wearing the seldom-photographed (and very-late-war production) olive drab linen QAS parachute harness.

Below:  Aviation author Barrett Tillman quotes Grumman field service representative Ralph Clark as saying this about the Hellcat:

"We had shoe clerks building Hellcats. We had shoe clerks working on Hellcats and mainly, we had shoe clerks flying them too. Not that I have anything against shoe clerks, or any other non-professional, but we had to remember that most of the people involved with the F6F had never met an airplane face to face before 1942."

Another perspective, offered by one of the "shoe clerks" who flew the Hellcat in combat:

"The airplanes had round engines in the front, tail wheels in the back, and balls in the middle." -  LT Richard "Zeke" Cormier (VF-80)

One of many war-winning "shoe clerks", LT Karl Kenyon of VF-37, is seen in April 1945 at NAS Klamath Falls, Oregon with one of the squadron's F6F-5s after returning from his first war cruise and preparing for his second.

Below:  This F6F-5N is being ferried to its Naval Air Station destination after having been picked up from the Bethpage factory.
         Grumman at War