I’ve been flying a Grumman Wildcat for several years and
    have also flown some other US Navy and British Aircraft of the
    WWII era. And much as I expected, the Hellcat was very similar
    to other American planes.  First off, it’s big. As you mount this
    beast, you are struck by its size and rugged construction. You
    sit on top of this plane with a commanding view. Entering the
    cockpit, there is plenty of room for charts, etc. Everything is
    laid out in an orderly manner. There is a huge engine way in
    front of you, a huge slab of bulletproof glass to look through,
    giant wings and a massive slab of amour plate behind you. All
    this gives you a feeling of comfort and a certain sense of
    invincibility. The aircraft flies much like it looks: big, stable,
    heavy. Take your hands off to fold a chart and it just drives
    along. The controls are nice and light, well balanced if not
    overly responsive. The secret to this plane is speed. Over 200
    knots, it comes alive. There is still a little hesitation upon
    application of aileron but once it’s sure you mean it, the roll
    rate is okay and can be helped along with some rudder. Once
    you get it banked over with that big wing, the turn rate is very
    good just don’t expect to reverse directions very quickly. The
    other area where this plane really shines is in slow flight. The
    plane is very stable. The nose isn’t very high and you have a
    good view with a nice buffet warning before the very slow stall.
    All these things make it a plane that would land on a carrier
    well. It became clear to me that this is the kind of plane I’d want
    if people were shooting at me. Lots of fire power, easy to
    manage and designed to get me home (self sealing fuel tanks,
    rugged structure, etc.)

    From the moment you see the Zero you know there is a big
    difference in philosophy to the design. First, it’s small and
    nimble looking. You do not mount a Zero. You don’t even step
    on a Zero. The structure is very light and the aluminum is so
    thin you would damage it if you stepped on it. Instead, you
    extract some very thin, lightweight tubes from the side of the
    fuselage and gently climb on these until you can step into the
    cockpit. Upon entering the cockpit you really feel like you’re
    the last component of the plane, almost an afterthought, ‘oh
    yeah, we need a pilot somewhere’. There are controls
    everywhere with no apparent order or design. My favorite are
    the gear and flap levers, both identical levers with the same
    shape handles, behind you on your right below the seat where
    you really can’t see them.

    Perhaps the biggest reason to feel not at home is on each
    side of the instrument panel protruding into the cockpit are two
    machine gun breaches and cocking levers. I have not
    personally ever shot a machine gun but I have to imagine that
    they make some noise and smoke and fumes. I don’t think that
    being in a small-enclosed space, with my head 18 inches from
    the breach, would be pleasant (or improve my aim). You also
    recline quite a bit and the panel reclines away from you. If you
    put on your shoulder harness tight enough to do any good,
    there are lots of controls you can’t reach. Ground visibility is
    poor but there is one pilot perk. The seat is easy to raise and
    lower and with the canopy open, you can stick your head up
    out of the cockpit and see okay. What about a landing
    turnover? Well, your shoulder harness isn’t on anyway so
    you’re probably not much worse off.

    The flying is where this plane really shines. It is very light, well-
    balanced and just loves to fly. I can’t really rate the control
    pressures and response rates, as once this plane takes flight
    you are not even aware of such mundane things. You think it,
    the plane has already done it. If I were a hunter going out to
    kill another plane, this is the tool I’d want.

    Which brings me to a real quandary. How did these planes
    fight each other? If I were a Hellcat pilot, I’d just get high, dive
    on the enemy and keep going. In the Zero, I’d want to get in
    close and chew them up. I don’t think any wise US pilot would
    try to turn with a Zero. I also imagine that the Zero pilot must
    get really frustrated that these F6Fs won’t stay and fight. I’m
    reminded of the saying, ‘Never bring a knife to a gun fight’. I
    see an athlete in a speedo with a very nice throwing knife
    going up against an armored guy with a shotgun.

    A special thanks to the Camarillo CAF for giving this pilot the
    opportunity to fly these rare and special flying machines. Be
    sure to visit their museum if you are in the area or visit their
    website, Camarillo CAF Website