EVERYBODY LOVES a dogfight. What gets the most attention at the Air and Space Museum's exhibit, "Leroy Grumman and the F6F Hellcat," is not the big Hellcat, the airplane models or memorabilia, but a short World War II movie.
It's the Hellcats against the Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros, and actor Martin Sheen keeps score. Until the development of the Hellcat in 1942 and 1943, the Americans were losing in the air over the Pacific. In all, the Hellcat was to count 5,156 victories there.
For those not into refighting World War II, this show tells the story of Leroy Grumman's dream. In 1911, at age 16, Grumman said in his high school salutatorian address, "The final perfection of the aeroplane will be one of the greatest triumphs that man has ever gained over nature." He went on to help prove it, his company building military, amphibious,corporate and agricultural planes, as well as the Apollo lunar modules.
Grumman was also forward-thinking as an employer, increasing productivity during the war by instituting factory day-care centers, lunchtime dance bands and an emergency "little green truck," whose drivers were dispatched to change employees' flat tires or to turn off the stove.
Once, while fiddling with an eraser and two paper clips, Grumman came up with a folding wing design for storing airplanes aboard Navy carriers. He was also a pilot. He test-flew most of the company's aircraft. As he told Time magazine in September 1944, "When you're alone 5,000 feet in the air, lots of things about a plane become important that you can overlook on the ground." -