U.S. Navy fighter pilot Alex Vraciu downed 19 Japanese airplanes, but in the process lost three Hellcats, earning him a reputation as “Grumman’s best customer.”
By Barrett Tillman @ Aviation History Magazine
Lieutenant (j.g.) Alexander Vraciu was one frustrated fighter pilot. On June 19, 1944—the biggest day of air combat in the Pacific War—his Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat struggled to keep pace with the rest of Fighter Squadron 16. The “Fighting Airedales” had scrambled from the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16) in response to the second Japanese attack of the morning against Task Force 58, whose 15 carriers outnumbered the nine Japanese flattops.
Vraciu was already a double ace with 12 victories, and he was positioned to increase his score in a sky full of targets. But his Pratt & Whitney engine was stuck in low blower, depriving him of maximum speed and climb. He watched in frustration as his squadron mates pulled away to intercept incoming enemy bombers.