Adevelopment of the Grumman F9 Panther, the F9F Cougar differed by nature of a swept wing, horizontal tailplane and improved performance. The Panther hadn't fared too well against the MiG-15 in the Korean war and the Cougar was developed to remmedy this situation, although it arrived too late to see action. With hostilities at an end, the Cougar went on to serve in reconnissance and target drone roles and was later adopted by the US Navy aerobatic team – The Blue Angels – as their first jet display aircraft.
Developed to a scale of 1:5 from original factory drawings, the kit is by Airworld in Germany. It's a modern, all-moulded, fully prefabricated design produced using advanced fibreglass composites for strength and lightness. The model is finished with all rivets, panel details, speed-brakes, dive-brakes and flaps. Furthermore, to help reduce building time, the air-ducting and the CNC-milled formers are installed during the moulding process. All pretty comprehensive and, as an accessory, Airworld offers a scale retract-gear set with an integral pneumatic drum brake system, this having initially been developed for its L-39 Albatros.
This particular Cougar was never going to be an ordinary 'Sunday' model. It was conceived from the outset as a display show machine so it had to be able to perform safely and reliably week-in, week-out on the grueling international display circuit.
With this in mind Ali set to work commissioning a team of well known craftsmen to bring the project to fruition. The model was built by Steve Bishop, noted jet jockey, and famous as the head honcho of the Weston Park Show. Turbine and equipment installation was by yet another noted show pilot, Mark Hinton. To complete this triumvirate of aeromodelling talent, the completed airframe was exquisitely painted by spray artist Ray Habgood. Mind you, Ali admits the colour scheme is a bit cheeky- he made it up. In effect, he ‘back-engineered’ a later F-14 scheme onto the Cougar.
Says Ali: "The Cougar is very benign and soft to fly. It has a massive wing area, and it displays a gentle, mushy, almost non-existent stall. One real surprise when first flying the Cougar was just how well it would axial roll and how adept it was at knife-edge flight. You have to remind yourself that she’s not an F3A plane, though she flies in that same manner - very pure. This shows in the transmitter set-up, which has no mixing whatsoever.
"For show purposes, and to match our bumpy British air, I’ve fitted an aileron gyro, and that's it. This smoothes things out in lumps, and eliminates any buffeting.
"On a typical show flight I’ll select flaps as I taxi out, say 15 degrees. I’ll then back-track for approximately 30-40m and point into wind. Now I spool up the turbine and hold her on the brakes. The Cougar will not creep on her pneumatic anchors, even with full power. When I release the brakes, the nose pops up and the aircraft bounces maybe once or twice. As the power bites she tends to track directly into wind, assisted by that wide undercarriage.
"To correct any drift in gusty conditions, I may need to add small inputs with the rudder stick. I tend to do this with stabs of rudder, rather than applying progressive stick input. Adding more power means she will rotate at about 15 degrees, and will tend to lift all three wheels at once.
"As soon as she's up, I flick the undercarriage switch and clean up the airframe. I wait 4 - 5 secs with the aircraft flying in a straight line. Once the gear is up on the servo-slow, I raise the flaps up as I begin to initiate the first turn. Come the down-wind turn the model is fully clean, whereupon I usually back off to three-quarter throttle. Whilst she still has at least a half-full fuel load I will concentrate on displaying the aircraft in flowing end-to-end manoeuvres. She’s so powerful that she’s capable of unlimited vertical climbs at any stage of the display, where the only factor I need to consider is the cloud base.
"I ad-lib all my displays, none are rehearsed in sequence, though I will save the big jet loops for the second half of the flight. The Cougar has a great ability to bleed off speed in a loop, which makes judging the pull-out much easier. I like to be as precise as possible at the bottom and aim for a finishing height of 40 feet.
"In the latter half of the flight, with much of the fuel burnt off, I usually demonstrate the model’s slow speed envelope with a downwind run fully ‘dirty’ with brake and flap. Full flap and speed brake configuration requires only a small amount of throttle to sustain height, which sets you up very nicely for the approach.
"I try to do very short finals; the Cougar is a very good short field plane. In fact, for the new season I intend to fly more of these approaches, beginning the turn as the aircraft passes me, then entering a 360° short final. Landing is very simple, hold full up and balance the elevator against the throttle for as short- or long-a landing as you choose, usually with the speed brake deployed."
"One final point I would make concerns airframe and system serviceability. The Cougar flew over 25 hours in the 2006 season with no repairs whatsoever. When you consider a display flight lasts between six to eight minutes, that's a lot of flights! Superb reliability."
Fate took a hand at the 2006 BMFA Top Gun Tournament when Ali's intended contest model, his BAe Hawk, developed a fault.
The Grumman Cougar was pressed into service at the last moment and the rest, as they say, is history. Ali narrowly pipped runner-up Nathan Farrell-Jones to the post, and won the title.
So pleased is he with the aeroplane, he’s now working on the Cougar's forerunner - the Grumman Panther - yet this Cougar will still be flying in 2007. As Ali says: "The model is just so reliable."