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Northrop P-61 Black Widow
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P-61 Black Widow
   Intended from the very beginning as a night fighter, perhaps no other fighter in history was as effective in this role as the Northrop P-61. It saw much more action in Europs and the Pacific than most think, and actually scored its first kill in mid-1944. The P-61 also accounted for nine V-1 flying bombs. The reason the P-61 was so very successful as a night fighter was probably its compact and very efficient onboard radar equipment.  The German radar sets in their night fighters were large, required lots of anntenae, and not near as efficient.  But there is not much more to say about the P-61, sadly, because it was a joy to fly, only it served its duty in the cold of night without any notice, while the P-51s earned the glory in the glittering daylight.


    Specifications for P-61B:

Type: 3 seat night fighter
Powerplant: two 2,000hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Waso radials
Performance: Max speed 366mph; 20,000ft in 6.8 minutes; range 1,350miles.
Armament: Four 20mm cannon and four .50-calibre machine guns

More Information:

   The heavily-armed Black Widow was this country's first aircraft specifically designed as a night-fighter. In the nose, it carried radar equipment which enabled its crew of two or three to locate enemy aircraft in total darkness and fly into proper position to attack.
   The XP-61 was flight-tested in 1942 and delivery of production aircraft began in late 1943. The P-61 flew its first operational intercept mission as a night fighter in Europe on July 3, 1944, and later was also used as a night intruder over enemy territory. In the Pacific, a Black Widow claimed its first "kill" on the night of July 6, 1944. As P-61s became available, they replaced interim Douglas P-70s in all USAAF night fighter squadrons. During WW II, Northrop built approximately 700 P-61s; 41 of these were -Cs manufactured in the summer of 1945 offering greater speed and capable of operating at higher altitude. Northrop fabricated 36 more Black Widows in 1946 as F-15A unarmed photo-reconnaissance aircraft.


Prototype nightfighter
Service test
Pwr turret S/N 42-5485 to 5522 only
Imp. P-61; no top turret
Imp. P-61A; drop tanks added
Eng. chg.; top turret added
Mod. P-61A w/ eng. chg.
Mod. P-61B; new armament
Mod. P-61C;

Span: 66 ft.
Length: 49 ft. 7 in.
Height: 14 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 35,855 lbs. loaded
Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns in upper turret and four 20mm cannons in belly; 6,400 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800s of 2,100 hp. ea.
Cost: $170,000

Maximum speed: 425 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,200 miles
Service Ceiling: 46,200 ft.

This aircraft information is from the USAF Museum Archives.