- P-61 Black Widow
name = P-61 Black Widow
caption = A P-61A-1NO of 419th Night Fighter Squadron
first flight =
26 May 1942
introduced = 1944
retired = 1952
primary user =
United States Army Air Force
more users =
number built = 742
unit cost = US$190,000Knaack, M.S. "Post-World War II Fighters, 1945-1973". Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002147-2.]
variants with their own articles =
NorthropP-61 Black Widow was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom, monoplane night fighterand night intruder aircraft flown by the United States Army Air Forcesduring World War II. It was the first aircraft designed specifically as a radar-equipped night fighter to be used operationally. [Wilson 1998, p. 142]
Design and development
In August 1940, a full 16 months before the United States entered the war, the U.S. Air Officer in London, Lt. Gen.
Delos C. Emmons, was briefed on British research in RADAR(Radio Detection and Ranging), which had been underway since 1936 and had played an important role in the nation's defense against the "Luftwaffe" during the Battle of Britain. General Emmons was informed of the new Airborne Intercept radar (AI for short), a self-contained unit that could be installed in an aircraft and allow it to operate independently of ground stations. In September 1940 the Tizard Missiontraded British research on many aspects including radar for American production.
British Purchasing Commissionevaluating US aircraft declared their urgent need for a high-altitude, high-speed aircraft to intercept the " Luftwaffe" bombers attacking London at night. The aircraft would need to patrol continuously over the city throughout the night, requiring at least an eight-hour loiter capability. The aircraft would carry one of the early (and heavy) AI radar units, and mount its specified armament in "multiple-gun turrets". The British conveyed the requirements for a new fighter to all the aircraft designers and manufacturers they were working with. Jack Northropwas among them, and he realized that the speed, altitude, fuel load and multiple-turret requirements demanded a large aircraft with multiple engines.
Gen. Emmons returned to the U.S. with details of the British night-fighter requirements, and in his report said that US aircraft design bureaus possibly could produce such an aircraft. The Emmons Board developed basic requirements and specifications, handing them over towards the end of 1940 to
Air Technical Service Command, Wright Field. After considering the two biggest challenges—the high weight of the AI radar and the very long (by fighter standards) loiter time of eight hours minimum—the board, like Jack Northrop, realized the aircraft would need the considerable power and resulting size of twin engines, and recommended such parameters.
Vladimir H. Pavlecka, Northrop Chief of Research, was present on unrelated business at Wright Field. On
21 October 1940, Col. Laurence Craigieof the ATSC phoned Pavlecka, explaining the USAAC's specifications, but told him to "not take any notes, 'Just try and keep this in your memory!' " [Davis and Menard 1990, p. 4.] What Pavlecka did not learn was radar's part in the aircraft; Craigie described the then super-secret radar as a "device which would locate enemy aircraft in the dark" and which had the capability to "see and distinguish other airplanes". The mission, Craigie explained, was "the interception and destruction of hostile aircraft in flight during periods of darkness or under conditions of poor visibility."
Pavlecka met with Jack Northrop the next day, and gave him the USAAC specification. Northrop compared his notes with those of Pavlecka, saw the similarity between the USAAC's requirements and those issued by the RAF, and pulled out the work he had been doing on the British aircraft's requirements. He was already a month along, and a week later, Northrop pounced on the USAAC proposal.
November 5, Northrop and Pavlecka met at Wright Field with Air Material Command officers and presented them with Northrop’s preliminary design. Douglas’ XA-26A night fighter proposal was the only competition, but Northrop’s design was selected and the Black Widow was conceived.
Following the USAAC acceptance, Northrop began comprehensive design work on the aircraft to become the first to design a dedicated night fighter. The result was the largest and one of the most deadly pursuit-class aircraft flown by the U.S. during the war.
Jack Northrop's first proposal was a long fuselage
gondolabetween two engine nacelles and tail booms. Engines were Pratt & Whitney R2800-10 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radials, producing 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) each. The fuselage housed the three-man crew, the radar, and two four-gun turrets. The .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns were fitted with 36-inch long "aircraft" barrels with perforated sleeves. The turrets were located in the nose and rear of the fuselage. It stood on tricycle landing gear and featured full-span retractable flaps, or "Zap flaps" (named after Northrop engineer Edward Zap) in the wings.
The aircraft was huge, as Northrop had anticipated. While far heavier and larger multi-engine bombers existed, its convert|45.5|ft|m|0|sing=on length, convert|66|ft|m|0|sing=on wingspan and projected convert|22600|lb|kg|0|sing=on full-load weight were unheard of for a fighter, making the P-61 hard for many to accept as a feasible combat aircraft.
Changes to the plan
Some alternative design features were investigated before finalization. Among them were conversion to a single vertical stabilizer/rudder and the shifting of the nose and tail gun turrets to the top and bottom of the fuselage along with the incorporation of a second gunner.
Late in November 1940, Jack Northrop returned to the crew of three and twin tail/rudder assembly. To meet USAAC's request for more firepower, designers abandoned the ventral turret and mounted four 20 mm Hispano M2 cannons in the wings. As the design evolved, the cannons were subsequently repositioned in the belly of the airplane. The P-61 therefore became one of the few U.S.-designed fighter aircraft to have 20 mm cannons as factory-standard in WWII. Others were the
P-38 Lightning, the F4U-1C (a limited-production Corsair sub-variant), and the A-36 Apachedive-bomber (an early form of the P-51 Mustang). While some F6F Hellcats and repossessed British lend-lease P-39 Airacobras (renamed P-400) were also fitted with 20 mm cannons, it was not standard practice.
Northrop Specification 8A was formally submitted to Army Air Material Command at Wright Field, on
December 5, 1940. Following a few small changes, Northrop's NS-8A fulfilled all USAAC requirements, and the Air Corps issued Northrop a Letter of Authority For Purchase on December 17. A contract for two prototypes and two scale models to be used for wind tunnel testing, (costs not to exceed $1,367,000), was awarded on 10 January 1941. Northrop Specification 8A became, by designation of the Department of Defense, the XP-61.
In March 1941, the Army/Navy Standardization Committee decided to standardize use of updraft carburetors across all U.S. military branches. The XP-61, designed with downdraft carburetors, faced an estimated minimum two-month redesign of the engine nacelle to bring the design into compliance. The committee later reversed the updraft carburetor standardization decision (the XP-61 program's predicament likely having little influence), preventing a potential setback in the XP-61's development.
The Air Corps Mockup Board met at Northrop on
2 April 1941, to inspect the XP-61 mock-up. They recommended several changes following this review. Most prominently, the four 20-millimeter Hispano M2 cannon were relocated from the outer wings to the belly of the aircraft, clustered tightly just behind the rear of the nose gear well. The closely spaced, centered installation, with two cannons stacked vertically, slightly outboard of the aircraft's centerline on each side, and the top cannon in each pair only a few inches farther outboard, eliminated the inherent drawbacks of convergence.
Convergence was a necessity in wing-mounted guns. Convergence is the specific point or points of range and elevation at which arming crews calibrate the weapons' projectile paths to intersect the aircraft's centerline, preventing a "safe zone" in front of the aircraft through which no projectiles would pass if wing guns were set to fire straight ahead. Projectiles fired at a target beyond the point of convergence crisscross before reaching the target and miss wide; projectiles fired at a target closer than the point of convergence either pass on either side or fail to impact at a concentrated point, minimizing the damage inflicted. In practice, both cases limit the cannons' effective ranges to a very small zone on either side of a set distance, and create additional challenges when calculating deflection ("pulling lead") for a moving target.
Without convergence, aiming was considerably easier and faster, and the tightly grouped cannons created a thick stream of 20 mm projectiles. The removal of the guns and ammunition from the wings also cleaned up the wings' airfoil and increased internal fuel capacity from 540 to 646 gallons.
Other changes included the provision for external fuel carriage in drop tanks, flame arrestors/dampeners on engine exhausts, and redistribution of some radio equipment. While all beneficial from a performance standpoint — especially the movement of the cannons—the modifications required over a month of redesign work, and the XP-61 was already behind schedule.
In mid-1941, the dorsal turret mount finally proved too difficult to install in the aircraft, and was changed from the General Electric ring mount to a pedestal mount like that used for the upper turrets in B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and other bombers. Following this modification, the turret itself became unavailable, as operational aircraft, in this case, the B-29, were ahead of experimental aircraft in line for the high-demand component. For flight testing, engineers used a dummy turret.
During February 1942, subcontracting manufacturer
Curtissnotified Northropthat the C5424-A10 four-bladed, automatic, full-feathering propeller Northrop had planned for use in the XP-61 would not be ready for the prototype rollout or the beginning of flight tests. Hamilton Standardpropellers were used in lieu of the Curtiss props until the originally planned component became available.
The XP-61's weight rose during construction of the prototype, to 22,392 lb empty and 29,673 lb at takeoff. Engines were R-2900-25S Double Wasp radials; turning 12-foot, 2-inch diameter Curtiss C5425-A10 four-blade propellers, both rotating clockwise when viewed from the front. Radios included two command radios, SCR-522As, and three other radio sets, the SCR-695A, AN/APG-1, and AN/APG-2. Central fire control for the gun turret was similar to that used on the B-29, the General Electric GE2CFR12A3.
The P-61C was a high-performance variant designed to rectify some of the combat deficiencies encountered with the A and B variants. Work on the P-61C proceeded quite slowly at Northrop because of the higher priority of the XB-35 flying wing project. In fact, much of the work on the P-61C was farmed out to Goodyear, which had been a subcontractor for production of Black Widow components. It was not until early 1945 that the first production P-61C-1-NO rolled off the production lines. As promised, the performance was substantially improved in spite of a 2,000 pound increase in empty weight. Maximum speed was convert|430|mi/h|km/h|-1|abbr=on at convert|30000|ft|m|-3, service ceiling was convert|41000|ft|m|-2, and an altitude of convert|30000|ft|m|-3 could be attained in 14.6 minutes.
The P-61C was equipped with perforated fighter airbrakes located both below and above the wing surfaces. These were to provide a means of preventing the pilot from overshooting his target during an intercept. For added fuel capacity, the P-61C was equipped with four underwing pylons (two inboard of the nacelles, two outboard) which could carry four 310-gallon drop tanks. The first P-61C aircraft was accepted by the USAAF in July 1945. However, the war in the Pacific ended before any P-61Cs could see combat. The forty-first and last P-61C-1-NO was accepted on
January 28 1946. At least 13 more were completed by Northrop but were scrapped before they could be delivered to the USAAF.
The service life of the P-61C was quite brief, since it was being quickly outclassed by jet aircraft. Most were used for test and research purposes. By the end of March 1949, most P-61Cs had been scrapped. Two entered the civilian market and two others went to museums.
F-15 / RF-61C
In mid-1945, the surviving XP-61E was modified into an unarmed photographic reconnaissance aircraft. All the guns were removed, and a new nose was fitted, capable of holding an assortment of aerial cameras. The aircraft, redesignated XF-15, flew for the first time on
3 July 1945. A P-61C-1-NO (serial number 42-8335) was also modified to XF-15 standards. Apart from the turbosupercharged R-2800-C engines, it was identical to the XF-15 and flew for the first time on 17 October 1945. The nose for the F-15A-1-NO was subcontracted to the Hughes Tool Company of Culver City, California. The F-15A was basically the P-61C with the new bubble-canopy fuselage and the camera-carrying nose, but without the fighter brakes on the wing.
The first production F-15A-1-NO was accepted in September 1946. However, the contract was abruptly cancelled in 1947, possibly because the performance of the aircraft (known as the "Reporter") was rapidly being overshadowed by jets, with the last of only 36 examples being accepted by the USAAF in April that year. The last F-15 to be produced (serial number 45-59335) was produced as an F-15A-5-NO, which differed from the Block-1 version mainly in having a new internal camera installation in the nose. It seems that this change had been contemplated for the last 20 F-15s as well, since some records indicate that these were all eventually redesignated as F-15A-5-NO.
The pilot was seated in the front, with the reconnaissance operator in the back. The backseat occupant controlled the cameras and navigated the aircraft. However, the rear seat of the F-15A was fitted with a set of rudimentary flying controls, which made it possible for the reconnaissance operator to relieve the pilot if needed. Both crew members were rated pilots and both were trained in the reconnaissance task, so they usually alternated position on each flight.
Of the 36 F-15As produced, nine were allocated to the Air Materiel Command in the Continental U.S., and the remainder were issued to just one squadron, the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron attached to the 35th Fighter Group in Japan. These aircraft served in the American occupation of Japan, and several of them participated in the Post-Hostilities Mapping Program, in which the beaches, villages, road networks, and cultural centers were extensively photographed. Included in this job was the mapping of the Korean Peninsula, which proved invaluable when the Korean War broke out in 1950. A few also served in the Philippines and Celebes. Included in their mission was the mapping of the route of the Bataan Death March for war crimes prosecutions.
Spare parts became a problem for the F-15s in the late 1940s, and both damaged and flyable Reporters were cannibalized to keep the rest of them flying. In 1948, the separate F-category for reconnaissance aircraft was eliminated, and the P-for-pursuit category was replaced by F-for-fighter. Surviving Black Widows were redesignated F-61, and the surviving Reporters were redesignated RF-61C (since they were basically modified P-61Cs). On
1 April 1949, the only outfit still using RF-61Cs (the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) was deactivated, and all surviving RF-61Cs were reassigned to the 35th Maintenance Squadron at Johnson AFB for disposal. Some were disposed of as surplus on the commercial market, while others were scrapped.
United States Marine Corpshad planned to acquire 75 Black Widows, but these were cancelled in 1944 in favor of the F7F Tigercat. In September 1945, however, the Marines received a dozen surplus P-61B-10 / 15 / 20 to serve as radar trainers until the F7F-3Ns would be available in squadron strength. Thompson 1999, p. 86.] Designated F2T-1N and given the build numbers 52750–52761, Thompson 1999, p. 88.] these aircraft were assigned to shore-based Marine units and served briefly – the last 2 F2T-1s being stricken on 30 August 1947.
The P-61 featured a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano M2 forward firing cannons mounted in the lower fuselage, and four Browning M2 .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns lined up horizontally with the two middle guns slightly offset upwards in a remotely-aimed dorsally mounted turret. The turret was driven by the General Electric GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and could be directed by either the gunner or radar operator, who both had the aiming control and gyroscopic collimator sight assembly posts attached to their swiveling seats.
The two Pratt & Whitney R2800-25S Double Wasp radial engines were each mounted approximately one-sixth out on the wing's span. Two-stage, two-speed mechanical
superchargers were fitted. In an effort to save space and weight, no turbo-superchargers were fitted, despite the expected convert|50|mi/h|km/h|-1|abbr=on top speed and 10,000 ft operational ceiling increases.
Main landing gear bays were located at the bottom of each nacelle, directly behind the engine. The two main gear legs were each offset significantly towards outboard in their nacelles, and retracted towards the tail; oleo scissors faced forwards. Each main wheel was inboard of its gear leg and oleo. Main gear doors were two pieces, split evenly, longitudinally, hinged at inner door's inboard edge and the outer door's outboard edge.
Each engine cowling and
nacelledrew back into tail booms that terminated upwards in large vertical stabilizers and their component rudders, each of a shape similar to a rounded right triangle. The leading edge of each vertical stabilizer was faired smoothly from the surface of the tail boom upwards, swept back to 37 degrees. The horizontal stabilizer extended between the inner surfaces of the two vertical stabilizers, and was approximately three-quarters the chord of the wing root, including the elevator. The elevator spanned approximately one third of the horizontal stabilizer's width, and in overhead plan view, angled inwards in the horizontal from both corners of leading edge towards the trailing edge approximately 15 degrees, forming the elevator into a wide, short trapezoid. The horizontal stabilizer and elevator assembly possessed a slight airfoil cross-section.
The engines and nacelles were outboard of the wing root and a short "shoulder" section of the wing that possessed a four-degree
dihedral, and were followed by the remainder of the wing which had a dihedral of two degrees. The leading edge of the wing was straight and perpendicular to the aircraft's centerline. The trailing edge was straight and parallel to the leading edge in the shoulder, and tapered forward 15 degrees outboard of the nacelle. Leading edge updraft carburetor intakes were present on the wing shoulder and the root of the outer wing, with a few inches of separation from the engine nacelle itself. They were very similar in appearance to those on the F4U Corsair — thin horizontal rectangles with the ends rounded out to nearly a half-circle, with multiple vertical vanes inside to direct the airstream properly.
The P-61 did not have
ailerons. Aside from the full-span retractable "Zap flaps", all control of the aircraft about the roll axis was maintained through the use of curved, tapered spoilerons, of approximately 10 feet in length and 6 inches in width (in overhead plan view) each. They were located outboard of the outer edge of each nacelle in overhead plan view, approximately one-quarter the length of the outer wing (the section of wing outboard of the edge of each nacelle furthest from the aircraft's centerline) and offset towards the wing leading edge approximately one third the wing's chord from the trailing edge, running towards the wing-tip approximately half the length of the outer wing. Operation was as follows: the spoileron in the inside wing rotated out of the wing's upper surface into the airstream, disrupting the effect of Bernoulli's principleand reducing lift over that wing, causing it to drop.
The main fuselage, or gondola, was centered on the aircraft's centerline. It was, from the tip of the nose to the end of the
Plexiglastail-cone, approximately five-sixths the length of one wing (root to tip). The nose housed an evolved form of the SCR-268 Signal Corps Radar, the Western Electric Company's SCR-720A. Immediately behind the radar was the forward crew compartment, seating the pilot and behind him the gunner, the latter elevated approximately six inches. The multi-framed "greenhouse" canopy featured two distinct levels, one for the pilot and a second for the gunner above and behind him. Combined with the nearly flat upper surface of the aircraft's nose, the two-tiered canopy gave the aircraft's nose a distinct appearance of three wide, shallow steps. The forward canopy in the XP-61 featured contiguous, smooth-curved, blown-Plexiglas canopy sections facing forward, in front of the pilot and the gunner. The tops and sides were framed.
Beneath the forward crew compartment was the nose gear wheel well, through which the pilot and gunner entered and exited the aircraft. The forward gear leg retracted to the rear, up against a contoured cover that when closed for flight formed part of the cockpit floor; the gear would not have space to retract with it open. The oleo scissor faced forwards. The nosewheel was centered, with the strut forking to the aircraft's left. The nosewheel was approximately three-fourths the diameter of the main wheels. Nose gear doors were two pieces, split evenly longitudinally, and hinged at each outboard edge.
The center of the gondola housed the main wing spar, fuel storage, fuel piping and control mechanisms, control surface cable sections, propeller and engine controls, and radio/IFF (
Identification Friend or Foe) /communications equipment, but was predominantly occupied by the top turret mounting ring, rotation and elevation mechanisms, ammunition storage for the turret's four Browning M2 machine guns, the GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and linkages to the gunner and radar operator's turret control columns, forward and aft, respectively.
The radar operator's station was at the aft of the gondola. The radar operator controlled the SRC-720 radar set and viewed its display scopes from the isolated rear compartment, which he entered by way of a small hatch with a built-in ladder on the underside of the aircraft. In addition to the radar systems themselves, the radar operator had intercom and radio controls, as well as the controls and sight for the remote turret. The compartment's canopy followed the curvature of the gondola's rear section, with only a single rounded step to the forwards canopy's double step. The rear of the gondola was enclosed by a blown Plexiglas cap that tapered quickly in overhead plan view to a barely-rounded point; the shape was somewhat taller in side profile than it was in overhead plan view, giving the end of the "cone", a rounded "blade" appearance when viewed in perspective.
The cross-section of the gondola, front to back, was generally rectangular, vertically oriented. The tip of the nose was very rounded, merging quickly to a rectangular cross-section that tapered slightly towards the bottom. This cross-section lost its taper but became clearly rounded at the bottom moving back through the forward crew compartment and nose gear well. Height increased at both steps in the forward canopy, with the second step being flush with the top of the aircraft (not counting the spinal gun turret). At the rear of the forward crew compartment, the cross-section's bottom bulged downwards considerably and continued to do so until just past the midpoint between the rear of the forward crew compartment and the front of the rear crew compartment, where the lower curvature began to recede. Beginning at the front of the rear crew compartment, the top of the cross-section began to taper increasingly inwards above the aircraft's center of gravity when progressing towards the rear of the gondola. The cross-section rounded out considerably by the downward step in the rear canopy, and rapidly became a straight-sided oval, shrinking and terminating in the tip of the blown-Plexiglas "cone" described above.
The cross-section of the nacelles was essentially circular throughout, growing then diminishing in size when moving from the engine cowlings past the wing and gear bay, towards the tail booms and the vertical stabilizers. A bulge on the top of the wing maintained the circular cross-section as the nacelles intersected the wing. The cross-section became slightly egg-shaped around the main gear bays, larger at the bottom but still round. An oblong bulge on the bottom of the main gear doors, oriented longitudinally, accommodated the main wheels when the gear was retracted.
Wing tips, wing-to-nacelle joints, tips and edge of stabilizers and control surfaces (excluding the horizontal stabilizer and elevator) were all smoothly rounded, blended or filleted. The overall design was exceptionally clean and fluid as the aircraft possessed very few sharp corners or edges.
The production model of the SCR-720A mounted a scanning radio transmitter in the aircraft nose; in Airborne Intercept mode, it had a range of nearly five miles. The unit could also function as an airborne beacon / homing device, navigational aid, or in concert with interrogator-responder IFF units. The XP-61's radar operator located targets on his scope and steered the unit to track them, vectoring and steering the pilot to the radar target via oral instruction and correction. Once within range, the pilot used a smaller scope integrated into the main instrument panel to track and close on the target.
The XP-61's spine-mounted dorsal remote turret could be aimed and fired by any one of the three-man crew, or could be locked forward to be fired by the pilot in addition to the 20 mm cannons. The radar operator could rotate the turret to face to the rear, in order to engage targets behind the aircraft. Capable of a full 360 degrees rotation and 90 degrees elevation, the turret could conceivably be used to engage any target in the entire hemisphere above and to the sides of the XP-61.
The first unit to receive production aircraft was the 348th Night Fighter Squadron in Florida which was responsible for training night fighter crews.Citation | title = The 'Widow' | journal =Air Enthusiast | volume = 1 | issue = 1 | pages = 44-50 | year = 1971 | month = June]
P-61 crews trained in a variety of ways. Several existing night fighter squadrons operating in the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres were to transition directly into the P-61 from
Bristol Beaufighters and Douglas P-70s, though most P-61 crews were to be made up of new recruits operating in newly commissioned squadrons. After receiving flight, gunnery or radar training in bases around the U.S., the crews were finally assembled and received their P-61 operational training in Florida for transfer to the European Theatre, or California for operations in the Pacific Theatre.
The 422nd Night Fighter Squadron was the first to complete their training in Florida and, in February 1944, the squadron was shipped to England aboard the "Mauritania". The 425th NFS was soon to follow aboard the "Queen Elizabeth".
The situation deteriorated in May 1944 when the squadrons learned that several USAAF Generals believed the P-61 was too slow to effectively engage in combat with German fighters and medium bombers. The RAF shared this view, based on the performance of a single P-61 they had received in early May, and championed switching to their
de Havilland MosquitoMk XVI. Several pilots in the 422nd NFS threatened to turn in their wings if they weren't permitted to fly the "Black Widow". At the end of May, the USAAF insisted on a competition between the Mosquito and the P-61 for operation in the European Theatre. RAF crews flew the Mosquito Mk XVI while crews from the 422nd NFS flew the P-61. In the end the USAAF determined that the P-61 had a slightly better rate of climb, and could turn tighter than the Mosquito. The RAF disputed these claims and continued to push for the use of the Mosquito, but to no avail. In later tests conducted by the manufacturers, the two aircraft were actually found to be very similar in performance with no clear advantage for either aircraft. Pape, Garry R. and Ronald C. Harrison. "Queen of the Midnight Skies". Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-88740-415-4.]
The 6th NFS based on Guadalcanal received their first P-61s in early June, 1944. The aircraft were quickly assembled and underwent flight testing as the pilots transitioned from the squadron's aging P-70s. The first operational P-61 mission occurred on
25 June, and the type scored its first kill on 30 June 1944when a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M"Betty" bomber was shot down.Fact|date=August 2008
Throughout the summer of 1944, P-61s operating in the Pacific Theatre would see sporadic action against Japanese aircraft. Most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted, but when the enemy was detected they were often in groups, with the attack resulting in multiple kills for that pilot and radar operator, who would jointly receive credit for the kill. Since pilots and radar operators did not always fly as a team, the kills of the pilot and radar operator were often different. On some occasions a pilot with only one or two kills would fly with a radar operator who was already an "ace".
In England, the 422nd NFS finally received their first P-61s in late June, and began flying operational missions over England in mid-July. These aircraft arrived without the dorsal turrets so the squadron's gunners were reassigned to another NFS that was to continue flying the P-70. The first P-61 engagement in the European Theatre occurred on July 15 when a P-61 piloted by Lt. Herman Ernst was directed to intercept a
V-1"Buzz Bomb". Diving from above and behind to match the V-1's convert|350|mi/h|km/h|-1|abbr=on speed, the P-61's plastic rear cone imploded under the pressure and the attack was aborted. The tail cones would fail on several early P-61A models before this problem was corrected. On 16 July, Lt. Ernst was again directed to attack a V-1 and, this time, was successful, giving the 422nd NFS and the European Theatre its first P-61 kill.
In early August 1944, the 422nd NFS transferred to
Maupertus, France, and began meeting piloted German aircraft for the first time. A Bf 110 was shot down, and shortly afterwards, the squadron's commanding officer Lt. Colonel O. B. Johnson, his P-61 already damaged by flak, shot down a Fw 190. The 425th NFS scored its first kill shortly afterwards.
In October 1944, a P-61 of the 422nd NFS, now operating out of an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield in
Florennes, Belgium, encountered a Messerschmitt Me 163attempting to land. The P-61 tried to intercept it but the rocket plane was traveling too fast. A week later, another P-61 spotted a Me 262, but was also unable to intercept the jet. On yet another occasion, a 422nd P-61 spotted a Me 410 "Hornisse" flying at tree top level but, as they dove on it, the "Hornet" sped away and the P-61 was unable to catch it. Contrary to popular stories, no P-61 ever engaged in combat with a German jet or any of the late war advanced Luftwaffe aircraft. The most commonly encountered and destroyed Luftwaffe aircraft types were Junkers Ju 188s, Bf 110s, Fw 190s, Dornier Do 217s and Heinkel He 111s, while P-61 losses were limited to numerous landing accidents, bad weather, friendly fire and flak. Apart from an attack on a Bf 110 that turned against them, there were no reports of a P-61 being damaged by a German aircraft; and apart from one accidentally shot down by an RAF Mosquito, none were confirmed to be destroyed in aerial combat.
The absence of turrets and gunners in most European theater P-61s presented several unique challenges. The 422nd NFS kept its radar operator in the rear compartment, meaning the pilot had no visual contact with the R/O. As a result, several courageous pilots continued flying their critically damaged P-61s under the mistaken belief that their R/O was injured and unconscious, when in fact the R/O had already bailed out. The 425th NFS had a more novel solution: they moved the R/O to the former gunner's position behind the pilot. This gave the pilot an extra set of eyes up front, and moved the aircraft's center of gravity about 15 inches forward, changing the flight characteristics from slightly nose up to slightly nose down which also improved the P-61's overall performance.
By December 1944, P-61s of the 422nd and 425th NFS were helping to repel the German offensive know as the "
Battle of the Bulge," with two flying cover over the town of Bastogne. Pilots of the 422nd and 425th NFS switched their tactics from night fighting to daylight ground attack, strafing German supply lines and railroads. The P-61's four 20 mm cannons proved highly effective in destroying large numbers of German locomotives and trucks.
By early 1945, German aircraft were rarely seen and most P-61 night kills were Ju 52s attempting to evacuate Nazi officers under the cover of darkness.
The 422nd NFS produced three ace pilots, while the 425th NFS officially claimed none. Lt. Cletus "Tommy" Ormsby of the 425th NFS was officially credited with three victories. Unfortunately Lt. Ormsby was killed by friendly fire moments after attacking two Ju 87s on the night of
24 March 1945. His radar operator escaped with serious injuries and was saved only by the quick actions of German surgeons. He later reported that they had successfully engaged and shot down both Ju 87s before being shot down themselves. This claim was corroborated by other 425th aircrew who were operating in the area at the time. To this day many members of the 425th question why Lt. Ormsby was never credited with his final two kills, and "ace" status. [Pape and Harrison 1982]
In the Pacific Theater in 1945, P-61 squadrons struggled to find targets. One squadron succeeded in destroying a large number of
Kawasaki Ki-48"Lily" Japanese Army Air Force twin-engined bombers, another shot down several G4M Bettys, while another pilot destroyed two Japanese Navy Nakajima J1N1 "Irving" twin-engined fighters in one engagement; but most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted. Several Pacific Theater squadrons finished the war with no confirmed kills at all. The 550th could only claim a crippled B-29 Superfortress, shot down after the crew had bailed out having left the plane on autopilot.
It is widely believed that the last two enemy aircraft destroyed before the Japanese surrender were both downed by a P-61 of the 548th NFS. This aircraft, known as "Lady in the Dark" was piloted by Lt. Lee Kendall, gaining its victories over a
Nakajima Ki-43on the night of 14 August/ 15 August 1945, and a Ki-44 on the next night. Thompson 1999, pp. 60–61.]
30 January 1945, a lone P-61 performed a vital mission that was instrumental in the successful effort of the U.S. Rangers to free over 500 Allied POWs held by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. As the Rangers crept up on the camp, a P-61 swooped low and performed aerobatic maneuvers for several minutes. The distraction of the guards allowed the Rangers to position themselves, undetected, within striking range of the camp. The story of the rescue and the role of the P-61 is told in the book " Ghost Soldiers" (by Hampton Sides) and in " The Great Raid", a movie based upon the book.
In the Mediterranean Theater, most night fighter squadrons transitioned from their aging
Bristol Beaufighters into P-61s too late to achieve any kills in the "Black Widow".
Though the P-61 proved itself very capable against the majority of German aircraft it encountered, it was clearly outclassed by the new aircraft arriving in the last months of World War II. It also lacked external fuel tanks that would have extended its range and saved many doomed crews looking for a landing site in darkness and bad weather. External bomb loads would also have made the type more adaptable to the ground attack role it soon took on in Europe. These problems were all addressed eventually, but too late to have the impact they might have had earlier in the war. The P-61 proved very capable against all Japanese aircraft it encountered, but saw too few of them to make a significant difference in the Pacific war effort.
Postwar military service
The useful life of the Black Widow was extended for a few years into the immediate postwar period due to the USAAF's problems in developing a useful jet-powered night/all-weather fighter. The Curtiss P-87 had initially been scheduled as the jet-powered replacement for the Black Widow, but the failure of the XP-87 project meant the Black Widow had to soldier on for another few years.
Replacement of the Black Widow by F-82F/G Twin Mustang night fighters began in early 1948, and by early 1950, most Black Widows were out of operational service. The last operational Black Widow left Japan in May 1950, missing the
Korean Warby only a month, while the last operational F-61 was retired in 1952.
Ejection seat experiments
A Black Widow participated in early American
ejection seatexperiments performed shortly after the war. The Germans had pioneered the development of ejection seats early in the war, the first-ever emergency use of an ejection seat having been made on 14 January 1942by a Luftwaffe test pilot when he escaped from a disabled Heinkel He 280V1. American interest in ejection seats during the war was largely a side-issue of the developmental work done on pusher aircraft such as the Vultee XP-54, the goal being to give the pilot at least some slim chance of clearing the tail assembly and the propeller of the aircraft in the case of an emergency escape, but little progress had been made since pusher aircraft development had never really gotten past the drawing board or the initial prototype stage. However, the development of high-speed jet-powered aircraft made the development of practical ejection seats mandatory.
Initially, an ejection seat was "borrowed" from a captured German
Heinkel He 162and was installed in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Starin August 1945. However, it was decided that the single-seat P-80 would not be suitable for these tests, and it was decided to switch to a three-seat Black Widow. A P-61B-5-NO (serial number 42-39489) was modified for the tests, the ejection seat being fitted in the forward gunner's compartment. The aircraft was redesignated XP-61B for these tests (there having been no XP-61B prototype for the initial P-61B series). A dummy was used in the initial ejection tests, but on 17 April 1946, a volunteer, Sgt. Lawrence Lambert was successfully ejected from the P-61B at a speed of convert|302|mi/h|km/h|0|abbr=on at convert|7800|ft|m|-1. Thompson 1999, p. 89.] With the concept having been proven feasible, newer jet-powered aircraft were brought into the program, and the XP-61B was reconverted to standard P-61B configuration.
The P-61 was heavily involved in the
Thunderstorm Project(1946–1949) that was a landmark program dedicated to gathering data on thunderstorm activity. The project was a cooperative undertaking on the part of four U.S. government agencies: the U.S. Weather Bureau and NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, later to become NASA), assisted by the U.S. Army Air Force and Navy. Scientists from several universities also participated in the initiation, design and conduct of the project. The project's goal was to learn more about thunderstorms and to use this knowledge to better protect civil and military airplanes that operated in their vicinity. The P-61's radar and particular flight characteristics enabled it to find and penetrate the most turbulent regions of a storm, and return crew and instruments intact for detailed study.
The Florida phase of the project in 1946 continued into a second phase carried out in Ohio during the summer of 1947. Results derived from this pioneering field study formed the basis of the scientific understanding of thunderstorms, and much of what was learned has been changed little by subsequent observations and theories. Data was collected for the first time from systematic radar and aircraft penetration of thunderstorms, forming the basis of many published studies that are still frequently referenced by mesoscale and thunderstorm researchers.
P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39458 was operated by the Navy at the Patuxent River test facility in Maryland in a number of tests. P-61A-10NO serial number 42-39395 was subjected by the Navy to a series of test catapult launches to qualify the aircraft for shipboard launches, but the Black Widow was never flown from an aircraft carrier. These aircraft did not receive the naval designation F2T-1 but continued on as P-61.
Shortly after the war, the Navy borrowed two P-61Cs (43-8336 and 43-8347) from the USAAF and used them for air-launches of the experimental Martin PTV-N-2U Gorgon IV ramjet-powered missile, the first launch taking place on
14 November 1947. While carrying a Gorgon under each wing, the P-61C would go into a slight dive during launch to reach the speed necessary for ramjet operation to be initiated. These two naval Black Widows were returned to the USAF in 1948, and transferred to the boneyard shortly afterwards.
Surviving aircraft were offered to civilian governmental agencies, or declared surplus and offered for sale on the commercial market.
An RF-61C (ex-F-15A, serial number 45-59300) was used by NACA at Moffett Field in California to test some early swept-wing designs by dropping recoverable aerodynamic test bodies from high altitude. This program was later joined by F-61C serial number 43-8330, borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution for the duration of the tests. These drops were carried out over Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in California. F-61B-15NO serial number 42-39754 was used by NACA's Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio for tests of airfoil-type ramjets. F-61C-1NO 43-8357 was used at Ames as a source for spare parts for other F/RF-61 aircraft.
A few other Black Widows also ended up in the civilian market. P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39419 had been bailed to Northrop during most of its military career, who then bought the aircraft from the government at the end of the war. Having the civilian registration number NX30020 assigned to it, it was used as an executive transport, as a flight-test chase plane, and for tests with advanced navigational equipment. Later it was purchased by the Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers, a photo-mapping company based in Texas; then in 1963, it was sold to an aerial tanker company and used for fighting forest fires. However, it crashed while fighting a fire on
23 August 1963, killing its pilot.
The last flying examples of the P-61 line were an F-15A Reporter (RF-61C) 45-59300 and the "spare parts" F-61C 43-8357. The latter was rebuilt as a high-altitude mapping airplane, assigned the civilian number N5094V, and offered on the commercial market; however, it attracted no buyers and was finally scrapped in 1957. The RF-61C, originally given the civilian registration N5093V, was sold to Compania Mexicana Aerofoto S. A. of Mexico and assigned the Mexican registration XB-FUJ. It was then bought by Aero Enterprises Inc. of California and returned to the USA in 1964 carrying the civilian registration number N9768Z. The fuselage tank and turbosupercharger intercoolers were removed; and fitted with a 1,600-gallon chemical tank for fire-fighting it was purchased by Cal-Nat at the end of 1964, and in turn in March 1968 by TBM, Inc., an aerial firefighting company located in California (the name of the company standing for the TBM Avenger, the company's primary equipment). It was destroyed in a takeoff accident on
16 September 1968.
[ [http://virgin-widow.com/units.html P-61 units] ] ;USA
United States Army Air Force
6th Night Fighter Squadron(formerly the 6th Fighter Squadron):Activated 18 January 1943, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii. Assigned: 7th AF – Served in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Saipan, Iwo Jima. Deactivated 20 February 1947at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. Reactivated as 339th All Weather Squadron
418th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 April 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea. Assigned: 5th AF – Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Deactivated 20 February 1947, San Jose, Mindoro, Philippines. Reactivated August 1948 as 4th All Weather Squadron
419th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 April 1943, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Assigned: 13th AF – Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Deactivated 20 February 1947, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines
*421st Night Fighter Squadron:Activated
1 May 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea. Assigned: 5th AF – Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Deactivated 20 February 1947at Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands. Reactivated August 1948 as 68th All Weather Squadron
547th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 March 1944, Oro Bay, New Guinea. Assigned: 5th AF – Served in New Guinea, Philippines, Ie Shima, Japan. Deactivated 20 February 1946, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands
548th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 10 April 1944, Hickam Field, Hawaii. Assigned: 7th AF – Served in Saipan, Iwo Jima, Ie Shima, Japan. Deactivated 19 December 1945, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands
549th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 May 1944, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii. Assigned: 7th AF – Served on Saipan, Iwo Jima. Deactivated 5 February 1946, Iwo Jima
550th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 June 1944, Hollandia, New Guinea, Assigned to 13th AF – Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Deactivated 4 January 1946, Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines
*414th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated
26 January 1943, La Senia, Algeria. Assigned: 12th AF – Served in Algeria, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, plus detachment to Belgium. Deactivated 31 August 1947at Strossfield, Germany. Reformed as 319th All Weather Squadron
415th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 10 February 1943, La Senia, Algeria. Assigned: 12th AF – Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany. Deactivated 1 September 1947, Gross-Gerau, Germany
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)
*416th Night Fighter Squadron :Activated June 1945. Assigned: 12th AF – Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany. Deactivated November 1946
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)
*417th Night Fighter Squadron :Activated
20 February 1943, Orlando AB, FL. Assigned: 12th AF – Served in United Kingdom, North Africa, Corsica, France, Germany. Deactivated 9 November 1946, Schweinfurt, Germany
*422d Night Fighter Squadron :Activated
1 August1943, RAF Charmy Down, England. Assigned: 9th AF – Served in England, France, Belgium, Germany. Deactivated 30 September1945, Langensalza, Germany
*425th Night Fighter Squadron :Activated
1 December 1943, RAF Charmy Down, England. Assigned: 9th AF – Served in England, France, and Germany. Deactivated 25 August 1947, Furth, Germany
*427th Night Fighter Squadron :Activated
1 February 1944, Pomigliano, Italy. Assigned: 12th AF – Served in Italy. Transferred to Barrackpore, India – China-Burma-India Theatre, October 1944
426th Night Fighter Squadron:Activated 1 January 1944, Madhaigani, India. Assigned: 14th AF – Served in India, and China to protect B-29 Superfortressbases from attack. Deactivated 5 November 1945, Shwanglu, China
427th Night Fighter Squadron:Transferred from Pomigliano, Italy in October 1944. Stationed at Barrackpore, India. Assigned: 14th AF – Served in India, Burmaand China. Deactivated 29 October 1945at Kisselbari, India
Postwar P-61 squadrons
Note: The P-61 (Pursuit) designation was changed to F-61 (Fighter) in June 1948.
*2d All Weather Squadron :Formed from equipment and personnel of 416th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 at Schweinfurt, Germany. Transferred to Mitchell Field, N.Y, June 1947. Transitioned to F-82 Twin Mustang at McGuire Field, NJ, in 1948.
*4th All Weather Squadron:Formed from equipment and personnel of 418th Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. Exchanged its F-61s for F-82Gs in 1948.
*5th All Weather Squadron:Formed at Schweinfurt, Germany, from equipment and personnel of 417th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 and made part of
52d Fighter Group. Returned to Mitchel Field, NY in June 1948, and transitioned to F-82 later that year at McGuire Field, N.J.
*68th All Weather Squadron:Formed at Bofu AFB, Japan from equipment and personnel of 421st Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 and almost immediately transitioned to F-82.
*317th Fighter Squadron:Operated with P-47s and P-51s in Europe, deactivating in October 1945 and reforming as an all-weather fighter squadron at
Mitchel Field, NY in May 1947. Received P-61s at the end of 1947 but transitioned to F-82 at Moses Lake AFB, WA at end of 1948.
*319th All Weather Squadron:Formed in September 1947 at
Howard AFBPanama from personnel and equipment of 414th Night Fighter Squadron. Transitioned to F-82 by the time it returned to Mitchel Field, NY in May 1949.
*339th All Weather Squadron:Formed from personnel and equipment of 6th Night Fighter Squadron at
Johnson ABJapan February 1947. Transitioned to F-82F/G between 1947 and 1950. Note: The 339th was the last USAF squadron equipped with F-61s.
Aircraft on display
Four P-61s are known to survive today.
* P-61B-1NO c/n 964 "42-39445", [ [http://www.warbirdregistry.org/p61registry/p61-4239445.html "42-39445"] ] which crashed on
10 January 1945on Mt. Cyclopsin New Guinea, was recovered in 1991 by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museumof Reading, Pennsylvania. [ [http://www.maam.org/p61.html Mid-Atlantic Air Museum] ] The aircraft has been undergoing a slow restoration since then with the intention of eventually returning it to flying condition, with the civilian registration "N550NF". When finished, it is expected to be over 70% new construction. As of February 2008, the center pod is complete and the tail booms have been connected to the inner wings. The aircraft is expected to be towable on its landing gear as soon as the engines are installed to counterbalance the tail weight. [http://www.panoramio.com/photo/7924942 P-61 Black Widow] Retrieved: 19 March 2008.]
* P-61B-15NO c/n 1234 "42-39715" is on outside display at the
Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronauticsin China. [ [http://www.warbirdregistry.org/p61registry/p61-chinese.html "42-39715"] ] [ [http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=13820&sid=6e74d158474e5c530dabc14a662e9814 42-39714 (warbird exchange - Dataplate photo)] ] The official story is that one of the P-61s that were based in SichuanProvince during the war was turned over to the Chendu Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1947. When the Institute moved to its present location, it did not take this aircraft with them, instead shipping it to the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1954. However, as both USAAF night fighter squadrons (426th, 427th) that served in China were deactivated in 1945, this may not be accurate.Fact|date=May 2008 An alternative explanation is that at the end of hostilities in 1945, the 427th was in the process of bringing their various detachments back to a central airfield for disposition of the aircraft and to start processing home. At one of the satellite airfields, two of the three P-61s were in need of maintenance. Reportedly, Chinese communist troops came onto the field and ordered the Americans to leave without their aircraft. This aircraft is in very poor condition and probably near the point of structural collapse.Fact|date=May 2008 The Chinese claim to have two additional P-61s in storage which they have offered for sale for $2,000,000. [ [http://www.airliners.net/search/photo.search?regsearch=42-39417 42-39417 (airliners photo collection)] ]
* P-61C-1NO c/n 1376 "43-8330", belonging to the
National Air and Space Museum(NASM), [ [http://www.warbirdregistry.org/p61registry/p61-438330.html "43-8330"] ] [ [http://collections.nasm.si.edu/code/emuseum.asp?profile=objects&newstyle=single&quicksearch=A19510044000 Northrop P-61C Black Widow] "Smithsonian: National Air and Space Museum". Retrieved 19 May 2008] was delivered to the Army on 28 July 1945. By 18 October, this P-61 was flying at Ladd Field, Alaska, conducting cold weather tests where it remained until 30 March 1946. This airplane later moved to Pinecastle Air Force Base, Florida, for participation in the National Thunderstorm Project.
:Pinecastle personnel removed the guns and turret from "43-8330" in July 1946 to make room for new equipment. In September, the aircraft moved to
Clinton County Army Air Base, Ohio, where it remained until January 1948. The Air Force then assigned the aircraft to the Flight Test Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; but after being declared surplus in 1950, it was stored it at Park Ridge, Illinois, on 3 October along with important aircraft destined for the National Air Museum.
:NACA asked the Smithsonian to lend them the aircraft for use in another special program, designed to investigate how aerodynamic shapes behaved when dropped from high altitude. The Black Widow arrived at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California, on
14 February 1951. When NACA returned the aircraft to the Smithsonian at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on 10 August, 1954, it had accumulated only 530 total flight hours. Smithsonian personnel trucked it to the Paul Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland, later to be put on public display on 8 June 2006at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centernear Washington D.C..
* P-61C-1NO c/n 1399 "43-8353" is currently on display at the USAFM in
Dayton, Ohio. [ [http://www.warbirdregistry.org/p61registry/p61-438353.html "43-8353"] ] [ [http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=524 US Air Force Museum P-61C Factsheet] ] It is marked as P-61B-1NO "42-39468" and painted to represent "Moonlight Serenade" of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron. Donated to the museum in 1958 by the TecumsehChapter of the Boy Scouts of Americain Springfield, Ohio, the aircraft recently had a reproduction turret installed, fabricated by the Museum's restoration team.
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=prop
ref=Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II,Bridgeman 1946. pp. 251–252. ] "and" Northrop P-61 Black Widow. Musiałkowski, P.K. "Nocny samolot myśliwski (Northrop P-61 Black Widow)". Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Oborony Narodowej, 1985. ISBN 0-831107-10-7.]
crew=2-3 (pilot, radar operator, optional gunner)
length main=49 ft 7 in
length alt=15.11 m
span main=66 ft 0 in
span alt=20.12 m
height main=14 ft 8 in
height alt=4.47 m
area main=662.36 ft²
area alt=61.53 m²
empty weight main=23,450 lb
empty weight alt=10,637 kg
loaded weight main=29,700 lb
loaded weight alt=13,471 kg
max takeoff weight main=36,200 lb
max takeoff weight alt=16,420 kg
**Internal: 640 US gal (2,423 L) of AN-F-48 100/130-
**External: Up to four 165 US gal (625 L) or 310 US gal (1,173 L) tanks under the wings
Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65W Double Wasp
type of prop=
number of props=2
power main=2,250 hp
power alt=1,680 kW
propeller or rotor?=propeller
propellers=four-bladed Curtiss Electric
number of propellers per engine= 1
propeller diameter main=146 in
propeller diameter alt= 3.72 m
max speed main=318 knots
max speed alt=366 mph, 589 km/h
max speed more=at 20,000 ft (6,095 m)
combat range main=530 nm
combat range alt=610 mi, 982 km
ferry range main=1,650 nm
ferry range alt=1,900 mi, 3,060 km
ferry range more=with four external fuel tanks
ceiling main=33,100 ft
ceiling alt=10,600 m
climb rate main=2,540 ft/min
climb rate alt=12.9 m/s
loading main=45 lb/ft²
loading alt=219 kg/m²
power/mass main=0.15 hp/lb
power/mass alt=25 W/kg
*Time to altitude: 12 min to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) (1,667fpm)
** 4× 20 mm Hispano M2 cannon in ventral fuselage, 200 rounds per gun
** 4× 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 machine guns in upper turret, 560 rounds per gun
bombs=for ground attack, four bombs of up to 1,600 lb (726 kg) each or six 5 inch (127 mm) HVAR unguided rockets could be carried under the wings. Some aircraft could also carry one 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb under the fuselage.
*SCR-720 (AI Mk.X) search radar
*SCR-695 tail warning radar
XP-58 Chain Lightning
* P-70 Havoc
Boulton Paul P.92
de Havilland Mosquito
* de Havilland Sea Hornet NF.21
Focke-Wulf Ta 154
Heinkel He 219
Junkers Ju 88
Messerschmitt Bf 110
List of military aircraft of the United States
* Balous, Miroslav. "Northrop P-61 Black Widow & F-15 Reporter"(bilingual Czech and English). Prague, Czechia: MBI Publications, 2nd edition 2003. ISBN 80-86524-04-3.
* Bridgeman, Leonard. “The Northrop Black Widow.” "Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II". London: Studio, 1946. ISBN 1-85170-493-0.
* Davis, Larry and Dave Menard. "P-61 Black Widow in Action (Aircraft number 106)". Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1990. ISBN 0-89747-248-9.
* Jackson, Robert. "The Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft". Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-40542-465-6.
* Johnsen, Frederick A. "Darkly Dangerous: The Northrop P-61 Black Widow Night Fighter". Washington, DC: Bomber Books, 1981. ISBN 0-28434-247-6.
* Kolln, Jeff. "The 421st Night Fighter Squadron in World War II". Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7643-1306-1.
* Pape, Garry R., John M. and Donna Campbell. "Northrop P-61 Black Widow - The Complete History and Combat Record". St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1991. ISBN 0-87938-509-X.
* Pape, Garry R. and Ronald C. Harrison. "Queen of the Midnight Skies: The Story of America's Air Force Night Fighters". Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-88740-415-4.
* Shulenberger, Eric. "Deny Them the Night Sky - A History of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron". Seattle, Washington: Shulenberger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-0976735502.
* Thompson, Warren. "P-61 Black Widow Units of World War 2". Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-85532-725-2.
* Thompson, Warren. "Northrop P-61 Black Widow: WarbirdTech Volume 15". North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 1998. ISBN 0-933424-80-9.
* Thompson, Warren. "Northrop P-61 Black Widow". "Wings of Fame". Volume 15, 1999, pp. 36–101. London: Aerospace. ISBN 1-86184-033-0.
* Zbiegniewski, Andre R. "421 NFS 1943-1947" (Bilingual Polish and English). Lublin, Poland: Kagero, 2004. ISBN 83-89088-47-9.
* [http://www.maam.org/p61.html P-61 Restoration Project] at the
Mid-Atlantic Air Museumin Reading, Pennsylvania.
* [http://www.nightfighter.info/ Night Fighter by J R Smith - a first-hand account of a P-61 radar observer in WWII China] .
* [http://www.afwing.com/gallery/beijing.htm pictures of the p-61 in China] .
* [http://www.zenoswarbirdvideos.com/MoreP-61Stuff.html P-61 Pilots manual]
* [http://www.zenoswarbirdvideos.com/P-61.html P-61 Training film]
* [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher1/p61.html Baugher P-61 index page]
* [http://www.airliners.net/search/photo.search?aircraft_genericsearch=Northrop%20P-61%20Black%20Widow P-61 at Airliners Photo collection]
* [http://www.nasm.si.edu/events/eventDetail.cfm?eventID=466 Night Fighting lecture at NASM]
* [http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/URG/p61.htm Warbirds Resource Group]
* [http://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/p-61/43-39445.html 43-39224 Pacific Wrecks]
* [http://www.skylighters.org/night_fighters/p61info.html Skylighters P-61 Page]
* [http://www.skylighters.org/night_fighters/422.html 422nd Night Fighter Squadron history]
* [http://www.skylighters.org/night_fighters/425.html 425th Night Fighter Squadron history - including aircraft list]
* [http://www.warbirdregistry.org/p61registry/p61registry.html Warbird Registry: P-61 Black Widow]
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