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United States' Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter

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Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter:
United States' Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter

Design

From the very beginning the Northrop P-61 Black Widow was designed to be a night fighter. It was designed by Jack Northrop. Reports from Britain stated the usefulness of night fighters and in November 1940 Northrop submitted plans to the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) for a heavy night fighter.

Northrop's design was accepted in early 1941 and two prototypes were ordered on January 11, 1941. Thirteen more were ordered straight from the drawing board on March 10.

Radar

The SCR-720 search radar used by the P-61 took 172,000 man hours to develop. It was also based on a British design that was modified by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was mounted in the nose.

Propellers

The propellers were made by Curtis Electric.

Cockpit

In the cockpit of the P-61 the radar man and gunner were above and behind the pilot.

Landing Gear

The P-61 used a tricycle style landing gear.

Prototype

The Northrop XP-61 Black Widow was first flown on May 21, 1942 / May 26, 1942 by Vance Breese.

Production

On September 1, 1941, 150 P-61s were ordered. Another 450 were ordered on February 12, 1942.

  • Northrop XP-61: 2
  • Northrop YP-61: 13
    • Completed by September 1943
  • Northrop P-61A: 200
    • First flew in late 1943
  • Northrop P-61B: 400, 450
  • Northrop P-61C: 41
  • Northrop F-15A: 36
  • Total: >700, 706
    • Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation

Variants

  • Northrop XP-61: Prototype.
  • Northrop XP-61D: Prototype.
  • Northrop XP-61E: Prototype.
  • Northrop YP-61: Preproduction.
  • Northrop P-61A: In first 37 aircraft had four 20 mm cannons under nose, and four 12.7 mm machine guns in dorsal turret. Later aircraft had dorsal turret removed. First 44 aircraft were produced with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-45 (2,000 HP) engine.
  • Northrop P-61B: Carried four drop tanks with 340 gallons. Entered service in July 1944. The last 200 had the dorsal turret installed. Could carry four 1,600 lb bombs under the wings.
  • Northrop P-61C:
  • Northrop P-61G: 16 converted to weather reconnaissance.
  • Northrop XF-15A: Converted P-61C to a photo reconnaissance aircraft. Six cameras were in the nose. 175 were ordered, but only 36 F-15As were constructed.
  • Northrop F-15A: Later renamed to RF-61C. Photo reconaissance. Fuselage was slimmer. Built in 1946.

Usage

First Uses

The P-61s were first sent to the Pacific in the summer of 1944. In August 1944 they were first used in Europe.

First Victory

A Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was shot down by a P-61 on July 6, 1944 / July 7, 1944 with the 18th Fighter Group.

Against the V-1

P-61 Black Widows shot down nine German V-1 buzz bombs.

Aces

One P-61 pilot became an ace by using the P-61, and two other pilots became aces by using the P-61 and other aircraft.

The 1950s

P-61s were withdrawn from active service in 1952.

Pilot Radar Operator Unit Number
Major C. C. Smith 1st Lt. P.B. Porter 418th NFS 7 kills (2 while flying P-38) and 2 probables
1st Lt. H. E. Ernst 1st Lt. E. H. Kopsel 422nd NFS 5 kills, 2 damaged and 1 V1 kill
1st Lt. E. D. Axtell 1st Lt. B. Orzel
1st Lt. J. U. Morris
1st Lt. C. H. Morrison
1st Lt. J. F. Crew
422nd NFS 5 kills, 2 probables
1st Lt. P. A. Smith 1st Lt. R. E. Tierney 422nd NFS 5 kills, 1 probable, 1 V1 kill
1st R. F. Graham 1st Lt. R. G. Bolinder
Capt. R. A. Anderson
422nd NFS 5 kills, 1 probable
Lt. R. O. Elmore 1st Lt. L. F. Mapes 422nd NFS 4 kills, 1 V1 kill

Pacific Squadrons

A total of ten squadrons in the Central Pacific were outfitted with the P-61.

Specifications

  Northrop P-61A Black Widow
Type Night fighter
Crew 3
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 Double Wasp
Cylinders Radial 18
Cooling  
HP 2,000 each
Emergency HP power  
Propeller blades 4 each
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks  
Dimensions  
Span 66'
20.11 m
Length 48' 11"
14.91 m
Height 14' 8"
4.47 m
Wing area  
Weight  
Empty  
Loaded  
Overloaded  
Performance  
Speed  
Service ceiling  
Range  
Armament  
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm
  Northrop P-61B Black Widow
Type Night fighter
Crew 3, Pilot, Radar operator, Gunner/Observer
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 Double Wasp
Cylinders Radial, Radial 18
Cooling Air
HP 2,000 each
Emergency HP power  
Propeller blades 4 each
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks 1,110 gallons
4,692 liters
Dimensions  
Span 66'
20.11 m, 20.12 m
Length 49' 7", 50'
15.11 m
Height 14' 8", 15'
4.46 m, 4.47 m
Wing area 662 ft2 , 664 ft2
61.53 m2 , 61.69 m2
Weight  
Empty 21,239 lb, 22,000 lb
9,654 kg, 9,979 kg, 9,980 kg
Loaded 29,636 lb, 29,700 lb
13,471 kg, 13,472 kg
Overloaded 36,124 lb, 38,000 lb
16,420 kg, 17,237 kg, 17,240 kg
Performance  
Speed at sea level 330 mph
531 kph
Speed @ 20,000' /
6,095 m
366 mph
589 kph
Speed @ 20,000' /
6,096 m
365 mph, 366 kph
589 kph
Climb to 20,000' /
6,095 m
12 minutes
Climb to 20,000' /
6,096 m
12 minutes
Service ceiling 33,100', 40,800'
10,089 m, 10,090 m, 12,445 m
Range 940 miles, 1,590 miles, 3,000 miles
1,513 km, 2,559 km
Range - internal fuel 940 miles
1,513 km
Range - with drop tanks 1,350 miles
2,172 km
Maximum ferry range 3,000 miles
4,828 km
Armament  
Lower fuselage / Nose 4: 20 mm M-2, 4: 20 mm
200 rounds each
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm
4: 12.7 mm Colt-Browning M2 MG, 4: 12.7 mm MG
560 rounds each
Bombs, rockets or
other weapons
1,000 lb
454 kg
Bombs 4: 1,600 lb, 4,000 lb, 6,400 lb
4: 726 kg, 2,903 kg
OR  
Rockets 8: 5"
8; 127 mm
  Northrop P-61C Black Widow
Type Night fighter
Crew 3
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-73
Cylinders  
Cooling  
HP  
Emergency HP power 2,800 each
Propeller blades 4 each
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks  
Dimensions  
Span  
Length 49' 7"
15.11 m
Height  
Wing area  
Weight  
Empty  
Loaded  
Overloaded  
Performance  
Speed  
Climb  
Service ceiling  
Range  
Armament  
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm
Bombs 4,000 lb
2,903 kg

Sources:

  1. Aircraft of WWII, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  2. Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Editor: Karen Leverington, 1995
  3. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  4. American Nightfighter Aces of World War 2, Andrew Thomas, Warren Thompson, 2008
  5. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site