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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.1,2,3,5 It was designed by Jack Northrop.1 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.5

Northrop's design was accepted in early 1941 and two prototypes were ordered on January 11, 1941.3,5 Thirteen more were ordered straight from the drawing board on March 10.3,5

Radar

The SCR-720 search radar used by the P-61 took 172,000 man hours to develop.1 It was also based on a British design that was modified by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.5 It was mounted in the nose.1

Propellers

The propellers were made by Curtis Electric.1

Cockpit

In the cockpit of the P-61 the radar man and gunner were above and behind the pilot.1

Landing Gear

The P-61 used a tricycle style landing gear.5

Prototype

The Northrop XP-61 Black Widow was first flown on May 21, 19422,5 / May 26, 19421,3 by Vance Breese.1

Production

On September 1, 1941, 150 P-61s were ordered.5 Another 450 were ordered on February 12, 1942.5

  • Northrop XP-61: 23
  • Northrop YP-61: 132,3
    • Completed by September 19433
  • Northrop P-61A: 2002,3,5
    • First flew in late 19433
  • Northrop P-61B: 4002, 4503,5
  • Northrop P-61C: 412,3,5
  • Northrop F-15A: 365
  • Total: >7005, 7061,3
    • Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation5

Variants

  • Northrop XP-61: Prototype.1,2
  • Northrop XP-61D: Prototype.3
  • Northrop XP-61E: Prototype.3
  • Northrop YP-61: Preproduction.2
  • Northrop P-61A: In first 37 aircraft had four 20 mm cannons under nose, and four 12.7 mm machine guns in dorsal turret.2,3 Later aircraft had dorsal turret removed.2 First 44 aircraft were produced with Pratt & Whitney R-2800-45 (2,000 HP) engine.3
  • Northrop P-61B: Carried four drop tanks with 340 gallons.1,5 Entered service in July 1944.2,3 The last 200 had the dorsal turret installed.2 Could carry four 1,600 lb bombs under the wings.5
  • Northrop P-61C:
  • Northrop P-61G: 16 converted to weather reconnaissance.3
  • Northrop XF-15A: Converted P-61C to a photo reconnaissance aircraft.1 Six cameras were in the nose.1 175 were ordered, but only 36 F-15As were constructed.1
  • Northrop F-15A: Later renamed to RF-61C.3 Photo reconaissance.3 Fuselage was slimmer.3 Built in 1946.3

Usage

First Uses

The P-61s were first sent to the Pacific in the summer of 1944.5 In August 1944 they were first used in Europe.5

First Victory

A Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was shot down by a P-61 on July 6, 1944 / July 7, 19442 with the 18th Fighter Group.1

Against the V-1

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

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.1

The 1950s

P-61s were withdrawn from active service in 1952.5

Pilot Radar Operator Unit Number
Major C. C. Smith4 1st Lt. P.B. Porter4 418th NFS4 7 kills (2 while flying P-38) and 2 probables4
1st Lt. H. E. Ernst4 1st Lt. E. H. Kopsel4 422nd NFS4 5 kills, 2 damaged and 1 V1 kill4
1st Lt. E. D. Axtell4 1st Lt. B. Orzel4
1st Lt. J. U. Morris4
1st Lt. C. H. Morrison4
1st Lt. J. F. Crew4
422nd NFS4 5 kills, 2 probables4
1st Lt. P. A. Smith4 1st Lt. R. E. Tierney4 422nd NFS4 5 kills, 1 probable, 1 V1 kill4
1st R. F. Graham4 1st Lt. R. G. Bolinder4
Capt. R. A. Anderson4
422nd NFS4 5 kills, 1 probable4
Lt. R. O. Elmore4 1st Lt. L. F. Mapes4 422nd NFS4 4 kills, 1 V1 kill4

Pacific Squadrons

A total of ten squadrons in the Central Pacific were outfitted with the P-61.1

Specifications

  Northrop P-61A Black Widow3
Type Night fighter3
Crew 33
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 Double Wasp3
Cylinders Radial 183
Cooling  
HP 2,000 each3
Emergency HP power  
Propeller blades 4 each3
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks  
Dimensions  
Span 66'3
20.11 m3
Length 48' 11"3
14.91 m3
Height 14' 8"3
4.47 m3
Wing area  
Weight  
Empty  
Loaded  
Overloaded  
Performance  
Speed  
Service ceiling  
Range  
Armament  
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG3
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm3
  Northrop P-61B Black Widow1,2,3,5
Type Night fighter1,2,5
Crew 31,2,5, Pilot5, Radar operator5, Gunner/Observer5
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 Double Wasp1,2,3,5
Cylinders Radial2, Radial 181,3,5
Cooling Air5
HP 2,000 each1,2,3,5
Emergency HP power  
Propeller blades 4 each1,3,5
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks 1,110 gallons1
4,692 liters1
Dimensions  
Span 66'1,2,5
20.11 m1, 20.12 m2
Length 49' 7"2.3,5, 50'1
15.11 m1,2,3
Height 14' 8"2,5, 15'1
4.46 m2, 4.47 m1
Wing area 662 ft2 1, 664 ft2 2
61.53 m2 1 , 61.69 m2 2
Weight  
Empty 21,239 lb1, 22,000 lb2,3
9,654 kg1, 9,979 kg3, 9,980 kg2
Loaded 29,636 lb1, 29,700 lb3,5
13,471 kg1, 13,472 kg3
Overloaded 36,124 lb1, 38,000 lb2,3
16,420 kg1, 17,237 kg3, 17,240 kg2
Performance  
Speed at sea level 330 mph3
531 kph3
Speed @ 20,000' /
6,095 m
366 mph2,5
589 kph2
Speed @ 20,000' /
6,096 m
365 mph1, 366 kph3
589 kph1,3
Climb to 20,000' /
6,095 m
12 minutes2
Climb to 20,000' /
6,096 m
12 minutes3
Service ceiling 33,100'2,3,5, 40,800'1
10,089 m3, 10,090 m2, 12,445 m1
Range 940 miles3, 1,590 miles2, 3,000 miles5
1,513 km3, 2,559 km2
Range - internal fuel 940 miles1
1,513 km1
Range - with drop tanks 1,350 miles1
2,172 km1
Maximum ferry range 3,000 miles3
4,828 km3
Armament  
Lower fuselage / Nose 4: 20 mm M-21, 4: 20 mm2
200 rounds each1
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG3,5
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm3,5
4: 12.7 mm Colt-Browning M2 MG1, 4: 12.7 mm MG2
560 rounds each1
Bombs, rockets or
other weapons
1,000 lb1
454 kg1
Bombs 4: 1,600 lb2, 4,000 lb3, 6,400 lb5
4: 726 kg2, 2,903 kg3
OR  
Rockets 8: 5"2
8; 127 mm2
  Northrop P-61C Black Widow3
Type Night fighter3
Crew 33
Engine (Type) 2: Pratt & Whitney R-2800-732,3
Cylinders  
Cooling  
HP  
Emergency HP power 2,800 each2,3,5
Propeller blades 4 each3
Fuel capacity  
Fuel capacity - drop tanks  
Dimensions  
Span  
Length 49' 7"3
15.11 m3
Height  
Wing area  
Weight  
Empty  
Loaded  
Overloaded  
Performance  
Speed  
Climb  
Service ceiling  
Range  
Armament  
Ventral 4: 0.5" MG3
Dorsal barbette 4: 20 mm3
Bombs 4,000 lb3
2,903 kg3

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