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  • Northrop P-61 Black Widow




    The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, named for the North American spider, was the first operational U.S. warplane designed as a night fighter, and the first aircraft designed to use radar.

    General Information

    The P-61 had a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano M2 forward-firing cannon mounted in the lower fuselage, and four .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns mounted in a remote-controlled dorsal gun turret.


    It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom design developed during World War II. The first test flight was made on May 26, 1942, with the first production aircraft rolling off the assembly line in October 1943. The last aircraft was retired from government service in 1954.


    Although not produced in the large numbers of its contemporaries, the Black Widow was effectively operated as a night-fighter by United States Army Air Forces squadrons in the European Theater, Pacific Theater, China Burma India Theater, and Mediterranean Theater during World War II. It replaced earlier British-designed night-fighter aircraft that had been updated to incorporate radar when it became available. After the war, the P-61—redesignated the F-61—served in the United States Air Force as a long-range, all-weather, day/night interceptor for Air Defense Command until 1948, and Fifth Air Force until 1950.


    On the night of 14 August 1945, a P-61B of the 548th Night Fight Squadron named Lady in the Dark was unofficially credited with the last Allied air victory before VJ Day. The P-61 was also modified to create the F-15 Reporter photo-reconnaissance aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces and subsequently used by the United States Air Force.


    The XP-61's spine-mounted dorsal remote turret could be aimed and fired by the gunner or radar operator, who both had aiming control and gyroscopic collimator sighting posts attached to their swiveling seats, or could be locked forward to be fired by the pilot in addition to the 20 mm (.79 in) cannon. The radar operator could rotate the turret to engage targets behind the aircraft. Capable of a full 360° rotation and 90° elevation, the turret could be used to engage any target in the hemisphere above and to the sides of the XP-61. A brief assessment of the turret by the British Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment in 1944 found problems with the aiming and "jerky movement" of the guns.


    The total number built was 706.


    For more details of the development, design, operational history and variants, click here.

    Northrop P-61 Black Widow 01.jpg

    Northrop P-61 Black Widow 313.jpg

    Northrop P-61 Black Widow museum.jpg

    Northrop P-61B Black Widow 728.jpg


    Crew: 2–3 (pilot, radar operator, optional gunner)
    49 ft 7 in (15.11 m)
    66 ft 0 in (20.12 m)
    14 ft 8 in (4.47 m)
    Wing Area:
    662.36 sq ft (61.535 sq m)
    Wing Loading:
    45 lb/sq ft (220 kg/sq m)
    Empty Weight:
    23,450 lb (10,637 kg)
    36,200 lb (16,420 kg). Gross weight: 29,700 lb (13,472 kg)
    Fuel Capacity:
    640 US gal (2,400 l) internal and up to four 165 US gal (625 l) drop tanks
    2 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65W Double Wasp 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) each
    Maximum speed: 366 mph (589 km/h, 318 kn) at 20,000 ft (6,100 m)
    1,350 mi (2,170 km, 1,170 nmi). Ferry range: 1,900 mi (3,100 km, 1,700 nmi) with four external fuel tanks
    Rate of Climb:
    2,540 ft/min (12.9 m/s). Time to altitude: 20,000 ft (6,100 m) in 12 minutes
    Service Ceiling:
    33,100 ft (10,100 m)

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