P-61 Black Widow, U.S. Night Fighter

Photograph of P-61 Black Widow

U.S. Air Force. Via Wikipedia Commons.

Northrop P-61A Black Widow


Crew 3
Dimensions 66' by 48'11" by 14'8"
20.12m by 14.91m by 4.47m
Wing area 664 square feet
61.7 square meters
Weight 24,000-32,400 lbs
10,900-14,700 kg
Maximum speed       372 mph (599 km/h) at 17,600 feet (5360 meters)
333 mph (536 km/h) at sea level
Cruise speed 200 mph
322 km/h
Landing speed 85 mph
137 km/h
Climb rate 39 feet per second
11.9 meters per second
Service ceiling 33,700 feet
10,300 meters
Power plant 2 2000 hp (1491 kW) Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10 Double Wasp 18-cylinder two-row radial engines
Armament 4 20mm M-2 fixed belly cannon
1 electric remote control dorsal turret with 4 0.50 machine guns
Range 1208 miles
1944 km
Fuel 640 gallons
2400 liters
Sensors SCR-720 airborne interception radar
Production 941 of all types from 5/44 at Northrop Air Incorporated, Hawthorne, CA:

15 prototypes                                                

200 P-61A

450 P-61B

41 P-61C

The P-61B added pylons for four 250 gallon (946 liter) drop tanks or four 1600 lb (726 kg) bombs. Some of the early production aircraft lacked the dorsal turret.

The P-61C had R-2800-73 engines.

About 16 were converted to unarmed weather reconnaissance P-61G.

The P-61 was the first aircraft ever designed from the ground up as a night fighter, using the experience of the earliest radar-equipped RAF night fighters. It carried the new SCR-720 airborne interception radar in its nose, and its main armament sat well back on its central nacelle. It had a large fuel capacity and was fast and agile for its size. The aircraft derived its nickname, the Black Widow (a poisonous North American spider), from its all-black finish.

The dorsal turret was remotely controlled and could be aimed from the front or rear positions of the aircraft and fired by the pilot. This turret was omitted on some of the early P-61B models because it created turret buffet. This problem was solved halfway through the P-61B production run and the turret was restored. The pylons added to the P-61B allowed it to carry as heavy a bomb load as some medium bombers.

Though the aircraft was introduced quite late in the war, due in part to difficulties working the bugs out of the SCR-720 installation, there were several P-61 aces in the Pacific. 56% of P-61 crews were deployed to the Pacific or Far East.



Gunston (1986)

Sharpe et al. (1999)

Wilson (1998)

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