back WWII main menu

American WWII's aircraft


Northrop P-61 Black Widow

posted by Jiri Wagner

The P-61 was the first US aircraft specifically designed as a night fighter. As large as a medium bomber, it was actually very maneuverable. The P-61 was first fielded in Europe but found greater use in the Pacific. The Black Widow replaced the interim Douglas P-70 and eventually equipped all 14 USAAF night-fighter units. The key to the P-61's success was the Western Electric SCR-720 airborne intercept radar.

The first recorded "kill" came on July 6, 1944, when 1st Lt. Francis Eaton (pilot), 2d Lt. James E. Ketchum (radar operator), and SSgt. Gary Anderson (gunner) intercepted and shot down a Japanese "Betty" bomber. P-61 crews accounted for 127 confirmed victories, including 18 V-1 "buzz bombs" in Europe. Four Black Widow crews became aces.

The last kill by a P-61 was made by Major Lee Kendall to whom "Lady in the Dark" was assigned. The nose art was commissioned by Major Kendall on Iwo Jima. Major Kendall, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, on August 15, 1945 while on CAP caused a Tojo aircraft to crash - the Japanese fighter crashed into the Pacific without a shot being fired. At that time Kendall was known as Captain Solie Solomon (look at document).

In 1946, 36 aircraft of a slightly modified design were built as the F-15 Reporter photoreconnaissance aircraft. P-61s were also used for ejection-seat tests and for a research program that studied the effects of thunderstorms on aircraft structures after the war. In 1946, a dozen P-61Cs were transferred to the Marines as trainers and were designated F2Ts. The P-61 was phased out of USAF service in 1952, and the last F-15 was retired in 1955

Only four P-61s are thought to exist today.
The first one, a C-model that never saw combat, is on display at the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson, in Dayton, Ohio.
The second is on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington DC.
The third is on display at, of all places, a park in China.
The fourth is currently (and slowly) being restored at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum at the Reading, PA, airport. It was discovered on a mountainside in New Guinea. Check out the museum's website for some great info this particular P61 and the ongoing restoration.


General characteristics P-61B

Primary function Nightfighter
Contractor Northrop Aircraft Inc.
Power plant Two Pratt&Whitney R-2800-65 engines
Thrust 2x 2,000 HP 2x 1,491 kW
Wingspan 66 ft 20.12 m
Length 49.5 ft 15.1 m
Height 14.8 ft 4.49 m
Wingarea 662.3 sq ft 61.53 sq m
Weight empty 24,000 lb 10,886 kg
max. 38,000 lb 17,237 kg
Max. speed 366 mph 589 km/h
Initial climb rate 2,200 ft/min 670 m/min
Ceiling 33,000 ft 10,060 m
Max. range 2,800 miles 4,500 km
Armament 4x 20mm cannon M-2 under fuselage, (P-61A also 4x 12.7mm machine guns in dorsal turret), up to 4x 725 kg external weapons or tanks.
Crew Three (pilot, radar operator, shooter)
Date deployed 1944
Number built 706


Copyright All Rights Reserved