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Northrop P-61 Black Widow

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Northrop's P-61 Black Widow was a creature of the night. This large, powerful, twin-engined craft was the first American combat plane designed from the beginning as a night-fighter and optimised for air-to-air combat during the nocturnal hours. Beneath its slick coat of black paint, the P-61 proved itself a deadly foe in the dark, invisibly approaching Japanese aircraft and blasting them from the sky.

The P-61 Black Widow was the largest, heaviest and most powerful fighter of World War II. It resulted from efforts by designer Jack Northrop to create a night-fighter able to use air-to-air radar to destroy enemy warplanes after dark.

The Black Widow was deceptively agile and challenged and defeated smaller fighters. More than a twin-engine, twin-boomed aircraft of great size and strength, the Black Widow was truly a fighter and it produced an impressive number of air-to-air kills.

The Black Widow looked like a strange, menacing machine. In fact, it was easy to fly and responsive to the touch. The unusual cockpit layout placed the radarman/forward gunner above and behind the pilot (the third crewman was behind both) and pilots disliked having the propellers in line with their cockpit position. But once P-61s reached night-fighter squadrons in Europe and the Pacific in 1944, they achieved an impressive combat record.


Northrop P-61 Black Widow

Northrop P-61 Black Widow is a good night-fighter Slow development of the Northrop P-61 Black Widow
Once the strict initial flight limitations were lifted, P-61s became highly regarded. The original XP-61 prototype was flown on 26 May 1942 with most of its features mocked-up while awaiting the real parts.

Northrop P-61 Black Widow (Technical Specification)
Role Three-seat night-fighter
Manufacturer Northrop
Maximum Speed 589 kmh (365 mph)
Maximum range 1,513 km (940 miles)
Ceiling 12,445 meters (40,800 feet)
Maximum Takeoff

9,654 kg (21,239 lbs)
16,420 kg (36,124 lbs)
Wing Area

20.11 meters (66 ft)
15.11 meters (50 ft)
4.47 meters (15 ft)
61.53 square meters (662 sq ft)
Engines Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engines each providing 1491-kW (2,000 hp)
Armament Four 20 mm (0.79 in) M-2 cannon each with 200 rounds
Four dorsal barbette with 12.7 mm (0.50 cal) machine-guns each with 560 rounds
Pylons for 454 kgs (1,000 lbs) of bombs, rockets or other weapons

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