The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's P-61 'Black Widow' Recovery and Restoration Project - The Beginning
        THE BEGINNING
The P-61 is of interest for a number of reasons, besides its rarity.  It was America's first night fighter designed specifically for that role.  From a design begun in 1940 came an aircraft as large as some medium bombers, but capable of 350+ MPH speeds, a take-off roll of 1,000 feet and landing speeds of 70 to 80 mph. 

The big interceptor featured slotted wing flaps and "spoiler" type ailerons for better control at all speeds.  P-61's performed well in both theaters of World War II and one was credited with the last kill of the conflict.  Post war, P-61's were also used in testing of early ejection seats.


Imagine for a moment that it is January 10th, 1945.  Even though it is not yet noon, the temperature is close to 100 degrees - not unusual for New Guinea.  The roar of two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines comes through the open cockpit window of your P-61B "Black Widow" and mixes with the heat.

You taxi the almost fifteen tons of aircraft to the end of the main runway at Hollandia airfield.  You complete the pre-flight checklist: intercooler doors closed, flaps set to one third, emergency hand pump selector neutral, throttles set to 2700 rpm, engine instruments all O.K.   You release the brakes and begin the take-off roll...


painting by Dr. Philip Alexander.

On that January morning in 1945, Lt. Logan Southfield, of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron, began that flight in P-61B 42-39445.  Minutes later, and just two short miles away, the roar of the 4,000 horsepower aircraft was drowned out as it crashed...just several hundred feet short of Mt. Cyclops' 7,000 foot summit.  Two days later, rescue teams brought the injured crew down the mountain.


 
Members of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron pose in front of a P-61
prior to their deployment to Hollandia, New Guinea, November 19th, 1944.


Lt. Logan "Red" Southfield (seated left),  the last pilot of P-61B "239445", and his radar operator,
Lt. Ben Goldstein (standing left), pose with fellow members of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron.
 


The P-61 remained on Mount Cyclops...

...Until 1991

 

Since 1979, recovery and restoration of P-61B "239445" has been the personal goal and mission of Museum Director Gene Strine.  In fact, the Museum was first formed for the purpose of acquiring the rights to recover the aircraft. In this photograph, the Mt. Cyclops crash site is barely visible... almost obscured by clouds some 7,000 feet above sea level

 


THE NEXT CHAPTER - RECOVERY...



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