The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's P-61 'Black Widow' Recovery and Restoration Project - The Widow's Web - P-61 Specifications
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 and critical thunderstorm research.
The need for a true night fighter aircraft was well demonstrated during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Aircraft used to counter German night attacks operated by moonlight or searchlights, only infrequently aided by ground-based radar and were, as a result, not very effective.
At the direction of the Air Corp's General Carl A. Spaatz (for whom our airport is named), John K. Northrop submitted a ground-up night fighter design. A contract was approved on January 30, 1941 for two prototypes and two wind tunnel models. The XP-61 first flew on May 26, 1942.
In addition to the two XP-61 prototypes, thirteen YP-61 were ordered and built for use in service testing. These were delivered during August and September of 1943.
The first of eighty operational P-61 Black Widows with a powered top turret rolled off the production line in October of 1943 followed by 120 improved P-61As, only the first 37 of which had the top turret and a three-man crew. The first A-models entered operational service in May, 1944.
The next variant, the P-61B, made further improvements to the A model, including a provision for drop tanks, as seen below. The first two hundred of the 450 built did not have a top turret.
The 232nd B-model produced, #42-39445, was assigned to the 13th Air Force, 13th Fighter Command, it was the first P-61 delivered to the 550th Night Fighter Squadron at Hollandia, New Guinea. After crashing during a test flight, it lay un-recovered for more than 40 years before being retrieved by Mid-Atlantic Air Museum volunteers.
The P-61C received new engines, the 2100 hp turbo-supercharged R-2800-73s that gave it an increase in speed of about 60 mph, to 430. The first P-61C aircraft was accepted by the USAAF in July of 1945. However, the war in the Pacific ended before any P-61Cs could see combat. Only 41 C-models were produced. Two of these are on static display, one at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar Hazy Center. It wears post-war NACA test markings and has no armament installed. The second is painted as a famous B-model, "Moonlight Serenade" and belongs to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
Two XP-61D models were modified from P-61As for high altitude testing with more powerful engines by Goodyear, with the first flights in November, 1944. An outgrowth of this program was the XP-61E long-range fighter escort with side-by-side seating and a completely rebuilt crew pod. The radar in the nose was replaced by four .50 caliber machine guns, retaining the belly-mounted 20mm cannon. The two prototypes first flew on April, 1945, the same month that saw the introduction of the XP-82 Twin Mustang. The latter's 100 + mph advantage over the XP-61E killed the program.
After the war, P-61s were used in reconnaissance, weather research, and flight testing. The first American flight ejections were made from a P-61. Ejection test video.
The F-15A Reporter was an unarmed photo-recon aircraft, modified from C-models. 36 of the type were used and the last retired in April, 1949.
From July 6, 1944, when it claimed its first victory, to war's end, the P-61 distinguished itself as one of America's most unique fighting machines. The 'Black Widow' was the first aircraft totally designed as a night fighter. Its innovative slotted flaps and spoiler ailerons allowed operation from short airstrips and improved handling. The radar carried in its nose made it the dominant force in the night skies of Europe and the South Pacific.
LIST and DETAILS of P-61 VARIANTS
XP-61 - Prototype Designation; two units produced.
YP-61 - Pre-Production Models; 13 produced.
P-61A-1 - Initial Production Model; 45 produced; fitted with R-2800-10 engines of 2,000 hp; final 7 in series produced sans turret.
P-61A-5 - Fitted with R-2800-65 engines of 2,250 hp; 35 produced; sans turret.
P-61A-10 - 100 produced; water-injection implemented for improved engine output.
P-61A-11 - 20 produced; two underwing hardpoints introduced for bomb-carrying capability.
P-61B-1 - 62 produced; nose lengthened by 8 inches; SCR-695 tail warning radar introduced.
P-61B-2 - 38 produced; two underwing hardpoints introduced for B-series as in P-61A-11 model.
P-61B-10 - Underwing hardpoints increased from two to four; 46 units produced.
P-61B-11 - Turret Implemented but with only two .50 cal machine guns; 5 production models built.
P-61B-15 - Turret expanded to 4 x 1.50 cal machine guns; 153 produced.
P-61B-16 - Turret reduced to 2 x .50 cal machine guns; 6 produced.
P-61B-20 - New General Electric turret implemented now with the 4 x .50 cal machine gun array; 84 produced.
P-61B-25 - APG-1 gun-laying radar introduced for computerized automatic firing of turret; 6 produced.
P-61C - Fitted with R-2800-73 turbocharged engines of 2,800 hp each; improved performance; 41 produced; a further 476 cancelled due to war's end.
TP-61C - Dual-Control Trainer Conversions of P-61C models.
XP-61D - Fitted with R-2800-14 series engines; cancelled with introduction of P-61C series; 2 converted from P-61A-5 and P-61A-10 models.
XP-61E - Converted Daytime Long-Range Escort Fighters; sans turret; increased fuel capacity; 4 x .50 cal machine guns added to nose in place of radar operator's position; 2 converted; cancelled at war's end; one prototype lost to accident , the other prototype became the basis for the XF-15 model series.
XP-61F - Single conversion model similar to XP-61E.
P-61G - Meteorological Research Platforms; 16 converted as such.
F-15A "Reporter" - Photo-reconnaissance Variant; fitted with supercharged R-2800-73 engines as P-61C model series.
F2T-1 - United States Navy Trial Planes; two such converted.