Northrop P-61 Black Widow

The P-61A was the first production version of the Black Widow which was designed specifically for Night fights. It was among the USA’s firsts to make use of Radar. The Battle of Britain in Europe had proven the success of the Radar technology. Northrop engineers designed it as a heavily-armed platform built specifically for the night sky. Its first model came out in October 1943. Since it appeared on the combat front in mid-1944, the targets had become less in number. So, although it wasn’t used much as it could have been, but it was very capable and dynamic fighter.

Since it was custom made for use in complete darkness, it could track and ultimately destroy any suspicious incoming enemy aircraft. Its twin boom arrangements contained the two Pratt & Whitney turbocharged engines. They were joined at rear by a large plane and twin rudder formation. Either boom spanned the sides of the crew areas. The crew included 3 personnel to pilot, to track and to engage. The aircraft was painted black to keep it from being obviously visible to the naked eye in the darkness. The pilot’s seat was located in the forward cockpit whereas the gunner sat just behind him. The Gunner’s position was slightly elevated to give a better visibility. The radar operator was situated at the isolated extreme rear of the gondola. The radar used was the SCR-720 series radar system that was mounted in the nose. A separate streamlined enclosure had engine fitted just near the wing roots. This design generated a very solid center of gravity when both engines were in full power. All P-61’s variants were actually not equipped with the dorsal turrets. In fact, more than half of all P-61As built had this turret deleted. One reason being the General Electric remotely-controlled turret mechanism was urgently needed for the B-29 program.

Since its inception in 1944, the P-61 was quite successful. The Black Widow kept making more combat appearances till 1950. The Black Widow was eventually replaced as the frontline night fighter for the US Air Force by the North American F-82F/G Twin Mustangs after 1948. The last F-61 Black Widow officially retired from service in 1952.


Type: Fighter
Crew: 3
Length: 49′ 7″ (15.11 m)
Height: 14′ 8″ (4.47 m)
Wingspan: 66′ (20.12 m)
Gross Weight: 35853 lbs (16260 kg)
Max Weight: 35855 lbs (16260 kg)
No. of Engines: 2
Power Plant: Pratt & Whitney R-2800
Horsepower: 2100 hp each
Range: 1200 miles (1932 km)
Cruise Speed: 275 mph (442 km/hr)
Max Speed: 425 mph (684 km/hr)
Ceiling: 46200 ft (14081 m)
Armament: 4 x 12.7mm Browning M2 machine guns in radio-controlled dorsal turret
4 x 20mm Hispano M2 cannons in ventral position (fixed forward-firing)
4 x 1,600lb bombs underwing
6 x 5″ HVAR unguided rockets underwing
1 x 1,000 bomb centerline fuselage (some variants)