Planes Worth Model­ing: Northrop P-61 Black Widow

Radar-equipped night fighter

Model Airplane News - - CONTENTS - By Gerry Yar­rish

Radar-equipped night fighter

De­vel­oped dur­ing World War II, the Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the first op­er­a­tional U.S. war­plane de­signed as a night fighter and was also the first air­craft de­signed to use radar. The P-61 was manned with a crew of three: pi­lot, gun­ner, and radar op­er­a­tor. It was armed with four 20mm His­pano M2 for­ward-fir­ing can­non mounted in the lower fuse­lage, and four .50-cal­iber M2 Brown­ing ma­chine guns mounted in a re­motely con­trolled dor­sal gun tur­ret.

The all-metal, twin-en­gine, twin-boom de­sign’s first test flight was made on May 26, 1942, and the first pro­duc­tion mod­els started rolling off the as­sem­bly lines in Oc­to­ber 1943. The last P-61 vari­ants were re­tired from mil­i­tary ser­vice in 1954.

Al­though not pro­duced in the same large num­bers as its con­tem­po­raries, the Black Widow was ef­fec­tively op­er­ated as a night fighter by U.S. Army Air Forces

(USAAF) squadrons in the Euro­pean The­ater, Pa­cific The­ater, China Burma In­dia The­ater, and Mediter­ranean The­ater dur­ing WW II. It re­placed ear­lier Bri­tishde­signed night-fighter air­craft that had been up­dated to in­cor­po­rate radar when it be­came avail­able. Af­ter the war, the P-61—re­des­ig­nated the F-61—served in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as a long-range, all-weather, day/night in­ter­cep­tor for Air De­fense Com­mand un­til 1948 and for the Fifth Air Force un­til 1950.

The P-61 was also mod­i­fied to cre­ate the F-15 Re­porter photo-re­con­nais­sance air­craft for the USAAF and sub­se­quently used by the USAF.

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