Northrop P-61 Black Widow
The Black Widow was the first U.S. aircraft to be designed from the beginning as a night fighter and was the standard front line night fighter by the end of the Second World War. Design work commenced in 1940 at the time of the night-bombing which followed the Battle of Britain and many of the lessons learnt at that time were incorporated by Northrop.
The prototype XP-61 was a large aircraft approximately the size and weight of a medium bomber (example: the B-25 Mitchell) with a twin boom layout and accommodating the crew, radar and armament in a central nacelle. The three-man crew consisted of a pilot, a radar operator/gunner who sat above and behind him, and a radio operator/gunner in a separate compartment at the rear. The fixed armament was a battery of four 20mm cannon beneath the floor and fired by the pilot and movable armament was a remotely controlled turret with four 50 caliber machine guns which was capable of being operated by any of the crew. Delivery of production aircraft began in the second half of 1943. The first of these P-61As had the top turret fitted but problems arose in service and the majority of the A models built had the turret deleted.
The Black Widow did not rack up an impressive list of kills. Its entry into the war was relatively late, at a time when the Allies had already established almost complete control of the air. Consequently, enemy aircraft were at this time relatively few and far between, even at night. Nevertheless, there were a few Black Widow aces. In accounting for Black Widow aces, there is a complication since the aircraft had more than one crew member. Does only the pilot get credit for the kill, or does the radar operator get credit as well? What happens if the pilot has had different radar operators on different missions? What if a radar operator has had more than one pilot? In the European theatre, there was an additional complication because some of the Black Widow kills were against unmanned V-1 'buzz bombs". Should these V-1s kills be included in the count? If V-1s are included, and if both pilots and radar operators are to be given credit for the kill, in Europe, there were two sets of pilots and radar operators who achieved six victories. These were the pair 1st Lt. Herman E. Ernst (pilot) and 2nd Lt. Edward H. Kopsel (radar operator) and the pair Lt. Paul A. Smith (pilot) and Lt. Robert E. Tierney (radar operator). One V-1 is included in the count for each pair of crew members. All of these crew members were from the 418th Night Fighter Squadron. The leading Black Widow crew in the Pacific was the pair Major Carrol C. Smith (pilot) and Lt. Philip B. Porter (radar operator) of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron, who destroyed five Japanese aircraft.
Excerpt from Wartime Service of Northrop P-61 Black Widow.The P-61B Black Widow, "Lady In The Dark," took part in the Pacific Campaign with the 548th Night Fighter Squadron. On August 14th, 1945, she took off from its base at Ia Shima with a crew of two, pilot Lieutenant Clyde and radar operator Lieutenant Leford, to intercept some Japanese "Oscar" fighters. Late that night, it made radar contact with an "Oscar" and gave chase. During the ensuing maneuvers both aircraft flew closer and closer to the sea until the "Oscar" crashed without either machine firing a shot. When "Lady In The Dark" landed early on the morning of August 15th hostilities had ended and she had made the last kill of the war.The P-61B was powered by two 2,250 horsepower Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp engines giving a maximum speed of 366 miles per hour. Normal range was 940 miles and a maximum range with external fuel, 1,900 miles. Armament consisted of four 20mm cannon and four 50 caliber machine guns and up to 6,400 lbs of bombs could be carried. Wing span was 66 feet and length 48 feet, 11 inches.Aftermath. There are only two complete Black Widows left and they are in museums. One is in the Smithsonian and one is at the Dayton, Ohio Air Force museum. However, a P-61B is presently being restored to flying condition at the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania.
You are cordially invited to view the restoration project from the museum's web site. [Click Here For Latest News] The Ol'Kunnel hopes that you will contribute what you can toward it's restoration. The model shown above is much like the one he built for his friend, Frank Sartanowicz, a former P-61 pilot. The model was purchased from the MAAM.
Grandpa Hayes was a tail gunner on a P61B in the Army Air Corps during WWII. When we started doing research on the plane, we found out very few of these type planes are left. Four to be exact, and one of those is in Beijing, China.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit the US Air Force Museum in August 1998, where one of the remaining planes is located. My pictures didn't turn out very well due to the light in the hanger. But, fortunately for us, the museum has a web site with better pictures of the plane. This is the best example left of a P61 Night Fighter anywhere in the world, as far I know.
I joined the Military because of the stories he used to tell when I was young. Later, after Grandpa died, Grandma told me that he used to always say his favorite day in the Army was the DAY HE GOT OUT !
It took me 15 years, But I'm starting to understand what he meant !
SFC Ken Loftin
This photo of Clifford Hayes can be found on SFC Loftin's web site. The jump suit he is wearing reminds me of my days in the Air Force. During the early 50s, this was issue fatigue wear. Mine were always slightly too big and baggy. But, heck, they stood me in good stead when I was in France. I'd wear my civies to work under my fatigues. After work I would strip off the jump suit and be the first in town to search out the young ladies. (grin)
The Ol'Kunnel as an Airman in Chateauroux, France, circa 1953. Recently promoted I was leaving the Post Exchange after purchasing a new camera. Note the baggy jump suit. (grin)
-- Bob Clarke aka the Ol'Kunnel....
The Ol'Kunnel received the following e-mail from a doting grandson of SSgt Hayes today. It was a bit late to be included in today's TIH Bulletin but, be assured it will be seen the day before the next REAL Memorial Day...
Well, Tomorrow is Memorial Day.
That's good, because I thought it was today, and I didn't put the flag out. My record is pretty spotty in the area, but my heart is in the right place.
You know, when Memorial Day comes around, I know a lot of people just see it as a extra day off, or another day at the beach. I always think about the veterans in my family. My Momma knows more about some of them than I do, and I probably should of asked her more about some of them. But let me tell you a little about the ones I do know. Benoni Loftin was in the North Carolina Militia 25 years before the Declaration of Independence. He a was a Private , or a foot soldier. But then again, wasn't everybody in 1751 ?
My Grandfather was in the Army Air corps in W.W.II. And I heard stories > about it as a child of the early 60's. Little did I know that while Grandpa had a lot of fun in the Army, made a lot of friends, and yes, probably drank some beer and raised some hell, he couldn't wait to get back home to Grandma. The stories didn't make it sound like he was John Wayne, but I always felt like he was there to do his part.
My wife's father Maynard Booth was a First Sergeant under the great General George Patton... He served in W.W.II, and in Korea. When he died in 1986, my wife was not told until about six weeks after his death. She didn't know for a long time where he was buried. Cathin was finally able to visit his grave in 1998. He is buried on a hill, next to a little country church in West Virginia, all by himself.
My wife's brother Roy was 19 when he left for Viet Nam in May of 1969. He > got back home to East Point, Georgia 30 days later. He was killed in a fire fight securing a landing strip. He got a Bronze Star. I don't think it was worth it.
And there were some others. But don't get me wrong, most of them were there by invitation and did what they had to do and left. I am proud of them too. But I guess on Memorial day, you think about the ones that are no longer here. The others can defend themselves. I just wanted to say a little about the ones who have defended me and my way of life, who can no longer speak for themselves.
A tip of the Ol'Kunnel's beanie to Pat Loftin
for providing a link to 6th Night Fighter Squadron Nose Art.
Pat has done it again! She's found a web site of the P-61 Pilot's Manual. This is a real boon to old crew members of the Black Widow.
Restoration Ongoing at: Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, Spaatz Field, Reading, Pennsylvania [Click Here For Latest Update News]
Hi, my name is David Samson. My dad, 1stLt Daniel I. Samson, USAAF was a Radar Observer flying the P-61 in Europe during WWII. I ran across your name in the Skylighter's guest book and when you mentioned you knew a couple P-61 pilots I thought I would contact you. I'd be interested to know if anyone knew my dad and if the P-61 Night Fighter Squadrons ever have any reunions. Thanks for your help, David Samson
Visit the Northrop P-61 Black Widow Photo Gallery!
If you have any photos the Ol'Kunnel
would like to hear from you!Check for any REUNION notices here!
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