The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was a twin engined, three-seat night fighter that was used by the United States during World War II.


The P-61 (of which the A model was the first production model) was a large aircraft, carrying the new SCR-720 radar in the nose, four 20mm M2 Autocannons in the belly, and four 12.7mm guns in the dorsal turret,[1] which was remotely controlled, and could be operated by any of the three crew members. The P-61 could even carry a payload of up to 2901.1 kg of bombs or several rockets.

The P-61 also had two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp Engines that were capable of propelling the P-61 at speeds of up to 590 km/h. The rate of climb of the P-61 was about 670 meters per minute and the service ceiling was 10,060 meters. The maximum range was 4,500 km with maximum fuel and four external fuel tanks could be attached.[2] The total weight of the P-61 was about 9,979 kg while the total length was 15.3 meters. The P-61 utilized tricycle landing gear and there were four total hardpoints in the aircraft.


The P-61 Black Widow had several variants that were produced throughout WWII. The first variant of the P-61 was the P-61A-5 which had the remote controlled dorsal turret removed. The next variant or the P-61A-10 had water-injection engines to reduce engine knocking. the P-61A-11 had two hard points in its wings to support the external fuel tanks or bombs. The next major variant in the series was the P-61B-1 which had an extended nose and a tail warning radar mounted.

The P-61B-2 was fundamentally the same as the A-11 while the B-10 had four hard points under its wings. The B-11 had the dorsal turret fitted with only two 12.7mm MGs, not four and the B-15 had the two extra MGs put into the dorsal turret again. The B-16 was the same as the B-11. The B-20 and the B-25 models had improved electronics and extra radar equipment.[3] The P-61C was the last, major variant of the P-61 and it was heavily improved from the earlier models. It's major improvements dealt mainly with engine performance. The production was cut short by the end of the war. Other variants such as the G model were either weather platforms or reconnaissance planes.


The first P-61 was explicitly designed to operate as a night fighter, and the first P-61 prototypes were ordered in January 1941 on the basis of combat reports from early radar equipped fighters operated by the RAF. Despite this, the first combat that the P-61 saw was in 1944, over the Pacific Ocean.[4] The P-61 was developed from British reports about night fighters and their usefulness in combat. It was also developed from Great Britain's need for a night fighter that had radar and was capable of long range.[5]

When the P-61 first began its service as a night fighter, it proved highly successful and it shot down quite a number of enemy aircraft. Because of the P-61's bomb carrying capability, it could be used as a regular bomber, but this role proved less effective. Only about 700 P-61s were made throughout WWII. The P-61 Black Widow was supposedly the last aircraft to score an aerial kill during WWII, in 1945.[6]


  1. Lüdeke, Alexander. Wapons of World War II. Parragon Books Ltd. (2007), Page 262
  2. Gunston, Bill. Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. MBI Publication (1999)
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.