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Moon Light Serenade — sensuous and deadly — the Black Widow

18 July 2012

Moon Light Serenade — sensuous and deadly — the Black Widow

The Northrop P-61 Black Widow seems to be predominantly engine — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

Northrop, one of the aviation companies which advanced aircraft design and capability in new directions produced a supreme night fighter in WW II. Radar was not small or lightweight in the day and nocturnal missions favored guns over rockets — so Northrop was tasked them with making a fighter out an aircraft the size of a medium bomber and they succeeded. Northrop’s creation was the P-61 Black Widow which had range (1200 miles/1920km) — or loiter time as needed — along with a crew of three as well as two powerful engines (4200 hp/~32100kW). But it was the radar (and radar operator) along with 4 x 20mm cannon in a ventral installation in concert with 4 x 0.50″ caliber machine guns in an upper turret (which could be used by the rear gunner as defensive armament) that were the fangs of this night time predator.  But what made this aircraft nimble was Northrop’s use of wing spoilers for roll control instead of ailerons — destroying lift with spoilers can be much more efficient in rolling an aircraft as opposed to redirecting force with ailerons. Powerfully driven propellers hurling a nimble aircraft with some of the heaviest fighter armament of the war made the Black Widow aptly named.

The P-61 which is the subject of these images were taken by Jayne Davis, who courteously lent these images to this blog under her copyright, and is displayed in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

“Moon Light Serenade”, the P-61 on display in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the forward position was the radar operator’s and the stepped up cockpit was the pilot’s with a rear position for the defensive gunner — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

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