5 Facts About The Northrop P-61 Black Widow – The First Night Flyer

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The P-61 fighter plane produced by Northrop, nicknamed “Black Widow,” was a formidable presence in the skies. However, its history is equally fascinating. Here are five interesting facts about the P-61 Black Widow:

1. The plane would have boasted an impressive eight-hour loiter time

The P-61 could patrol the skies above a city like London for eight hours without needing to land for refueling. This extended endurance was quite remarkable for fighters of that era.

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2. It featured the most powerful engine available at the time

Northrop’s team opted for twin Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines to power the Black Widow, producing over 2,000 horsepower each. This allowed the fighter to achieve a max speed of 366 mph and a range of 1,350 miles.

Two-stage, two-speed mechanical superchargers were also fitted, but no turbo-superchargers were installed to save weight.

3. Despite the presence of other heavy bombers, the Black Widow stood out as the largest fighter ever built by a significant margin

Initial plans estimated its weight at 22,600 pounds, equivalent to over 10,000 kilograms, with dimensions of 45.5 feet in length (approximately 14 meters) and an expansive 66-foot wingspan (around 20 meters).

These dimensions made the Black Widow so big that it was hard to convince some pilots it was to be a fighter.

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4. The radar operator was originally positioned in the rear compartment, lacking verbal communication with the pilot

In many instances, the plane would sustain damage, leading the radar operator to bail out, while the pilot remained unaware and continued to fly.

To address this issue, the radar operator was relocated to the gunner’s position behind the pilot, enabling verbal communication.

5. It was one of the first planes designed with stealth features

Night fighters like the P-61 had a matte-black paint job to make it harder to detect at night. These planes also limited the use of reflective surfaces to reduce its visibility to enemy radar.

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