The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, named for the American spider, was the first operational U.S. warplane designed as a night fighter, and the first aircraft designed to use radar. The P-61 had a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano M2 forward-firing cannons mounted in the lower fuselage, and four .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns mounted in a remote-controlled dorsal gun turret.
It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom design developed during World War II. The first test flight was made on May 26, 1942, with the first production aircraft rolling off the assembly line in October 1943. The last aircraft was retired from government service in 1954.
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P-61C Black Widow Walk Around
Northrop P-61C Black Widow Walk Around
National Museum of the USAF
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was a groundbreaking aircraft in the history of aviation. It was the first U.S. warplane designed specifically as a night fighter, equipped with an advanced airborne radar system that enabled it to locate and destroy enemy aircraft in darkness and bad weather. The P-61 had a distinctive twin-boom design, with a crew of three: pilot, radar operator and gunner. It was armed with four 20 mm cannons in the lower fuselage and four .50 caliber machine guns in a remote-controlled turret on top of the center section.
The P-61 saw combat in all theaters of World War II, from Europe to the Pacific, where it proved to be a formidable adversary for Japanese bombers and fighters. The P-61 also performed other missions, such as ground attack, reconnaissance and electronic warfare. The P-61 was retired from service in 1954, after a brief postwar career as an all-weather interceptor. The P-61 Black Widow was a remarkable achievement of engineering and innovation, and a testament to the vision and skill of Northrop Corporation.