Tag Archives: Browning Machine Gun Caliber .50 AN-M2

15 June 1946

The Navy Demonstration Team Hellcats taxi out for their first public performance, Craig Field, Jacksonville,Florida, 15 June 1946. (Butch Voris collection)
The Navy Demonstration Team Hellcats taxi out for their first public performance, Craig Field, Jacksonville,Florida, 15 June 1946. (Butch Voris collection)

15 June 1946: At Craig Field, Jacksonville Florida, the United States Navy’s Navy Flight Demonstration Team made its first public appearance at the municipal airport’s dedication ceremony. A flight of three lightened Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters, led by Officer-in-Charge Lieutenant Commander Roy Marlin Voris, flew a fifteen minute aerobatic performance.

The team had been formed for the purpose of raising public political support for the Navy. Their fighters were painted overall glossy sea blue with “U.S. NAVY” on the fuselage in gold leaf. A single numeral, also gold leaf, on the vertical fin identified each individual airplane.

Five weeks later, 21 July, the team would first call themselves The Blue Angels.

The pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstartion Team with one of their Grumman F6F-5 Wildcat fighters. (Butch Voris Collection)
The pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team with one of their Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters. Left to right: Lieutenant Al Taddeo, Lieutenant (j.g.) Gale Stouse, Lieutenant Commander Roy “Butch” Voris, Lieutenant Maurice N. Wickendoll, and Lieutenant Melvin Cassidy.  (Butch Voris Collection)

In addition to Lieutenant Commander Voris, other pilots in the original demonstration team were Lieutenant Commander Lloyd G. Barnard, Lieutenant Melvin Cassidy, Lieutenant Alfred Taddeo, Lieutenant Maurice N. Wickendoll and Lieutenant (j.g.) Gale Stouse.

Flight leader Lieutenant Commander Roy W. "Butch" Voris with his F6F-5 Hellcat, circa May–August 1946. (U.S. Navy)
Flight leader Lieutenant Commander Roy W. “Butch” Voris with his Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, Bu. No. 80097, circa May–August 1946. (U.S. Navy)

The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook. The Hellcat became operational in 1944.

The F6F-5 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters). It has an empty weight of 9,238 pounds (4,190 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,300 pounds (6,940 kilograms).

The F6F-5 Hellcat is powered by a 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each.

The F6F-5 had a maximum speed of 276 knots (318 miles per hour/511 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 330 knots (380 miles per hour/611 kilometers per hour) at 23,400 feet (7,132 meters). The Hellcat’s service ceiling was 35,100 feet (10.698 meters) and it had a combat radius of 820 nautical miles (944 miles/1,519 kilometers). The maximum ferry range is 1,330 nautical miles (1,531 miles/2,463 kilometers).

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Between 1942 and 1945, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York, built 12,275 F6F Hellcats. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

Four Grumman F6F-5 Four Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team, circa May–August 1946
Four Grumman F6F-5 Four Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters of the Navy Flight Demonstration Team, circa May–August 1946

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1942, 0900: First Contact

Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, 1942. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-K-14896)

3 June 1942: At dawn, twenty-two U.S. Navy PBY-5A Catalina patrol bombers launched from Midway Island to search for a Japanese fleet which was expected to be heading toward the American island base. One of them, 44-P-4, (Bu. No. 08031) commanded by Ensign Jewell Harmon (“Jack”) Reid of Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44), sighted Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Force, 700 nautical miles (1,296 kilometers) west of the atoll, shortly before 9:00 a.m.

Chart of sightings, 3 June 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The Catalina scouted the enemy task force, which they believed to be the “main body” of the Japanese fleet and radioed information back to their base. The task force consisted of 1 light cruiser, 12 transports carrying 5,000 soldiers, 11 destroyers, 2 seaplane tenders, 1 fleet oiler and 4 patrol boats.

Standing, left to right: AMM2c R. Derouin, ACRM Francis Musser, Ens. Hardeman (co-pilot), Ens. J.H. “Jack” Reid (aircraft commander) and Ens. R.A. Swan (navigator). Kneeling, left to right: AMM1c J.F. Gammel, AMM3c J. Groovers and AMM3c P.A. Fitzpatrick. (U.S. Navy).

The Consolidated PBY Catalina made its first flight on 28 March 1935, with chief test pilot William B. Wheatley in command. It was a twin-engine flying boat produced from 1936 to 1945. It was utilized primarily as an anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrol bomber and for search and rescue operations.

Consolidated XPBY-5A Catalina, Bu. No. 1245, at NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C., 18 December 1939. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress)

The PBY-5A was an amphibious variant equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 63 feet, 10-7/16 inches long (19.468 meters) with a wing span of 104 feet, 0 inches (31.699 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). The parasol wing was mounted above the fuselage on a streamlined pylon and supported by four external braces. The wing has 6° incidence and the center section has no dihedral or sweep. The outer wing panels are tapered. There are no flaps. The total wing area is 1,400 square feet (130 square meters). The PBY-5A had an empty weight of 20,910 pounds (9,485 kilograms), and gross weight in patrol configuration of 33,975 pounds (15,411 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight (land) was 35,420 pounds (16,066 kilograms).

The PBY-5A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G (R-1830-92) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propellers with a 12 foot, 1 inch (3.683 meter) diameter through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

The PBY-5A Catalina had a cruise speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 169 miles per hour (272 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 179 miles per hour (288 kilometers per hour) at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters). The service ceiling was 14,700 feet (4,481 meters) and maximum range was 2,545 miles (4.096 kilometers) at 117 miles per hour (188 kilometers per hour.).

The patrol bomber could carry 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of bombs or depth charges, or two torpedoes on hardpoints under its wing. Two Browning M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine guns were mounted in a nose turret with 2,100 rounds of ammunition. A third .30-caliber machine gun was positioned in a ventral hatch with 500 rounds of ammunition. Two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns were mounted in the waist with 578 rounds of ammunition per gun.

3,305 Consolidated PBY Catalina’s were built, of which 802 were the PBY-5A variant. In addition to United States service, many other countries operated the Catalina during and after World War II. The last PBY in U.S. service was a PBY-6A which was retired 3 January 1957.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 May 1942

A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress takes off from Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, 1942.
A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress takes off from Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, 1942.

30 May 1942: The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress makes its first flight. B-17F-1-BO 41-24340 was the first of a new series of the famous World War II bomber. While visually similar to the B-17E, it had more than 400 improvements based on early wartime experience with the B-17D and B-17E.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edge is swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters).

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress
Boeing B-17F-95-BO Flying Fortress 42-30243, near Mount Rainier, Washigton, circa May 1943. Note the underwing bomb racks. It was assigned to the 331st Bombardment Squadron), 94th Bombardment Group (Heavy), marked QE Z, and named “Nip ‘n’ Tuck.” This bomber crashed at Évreaux, Normandy, France, 14 July 1943. 8 crew members were captured, but 2 evaded. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F had an approximate empty weight of 36,135 pounds (16,391 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) basic, and the maximum takeoff weight was 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms).

The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. (Early production B-17Fs were equipped with the Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65). Both variants had the same power ratings.) The engines were equipped with remote General Electric B-22 turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-97 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Boeing B-17F-130-BO Flying Fortress 42-30949, “Jumpin’ Jive.” This bomber survived the war. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F had a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 1,725 gallons (6,530 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 3,070 miles (4,941 kilometers). Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

Most of the .50-caliber machine guns arming the B-17F Flying Fortress are visible in this photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Many of the .50-caliber machine guns arming the B-17F Flying Fortress are visible in this photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. A pair of machine guns were mounted in the tail, and single guns on flexible mounts were placed in the nose, radio compartment, and right and left waist positions.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17F was 20,800 pounds (9434.7 kilograms) over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) of high explosive bombs were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Probably the best known individual combat airplane, this is Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-22485, Memphis Belle, in flight over England, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The Manufacturer Codes, -BO, -DL and -VE, follow the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.

Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.

This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field. (Boeing)
This restored Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29782, (N17W) is on display at The Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field. (Boeing)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 May 1940

Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division XF4U-1 Corsair prototype, Bu. No. 1443, in flight. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

29 May 1940: Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division test pilot Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. took the U.S. Navy’s new prototype fighter, the XF4U-1, Bu. No. 1443, for its first flight at the Bridgeport Municipal Airport, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Designed by Rex Buren Beisel, the prototype would be developed into the famous F4U Corsair.¹

Rex Buren Beisel, designer of the F4U-1 Corsair, at left, with Corsair pilot Major Gregory Boyington, USMCR, circa 1942. (Unattributed)

The F4U Corsair is a single-place, single-engine fighter, designed for operation from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. The XF4U-1 prototype was 30 feet (9.144 meters) long with a wing span of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 7 inches (4.750 meters). It had an empty weight of 7,576 pounds (3,436 kilograms) and gross weight of 9,374 pounds (4,252 kilograms).

Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 1443
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 1443. The airplane’s wings are painted yellow. (Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division)

The XF4U-1 was first powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liters) Pratt & Whitney R-2800 X-2 (Double Wasp A2-G), and then an R-2800 X-4 (Double Wasp SSA5-G), both two-row 18-cylinder radial engines. The R-2800 X-4 was an X-2 with an A5-G supercharger. The R-2800 X-2 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). The X-4 was rated at 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters); 1,540 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 13,500 feet (4,115 meters); 1,460 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters); and 1,850 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m for takeoff. The engine drove a 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The X-4 had a compression ratio of 6.66:1 and used a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. This was the most powerful engine and largest propeller used on any single engine fighter up to that time. The R-2800 X-4 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and 7 feet, 4.81 inches (2.256 meters) long. It weighed 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms).

The size of the propeller was responsible for the Corsair’s most distinctive feature: the inverted gull wing. The width of the wing (chord) limited the length of the main landing gear struts. By placing the gear at the bend, the necessary propeller clearance was gained. The angle at which the wing met the fuselage was also aerodynamically cleaner.

Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, front. (Vought Sikorsky VS-2612)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, front, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2612)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, right front quarter view. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2618)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, right front quarter view, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2618)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, right profile (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2619)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, right profile, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2619)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1, right rear quarter, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1414/ cropped image from Connecticut Air & Space Center)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, rear, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1407)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, rear, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1407)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, left side, wings folded, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1416)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1, left side, wings folded, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1416)

The XF4U-1 prototype had a maximum speed of 378 miles per hour (608 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). Although it has been widely reported that it was the first U.S. single-engine fighter to exceed 400 miles per hour (643.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight, this is actually not the case. During a flight between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut, the prototype averaged a ground speed 405 miles per hour (652 kilometers per hour). This was not a record flight, and did not meet the requirements of any official speed record.

Several changes were made before the design was finalized for production. Fuel tanks were removed from the wings to make room for six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and ammunition. A new tank was placed in the fuselage ahead of the cockpit. This moved the cockpit rearward and lengthened the nose.

On 11 July 1940, the XF4U-1 was low on fuel. Rather than returning to Bridgeport, test pilot Boone Tarleton Guyton made a precautionary landing on a golf course at Norwich, Connecticut. The grass was wet from rain and the prototype ran into the surrounding trees. Guyton was not injured, but 1443 was seriously damaged. Vought-Sikorsky repaired it and it returned to flight testing about two months later.

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 2170, with test pilot Willard Bartlett Boothby, 24 October 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection/National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-1294)

The production F4U-1 Corsair had a length of 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters), wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The wing had 2° incidence at the root. The outer wing had a dihedral of 8.5°, and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and gave it a maximum height of 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters).

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

During fight testing of a production F4U-1 Corsair with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8 (Double Wasp SSB2-G) engine installed, armed with machine guns with 360 rounds of ammunition per gun, the fighter reached a maximum speed of 395 miles per hour (635.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight at 22,800 feet (6,949 meters), using Military Power. The service ceiling was 38,400 feet (11,704 meters).

A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

¹ corsair: noun, cor-sair. A pirate, or privateer (especially along the Barbary Coast of the Mediterranean Sea); a fast ship used for piracy.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 May 1942

Northrop Corporation XP-61 Black Widow at Hawthorne.
Northrop Corporation XP-61 prototype 41-19509 at Northrop Field, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

26 May 1942: The prototype Northrop XP-61-NO Black Widow, 41-19509, made its first flight at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, with free-lance test pilot Vance Breese at the controls. (Breese had taken the North American Aviation NA-73X, prototype of the Mustang, for its first flight, 20 October 1940.)

Northrop XP-61 41-19509 taking off from Northrop Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The first American airplane designed specifically as a night fighter, the XP-61 was the same size as a medium bomber: 48 feet, 11.2 inches (14.915 meters) long with a wingspan of 66 feet (20.117 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.2 inches (4.475 meters). The prototype was equipped with a mockup of the top turret. Its empty weight was 22,392 pounds (10,157 kilograms), gross weight of 25,150 pounds (11,408 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 29,673 pounds (13,459 kilograms).

Northrop XP-61 41-19509 retracts its landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)

The XP-61 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-10 had a Normal Power rating of 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The R-2800-10 had a 2:1 gear reduction and drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers which had a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each.

The prototype Black Widow had a top speed of 370 miles per hour (595 kilometers per hour) at 29,900 feet (9,114 meters) and a service ceiling of 33,100 feet (10,089 meters). The maximum range was 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers).

Prototype Northrop XP-61 Black Widow 41-19509 in camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)

The night fighter was crewed by a pilot, a gunner and a radar operator. A large Bell Laboratories-developed, Western Electric-built SCR-720 air search radar was mounted in the airplane’s nose. The gunner sat above and behind the pilot and the radar operator was in the rear fuselage.

SCR-720 Air Search Radar mounted in nose of a Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. (NOAA)

The Black Widow was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a remotely-operated upper turret, and four AN-M2 20 mm aircraft automatic cannons, grouped close together in the lower fuselage and aimed directly ahead. This was a superior arrangement to the convergent aiming required for guns mounted in the wings. The fire control system was similar to that used by the B-29 Superfortress. The guns could be fired by either the gunner or the radar operator.

Northrop P-61A-1-NO Black Widow 42-5507 in olive green camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop P-61A-1-NO Black Widow 42-5507 in olive green camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)

The XP-61 was built with a center “gondola” for the crew, radar and weapons, with the engines outboard in a twin-boom configuration, similar the the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The Black Widow did not use ailerons. Instead, it had spoilers mounted on the upper wing surface outboard of the engines. Roll control was achieved by raising a spoiler, decreasing lift on that wing and causing it to drop. A similar system was employed on the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ten years later.

The P-61 got its nickname, Black Widow, from the glossy black paint scheme that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) had determined was the best camouflage for a night fighter. Over 700 P-61s were built, with 36 built as the F-15 photo reconnaissance variant. They served in both the Pacific and European Theaters during World War II, and were also used during the Korean War. After the war, the radar-equipped fighter was used for thunderstorm penetration research.

Northrop P-61C-1-NO Black Widow 43-8353 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop P-61C-1-NO Black Widow 43-8353 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop P-61C-1-NO Black Widow 43-8353 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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