Tag Archives: Night Fighter

25 November 1940

The prototype de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito, W4050, takes off on its first flight at Hatfield, 25 November 1940. (BAE Systems)

25 November 1940: De Havilland Aircraft Company’s Chief Test Pilot, Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., and engineer John Walker, made the first flight of the DH.98 Mosquito prototype, E0234, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. The prototype’s Royal Air Force identification was W4050. The multi-role combat aircraft was constructed primarily of layers of balsa covered with layers of birch, then a layer of doped cotton fabric. It was powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines.

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr, with a DH.98 Mosquito, 14 October 1943. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images 3320005)

The construction materials took advantage of plentiful supplies of wood, and also made workers who were not in the standard metal aircraft industry able to take part.

The prototype was rolled out 19 November 1040, painted overall yellow.

The prototype de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito, E0234, outside the Assembly Building, 19 November 1940. (BAE Systems)

The prototype had a wingspan of 54 feet, 2 inches (16.510 meters), and its gross weight was 19,670 pounds (8,922 kilograms). W4050 was powered by two liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter) Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.21 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, producing 1,460 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 10,000 feet (3028 meters), with 10 pounds (0.69 Bar) of boost, and driving three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic propellers through a gear reduction.

The prototype DH.98 Mosquito,now marked W4050, in the field behind Salisbury Hall (where it was designed and built) just before its first flight, 25 November 1940. (HistoryNet)

The DH.98 had been predicted to be 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) faster than the Supermarine Spitfire, but was actually much faster. In testing, the prototype reached 392 miles per hour (631 kilometers per hour) at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Improvements were continuously made, and with 2-stage superchargers, W4050 reached a maximum 437 miles per hour (703 kilometers per hour). The DH.98 prototype had a service ceiling of 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) and range of 2,180 miles (3,500 kilometers).

The production fighter variant, the Mosquito F. Mk.II, was 41 feet, 2 inches (12.548 meters) long with a wingspan of 54 feet, 2 inches (16.510 meters) and height of 15 feet, 3 inches (4.648 meters) in 3-point position. The wings had 1½° incidence with approxmatey 2½° dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 2½°. The total wing area was 436.7 square feet (40.6 square meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 13,356 pounds (6,058 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 18,649 pounds (8,459 kilograms). The Mk.II had a total fuel capacity of 553 gallons.

The Mk.II had a cruise speed of 265 miles per hour (426 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and maximum speed of 380 miles per hour (612 kilometers per hour) at 21,400 feet (6,523 meters).

Mosquito bomber variants could carry four 500 pound bombs, or two 2,000 pound bombs, but were otherwise unarmed. Fighters were equipped with four Hispano Mk.II 20 mm autocannon and four Browning .303-caliber Mk.II machine guns in the nose.

6,411 DH.98 Mosquitoes were built in England, 1,134 in Canada and 212 in Australia. It was produced in bomber, fighter, night fighter, fighter bomber and photo reconnaissance versions.

The prototype DH.98 Mosquito, W4050, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. (Royal Air Force)

W4050’s (the prototype’s Royal Air Force identification) fuselage was damaged while taxiing at Boscombe Down, 24 February 1941, and had to be replaced with one intended for a second prototype, W4051. It remained at de Havilland and was used to test different engines, armaments and versions. After a series of tests conducted in December 1943, the prototype Mosquito was permanently grounded. It was used as an instructional airframe and later placed in storage.

In September 1958, W4050 was turned over to the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre. Today, the restored prototype DH.98 Mosquito is at the museum at London Colney, Hertfordshire, England.

The Mosquito prototype with camouflauged upper surfaces as it appeared at Boscombe Down, (de Havilland Aircraft Museum)
The Mosquito prototype with camouflaged upper surfaces as it appeared at Boscombe Down, 1941. (de Havilland Aircraft Museum)

© 2020, 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. The Black Widow carried 200 rounds of ammunition for each cannon,

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.

Northrop P-61A three-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Army Air Forces)

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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