Tag Archives: Night Fighter

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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26 November 1943

LCDR William H. ("Butch") O'Hare, United States Navy
LCDR Edward H. (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, ca. April 1942. (U.S. Navy)

26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of Fighting Squadron TWO (VF-2), piloted by O’Hare and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).

Butch O’Hare was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with “00” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.

The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, circa 1943. (LIFE Magazine)

The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.

At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hare was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.

A Japanese Mitsubishi G4M twin-engine bomber opened fire on O’Hare’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared into the darkness.

Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)

Butch O’Hare’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hare by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hare, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.

Neither O’Hare or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.

Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called "Betty" by Allied forces.
Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called “Betty” by Allied forces.

Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.

Lieutenant Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)

Edward Henry O’Hare was born at St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America, 13 March 1914. He was one of three children of Edward Joseph O’Hare and Selma Anna Lauth O’Hare. He attended the Western Military Academy, Alton, Illinois, along with his friend, Paul Warfield Tibbetts (who would later command the Army Air Forces’ 509th Composite Group, and fly the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay). O’Hare graduated in 1932.

Butch O’Hare was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and entered 24 July 1933. He graduated 3 June 1937 and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy. He was then assigned to sea duty aboard the class-leading battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40).

Ensign Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, 30 June 1939. (U.S. Navy)

In 1939, Ensign O’Hare was ordered to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for primary flight training. On 3 June 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade). He completed flight training 2 May 1940.

Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was next assigned to Fighting Squadron THREE (VF-3), a fighter squadron based at San Diego, California, and assigned as part of the air group of the Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-3).

USS Saratoga was damaged by a torpedo southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, 11 January 1942. While the carrier was under repair, VF-3 was transferred to USS Lexington.

During the early months of World War II, a task force centered around the United States aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) was intruding into Japanese-held waters north of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. In the afternoon of 20 February 1942, she came under attack by several flights of enemy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers.

This Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat is marked F-15, as was the fighter flown by Butch O’Hare on 20 February 1942. (Cropped detail from a United States Navy photograph.)

Her fighters, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, were launched in defense and an air battle ensued. Another flight of nine Bettys approached from the undefended side, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, U.S.N. and his wingman were the only fighter pilots available to intercept.

At 1700 hours, O’Hare arrived over the nine incoming bombers and attacked. His wingman’s guns failed, so O’Hare fought on alone. In the air battle, he is credited with having shot down five of the Japanese bombers and damaging a sixth.

A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber photographed from the flight deck of USS Lexington, 20 February 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his bravery, Butch O’Hare was promoted to lieutenant commander and awarded the Medal of Honor.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare married Miss Rita Grace Wooster, a nurse at DePaul Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 6 September 1941. The marriage was performed by Rev. Patrick Joseph Murphy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (St. Mary’s Church) in Phoenix, Arizona. They would have a daughter, Kathleen.

In a ceremony at the White House, Washington, D.C., at 10:45 a.m., 21 April 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Commander O’Hare. Lieutenant (j.g.) O’Hare was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander (temporary) with date of rank 8 April 1942.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt congratulates Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, on being presented the Medal of Honor at the White House, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1942. Also present are Secretary of the Navy William Franklin Knox, Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and Mrs. O’Hare. (U.S. Navy)

One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

Lieutenant “Butch” O’Hare in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter. The “Felix the Cat” insignia represents Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3). The five flags, the ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, signify the enemy airplanes destroyed in the action of 20 February 1942. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 November 1940

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

25 November 1940: De Havilland Aircraft Company’s Chief Test Pilot, Geoffrey Roal de Havilland, Jr., and engineer John Walker, made the first flight of the DH.98 Mosquito prototype, E0234, at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. 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.

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, W0234, 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,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 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)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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