Northrop P-61 Black Widow aircraft profile

  • Published
  • By Greg L. Davis
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the first American aircraft specifically designed as a night-fighter optimized to use on-board radar systems to detect enemy aircraft for engagement. The aircraft sat on robust, retractable tricycle landing gear and featured a single main wing, which met the fuselage half-way up. One engine was placed on each side of the fuselage ahead of the wings’ leading edge. This structure also formed the root for the twin-booms and rudders connected by a single, long-span elevator. An air-interception radar was fitted in the bulbous nose of mission configured Black Widow aircraft.

Tinker’s role with the P-61 was fleeting. Only 17 aircraft are shown to have been processed through the facilities here between January-June 1947. These aircraft were likely here for modification to F-15A “Reporter” reconnaissance configuration.  

The P-61 arrived in both the Pacific and European theater late in the war (first half of 1944). Despite the late arrival, the aircraft had notable success with the downing of its first enemy aircraft on July 7 of that year. In the same month, Black Widows shot down four German bombers in their first aerial engagement over Europe.

Dual engines, long range and multiple crewmembers made the P-61 ideal for long-range reconnaissance missions and 37 P-61Cs were extensively modified to remove armament, radar and guns to lower the aircrafts’ weight while installing six cameras in a modified nose. After the war, the now redesignated F-61 Black Widow was withdrawn from service by 1950 along with the reconnaissance version, the RF-61, which was formerly called the F-15A ‘Reporter,’ by 1952.