The heavily-armed Black Widow was America's first aircraft specifically designed as a night-fighter. In the nose, it carried radar equipment that enabled its crew of two or three to locate enemy aircraft in total darkness and fly into proper position to attack.
The XP-61 was flight-tested in 1942 and delivery of production aircraft began in late 1943. The P-61 flew its first operational intercept mission as a night fighter in Europe on July 3, 1944, and later was also used as a night intruder over enemy territory. In the Pacific, a Black Widow claimed its first "kill" on the night of July 6, 1944. As P-61s became available, they replaced interim Douglas P-70s in all USAAF night fighter squadrons. During World War II, Northrop built approximately 700 P-61s; 41 of these were -Cs manufactured in the summer of 1945, offering greater speed and capable of operating at higher altitude. Northrop fabricated 36 more Black Widows in 1946 as F-15A unarmed photo-reconnaissance aircraft.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force has a P-61C on display.
Prototype night fighter
Pwr turret, S/N 42-5485 to -5522 only
Improved P-61; no top turret
Improved P-61A; drop tanks added
Engine change; top turret added
Modified P-61A with engine change
Modified P-61B; new armament
TECHNICAL NOTES (P-61C): Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns in upper turret and four 20mm cannons in belly; 6,400 lbs. of bombs Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800s of 2,100 hp each Maximum speed: 425 mph Cruising speed: 275 mph Range: 1,200 miles Service ceiling: 46,200 ft. Span: 66 ft. Length: 49 ft. 7 in. Height: 14 ft. 8 in. Weight: 35,855 lbs. loaded