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WWII Night Fighters

Note:  This exhibit has temporarily been removed.

As early as World War I, night bombing and interdiction had been countered by defending fighters and anti-aircraft guns. The fighters, in the earliest stages, depended on visual sightings assisted by searchlights and sound tracking, but they achieved only marginal success. By World War II, the defenders were assisted by ground radars which could guide (vector) them to the general area where the enemy might be found by visual means. But practical and effective night interception had to await the development of a radar compact enough to be carried aloft by the fighter. Such airborne radar could aid in detecting, stalking and identifying the enemy and bringing the night fighter into firing range.

Parallel development of airborne radar occurred in the United States, Germany and Great Britain early in WWII. The initial attempts to develop a useable Allied night fighter system turned to modifications of existing airframes and saw variations of the Defiant, Beaufighter, Mosquito and American A-20, all flown by the RAF. The USAAF directed its attentions to the interim P-70 and P-38, and to the new P-61. In 1941 a contract was awarded to the Northrop Corp. for the design and construction of the P-61 Black Widow, the first U.S. aircraft designed from the drawing board as a night fighter. Lacking sufficient suitable aircraft from U.S. sources, USAAF units acquired and operated the British Beaufighter -- and later the Mosquito -- with good success in the European theater. In the Pacific, night fighter squadrons operated the P-70 versions of the Douglas A-20 until P-61s could be delivered in 1944. By the end of the war, the P-61 was the standard USAAF night fighter and was in service with 15 of the 16 night fighter squadrons operating in combat theaters.

Technological advances and the conversion to a jet Air Force in the late 1940s saw further development of the night fighter into the "all-weather" interceptor of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, such as the propeller driven F-82, and the jet F-86, F-89, F-94, F-101, F-102 and F-106 models. The advanced radar and electronics of the F-4, F-15 and F-16 give these even more advanced tactical fighters a true all-weather capability.

Click here to view a transcript of a report on a combat mission flown by a Bristol Beaufighter of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron during which a German Heinkel He 111 was intercepted, identified and shot down. It illustrates the role of ground control personnel who, using ground radar equipment, guided the night fighter into proper position for an interception. The transcript was donated by Dr. Harold F. Augspurger, Dayton, Ohio, who was the Beaufighter pilot on this mission.

Click here to return to the World War II Gallery.


Find Out More
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Bristol Beaufighter
Transcript of a Beaufighter Combat Mission
De Havilland DH 98 Mosquito
McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II
McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle
General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon
North American F-82B Twin Mustang
North American F-86A Sabre
Northrop F-89J Scorpion
Lockheed F-94A Starfire
McDonnell F-101B Voodoo
Convair F-102A Delta Dagger
Convair F-106A Delta Dart
Lockheed P-38L Lightning
Northrop P-61C Black Widow
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