A hundred thousand spectators saw a great dark shape flit across the searchlight-illuminated sky too fast for details to be observed while the announcer told the news that America's latest fighting plane was ready for action. Simultaneous with official Army announcement of its existence, the P-61 Black Widow made its first public appearance at the Army-Navy War Show at Los Angeles.
Developed in utmost secrecy by Northrop Aircraft, Inc of Hawthorne, CA, the Black Widow is the first functional night fighter of the war. Planes heretofore used for night battling have been modifications of aircraft originally planned for other types of tactical missions and have lacked the refinements necessary for top efficiency in night fighting.
Design of the P-61 was started in 1941 at the request of the Army Air Forces who laid out the list of requirements for a night fighter based upon the lessons learned in the European theatre. With these essentials in mind, Northrop engineers laid out the XP-61 prototype which was first test-flown on May 26, 1942. Production at the Hawthorne plants of the company is now concentrated on the manufacture of the new Black Widow.
Armed with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, the ship is literally a flying gun platform. Details of firepower are restricted, but according to Northrop officials, tests have shown that nothing short of a pill box can withstand one blast of its battery of guns. Powered with two Pratt & Whitney engines, it develops pursuit speed while retaining the easy flying characteristics and low landing speed necessary for night operation.
This news clip was originally published in the "Shop Talk" column of the April, 1944, issue of Air Tech magazine, vol 4 no 3, p 10.