Northrop's P-61 Black Widow was America's, and arguably the world's, first purpose-built night fighter. The size of a typical medium bomber, it was surprisingly agile. It was also remarkably strong, as this was the airframe chosen after the war for exploring the internals of Midwest thunderstorms.

A number of stories tell of the development of the gloss black finish, which made the plane less visible when caught in a searchlight. Conventional camouflage — OD over light gray — was highly visible and matte black scattered enough light to produce a ghost image when lighted; gloss black reflected light as a couple of small bright spots that could be mistaken for stars on a clear night. I have seen no sources to verify, but it would seem that the (relatively high-maintenance) gloss black finish was not used, or was at least little used, in the Pacific theater, since the planes in that theater seldom had to deal with searchlights. Most of the planes in PTO seem to have been painted in OD over gray.

Many of the surviving planes ended their careers as borate bombers fighting wildfires in the western US. The ability to operate of short, rough fields, designed in to meet the needs of operations in the Pacific theater and during the advance across Europe, high maneuverability and considerable lifting capacity all combined to make them a plane well suited to that duty.

My collection has two Design Analysis articles, one from Aero Digest [ HTML ] in two parts, and one from Industrial Aviation [ HTML ]. There is also a somewhat less detailed Design Details article from Air New with Air Tech [ HTML ].

We have some wallpaper images developed from a phantom rendering in a Northrop ad. The rendering in the Industrial Aviation Design Analysis article is a single-page image, rather than the ledger-sized foldouts common in their earlier Design Analysis articles.


The Black Widow entered the war relatively late, so there weren't a lot of articles featuring it.

Additional information from Technical Orders