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  • Northrop XP-61E (Black Widow) Long-Range Bomber Escort / Heavy Day Fighter Aircraft


    Just two conversion models of the Northrop XP-61E were completed from the basic P-61 Black Widow framework during World War 2.

     Updated: 12/28/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com


    The arrival of the high-flying, long-range Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" strategic bomber in May of 1944 led United States Army officials to consider a long-range fighter escort to protect their expensive, technology-laden investment. Northrop managed to introduce their impressive P-61 "Black Widow" that same year and this marked the first purpose-built American night fighter. Engineers were convinced of the merits of the large fighter as a long-range bomber escort and the company championed the idea to Army officials. Enough interest was had in the endeavor to result in the "XP-61E", a modified version of the successful night fighter.

    A pair of P-61B-10 aircraft were set aside for conversion to the long-range, high-altitude bomber escort role. The dorsal turret was removed and the upper fuselage cut down to produce a slimmer, lighter and more aerodynamically refined form. No longer requiring radar (the fighter would be a daytime operator), the nose assembly was cleared of the radar fit and in its place a battery of 4 x 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns installed (the ventral battery of 4 x 20mm cannons seen in the original P-61 fighter was retained). As no radar was carried, the radar operator crewman was expendable which led to a reduction of total crew to two and these personnel were now seated in tandem under a shared bubble-style canopy. More internal fuel stores were added to help increase the aircraft's range - a requirement for the long-range bomber escort role.

    The result was a powerful, reasonably fast and well-ranged performer with sleek contours and a promising future. The aircraft held a wingspan of 66 feet with a length of 49.6 feet and height of 13.4 feet. Empty weight was 21,350lb against a laded weight of 40,181lb. Power was from 2 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 radial piston engines of 2,000 horsepower each propelling the aircraft to speeds of 376 miles per hour. Rate-of-climb was 2,500 feet-per-minute with a service ceiling of 30,000 feet and range out to 2,250 miles.


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    Northrop XP-61E Technical Specifications


    Service Year: 1945
    Type: Long-Range Bomber Escort / Heavy Day Fighter Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Northrop - USA
    Production Total: 2



    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)


    Operating Crew: 2
    Length: 49.61 feet (15.12 meters)
    Width: 66.01 feet (20.12 meters)
    Height: 13.39 feet (4.08 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 21,352 lb (9,685 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 40,179 lb (18,225 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance


    Engine(s): 2 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65 engines developing 2,000 horsepower each.

    Maximum Speed: 376 mph (605 kph; 327 knots)
    Maximum Range: 2,249 miles (3,620 km)
    Service Ceiling: 30,003 feet (9,145 meters; 5.68 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,500 feet-per-minute (762 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload


    PROPOSED:
    4 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in nose installation
    4 x 20mm cannons in ventral gun pack

    Global Operators / Customers


    United States (cancelled)

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)


    XP-61E - Base Project Designation; two examples configured from existing P-61B airframes.