Northrop P-61 Black Widow a waste of time resources?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by gjs238, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    With hindsight, would the US been better off using the time resources put into the P-61 elsewhere?
    Often we are told that this or that could not have happened because scarce design resources were not available.
    Was the P-61 a waste of those resources?

    Or perhaps, again with hindsight, the P-61 could have been designed better?
     
  2. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    I think the P-61 would have been better with 2 crew, single canopy (a la P-61E, F-15) and either 4 x 20mm fixed cannon or, if reliability issues were a concern, 2 x 20mm and 2 x 0.50" mgs in the belly.

    A P-61 with bombs could have made a good night intruder too.
     
  3. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That depends on your point of view.

    The USA needed a night fighter aircraft. The P-61 fit the U.S. Army Air Corps template for making fighter aircraft twice as heavy and twice as expensive as everyone else. It's certainly no more overweight then the P-47.

    The Mosquito was better just as the Spitfire was superior to our P-40. But we cannot stoop to license production of aircraft designed by Europeans. :rolleyes:
     
  4. ShVAK

    ShVAK Member

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    #4 ShVAK, Nov 1, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
    I'd say push the P-38M into service instead. Much better performance, can roll off the same assembly lines as the -38L with minor modification and a bunch of USAAF pilots already had experience with the type.

    The P-61 was not the worst option but considering all the development that went into Northrop's bird there was no excuse for a dedicated night fighter introduced late in the war to lag behind the Ju88 and Mosquito. It might've made a decent medium all-weather bomber/maritime strike/ground attack aircraft right up to the Korea era with a slightly different development track though.
     
  5. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    The P-38M was a later development than the P-61, it used a smaller, less capable radar and had a very compromised position for the radar operator. I would say not the best option.

    If teh additional performance is required, ditch the turret, as noted before, make the crew nacelle smaller and more streamlined. If that still isn't enough, change to turbo version of teh R-2800 (like the P-61C).
     
  6. ShVAK

    ShVAK Member

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    #6 ShVAK, Nov 1, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
    Yes but it was also much cheaper, you could have more P-38M's for the money and thus a larger night fighter force with 1 less crewmember per plane (the P-61 could fly without a gunner but that would leave it at a tactical disadvantage). Not a bad trade for a night fighter that can clear 400 mph pretty easily with good armament and range.

    The P-61 was already pretty late war as is, the C variant didn't make it in time for WWII. P-38L's were available by June '44 and it wouldn't have taken much to prioritize a night fighter version. Alternatively you could use the -J (introduced in August '43) and build it even earlier.
     
  7. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Wash your mouth out with soap and water - we're British, dammit, not Europeans! :evil4:
     
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  8. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    The ETO squadrons P-61A and B both used a crew of 2 and had the upper turret removed, the radar op sat right above and behind the pilot. The 61 in my opinion was superior to both the Mossie and the Ju 88G in the ground attack intruder role
     
  9. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    How much cheaper?

    The P-38 wasn't exactly a cheap aircraft.


    Why would not having the gunner leave the P-61 at a "tactical disadvantage"? It would have the same guns as the Mosquito NF.

    I also suggested that the P-61 ditch the turret and gunner.

    The P-61E was a heavy day fighter version. It ditched the radar, turret and gunner and added 4 0.50" mgs in the nose to compliment the cannon in the belly. I suggest that would be a better night fighter than the P-61A/B, but obviously still carrying the SCR-720 radar in the nose, and without the additional mgs (so, back to 4 x 20mm).

    [​IMG]


    Could the P-38M with radar pod below the nose and the humpback "easily clear 400mph"?


    Mosquito NF.XXXs were coming off the line by June 1944 - and that was a far better night fighter than the P-38M.

    What about the radar? Was it ready and available by June 1944, or earlier? By making -Ms, are you sacrificing -Ls (or -Js) for the cause?
     
  10. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Why?
     
  11. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Yep, Wuzak, why? Erich, what do you have to base this on?

    The Americans actually requested Mosquito nightfighters but the Brits couldn't build them fast enough for themselves and the US.
     
  12. ShVAK

    ShVAK Member

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    #12 ShVAK, Nov 1, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2012
    Not compared to a single engine fighter, but it certainly consumed much less resources than the 11+ ton P-61 even without the turret (which some A and B models deleted). We could spare that materiel, but the real advantage is that the P-38M used almost all of the same tooling, engines, armament etc. as the P-38L (which we cranked out nearly 4K of, compared to only 742 P-61's of all models). It was a proven quantity and virtually all of the Lightning's wrinkles had been ironed out. Sounds ideal to me as a P-61 substitute.


    The P-61E (with radar) looks like the plane Northrop should've built to start with.

    As noted, there were thousands of P-38J and L built and also the P-47 and P-51 on the table around the same timeframe. Building a couple hundred P-38M's wouldn't have been that difficult, especially if you substitute more P-51/47. As for performance--I don't see why not. An L model's top speed was in the neighborhood of 440 mph and the P-38M even with the extra weight and radar operator was still faster than P-61A/B by a fair margin.

    Westinghouse APS-6 was available by 4/1944 (in small numbers), 791 sets were built mostly for USN F6F and F4U night fighters. That's where it might get tricky, especially considering the unit's expense. It was still smaller and less complex than the SCR-720 the P-61 used and lent itself more to mass production.
     
  13. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    Don't think the P-61 was setup for bombs.
     
  14. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    yes the P-61 was desired over the Mossie in the ETO, squadron crews "wanted" their own A/C not the RAF crate. the turret was not needed due to weight issues and buffeting, 4 20mm's were neough. the craft was an excellent heavy weight nf intruder machine which could carry quite a load of bombs, rockets, napalm if needed and in this role it excelled.

    a little secret I was a member of the US night fighter association so have been able to follow up on the Widows role in the ETO for many years until the association disbanded sadly; interviews of several members of the Us 425th nfs in my own home state of course naturally helped to get first unit impressions on the aircraft and it's firepower and handling capabilities, plus it will in some way be added the interviews into my future work on the night fighters over Germany. unfortunate as it was the ETO squadron crews were not well versed in ID of German night time A/C nor was the advanced AI radar without faults.
     
  15. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    A quote from the book Mosquito by C Martin Sharp and Michael J.F. Bowyer:

    "A postgram from Washington received by the Air Ministry on 23 February 1943 brought the first official request from the Americans for Mosquitos. It read as follows: "we desire to re-equip photo reconnaissance squadrons in, or destined for, the European theatre at 65 UE and North Africa at 26 UE with the PRU version of your Mosquito Aircraft modified for American cameras. When we compare our aircraft in production and the tactical operational range of your Mosquito with our F-5/P-38, there seems no doubt the purposes of our combined air forces will be best served if the AAF curtail their conversion of P-38 and rely in part on your Mosquito production."

    "A total of 235 Mosquitoes were requested for use by the end of 1943 by the 13th Photo Sqn in the 8th AF, the 5th and 12th Photo Squadrons in the 12th AF also the 22nd and 23rd Sqns at Colorado Springs the 27th and one other training squadron. Each needed to be 13 aircraft strong with three reserves and others to cater for attrition."

    "Although all other Mk.VIs [fighter bomber variant FB.VI] were already earmarked for RAF use, agreement was confirmed in September 1943 for the USAAF to have thirty in addition to ninety Canadian built bombers, the first five of which were to be delivered during May 1944."

    The Mosquito was also examined as a night fighter in the States for use by the US Navy, but the USAAF stated that land based night fighters was their domain, not the Navy's.
     
  16. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky Active Member

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    US night fighter squadrons scored a combined total of 158 kills in WW2 – plus nine V1s - with a combination of Beaufighters, Mosquitoes, P-70s and P-61s. P-38s were also flown, but I can’t find any record of night fighter kills.

    In the MTO/ETO they operated with Beaufighters until early/mid 1944, when they began to get Mosquitoes and P-61s. The four MTO Beaufighter squadrons were awarded 35 kills, to 48 losses of all causes. The 416th NFS got a single kill with a Mosquito in Italy.

    The two P-61 ETO squadrons opened their account in August-1944, and scored 53 kills by the end of the war (as well as the nine V-1s). The majority of the kill credits (at least 30) were made during a two-week period in the Battle of the Bulge.

    In the Pacific, the P-70s were an almost total failure. The aircraft struggled to reach the altitudes the Japanese night bombers operated at, there was no ground control radar and the crews were almost totally untrained. They scored two kills before being switched to night intruder and shipping attacks.

    P-61s became available from August 1944 and the situation was turned around, particularly as by that time the Japanese were favouring night bombing. In the first six weeks of operations, they claimed 22 kills and 58 by the end of the war. There was some successes in the Philippines and Saipan, and four or five kills in China.

    Even the P-61s had trouble with combating the very high flying Japanese harassment bombers in the final year of the war though.

    From what I can determine, USAAF night fighter kills by type are:
    P-61: 111 + 9 V-1s (120)
    Beaufighter: 35
    P-70: 2
    Mosquito NF 30: 1
    Total: 158

    This might not seem like much of a return for 16 squadrons, but remember that the RAF basically assumed responsibility for night fighting duties in the MTO/ETO and the PTO/CBI played second fiddle in terms of equipment until mid/late 1944.

    It also ignores the sterling record of the P-70 and P-61 as night intruders and night bombers. In the ETO and Pacific, they shot up ground transportation of all types, bombed and strafed airfields, sunk ships, bombed railheads and generally made life as difficult for the enemy as possible, at all hours and in all conditions.

    Doing this dangerous work, the P-61 performed admirably, with a loss rate of about 0.5%.
     
  17. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    Thanks for the overview, Jaberwocky :)

    My proposal for the USAAF's NF:
    Reinforce the wings of the A-20, install the R-2800, decent radar set, 8 HMGs, additional 200 gals of fuel and you're ready.
     
  18. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    the P-61 squadrons kill rate in the ETO is quite questionable. you can find each squadrons bio in breif in "Queen of the Midnight skies". I have the micro-fische of the P-61 squads in the ETO and there was much confusion/still is in deciphering just really went on during night ops some of the op reports are almost impossible to read copied or not. Sadly at least 2-4 Allied A/C were shot down byt ETO Widow squadrons by mistake, something of course that was never recorded down in the unit histories.

    the 414th nfs also provided a half dozen Widows to the US 422nd nfs for ops during the bulge and also scored some kills .....maybe.

    remember that the two major US ETO squads were given sanctioned areas in 1945 to cover every evening and were not given the go ahead like advancing Mossie intruder units which roamed freely over the Reich in search for LW NF's landing or attacking BC heavies.
     
  19. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Britain never adopted the Euro or metric system so you have a valid point. Britain is it's own rather small continent located 21 miles from the much larger European continent. 8)
     
  20. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    uk has adopted metric system, a limited numbers of imperial units are admitt in specific sector
     
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