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The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It could be equipped with depth charges, bombs, torpedoes, and .50 Browning machineguns and was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the US military and in the air forces and navies of many other nations. In the United States Army Air Forces and later in the USAF their designation was the OA-10, while Canadian-built PBYs were known as the Canso.

In World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search-and-rescue missions, and cargo transport. The PBY was the most successful aircraft of its kind; no other flying boat was produced in greater numbers. The last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. Even today, over seventy years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as an airtanker in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.

In the initialism PBY, "PB" stands for "Patrol Bomber" and "Y" is the code for "Consolidated Aircraft", as designated in the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922.

Development

[edit] Background

The PBY was originally designed to be a patrol bomber, an aircraft with a long operational range intended to locate and attack enemy transport ships at sea in order to compromise enemy supply lines. With a mind to a potential conflict in the Pacific Ocean, where troops would require resupply over great distances, the U.S. Navy in the 1930s invested millions of dollars in developing long-range flying boats for this purpose. Flying boats had the advantage of not requiring runways, in effect having the entire ocean available. Several different flying boats were adopted by the Navy, but the PBY was the most widely used and produced.
PBY riding at sea anchor.

Although slow and ungainly, PBYs distinguished themselves in World War II as exceptionally reliable. Allied armed forces used them successfully in a wide variety of roles that the aircraft was never intended for. They are remembered by many veterans of the war for their role in rescuing downed airmen, in which they saved the lives of thousands of aircrew downed over water. PBY airmen called their aircraft the "cat" on combat missions and "Dumbo" in air-sea rescue service.[1]

[edit] Prototyping

As American dominance in the Pacific Ocean began to face competition from Japan in the 1930s, the U.S. Navy contracted Consolidated Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft Corporation in October 1933 to build competing prototypes for a patrol flying boat.[2] Naval doctrine of the 1930s and 1940s used flying boats in a wide variety of roles that today are handled by multiple special-purpose aircraft. The US Navy had adopted the Consolidated P2Y and Martin P3M models for this role in 1931, but both aircraft proved to be underpowered and hampered by short ranges and low maximum payloads.

Consolidated and Douglas both delivered single prototypes of their designs, the XP3Y-1 and XP3D-1, respectively. Consolidated's XP3Y-1 was an evolution of the XPY-1 design that had originally competed unsuccessfully for the P3M contract two years earlier and of the XP2Y design that the Navy had authorized for a limited production run. Although the Douglas aircraft was a good design, the Navy opted for Consolidated's because the projected cost was only $90,000 per plane.
PBY waist gunner mounting port side gun blister.

Consolidated's XP3Y-1 design (company Model 28) was revolutionary in a number of ways. The aircraft had a parasol wing with internal bracing that allowed the wing to be a virtual cantilever, except for two small streamlined struts on each side. Stabilizing floats, retractable in flight to form streamlined wingtips, were another aerodynamic innovation. The two-step hull design was similar to that of the P2Y, but the Model 28 had a cantilever cruciform tail unit instead of a strut-braced twin tail. Cleaner aerodynamics gave the Model 28 better performance than earlier designs.

The prototype was powered by two 825 hp (615 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-54 Twin Wasp engines mounted on the wing’s leading edges. Armament comprised four 0.30 in (7.62 mm) Browning machineguns and up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs.

The XP3Y-1 had its maiden flight on 28 March 1935, after which it was transferred to the US Navy for service trials. The XP3Y-1 soon proved to have significant performance improvements over current patrol flying boats. The Navy requested further development in order to bring the aircraft into the category of patrol bomber, and in October 1935, the prototype was returned to Consolidated for further work, including installation of 900 hp (671 kW) R-1830-64 engines. For the redesignated XPBY-1, Consolidated introduced redesigned vertical tail surfaces. The XPBY-1 had its maiden flight on 19 May 1936, during which a record non-stop distance flight of 3,443 miles (5,541 km) was achieved.

The XPBY-1 was delivered to VP-11F in October 1936. The second squadron to be equipped was VP-12, which received the first of its aircraft in early 1937. The second production order was placed on 25 July 1936. Over the next three years, the PBY design was gradually developed further and successive models introduced.

[edit] Mass-produced U.S. Navy* variants
Model Production period & distinguishing features Quantity
PBY-1 September 1936 - June 1937
Original production model. 60
PBY-2 May 1937 - February 1938
Minor alterations to tail structure, hull reinforcements. 50
PBY-3 November 1936 - August 1938
Higher power engines. 66
PBY-4 May 1938 - June 1939
Higher power engines, propeller spinners, acrylic glass blisters over waist guns (some later units). 32
PBY-5 September 1940 - July 1943
Higher power engines (using higher octane fuel), discontinued use of propeller spinners, standardized waist gun blisters. 684
PBY-5A October 1941 - January 1945
Hydraulically-actuated, retractable tricycle landing gear for amphibious operation. Introduced tail gun position, replaced bow single gun position with bow "eyeball" turret equipped with twin .30 machine guns (some later units), improved armor, self-sealing fuel tanks.[3] 802
PBY-6A January 1945 - May 1945
Incorporated changes from PBN-1,[4] including a taller vertical tail, increased wing strength for greater carrying capacity, new electrical system, standardized "eyeball" turret, and a radome over cockpit for radar. 175

* An estimated 4,051 Catalinas, Cansos, and GSTs of all variants were produced between June 1937 and May 1945 for the US Navy, USAAF, United States Coast Guard, Allied nations, and civilian customers.

[edit] Naval Aircraft Factory production
A radar-equipped PBY-6A Catalina in flight.

The Naval Aircraft Factory made significant modifications to the PBY design, many of which would have significantly interrupted deliveries had they been incorporated on the Consolidated production lines.[5] The new aircraft, officially known as the PBN-1 Nomad, had several differences from the basic PBY. The most obvious upgrades were to the bow, which was sharpened and extended two feet, and to the tail, which was enlarged and featured a new shape. Other improvements included larger fuel tanks, increasing range by 50%, and stronger wings permitting a 2,000 lb (908 kg) higher gross takeoff weight. An auxiliary power unit was installed, along with a modernized electrical system, and the weapons were upgraded with continuous-feed mechanisms.[5]

138 of the 156 PBN-1s produced served with the Soviet Navy. The remaining 18 were assigned to training units at NAS Whidbey Island and NAF Newport.[6] Later, improvements found in the PBN-1 – notably, the larger tail – were incorporated into the amphibious PBY-6A.

[edit] Operational history

[edit] Roles in World War II

The final construction figure is estimated at around 4,000 aircraft, and these were deployed in practically all of the operational theatres of World War II. The PBY served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role in the war against the Japanese. This was especially true during the first year of the war in the Pacific, because the PBY and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only two available aircraft with the range necessary. As a result, they were used in almost every possible military role until a new generation of aircraft became available.

[edit] Anti-submarine warfare

PBYs were the most extensively used ASW aircraft[citation needed] in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of the Second World War, and were also used in the Indian Ocean, flying from the Seychelles. Their duties included escorting convoys to Murmansk. By 1943, U-boats were well-armed with anti-aircraft guns and two Victoria Crosses were won by Catalina pilots pressing home attacks on U-boats in the face of heavy fire: John Cruickshank RAF, in 1944, against U-347 and in the same year Flight Lt. David Hornell RCAF (posthumously) against U-1225. Catalinas destroyed 40 U-boats in total but suffered losses of their own. On December 7, 1941, Mitsubishi A6M fighters from Akagi attacked NAS Kaneohe Bay at Oahu, Hawaii, destroying or disabling all[citation needed] 33 PBYs stationed there.

[edit] Maritime patrol
A PBY-5A of VP-61 over the Aleutian Islands in 1943.

In their role as patrol aircraft, Catalinas participated in some of the most notable engagements of World War II. The aircraft's parasol wing and large waist blisters allowed for a great deal of visibility and combined with its long range and endurance, made it well suited for the task.

* A Coastal Command Catalina, with a U.S. Navy officer as co-pilot, located the German battleship Bismarck on May 26, 1941 while she tried to evade Royal Navy forces.[7]
* A flight of Catalinas spotted the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway.[8]
* An RCAF Canso flown by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall foiled Japanese plans to destroy the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet on April 4, 1942 when it detected the Japanese carrier fleet approaching Ceylon (Sri Lanka).[9]

[edit] Night attack and naval interdiction

Several squadrons of PBY-5As and -6As in the Pacific theater were specially modified to operate as night convoy raiders. Outfitted with state-of-the-art magnetic anomaly detection gear and painted flat black, these "Black Cats" attacked Japanese supply convoys at night. Catalinas were surprisingly successful in this highly unorthodox role.[10] Between August 1943 and January 1944, Black Cat squadrons had sunk 112,700 tons of merchant shipping, damaged 47,000 tons, and damaged 10 Japanese warships.[citation needed]

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also operated Catalinas as night raiders, with four squadrons Nos. 11, 20, 42, and 43 mounting mine-laying operations from 23 April 1943 until July 1945 in the southwest Pacific deep into Japanese-held waters, that bottled up ports and shipping routes and kept ships in the deeper waters to become targets for US submarines; they tied up the major strategic ports such as Balikpapan that shipped 80% of Japanese oil supplies. In late 1944, their precision mining sometimes exceeded 20 hours in duration from as low as 200 feet in the hours of darkness. One included the bottling up the Japanese fleet in Manila Bay planned to assist General MacArthur's landing at Mindoro in the Philippines. They also operated out of Jinamoc in Leyte Gulf, and mined ports on the Chinese coast from Hong Kong as far north as Wenchow. They were the only non-American heavy bombers squadrons operating north of Morotai in 1945. The RAAF Catalinas regularly mounted nuisance night bombing raids on Japanese bases, they earned the motto of 'The first and the Furthest' as a testimony to their design and endurance. These raids included the major base at Rabaul. RAAF aircrews developed 'terror bombs', essentially empty beer bottles with razor blades inserted into the necks, these produced high pitched screams as they fell and kept Japanese soldiers awake and in fear of their life.[11]

[edit] Search and rescue
Search and Rescue OA-10 at USAF Museum

PBYs were employed by every branch of the US military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors from the USS Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. PBYs continued to function in this capacity for decades after the end of the war.

[edit] Early commercial use

PBYs were also used for commercial air travel. Still the longest commercial flights (in terms of time aloft) ever made in aviation history were the Qantas flights flown weekly from 29 June 1943 through July 1945 over the Indian Ocean. To thumb their nose at the Japanese (who controlled the area), Qantas offered non-stop service between Perth and Colombo, a distance of 3,592 nm (5,652 km). As the PBY typically cruised at 110 knots, this took from 28–32 hours and was called the "flight of the double sunrise", since the passengers saw two sunrises during their non-stop journey. The flight was made with radio silence (because of the possibility of Japanese attack) and had a maximum payload of 1000 lbs or three passengers plus 65 kg of armed forces and diplomatic mail.[12]

[edit] Post-WWII employment
A civilian Catalina, modified for aerial firefighting

With the end of the war, flying boat versions were quickly retired from the U.S. Navy, but amphibians remained in service for many years. The last Catalina on active U.S. service was a PBY-6A operating with a Naval Reserve squadron, retired 3 January 1957.[2] It must be noted a PBY was being maintained at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, as late as 1968. The PBY subsequently equipped the world's smaller armed services, in fairly substantial numbers, into the late 1960s.

The USAF Strategic Air Command had PBYs (OA-10s) in service from 1946 through 1947.

The Brazilian Air Force flew Catalinas in naval air patrol missions against German submarines starting in 1943. The aircraft also performed air mail service. In 1948 a transport squadron was formed and equipped with PBY-5As converted to the role of amphibian transport. The 1st Air Transport Squadron (ETA-1) was based in the port city of Belem and flew Catalinas and C-47s in well-maintained condition until 1982. Catalinas were convenient for supplying military detachments scattered among the Amazon waterways. They reached places where only long range transport helicopters would dare go. ETA-1 insignia was a winged turtle with the motto "Though slowly, I always get there". Today, the last Brazilian Catalina (ex-RCAF) is displayed at the Airspace Museum (MUSAL), in Rio de Janeiro.[13]

Jacques-Yves Cousteau used a PBY-6A (N101CS) as part of his diving expeditions. His second son, Philippe, was killed while attempting a water landing in the Tagus river near Lisbon, Portugal, June 28, 1979. His plane had just been repaired when he took it out for a flight. As he landed, one of the plane's propellers separated, cut through the cockpit and killed the younger Cousteau.

Of the few dozen remaining airworthy Catalinas, the majority are in use today as aerial firefighting planes.

China Airlines, the official airline of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was founded with two PBY amphibians.

[edit] Catalina affair
Main article: Catalina affair

The Catalina Affair is the name given to a Cold War incident in which a Swedish military Catalina was shot down by Soviet aircraft over the Baltic Sea in June 1952 while investigating the earlier crash of a Swedish Douglas DC-3.

[edit] Variants
A US Army Air Forces OA-10 and her crew.
Catalina Mk Is of British No. 205 Squadron RAF undergoing servicing in their hangar at RAF Seletar, Singapore.

XP3Y-1
Prototype Model 28 flying boat later re-designated XBPY-1, one built (USN Bureau No. 9459). Later fitted with a 48-foot diameter ring to sweep magnetic mines. A 550-HP Ranger engine drove a generator to produce a magnetic field.[14]
XBPY-1
Prototype version of the Model 28 for the United States Navy, a re-engined XP3Y-1 with two 900hp R-1830-64 engines, one built.
PBY-1 (Model 28-1)
Initial production variant with two 900hp R-1830-64 engines, 60 built.
PBY-2 (Model 28-2)
Equipment changes and improved performance, 50 built.
PBY-3 (Model 28-3)
Powered by two 1000hp R-1830-66 engines, 66 built.
PBY-4 (Model 28-4)
Powered by two 1050hp R-1830-72 engines, 33 built (including one initial as a XBPY-4 which later became the XBPY-5A).
PBY-5 (Model 28-5)
Either two 1200hp R-1830-82 or -92 engines and provision for extra fuel tanks, 683 built (plus one built at New Orleans), some aircraft to the RAF as the Catalina IVA and one to the United States Coast Guard. The PBY-5 was also built in the Soviet Union as the GST.
XPBY-5
One PBY-4 converted into an amphibian and first flown in November 1939.
PBY-5A (Model 28-5A)
Amphibious version of the PBY-5 with two 1200hp R-1830-92 engines, first batch (of 124) had one 0.3in bow gun the remainder had two bow guns. 803 built including diversions to the United States Army Air Corps, the RAF (as the Catalina IIIA) and one to the United States Coast Guard.
PBY-6A
Amphibious version with two 1200hp R-1830-92 engines and a taller fin and rudder. Radar scanner fitted above cockpit and two 0.5 in nose guns. 175 built including 21 transferred to the Soviet Navy.
PBY-6AG
One PBY-6A used by the United States Coast Guard as a staff transport.
PB2B-1
Boeing Canada built version of the PBY-5, 165 built most supplied to the RAF and RNZAF as the Catalina IVB.
PB2B-2
Boeing Canada built version of the PBY-5 but having a taller fin of the PBN-1, 67 built most supplied to the RAF as the Catalina VI.
PBN-1
Naval Aircraft Factory built version of the PBY-5 with major modification including a 2ft bow extension, re-designed wingtip floats and tail surfaces and a revised electrical system. 155 built for delivery to the RAF as the Catalina V although 138 were loaned to the Soviet Navy.
PBV-1A
Canadian Vickers built version of the PBY-5A, 380 built including 150 to the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Canso-A and the rest to the USAAF as the OA-10A.
OA-10
PBY-5A transferred to the United States Army Air Corps, 58 aircraft survivors re-designated A-10 in 1948.
OA-10A
Canadian Vickers built version of the PBV-1, survivors re-designated A-10A in 1948. Three additional aircraft from Navy in 1949 as A-10As.
OA-10B
Former PBY-6As transferred to the USAAC, 75 aircraft re-designated A-10B in 1948.
Catalina I
Direct purchase aircraft for the Royal Air Force, same as the PBY-5 with six 0.303in guns (one in bow, four in beam blisters and one aft of the hull step) and powered by two 1200hp R-1830-S1C3-G engines, 109 built.
Catalina IA
Operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Canso, 14 built.
Catalina IB
Lend-lease PBY-5Bs for the RAF, 225 aircraft built.
Catalina II
Equipment changes, six built.
Catalina IIA
Vickers-Canada built Catalina II for the RAF, 50 built.
Catalina IIIA
Former US Navy PBY-5As used by the RAF on the North Atlantic Ferry Service, 12 aircraft.
Catalina IVA
Lend-lease PBY-5s for the RAF, 93 aircraft.
Catalina IVB
Lend-lease PB2B-1s for the RAF, some to the Royal Australian Air Force.
Catalina VI
Lend-lease PB2B-2s for the RAF, some to the RAAF.
GST
Soviet built version of the PBY-5.

[edit] Operators
Main article: List of PBY Catalina operators

[edit] Survivors
Main article: PBY Catalina survivors

[edit] Specifications (PBY-5A)
Orthographically projected diagram of the {{{2}}}.

Data from Encyclopedia of World Air Power,[15] Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II,[4] Handbook of Erection and Maintenance Instructions for Navy Model PBY-5 and PBY-5A Airplanes[16] and Quest for Performance[17]

General characteristics

* Crew: 8 — pilot, co-pilot, bow turret gunner, flight mechanic, radioman, navigator and two waist gunners
* Length: 63 ft 10 7/16 in (19.46 m)
* Wingspan: 104 ft 0 in (31.70 m)
* Height: 21 ft 1 in (6.15 m)
* Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²;)
* Empty weight: 20,910 lb (9,485 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 35,420 lb (16,066 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW each) each
* Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0309

* Drag area: 43.26 ft² (4.02 m²;)
* Aspect ratio: 7.73

Performance

* Maximum speed: 196 mph (314 km/h)
* Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
* Range: 2,520 mi (4,030 km)
* Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,000 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
* Wing loading: 25.3 lb/ft² (123.6 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.034 hp/lb (0.056 kW/kg)
* Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.9

Armament

* 3× .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns (two in nose turret, one in ventral hatch at tail)
* 2× .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each waist blister)
* 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges, torpedo racks were also available
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Avro Lancaster + a spitfire MKIXc

Updated the sea and reworked the left radiator of the spitfire and lights
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The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American twin-engined medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theater of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across four decades.

The B-25 was named in honor of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. The B-25 is the only American military aircraft named after a specific person. By the end of its production, nearly 10,000 B-25s in numerous models had been built. These included a few limited variations, such as the US Navy's and US Marine Corps' PBJ-1 patrol bomber and the Army Air Forces' F-10 photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Design and development
Flight Performance School also included work in evaluating the performance of this B-25 Mitchell medium bomber

The B-25 was a descendant of the earlier XB-21 (North American-39) project of the mid-1930s. Experience gained in developing that aircraft was eventually used by North American in designing the B-25 (called the NA-40 by the company). One NA-40 was built, with several modifications later being done to test a number of potential improvements. These improvements included Wright R-2600 radial engines, which would become standard on the later B-25.

In 1939, the modified and improved NA-40B was submitted to the United States Army Air Corps for evaluation. This aircraft was originally intended to be an attack bomber for export to the United Kingdom and France, both of which had a pressing requirement for such aircraft in the early stages of World War II. However, those countries changed their minds, opting instead for the also-new Douglas DB-7 (later to be used by the US as the A-20 Havoc). Despite this loss of sales, the NA-40B re-entered the spotlight when the Army Air Corps evaluated it for use as a medium bomber. Unfortunately, the NA-40B was destroyed in a crash on 11 April 1939. Nonetheless, the type was ordered into production, along with the Army's other new medium bomber, the Martin B-26 Marauder.
[edit] Early production
Mitchell production in Kansas City in 1942

An improvement of the NA-40B, dubbed the NA-62, was the basis for the first actual B-25. Due to the pressing need for medium bombers by the Army, no experimental or service-test versions were built. Any necessary modifications were made during production runs, or to existing aircraft at field modification centers around the world.

A significant change in the early days of B-25 production was a re-design of the wing. In the first nine aircraft, a constant-dihedral wing was used, in which the wing had a consistent, straight, slight upward angle from the fuselage to the wing tip. This design caused stability problems, and as a result, the dihedral angle was nullified on the outboard wing sections, giving the B-25 its slightly gull wing configuration. Less noticeable changes during this period included an increase in the size of the tail fins and a decrease in their inward cant.

A total of 6,608 B-25s were built at North American's Fairfax Airport plant in Kansas City, Kansas.

A descendant of the B-25 was the North American XB-28, meant to be a high-altitude version of the B-25. Despite this premise, the actual aircraft bore little resemblance to the Mitchell. It had much more in common with the B-26 Marauder.
[edit] Operational history
Lt. Peddy and crew, showing how many people were required to keep a B-25 flying
Doolittle Raid B-25Bs aboard USS Hornet
A B-25C being refueled
B-25 of 13th Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group, on low-level "skip-bombing" mission in New Guinea
B-25G Mitchell from the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando AAB, Florida, 17 April 1944
North American B-25 Mitchell.JPG
Closeup of an early model B-25 gun pod

The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which sixteen B-25Bs led by the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, attacked mainland Japan four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans, and alarmed the Japanese who believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy troops. While the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war. The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. However, 15 subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China. These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by Japanese fishing vessels forcing the bombers to take off 170 mi (270 km) early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aids at the recovery bases. Only one landed intact; it came down in the Soviet Union, where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Of the 80 aircrew, 69 survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.

Following a number of additional modifications, including the addition of Plexiglas windows for the navigator and radio operator, heavier nose armament, and deicing and anti-icing equipment, the B-25C was released to the Army. This was the second mass-produced version of the Mitchell, the first being the lightly-armed B-25B used by the Doolittle Raiders. The B-25C and B-25D differed only in location of manufacture: -Cs at Inglewood, California, -Ds at Kansas City, Kansas. A total of 3,915 B-25Cs and -Ds were built by North American during World War II.

Although the B-25 was originally designed to bomb from medium altitudes in level flight, it was used frequently in the Southwest Pacific theater (SWPA) on treetop-level strafing and parafrag (parachute-retarded fragmentation bombs) missions against Japanese airfields in New Guinea and the Philippines. These heavily-armed Mitchells, field-modified by Major Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn, were also used on strafing and skip-bombing missions against Japanese shipping trying to re-supply their land-based armies. Under the leadership of Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, B-25s of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces devastated Japanese targets in the SWPA from 1942 to 1945, and played a significant role in pushing the Japanese back to their home islands. B-25s were also used with devastating effect in the Central Pacific, Alaska, North Africa, Mediterranean and China-Burma-India (CBI) theaters.

Because of the urgent need for hard-hitting strafer aircraft, a version dubbed the B-25G was developed, in which the standard-length transparent nose and the bombardier were replaced by a shorter solid nose containing two fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and a 75 mm (2.95 in) M4 cannon, one of the largest weapons fitted to an aircraft, similar to the experimental British Mosquito Mk. XVIII, and German Ju 88P heavy cannon carrying aircraft. The cannon was manually loaded and serviced by the navigator, who was able to perform these operations without leaving his crew station just behind the pilot. This was possible due to the shorter nose of the G-model and the length of the M4, which allowed the breech to extend into the navigator's compartment.

The B-25G's successor, the B-25H, had even more firepower. The M4 gun was replaced by the lighter T13E1, designed specifically for the aircraft. The 75 mm (2.95 in) gun fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,362 ft/s (about 720 m/s). Due to its low rate of fire (approximately four rounds could be fired in a single strafing run) and relative ineffectiveness against ground targets, as well as substantial recoil, the 75 mm (2.95 in) gun was sometimes removed from both G and H models and replaced with two additional .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns as a field modification.[1] The -H also mounted four fixed forward-firing .50 (12.7 mm) machine guns in the nose, four more fixed ones in forward-firing cheek blisters, two more in the top turret, one each in a pair of new waist positions, and a final pair in a new tail gunner's position. Company promotional material bragged the B-25H could "bring to bear 10 machine guns coming and four going, in addition to the 75 mm cannon, a brace of eight rockets and 3,000 lb (1,360 kg) of bombs."[2]

The B-25H also featured a redesigned cockpit area, with the top turret moved forward to the navigator's compartment (thus requiring the addition of the waist and tail gun positions), and a heavily modified cockpit designed to be operated by a single pilot, the co-pilot's station and controls deleted, and the seat cut down and used by the navigator/cannoneer, the radio operator being moved to the aft compartment, operating the waist guns.[3] A total of 1,400 B-25Gs and B-25Hs were built in all.

The final version of the Mitchell, the B-25J, looked much like the earlier B, C and D, having reverted to the longer nose. The less-than-successful 75 mm (2.95 in) cannon was deleted on the J model. Instead, 800 of this version were built with a solid nose containing eight .50 (12.7 mm) machine guns, while other J-models featured the earlier "greenhouse" style nose containing the bombardier's position. Regardless of the nose style used, all J-models also included two .50 in (12.7 mm) guns in a "fuselage package" located directly under the pilot's station, and two more such guns in an identical package just under the co-pilot's compartment. The solid-nose B-25J variant carried an impressive total of 18 .50 in (12.7 mm) guns: eight in the nose, four in under-cockpit packages, two in an upper turret, two in the waist, and a pair in the tail. No other bomber of World War II carried as many guns. However, the first 555 B-25Js (the B-25J-1-NC production block) were delivered without the fuselage package guns, because it was discovered muzzle blast from these guns was causing severe stress in the fuselage; while later production runs returned these guns, they were often removed as a field modification for the same reason.[4] In all, 4,318 B-25Js were built.

The B-25 was a safe and forgiving aircraft to fly. With an engine out, 60° banking turns into the dead engine were possible, and control could be easily maintained down to 145 mph (230 km/h). However, the pilot had to remember and maintain engine-out directional control at low speeds after take off with rudder - if this was attempted with ailerons, the aircraft would snap out of control. The tricycle landing gear made for excellent visibility while taxiing. The only significant complaint about the B-25 was the extremely high noise level produced by its engines; as a result, many pilots eventually suffered from various degrees of hearing loss.[5]

The Mitchell was also an amazingly sturdy aircraft and could withstand tremendous punishment. One well-known B-25C of the 321st Bomb Group was nicknamed "Patches" because its crew chief painted all the aircraft's flak hole patches with high-visibility zinc chromate paint. By the end of the war, this aircraft had completed over 300 missions, was belly-landed six times and sported over 400 patched holes. The airframe was so bent, straight-and-level flight required 8° of left aileron trim and 6° of right rudder, causing the aircraft to "crab" sideways across the sky.

An interesting characteristic of the B-25 was its ability to extend range by using one-quarter wing flap settings. Since the aircraft normally cruised in a slightly nose-high attitude, about 40 gal (150 l) of fuel was below the fuel pickup point and thus unavailable for use. The flaps-down setting gave the aircraft a more level flight attitude, which resulted in this fuel becoming available, thus slightly extending the aircraft's range.[5]

By the time a separate United States Air Force was established in 1947, most B-25s had been consigned to long-term storage. However, a select number continued in service through the late 1940s and 1950s in a variety of training, reconnaissance and support roles. Its principal use during this period was for undergraduate training of multi-engine aircraft pilots slated for reciprocating engine or turboprop cargo, aerial refueling or reconnaissance aircraft. Still others were assigned to units of the Air National Guard in training roles in support of F-89 Scorpion and F-94 Starfire operations. The final example of a B-25 was struck from the active USAF roles in January 1959.[6]

Today, many B-25 are kept in airworthy condition by air museums and collectors.
[edit] Empire State Building incident

On Saturday, 28 July 1945, at 0940 (while flying in thick fog), a USAAF B-25D crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, hitting between the 79th and 80th floor. Fourteen people were killed — 11 in the building, along with Colonel William Smith and the other two occupants of the bomber. [7] Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator attendant, survived the impact and a subsequent accident with the elevator. It was partly because of this incident that towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center were designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707 aircraft.[8]
[edit] Variants
B-25C Mitchell
USAAF B-25C/D. Note the early radar fitted to the nose
B-25J
B-25J warbird
B-25J N345BG '44-86777'

B-25
The first version of the B-25 delivered. No prototypes were ordered. The first nine aircraft were built with constant dihedral angle. Due to low stability, the wing was redesigned so that the dihedral was eliminated on the outboard section. (Number made: 24.)
B-25A
Version of the B-25 modified to make it combat ready; additions included self-sealing fuel tanks, crew armor, and an improved tail gunner station. No changes were made in the armament. Re-designated obsolete (RB-25A designation) in 1942. (Number made: 40.)
B-25B
Rear turret deleted; manned dorsal and remotely-operated ventral turrets added, each with a pair of .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. The ventral turret was retractable, but the increased drag still reduced the cruise speed by 30 mph (48 km/h). 23 were delivered to the RAF as the Mitchell Mk I. The Doolittle Raiders flew B-25Bs on their famous mission. (Number made: 120.)
B-25C
Improved version of the B-25B: powerplants upgraded from Wright R-2600-9 radials to R-2600-13s; de-icing and anti-icing equipment added; the navigator received a sighting blister; nose armament was increased to two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, one fixed and one flexible. The B-25C model was the first mass-produced B-25 version; it was also used in the United Kingdom (as the Mitchell II), in Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union. First mass-produced B-25 model. (Number made: 1,625.)
ZB-25C
B-25D
Identical to the B-25C, the only difference was that the B-25D was made in Kansas City, Kansas, whereas the B-25C was made in Inglewood, California. First flew on 3 January 1942. (Number made: 2,290.)
ZB-25D
XB-25E
Single B-25C modified to test de-icing and anti-icing equipment that circulated exhaust from the engines in chambers in the leading and trailing edges and empennage. The aircraft was tested for almost two years, beginning in 1942; while the system proved extremely effective, no production models were built that used it prior to the end of World War II. Many prop aircraft today use the XB-25E system. (Number made: 1, converted.)
ZXB-25E
XB-25F-A
Modified B-25C that tested the use of insulated electrical de-icing coils mounted inside the wing and empennage leading edges as a de-icing system. The hot air de-icing system tested on the XB-25E was more practical. (Number made: 1, converted.)
XB-25G
Modified B-25C in which the transparent nose was replaced by a solid one carrying two fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns and a 75 mm (2.95 in) M4 cannon, then the largest weapon ever carried on an American bomber. (Number made: 1, converted.)
B-25G
To satisfy the dire need for ground-attack and strafing aircraft, the B-25G was made following the success of the prototype XB-25G. The production model featured increased armor and a greater fuel supply than the XB-25G. One B-25G was passed to the British, who gave it the name Mitchell II that had been used for the B-25C. (Number made: 420.)
B-25H

B-25H Barbie III taxiing at Centennial Airport, Colorado

An improved version of the B-25G. It featured two additional fixed .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the nose and four in fuselage-mounted pods; the heavy M4 cannon was replaced by a lighter 75 mm (2.95 in) T13E1. (Number made: 1,000; number left flying in the world: 1.)
B-25J
The last production model of the B-25, often called a cross between the B-25C and the B-25H. It had a transparent nose, but many of the delivered aircraft were modified to have a solid nose. Most of its 14–18 machine guns were forward-facing for strafing missions. 316 were delivered to the Royal Air Force as the Mitchell III. (Number made: 4,318.)
CB-25J
Utility transport version.
VB-25J
A number of B-25s were converted for use as staff and VIP transports. Henry H. Arnold and Dwight D. Eisenhower both used converted B-25Js as their personal transports.

[edit] Trainer variants

Most models of the B-25 were used at some point as training aircraft.

TB-25D
Originally designated AT-24A (Advanced Trainer, Model 24, Version A). Trainer modification of B-25D. In total, 60 AT-24s were built.
TB-25G
Originally designated AT-24B. Trainer modification of B-25G.
TB-25C
Originally designated AT-24C. Trainer modification of B-25C.
TB-25J
Originally designated AT-24D. Trainer modification of B-25J. Another 600 B-25Js were modified after the war.
TB-25K
Hughes E1 fire-control radar trainer (Hughes). (Number made: 117.)
TB-25L
Hayes pilot-trainer conversion. (Number made: 90.)
TB-25M
Hughes E5 fire-control radar trainer. (Number made: 40.)
TB-25N
Hayes navigator-trainer conversion. (Number made: 47.)

[edit] U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps variants
A PBJ-1H of VMB-613.
Two PBJ-1Js on Mindanao,1945.

PBJ-1C
Similar to the B-25C for the US Navy; often fitted with airborne search radar and used in the anti-submarine role.
PBJ-1D
Similar to the B-25D for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Differed in having a single .50 in (12.7 mm) machine gun in the tail turret and beam gun positions similar to the B-25H. Often fitted with airborne search radar and used in the anti-submarine role.
PBJ-1G
US Navy/US Marine Corps designation for the B-25G
PBJ-1H
US Navy/US Marine Corps designation for the B-25H
PBJ-1J
US Navy designation for the B-25J-NC (Blocks -1 through -35) with improvements in radio and other equipment. Often fitted with "package guns" and wingtip search radar for the anti-shipping/anti-submarine role.

[edit] Operators
B-25 Mitchell bombers from No. 18 (NEI) Squadron RAAF on a training flight near Canberra in 1942
B-25J in 98 RAF Squadron markings

Australia

* Royal Australian Air Force
o No. 2 Squadron RAAF

Argentina
Biafra

* Biafran Air Force operated two aircraft.

Bolivia
Brazil

* Brazilian Air Force (75 units)

Canada

* Royal Canadian Air Force - bomber, light transport, training aircraft, "special" mission roles

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was an important user of the B-25 Mitchell, although most of the RCAF use of the Mitchell was postwar.

The first B-25s for the RCAF had originally been diverted to Canada from RAF orders. These included one Mitchell I, 42 Mitchell IIs, and 19 Mitchell IIIs. No 13 (P) Squadron was formed unofficially at Rockliffe in May 1944. They operated Mitchell IIs on high altitude aerial photography sorties. This unit gained official status in November 1946 and became No 413 (P) Squadron in April 1947. They retained the Mitchell until October 1948.

No 418 (Auxiliary) Squadron received its first Mitchell IIs in January 1947. It was followed by No 406 (auxiliary) which flew Mitchell IIIs from April 1947 to June 1958. No 418 Operated a mix of IIs and IIIs until March 1958. No 12 Squadron of Air Transport Command also flew Mitchell IIIs along with other types from September 1956 to November 1960.

In 1951, the RCAF received an additional 75 B-25Js from USAF stocks to make good attrition and to equip various second-line units.

Many post-war RCAF Mitchells incorporated a new exhaust system where the top S-shaped stacks were replaced by semi-collector rings.

China
People's Republic of China

* People's Liberation Army Air Force operated captured Nationalist Chinese aircraft.

Chile
Colombia
Cuba
Dominican Republic
France
Indonesia

* Indonesian Air Force received some B-25 Mitchells from Netherlands, the last example retired in 1979.

Mexico
Netherlands

* Royal Netherlands Air Force
o No. 18 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron RAAF
o No. 119 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron RAAF
o No. 320 Squadron, Royal Dutch Naval Air Service

Peru
Poland

* Polish Air Forces on exile in Great Britain
o No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron

Spain Spanish State

* Spanish Air Force former USAAF serial number 41-30338 interned in 1944 and operated between 1948–1956.[9]

Soviet Union

* Soviet Air Force received a total of 866 B-25s (of types C/D/S/G/J).[10]

United Kingdom

* Royal Air Force received more than 900 aircraft.
o No. 98 Squadron RAF
o No. 180 Squadron RAF
o No. 226 Squadron RAF
o No. 342 Squadron RAF
o No. 681 Squadron RAF
o No. 684 Squadron RAF

United States

* United States Army Air Forces
* United States Navy
* United States Marine Corps

Uruguay
Venezuela

[edit] Survivors
B-25D Tondelayo, registered N3476G and was serial number 44-28932.
Main article: North American B-25 Survivors
[edit] Specifications (B-25J)

Data from Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II[11]

General characteristics

* Crew: six (two pilots, navigator/bombardier, turret gunner/engineer, radio operator/waist gunner, tail gunner
* Length: 52 ft 11 in (16.1 m)
* Wingspan: 67 ft 6 in (20.6 m)
* Height: 17 ft 7 in (4.8 m)
* Wing area: 610 sq ft (57 m²;)
* Empty weight: 21,120 lb (9,580 kg)
* Loaded weight: 33,510 lb (15,200 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 41,800 lb (19,000 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Wright R-2600 "Cyclone" radials, 1,850 hp (1,380 kW) each

Performance

* Maximum speed: 275 mph (239 kn, 442 km/h)
* Cruise speed: 230 mph (200 kn, 370 km/h)
* Combat radius: 1,350 mi (1,170 nmi, 2,170 km)
* Ferry range: 2,700 mi (2,300 nmi, 4,300 km)
* Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
* Rate of climb: 790 ft/min (4 m/s)
* Wing loading: 55 lb/ft² (270 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.110 hp/lb (182 W/kg)

Armament

* Guns: 12-18 × .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
* Hardpoints: 2,000 lb (900 kg) ventral shackles to hold one external Mark 13 torpedo[12]
* Rockets: 3,000 lb (1,360 kg) bombs + eight 5 in (130 mm) high velocity aircraft rockets (HVAR)
* Bombs: 6,000 lb (2,700 kg)
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The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was an American all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom, monoplane night fighter and night intruder aircraft flown by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was the only Allied purpose-built aircraft to serve as a radar-equipped night fighter.

Design and development
YP-61-NO 41-11887777 pre-production prototype
YP-61-NO 41-118877
77
pre-production prototype

In August 1940, a full 16 months before the United States entered the war, the U.S. Air Officer in London, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, was briefed on British research in RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging), which had been underway since 1936 and had played an important role in the nation's defense against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. General Emmons was informed of the new Airborne Intercept radar (AI for short), a self-contained unit that could be installed in an aircraft and allow it to operate independently of ground stations. In September 1940 the Tizard Mission traded British research on many aspects including radar for American production.

Simultaneously, the British Purchasing Commission evaluating US aircraft declared their urgent need for a high-altitude, high-speed aircraft to intercept the Luftwaffe bombers attacking London at night. The aircraft would need to patrol continuously over the city throughout the night, requiring at least an eight-hour loiter capability. The aircraft would carry one of the early (and heavy) AI radar units, and mount its specified armament in "multiple-gun turrets". The British conveyed the requirements for a new fighter to all the aircraft designers and manufacturers they were working with. Jack Northrop was among them, and he realized that the speed, altitude, fuel load and multiple-turret requirements demanded a large aircraft with multiple engines.

Gen. Emmons returned to the U.S. with details of the British night-fighter requirements, and in his report said that US aircraft design bureaus possibly could produce such an aircraft. The Emmons Board developed basic requirements and specifications, handing them over towards the end of 1940 to Air Technical Service Command, Wright Field. After considering the two biggest challenges—the high weight of the AI radar and the very long (by fighter standards) loiter time of eight hours minimum—the board, like Jack Northrop, realized the aircraft would need the considerable power and resulting size of twin engines, and recommended such parameters.

Vladimir H. Pavlecka, Northrop Chief of Research, was present on unrelated business at Wright Field. On 21 October 1940, Col. Laurence Craigie of the ATSC phoned Pavlecka, explaining the USAAC's specifications, but told him to "not take any notes, 'Just try and keep this in your memory!' "[2] What Pavlecka did not learn was radar's part in the aircraft; Craigie described the then super-secret radar as a "device which would locate enemy aircraft in the dark" and which had the capability to "see and distinguish other airplanes". The mission, Craigie explained, was "the interception and destruction of hostile aircraft in flight during periods of darkness or under conditions of poor visibility."

Pavlecka met with Jack Northrop the next day, and gave him the USAAC specification. Northrop compared his notes with those of Pavlecka, saw the similarity between the USAAC's requirements and those issued by the RAF, and pulled out the work he had been doing on the British aircraft's requirements. He was already a month along, and a week later, Northrop pounced on the USAAC proposal.

On November 5, Northrop and Pavlecka met at Wright Field with Air Material Command officers and presented them with Northrop’s preliminary design. Douglas’ XA-26A night fighter proposal was the only competition, but Northrop’s design was selected and the Black Widow was conceived.

[edit] Early stages

Following the USAAC acceptance, Northrop began comprehensive design work on the aircraft to become the first to design a dedicated night fighter. The result was the largest and one of the most deadly pursuit-class aircraft flown by the U.S. during the war.

Jack Northrop's first proposal was a long fuselage gondola between two engine nacelles and tail booms. Engines were Pratt & Whitney R2800-10 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radials, producing 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) each. The fuselage housed the three-man crew, the radar, and two four-gun turrets. The .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns were fitted with 36-inch long "aircraft" barrels with perforated sleeves. The turrets were located in the nose and rear of the fuselage. It stood on tricycle landing gear and featured full-span retractable flaps, or "Zap flaps" (named after Northrop engineer Edward Zap) in the wings.

The aircraft was huge, as Northrop had anticipated. While far heavier and larger multi-engine bombers existed, its 45.5-foot (14 m) length, 66-foot (20 m) wingspan and projected 22,600-pound (10,251 kg) full-load weight were unheard of for a fighter, making the P-61 hard for many to accept as a feasible combat aircraft.

[edit] Changes to the plan
The P-61's upper turret is visible on the fuselage between the wings.
The P-61's upper turret is visible on the fuselage between the wings.

Some alternative design features were investigated before finalization. Among them were conversion to a single vertical stabilizer/rudder and the shifting of the nose and tail gun turrets to the top and bottom of the fuselage along with the incorporation of a second gunner.

Late in November 1940, Jack Northrop returned to the crew of three and twin tail/rudder assembly. To meet USAAC's request for more firepower, designers abandoned the ventral turret and mounted four 20 mm Hispano M2 cannons in the wings. As the design evolved, the cannons were subsequently repositioned in the belly of the airplane. The P-61 therefore became one of the few U.S.-designed fighter aircraft to have 20 mm cannons as factory-standard in WWII. Others were the P-38 Lightning, the F4U-1C (a limited-production Corsair sub-variant), and the A-36 Apache dive-bomber (an early form of the P-51 Mustang). While some F6F Hellcats and repossessed British lend-lease P-39 Airacobras (renamed P-400) were also fitted with 20 mm cannons, it was not standard practice.

Northrop Specification 8A was formally submitted to Army Air Material Command at Wright Field, on December 5, 1940. Following a few small changes, Northrop's NS-8A fulfilled all USAAC requirements, and the Air Corps issued Northrop a Letter of Authority For Purchase on December 17. A contract for two prototypes and two scale models to be used for wind tunnel testing, (costs not to exceed $1,367,000), was awarded on 10 January 1941. Northrop Specification 8A became, by designation of the Department of Defense, the XP-61.

[edit] Technical description

The P-61 featured a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano M2 forward firing cannons mounted in the lower fuselage, and four Browning M2 .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns lined up horizontally with the two middle guns slightly offset upwards in a remotely-aimed dorsally mounted turret. The turret was driven by the General Electric GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and could be directed by either the gunner or radar operator, who both had the aiming control and gyroscopic collimator sight assembly posts attached to their swiveling seats.

The two Pratt & Whitney R2800-25S Double Wasp radial engines were each mounted approximately one-sixth out on the wing's span. Two-stage, two-speed mechanical superchargers were fitted. In an effort to save space and weight, no turbo-superchargers were fitted, despite the expected 50 mph (80 km/h) top speed and 10,000 ft operational ceiling increases.

Main landing gear bays were located at the bottom of each nacelle, directly behind the engine. The two main gear legs were each offset significantly towards outboard in their nacelles, and retracted towards the tail; oleo scissors faced forwards. Each main wheel was inboard of its gear leg and oleo. Main gear doors were two pieces, split evenly, longitudinally, hinged at inner door's inboard edge and the outer door's outboard edge.

Each engine cowling and nacelle drew back into tail booms that terminated upwards in large vertical stabilizers and their component rudders, each of a shape similar to a rounded right triangle. The leading edge of each vertical stabilizer was faired smoothly from the surface of the tail boom upwards, swept back to 37 degrees. The horizontal stabilizer extended between the inner surfaces of the two vertical stabilizers, and was approximately three-quarters the chord of the wing root, including the elevator. The elevator spanned approximately one third of the horizontal stabilizer's width, and in overhead plan view, angled inwards in the horizontal from both corners of leading edge towards the trailing edge approximately 15 degrees, forming the elevator into a wide, short trapezoid. The horizontal stabilizer and elevator assembly possessed a slight airfoil cross-section.

The engines and nacelles were outboard of the wing root and a short "shoulder" section of the wing that possessed a four-degree dihedral, and were followed by the remainder of the wing which had a dihedral of two degrees. The leading edge of the wing was straight and perpendicular to the aircraft's centerline. The trailing edge was straight and parallel to the leading edge in the shoulder, and tapered forward 15 degrees outboard of the nacelle. Leading edge updraft carburetor intakes were present on the wing shoulder and the root of the outer wing, with a few inches of separation from the engine nacelle itself. They were very similar in appearance to those on the F4U Corsair—thin horizontal rectangles with the ends rounded out to nearly a half-circle, with multiple vertical vanes inside to direct the airstream properly.

The P-61 did not have ailerons. Aside from the full-span retractable "Zap flaps", all control of the aircraft about the roll axis was maintained through the use of curved, tapered spoilerons, of approximately 10 feet in length and 6 inches in width (in overhead plan view) each. They were located outboard of the outer edge of each nacelle in overhead plan view, approximately one-quarter the length of the outer wing (the section of wing outboard of the edge of each nacelle furthest from the aircraft's centerline) and offset towards the wing leading edge approximately one third the wing's chord from the trailing edge, running towards the wing-tip approximately half the length of the outer wing. Operation was as follows: the spoileron in the inside wing rotated out of the wing's upper surface into the airstream, disrupting the effect of Bernoulli's principle and reducing lift over that wing, causing it to drop.

The main fuselage, or gondola, was centered on the aircraft's centerline. It was, from the tip of the nose to the end of the Plexiglas tail-cone, approximately five-sixths the length of one wing (root to tip). The nose housed an evolved form of the SCR-268 Signal Corps Radar, the Western Electric Company's SCR-720A. Immediately behind the radar was the forward crew compartment, seating the pilot and behind him the gunner, the latter elevated approximately six inches. The multi-framed "greenhouse" canopy featured two distinct levels, one for the pilot and a second for the gunner above and behind him. Combined with the nearly flat upper surface of the aircraft's nose, the two-tiered canopy gave the aircraft's nose a distinct appearance of three wide, shallow steps. The forward canopy in the XP-61 featured contiguous, smooth-curved, blown-Plexiglas canopy sections facing forward, in front of the pilot and the gunner. The tops and sides were framed.

Beneath the forward crew compartment was the nose gear wheel well, through which the pilot and gunner entered and exited the aircraft. The forward gear leg retracted to the rear, up against a contoured cover that when closed for flight formed part of the cockpit floor; the gear would not have space to retract with it open. The oleo scissor faced forwards. The nosewheel was centered, with the strut forking to the aircraft's left. The nosewheel was approximately three-fourths the diameter of the main wheels. Nose gear doors were two pieces, split evenly longitudinally, and hinged at each outboard edge.

The center of the gondola housed the main wing spar, fuel storage, fuel piping and control mechanisms, control surface cable sections, propeller and engine controls, and radio/IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) /communications equipment, but was predominantly occupied by the top turret mounting ring, rotation and elevation mechanisms, ammunition storage for the turret's four Browning M2 machine guns, the GE2CFR12A3 gyroscopic fire control computer, and linkages to the gunner and radar operator's turret control columns, forward and aft, respectively.

The radar operator's station was at the aft of the gondola. The radar operator controlled the SRC-720 radar set and viewed its display scopes from the isolated rear compartment, which he entered by way of a small hatch with a built-in ladder on the underside of the aircraft. In addition to the radar systems themselves, the radar operator had intercom and radio controls, as well as the controls and sight for the remote turret. The compartment's canopy followed the curvature of the gondola's rear section, with only a single rounded step to the forwards canopy's double step. The rear of the gondola was enclosed by a blown Plexiglas cap that tapered quickly in overhead plan view to a barely-rounded point; the shape was somewhat taller in side profile than it was in overhead plan view, giving the end of the "cone", a rounded "blade" appearance when viewed in perspective.

The cross-section of the gondola, front to back, was generally rectangular, vertically oriented. The tip of the nose was very rounded, merging quickly to a rectangular cross-section that tapered slightly towards the bottom. This cross-section lost its taper but became clearly rounded at the bottom moving back through the forward crew compartment and nose gear well. Height increased at both steps in the forward canopy, with the second step being flush with the top of the aircraft (not counting the spinal gun turret). At the rear of the forward crew compartment, the cross-section's bottom bulged downwards considerably and continued to do so until just past the midpoint between the rear of the forward crew compartment and the front of the rear crew compartment, where the lower curvature began to recede. Beginning at the front of the rear crew compartment, the top of the cross-section began to taper increasingly inwards above the aircraft's center of gravity when progressing towards the rear of the gondola. The cross-section rounded out considerably by the downward step in the rear canopy, and rapidly became a straight-sided oval, shrinking and terminating in the tip of the blown-Plexiglas "cone" described above.

The cross-section of the nacelles was essentially circular throughout, growing then diminishing in size when moving from the engine cowlings past the wing and gear bay, towards the tail booms and the vertical stabilizers. A bulge on the top of the wing maintained the circular cross-section as the nacelles intersected the wing. The cross-section became slightly egg-shaped around the main gear bays, larger at the bottom but still round. An oblong bulge on the bottom of the main gear doors, oriented longitudinally, accommodated the main wheels when the gear was retracted.

Wing tips, wing-to-nacelle joints, tips and edge of stabilizers and control surfaces (excluding the horizontal stabilizer and elevator) were all smoothly rounded, blended or filleted. The overall design was exceptionally clean and fluid as the aircraft possessed very few sharp corners or edges.

[edit] XP-61 development

In March 1941, the Army/Navy Standardization Committee decided to standardize use of updraft carburetors across all U.S. military branches. The XP-61, designed with downdraft carburetors, faced an estimated minimum two-month redesign of the engine nacelle to bring the design into compliance. The committee later reversed the updraft carburetor standardization decision (the XP-61 program's predicament likely having little influence), preventing a potential setback in the XP-61's development.

The Air Corps Mockup Board met at Northrop on 2 April 1941, to inspect the XP-61 mockup. They recommended several changes following this review. Most prominently, the four 20-millimeter Hispano M2 cannon were relocated from the outer wings to the belly of the aircraft, clustered tightly just behind the rear of the nose gear well. The closely spaced, centered installation, with two cannons stacked vertically, slightly outboard of the aircraft's centerline on each side, and the top cannon in each pair only a few inches farther outboard, eliminated the inherent drawbacks of convergence.

Convergence was a necessity in wing-mounted guns. Convergence is the specific point or points of range and elevation at which arming crews calibrate the weapons' projectile paths to intersect the aircraft's centerline, preventing a "safe zone" in front of the aircraft through which no projectiles would pass if wing guns were set to fire straight ahead. Projectiles fired at a target beyond the point of convergence crisscross before reaching the target and miss wide; projectiles fired at a target closer than the point of convergence either pass on either side or fail to impact at a concentrated point, minimizing the damage inflicted. In practice, both cases limit the cannons' effective ranges to a very small zone on either side of a set distance, and create additional challenges when calculating deflection ("pulling lead") for a moving target.

Without convergence, aiming was considerably easier and faster, and the tightly grouped cannons created a thick stream of 20 mm projectiles. The removal of the guns and ammunition from the wings also cleaned up the wings' airfoil and increased internal fuel capacity from 540 to 646 gallons.

Other changes included the provision for external fuel carriage in drop tanks, flame arrestors/dampeners on engine exhausts, and redistribution of some radio equipment. While all beneficial from a performance standpoint—especially the movement of the cannons—the modifications required over a month of redesign work, and the XP-61 was already behind schedule.

In mid-1941, the dorsal turret mount finally proved too difficult to install in the aircraft, and was changed from the General Electric ring mount to a pedestal mount like that used for the upper turrets in B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and other bombers. Following this modification, the turret itself became unavailable, as operational aircraft—in this case, the B-29—were ahead of experimental aircraft in line for the high-demand component. For flight testing, engineers used a dummy turret.

During February 1942, subcontracting manufacturer Curtiss notified Northrop that the C5424-A10 four-bladed, automatic, full-feathering propeller Northrop had planned for use in the XP-61 would not be ready for the prototype rollout or the beginning of flight tests. Hamilton Standard propellers were used in lieu of the Curtiss props until the originally planned component became available.

The XP-61's weight rose during construction of the prototype, to 22,392 lb empty and 29,673 lb at takeoff. Engines were R-2900-25S Double Wasp radials; turning 12-foot, 2-inch diameter Curtiss C5425-A10 four-blade propellers, both rotating clockwise when viewed from the front. Radios included two command radios, SCR-522As, and three other radio sets, the SCR-695A, AN/APG-1, and AN/APG-2. Central fire control for the gun turret was similar to that used on the B-29, the General Electric GE2CFR12A3.

[edit] SCR-720 radar
A P-61 radar
A P-61 radar

The production model of the SCR-720A mounted a scanning radio transmitter in the aircraft nose; in Airborne Intercept mode, it had a range of nearly five miles. The unit could also function as an airborne beacon / homing device, navigational aid, or in concert with interrogator-responder IFF units. The XP-61's radar operator located targets on his scope and steered the unit to track them, vectoring and steering the pilot to the radar target via oral instruction and correction. Once within range, the pilot used a smaller scope integrated into the main instrument panel to track and close on the target.

[edit] Remote turret

The XP-61's spine-mounted dorsal remote turret could be aimed and fired by any one of the three-man crew, or could be locked forward to be fired by the pilot in addition to the 20 mm cannons. The radar operator could rotate the turret to face to the rear, in order to engage targets behind the aircraft. Capable of a full 360 degrees rotation and 90 degrees elevation, the turret could conceivably be used to engage any target in the entire hemisphere above and to the sides of the XP-61.

[edit] P-61C

The P-61C was a high-performance variant designed to rectify some of the combat deficiencies encountered with the A and B variants. Work on the P-61C proceeded quite slowly at Northrop because of the higher priority of the XB-35 flying wing project. In fact, much of the work on the P-61C was farmed out to Goodyear, which had been a subcontractor for production of Black Widow components. It was not until early 1945 that the first production P-61C-1-NO rolled off the production lines. As promised, the performance was substantially improved in spite of a 2,000 pound increase in empty weight. Maximum speed was 430 mph (690 km/h) at 30,000 feet (9,000 m), service ceiling was 41,000 feet (12,500 m), and an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,000 m) could be attained in 14.6 minutes.
XF-15A-NO 43-8335Prototype unarmed photo recon
XF-15A-NO 43-8335
Prototype unarmed photo recon

The P-61C was equipped with perforated fighter airbrakes located both below and above the wing surfaces. These were to provide a means of preventing the pilot from overshooting his target during an intercept. For added fuel capacity, the P-61C was equipped with four underwing pylons (two inboard of the nacelles, two outboard) which could carry four 310-gallon drop tanks. The first P-61C aircraft was accepted by the USAAF in July of 1945. However, the war in the Pacific ended before any P-61Cs could see combat. The forty-first and last P-61C-1-NO was accepted on January 28, 1946. At least 13 more were completed by Northrop but were scrapped before they could be delivered to the USAAF.

The service life of the P-61C was quite brief, since it was being quickly outclassed by jet aircraft. Most were used for test and research purposes. By the end of March 1949, most P-61Cs had been scrapped. Two entered the civilian market and two others went to museums.

[edit] F-15 / RF-61C

In mid-1945, the surviving XP-61E was modified as an unarmed photographic reconnaissance aircraft. All the guns were removed, and a new nose was fitted, capable of holding an assortment of aerial cameras. The aircraft, redesignated XF-15, flew for the first time on 3 July 1945. A P-61C-1-NO (serial number 42-8335) was also modified to XF-15 standards. Apart from the turbosupercharged R-2800-C engines, it was identical to the XF-15 and flew for the first time on 17 October 1945. The nose for the F-15A-1-NO was subcontracted to the Hughes Tool Company of Culver City, California. The F-15A was basically the P-61C with the new bubble-canopy fuselage and the camera-carrying nose, but without the fighter brakes on the wing.
F-15A-1NO 45-59303
F-15A-1NO 45-59303

The first production F-15A-1-NO was accepted in September 1946. However, the contract was abruptly cancelled in 1947, possibly because the performance of the aircraft (known as the "Reporter") was rapidly being overshadowed by jets, with the last of only 36 examples being accepted by the USAAF in April that year. The last F-15 to be produced (serial number 45-59335) was produced as an F-15A-5-NO, which differed from the Block-1 version mainly in having a new internal camera installation in the nose. It seems that this change had been contemplated for the last 20 F-15s as well, since some records indicate that these were all eventually redesignated as F-15A-5-NO.

The pilot was seated in the front, with the reconnaissance operator in the back. The backseat occupant controlled the cameras and navigated the aircraft. However, the rear seat of the F-15A was fitted with a set of rudimentary flying controls, which made it possible for the reconnaissance operator to relieve the pilot if needed. Both crew members were rated pilots and both were trained in the reconnaissance task, so they usually alternated position on each flight.

Of the 36 F-15As produced, nine were allocated to the Air Materiel Command in the Continental U.S., and the remainder were issued to just one squadron, the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron attached to the 35th Fighter Group in Japan. These aircraft served in the American occupation of Japan, and several of them participated in the Post-Hostilities Mapping Program, in which the beaches, villages, road networks, and cultural centers were extensively photographed. Included in this job was the mapping of the Korean Peninsula, which proved invaluable when the Korean War broke out in 1950. A few also served in the Philippines and Celebes. Included in their mission was the mapping of the route of the Bataan Death March for war crimes prosecutions.

Spare parts became a problem for the F-15s in the late 1940s, and both damaged and flyable Reporters were cannibalized to keep the rest of them flying. In 1948, the separate F-category for reconnaissance aircraft was eliminated, and the P-for-pursuit category was replaced by F-for-fighter. Surviving Black Widows were redesignated F-61, and the surviving Reporters were redesignated RF-61C (since they were basically modified P-61Cs). On 1 April 1949, the only outfit still using RF-61Cs (the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) was deactivated, and all surviving RF-61Cs were reassigned to the 35th Maintenance Squadron at Johnson AFB for disposal. Some were disposed of as surplus on the commercial market, while others were scrapped.

[edit] F2T-1N

The United States Marine Corps had planned to acquire 75 Black Widows, but these were cancelled in 1944 in favor of the F7F Tigercat. In September 1945, however, the Marines received a dozen surplus P-61B-10 / 15 / 20 to serve as radar trainers until the F7F-3Ns would be available in squadron strength.[3] Designated F2T-1N and given the build numbers 52750–52761,[4] these aircraft were assigned to shore-based Marine units and served briefly – the last 2 F2T-1s being stricken on 30 August 1947.

[edit] Operational history

[edit] World War II service
P-61A-10NO 42-5569 "Tabitha" 425th NFS (RAF Scorton, England)
P-61A-10NO 42-5569 "Tabitha"
425th NFS (RAF Scorton, England)

The 6th NFS based on Guadalcanal received their first P-61s in early June, 1944. The aircraft were quickly assembled and underwent flight testing as the pilots transitioned from the squadron's aging P-70s. The first operational P-61 mission occurred on June 25, and the type scored its first kill on June 30, 1944 when a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was shot down.

[edit] Crew training and competition from the Mosquito

P-61 crews trained in a variety of ways. Several existing night fighter squadrons operating in the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres were to transition directly into the P-61 from Bristol Beaufighters and Douglas P-70s, though most P-61 crews were to be made up of new recruits operating in newly commissioned squadrons. After receiving flight, gunnery or radar training in bases around the U.S., the crews were finally assembled and received their P-61 operational training in Florida for transfer to the European Theatre, or California for operations in the Pacific Theatre.

The 422nd Night Fighter Squadron was the first to complete their training in Florida and, in February 1944, the squadron was shipped to England aboard the Mauritania. The 425th NFS was soon to follow aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

The situation deteriorated in May 1944 when the squadrons learned that several USAAF Generals believed the P-61 was too slow to effectively engage in combat with German fighters and medium bombers. The RAF shared this view, based on the performance of a single P-61 they had received in early May, and championed switching to their de Havilland Mosquito Mk XVI. Several pilots in the 422nd NFS threatened to turn in their wings if they weren't permitted to fly the "Black Widow". At the end of May, the USAAF insisted on a competition between the Mosquito and the P-61 for operation in the European Theatre. RAF crews flew the Mosquito Mk XVI while crews from the 422nd NFS flew the P-61. In the end the USAAF determined that the P-61 had a slightly better rate of climb, and could turn tighter than the Mosquito. The RAF disputed these claims and continued to push for the use of the Mosquito, but to no avail. In later tests conducted by the manufacturers, the two aircraft were actually found to be very similar in performance with no clear advantage for either aircraft.[5]

In England, the 422nd NFS finally received their first P-61s in late June, and began flying operational missions over England in mid-July. These aircraft arrived without the dorsal turrets so the squadron's gunners were reassigned to another NFS that was to continue flying the P-70. The first P-61 engagement in the European Theatre occurred on July 15 when a P-61 piloted by Lt. Herman Ernst was directed to intercept a V-1 "Buzz Bomb". Diving from above and behind to match the V-1's 350 mph (560 km/h) speed, the P-61's plastic rear cone imploded under the pressure and the attack was aborted. The tail cones would fail on several early P-61A models before this problem was corrected. On 16 July, Lt. Ernst was again directed to attack a V-1 and, this time, was successful, giving the 422nd NFS and the European Theatre its first P-61 kill.

Throughout the summer of 1944, P-61s operating in the Pacific Theatre would see sporadic action against Japanese aircraft. Most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted, but when the enemy was detected they were often in groups, with the attack resulting in multiple kills for that pilot and radar operator, who would jointly receive credit for the kill. Since pilots and radar operators did not always fly as a team, the kills of the pilot and radar operator were often different. On some occasions a pilot with only one or two kills would fly with a radar operator who was already an "ace".

In early August 1944, the 422nd NFS transferred to Maupertus, France, and began meeting piloted German aircraft for the first time. A Bf 110 was shot down, and shortly afterwards, the squadron's commanding officer Lt. Colonel O. B. Johnson, his P-61 already damaged by flak, shot down a Fw 190. The 425th NFS scored its first kill shortly afterwards.

In October 1944, a P-61 of the 422nd NFS, now operating out of an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield in Florennes, Belgium, encountered a Messerschmitt Me 163 attempting to land. The P-61 tried to intercept it but the rocket plane was traveling too fast. A week later, another P-61 spotted a Me 262, but was also unable to intercept the jet. On yet another occasion, a 422nd P-61 spotted a Me 410 Hornisse flying at tree top level but, as they dove on it, the "Hornet" sped away and the P-61 was unable to catch it. Contrary to popular stories, no P-61 ever engaged in combat with a German jet or any of the late war advanced Luftwaffe aircraft. The most commonly encountered and destroyed Luftwaffe aircraft types were Junkers Ju 188s, Bf 110s, Fw 190s, Dornier Do 217s and Heinkel He 111s, while P-61 losses were limited to numerous landing accidents, bad weather, friendly fire and flak. Apart from an attack on a Bf 110 that turned against them, there were no reports of a P-61 being damaged by a German aircraft; and apart from one accidentally shot down by an RAF Mosquito, none were confirmed to be destroyed in aerial combat.

The absence of turrets and gunners in most European theater P-61s presented several unique challenges. The 422nd NFS kept its radar operator in the rear compartment, meaning the pilot had no visual contact with the R/O. As a result, several courageous pilots continued flying their critically damaged P-61s under the mistaken belief that their R/O was injured and unconscious, when in fact the R/O had already bailed out. The 425th NFS had a more novel solution: they moved the R/O to the former gunner's position behind the pilot. This gave the pilot an extra set of eyes up front, and moved the aircraft's center of gravity about 15 inches forward, changing the flight characteristics from slightly nose up to slightly nose down which also improved the P-61's overall performance.

By December 1944, P-61s of the 422nd and 425th NFS were helping to repel the German offensive know as the "Battle of the Bulge," with two flying cover over the town of Bastogne. Pilots of the 422nd and 425th NFS switched their tactics from night fighting to daylight ground attack, strafing German supply lines and railroads. The P-61's four 20 mm cannons proved highly effective in destroying large numbers of German locomotives and trucks.

By early 1945, German aircraft were rarely seen and most P-61 night kills were Ju 52s attempting to evacuate Nazi officers under the cover of darkness.

The 422nd NFS produced three ace pilots, while the 425th NFS claimed none. Lt. Cletus "Tommy" Ormsby of the 425th NFS was officially credited with three victories. Unfortunately Lt. Ormsby was killed by friendly fire moments after attacking a Ju 87 on the night of March 24, 1945; however, his radar operator escaped with serious injuries and was saved by German doctors.

In the Pacific Theater in 1945, P-61 squadrons struggled to find targets. One squadron succeeded in destroying a large number of Kawasaki Ki-48 Lily Japanese Army Air Force twin-engined bombers, another shot down several G4M Bettys, while another pilot destroyed two Japanese Navy Nakajima J1N1 Irving twin-engined fighters in one engagement; but most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted. Several Pacific Theater squadrons finished the war with no confirmed kills at all. The 550th could only claim a crippled B-29 Superfortress, shot down after the crew had bailed out having left the plane on autopilot.

It is widely believed that the last two enemy aircraft destroyed before the Japanese surrender were both downed by a P-61 of the 548th NFS. This aircraft, known as "Lady in the Dark" was piloted by Lt. Lee Kendall, gaining its victories over a Nakajima Ki-43 on the night of 14 August/15 August 1945, and a Ki-44 on the next night.[6] However, this is incorrect; these were the last aircraft destroyed by "any" USAAF fighter; the last Japanese aircraft destroyed in World War II were by a Convair B-32, "Hobo Queen Two," which destroyed two A6M Zeros on 18 August 1945.

On January 30, 1945 a lone P-61 performed a vital mission that was instrumental in the successful effort of the U.S. Rangers to free over 500 Allied POWs held by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. As the Rangers crept up on the camp, a P-61 swooped low and performed aerobatic maneuvers for several minutes. The distraction of the guards allowed the Rangers to position themselves, undetected, within striking range of the camp. The story of the rescue and the role of the P-61 is told in the book Ghost Soldiers (by Hampton Sides) and in The Great Raid, a movie based upon the book.

In the Mediterranean Theater, most night fighter squadrons transitioned from their aging Bristol Beaufighters into P-61s too late to achieve any kills in the "Black Widow".

Though the P-61 proved itself very capable against the majority of German aircraft it encountered, it was clearly outclassed by the new aircraft arriving in the last months of World War II. It also lacked external fuel tanks that would have extended its range and saved many doomed crews looking for a landing site in darkness and bad weather. External bomb loads would also have made the type more adaptable to the ground attack role it soon took on in Europe. These problems were all addressed eventually, but too late to have the impact they might have had earlier in the war. The P-61 proved very capable against all Japanese aircraft it encountered, but saw too few of them to make a significant difference in the Pacific war effort.[5]

[edit] Postwar military service

The useful life of the Black Widow was extended for a few years into the immediate postwar period due to the USAAF's problems in developing a useful jet-powered night/all-weather fighter. The Curtiss P-87 had initially been scheduled as the jet-powered replacement for the Black Widow, but the failure of the XP-87 project meant the Black Widow had to soldier on for another few years. Replacement of the Black Widow by F-82F/G Twin Mustang night fighters began in early 1948, but by early 1950, most Black Widows were out of operational service. The last operational Black Widow left Japan in May 1950, missing the Korean War by only a month, while the last operational F-61 was retired in 1952.

[edit] Ejector seat experiments

A Black Widow participated in early American ejector seat experiments performed shortly after the war. The Germans had pioneered the development of ejector seats early in the war, the first-ever emergency use of an ejector seat having been made on 14 January 1942 by a Luftwaffe test pilot when he escaped from a disabled Heinkel He 280 V1. American interest in ejector seats during the war was largely a side-issue of the developmental work done on pusher aircraft such as the Vultee XP-54, the goal being to give the pilot at least some slim chance of clearing the tail assembly and the propeller of the aircraft in the case of an emergency escape, but little progress had been made since pusher aircraft development had never really gotten past the drawing board or the initial prototype stage. However, the development of high-speed jet-powered aircraft made the development of practical ejector seats mandatory.

Initially, an ejector seat was "borrowed" from a captured German Heinkel He 162 and was installed in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star in August 1945. However, it was decided that the single-seat P-80 would not be suitable for these tests, and it was decided to switch to a three-seat Black Widow. A P-61B-5-NO (serial number 42-39489) was modified for the tests, the ejector seat being fitted in the forward gunner's compartment. The aircraft was redesignated XP-61B for these tests (there having been no XP-61B prototype for the initial P-61B series). A dummy was used in the initial ejection tests, but on 17 April 1946, a volunteer, Sgt. Lawrence Lambert was successfully ejected from the P-61B at a speed of 302 mph (486 km/h) at 7,800 feet (2,380 m).[7] With the concept having been proven feasible, newer jet-powered aircraft were brought into the program, and the XP-61B was reconverted to standard P-61B configuration.

[edit] Thunderstorm project
A P-61 squadron involved in the Ohio phase of the Thunderstorm Project, 1947.
A P-61 squadron involved in the Ohio phase of the Thunderstorm Project, 1947.

The P-61 was heavily involved in the Thunderstorm Project (1946–1949) that was a landmark program dedicated to gathering data on thunderstorm activity. The project was a cooperative undertaking on the part of four U.S. government agencies: the U.S. Weather Bureau and NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, later to become NASA), assisted by the U.S. Army Air Force and Navy. Scientists from several universities also participated in the initiation, design and conduct of the project. The project's goal was to learn more about thunderstorms and to use this knowledge to better protect civil and military airplanes that operated in their vicinity. The P-61's radar and particular flight characteristics enabled it to find and penetrate the most turbulent regions of a storm, and return crew and instruments intact for detailed study.

The Florida phase of the project in 1946 continued into a second phase carried out in Ohio during the summer of 1947. Results derived from this pioneering field study formed the basis of the scientific understanding of thunderstorms, and much of what was learned has been changed little by subsequent observations and theories. Data was collected for the first time from systematic radar and aircraft penetration of thunderstorms, forming the basis of many published studies that are still frequently referenced by mesoscale and thunderstorm researchers.

[edit] Naval tests

P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39458 was operated by the Navy at the Patuxent River test facility in Maryland in a number of tests. P-61A-10NO serial number 42-39395 was subjected by the Navy to a series of test catapult launches to qualify the aircraft for shipboard launches, but the Black Widow was never flown from an aircraft carrier. These aircraft did not receive the naval designation F2T-1 but continued on as P-61.

Shortly after the war, the Navy borrowed two P-61Cs (43-8336 and 43-8347) from the USAAF and used them for air-launches of the experimental Martin PTV-N-2U Gorgon IV ramjet-powered missile, the first launch taking place on 14 November 1947. While carrying a Gorgon under each wing, the P-61C would go into a slight dive during launch to reach the speed necessary for ramjet operation to be initiated. These two naval Black Widows were returned to the USAF in 1948, and transferred to the boneyard shortly afterwards.

[edit] Civilian use

Surviving aircraft were offered to civilian governmental agencies, or declared surplus and offered for sale on the commercial market.

An RF-61C (ex-F-15A, serial number 45-59300) was used by NACA at Moffett Field in California to test some early swept-wing designs by dropping recoverable aerodynamic test bodies from high altitude. This program was later joined by F-61C serial number 43-8330, borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution for the duration of the tests. These drops were carried out over Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in California. F-61B-15NO serial number 42-39754 was used by NACA's Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio for tests of airfoil-type ramjets. F-61C-1NO 43-8357 was used at Ames as a source for spare parts for other F/RF-61 aircraft.

A few other Black Widows also ended up in the civilian market. P-61B-1NO serial number 42-39419 had been bailed to Northrop during most of its military career, who then bought the aircraft from the government at the end of the war. Having the civilian registration number NX30020 assigned to it, it was used as an executive transport, as a flight-test chase plane, and for tests with advanced navigational equipment. Later it was purchased by the Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers, a photo-mapping company based in Texas; then in 1963, it was sold to an aerial tanker company and used for fighting forest fires. However, it crashed while fighting a fire on 23 August 1963, killing its pilot.

The last flying examples of the P-61 line were an F-15A Reporter (RF-61C) 45-59300 and the "spare parts" F-61C 43-8357. The latter was rebuilt as a high-altitude mapping plane, assigned the civilian number N5094V, and offered on the commercial market; however, it attracted no customers and was finally scrapped in 1957. The RF-61C, originally given the civilian registration N5093V, was sold to Compania Mexicana Aerofoto S. A. of Mexico and assigned the Mexican registration XB-FUJ. It was then bought by Aero Enterprises Inc. of California and returned to the USA in 1964 carrying the civilian registration number N9768Z. The fuselage tank and turbosupercharger intercoolers were removed; and fitted with a 1600-gallon chemical tank for fire-fighting it was purchased by Cal-Nat at the end of 1964, and in turn in March 1968 by TBM, Inc., an aerial firefighting company located in California (the name of the company standing for the TBM Avenger, the company's primary equipment). It was destroyed in a takeoff accident on 16 September 1968.

[edit] Variants
Designation Changes from previous model
XP-61 The first two prototypes.
YP-61 Pre-production series; 13 built.
P-61A-1 First production version, R-2800-10 engines with 2,000 hp (1,490 kW); 45 built. The last seven aircraft were built without the turret.
P-61A-5 No turret, R-2800-65 engines producing 2,250 hp (1,680 kW), 35 built.
P-61A-10 Water injection to increase duration of maximum power output; 100 built.
P-61A-11 One hardpoint under each wing for bombs or fuel tanks; 20 built.
P-61B-1 Nose stretched 8 inches (20.3 cm), SCR-695 tail warning radar; 62 built.
P-61B-2 Reinstated underwing hardpoints like on P-61A-11; 38 built.
P-61B-10 Four underwing hardpoints; 46 built.
P-61B-11 Reinstated turret with two 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns; five built.
P-61B-15 Turret with four 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns; 153 built.
P-61B-16 Turret armament reduced to two machine guns; six built.
P-61B-20 New General Electric turret with four machine guns; 84 built.
P-61B-25 Turret automatically aimed and fired by the APG-1 gun-laying radar connected to an analogue computer; six built.
P-61C Turbosupercharged R-2800-73 engines producing 2,800 hp (2,090 kW), top speed increased to 374 knots (430 mph, 692 km/h) at 30,000 feet (9,145 m). However, the aircraft suffered from longitudinal instability at weights above 35,000 pounds (15,875 kg) and from excessive takeoff runs — up to three miles (4,830 m) at a 40,000 pound (18,143 kg) takeoff weight; 41 built, 476 more cancelled after the end of the war.
TP-61C P-61Cs converted to dual-control training aircraft.
XP-61D One P-61A-5 (number 42-5559) and one P-61A-10 (number 42-5587) fitted with turbosupercharged R-2800-14 engines, cancelled when P-61C entered production.
XP-61E Two P-61B-10s (numbers 42-49549 and 42-39557) converted to daytime long-range escort fighters. Tandem crew sat under a blown canopy which replaced the turret, additional fuel tanks were installed in place of the radar operator's cockpit in the rear of the fuselage pod, and four 0.50 cal machine guns took place of the radar in the nose (the 20 mm ventral cannon were retained as well). First flight 20 November 1944, cancelled after the war ended. The first prototype was converted to an XF-15, the second lost in an accident in 1945.
XP-61F One P-61C was to be converted XP-61E standard but conversion was abandoned.
P-61G Sixteen P-61B converted for meteorological research.
F-15A Reporter Photoreconnaissance variant with a new center pod with pilot and camera operator seated in tandem under a single bubble canopy, and six cameras taking place of radar in the nose. Powered by the same turbosupercharged R-2800-73 engines as the P-61C. The first prototype XF-15 was converted from the first XP-61E prototype, the second XF-15A was converted from a P-61C (number 43-8335). The aircraft had a takeoff weight of 32,145 pounds (14,580 kg) and a top speed of 382 knots (440 mph, 708 km/h). Only 36 of the 175 ordered F-15As were built before the end of the war. After formation of the United States Air Force in 1947, F-15A was redesignated RF-61C. F-15As were responsible for most of the aerial maps of North Korea used at the start of the Korean War[8]
F2T-1N 12 USAAF P-61B's transferred to the United States Marine Corps.

[edit] Operators

[9]

Flag of the United States United States

* United States Army Air Force

[edit] Pacific Theatre

* 6th Night Fighter Squadron (formerly the 6th Fighter Squadron)

Activated 18 January 1943, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii. Assigned to 7th Air Force. Served in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Saipan, Iwo Jima. Inactivated 20 February 1947 at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. Reactivated as 339th All Weather Squadron

* 418th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 April 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea. Assigned to 5th Air Force and served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947, San Jose, Mindoro, Philippines. Reactivated August 1948 as 4th All Weather Squadron.

* 419th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 April 1943, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.Assigned: 13th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines

* 421st Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 May 1943, Milne Bay, New Guinea.Assigned: 5th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated 20 February 1947 at Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands. Reactivated August 1948 as 68th All Weather Squadron.

* 547th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 March 1944, Oro Bay, New Guinea.Assigned: 5th AF - Served in New Guinea, Philippines, Ie Shima, Japan. Inactivated 20 February 1946, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands

* 548th Night Fighter Squadron

P-61C 42-8353 painted in the livery of 550th Squadron's Moonlight Serenade at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
P-61C 42-8353 painted in the livery of 550th Squadron's Moonlight Serenade at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Activated 10 April 1944, Hickam Field, Hawaii. Assigned: 7th AF - Served in Saipan, Iwo Jima, Ie Shima, Japan. Inactivated 19 December 1945, Ie Shima, Ryukyu Islands.

* 549th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 May 1944, Kipapa Gulch, Hawaii, Assigned: 7th AF - Served on Saipan, Iwo Jima. Inactivated 5 February 1946, Iwo Jima

* 550th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 June 1944, Hollandia, New Guinea, Assigned to 13th Air Force - Served in New Guinea, Philippines. Inactivated on 4 January 1946, Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines

[edit] European Theatre

* 414th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 26 January 1943, La Senia, Algeria. Assigned to 12th AF. Served in Algeria, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, plus detachment to Belgium. Inactivated 31 August 1947 at Strossfield, Germany. Reformed as 319th All Weather Squadron.

* 415th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated 10 February 1943, La Senia, Algeria
o Inactivated 1 September 1947, Gross-Gerau, Germany
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)

* 416th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in Italy, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated June 1945
o Inactivated November 1946
(became 449th Fighter Squadron)

* 417th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served in United Kingdom, North Africa, Corsica, France, Germany
o Activated 20 February 1943, Orlando AB, FL
o Inactivated 9 November 1946, Schweinfurt, Germany

* 422d Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 9th AF - Served in England, France, Belgium, Germany
o Activated 1 August 1943, RAF Charmy Down, England
o Inactivated 30 September 1945, Langensalza, Germany

* 425th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 9th AF - Served in England, France, and Germany
o Activated 1 December 1943, RAF Charmy Down, England
o Inactivated 25 August 1947, Furth, Germany

* 427th Night Fighter Squadron
Assigned: 12th AF - Served Italy
o Activated 1 February 1944, Pomigliano, Italy
o Transferred to Barrackpore, India
China-Burma-India Theatre, October 1944

[edit] China-Burma-India Theatre

* 426th Night Fighter Squadron

Activated 1 January 1944, Madhaigani, India. Assigned to 14th Air Force. Served in India, China to protect B-29 Superfortress bases from attack. Inactivated on 5 November 1945, Shwanglu, China.

* 427th Night Fighter Squadron

Transferred from Pomigliano, Italy in October 1944. Stationed at Barrackpore, India. Assigned to the 14th AF it served in India, Burma and China. Inactivated on 29 October 1945 at Kisselbari, India.

[edit] Postwar P-61 squadrons

Note: The P-61 (Pursuit) designation was changed to F-61 (Fighter) in June 1948.

* 2d Fighter Squadron (All-Weather). Formed from equipment and personnel of 416th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 at Schweinfurt Germany. Transferred to Mitchell Field, N.Y, June 1947. Transitioned to F-82 Twin Mustang at McGuire Field, NJ, in 1948.

* 4th All Weather Squadron. Formed from equipment and personnel of 418th Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. Exchanged its F-61s for F-82Gs in 1948.

* 5th Fighter Squadron (All-Weather). Formed at Schweinfurt Germany from equipment and personnel of 417th Night Fighter Squadron in November 1946 and made part of 52d Fighter Group. Returned to Mitchel Field, NY in June 1948, and transitioned to F-82 later that year at McGuire Field, N.J..

* 68th All Weather Squadron. Formed at Bofu AFB Japan from equipment and personnel of 421st Night Fighter Squadron in August 1948 and almost immediately transitioned to F-82.

* 317th Fighter Squadron. Operated with P-47s and P-51s in Europe, deactivating in October 1945 and reforming as an all-weather fighter squadron at Mitchel Field, NY in May 1947. Received P-61s at the end of 1947 but transitioned to F-82 at Moses Lake AFB, WA at end of 1948.

* 319th All Weather Squadron. Formed in September 1947 at Howard AFB Panama from personnel and equipment of 414th Night Fighter Squadron. Transitioned to F-82 by the time it returned to Mitchel Field, NY in May 1949.

* 339th All Weather Squadron. Formed from personnel and equipment of 6th Night Fighter Squadron at Johnson AB Japan February 1947. Transitioned to F-82F/G between 1947 and 1950. Note: The 339th was the last USAF squadron equipped with F-61s.

[edit] Survivors

Four P-61s are known to survive today - there is also reportedly a F-15 Reporter wreck in Greenland.[citation needed]

* P-61B-1NO c/n 964 42-39445[10] (N550NF), that crashed on 10 January 1945 on Mt. Cyclops in New Guinea was recovered in 1991 by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania.[11] The aircraft has been undergoing a slow restoration since then with the intention of eventually returning it to flying condition; with the civilian registration N550NF. When finished, it is expected to be over 70% new construction. As of February 2008, the center pod is complete and the tail booms have been connected to the inner wings. The plane is expected to be towable on its landing gear as soon as the engines are installed to counterbalance the tail weight[12].

* P-61B-15NO c/n 1234 42-39715 [13][14], On outside display at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Beijing, China. The official story is that one of the P-61s that were based in Sichuan Province during the war was turned over to the Chendu Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1947. When the Institute moved to its present location, it did not take the plane with them, instead it was shipped to the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1954. As both USAAF night fighter squadrons (426th, 427th) that served in China were inactivated in 1945, this may not be accurate.[citation needed]An alternate explanation is that at the end of hostilities in 1945, the 427th was in the process of bringing their various detachments back to a central airfield for disposition of the aircraft and to start processing home. At one of the satellite airfields there were three P-61s, two in need of maintenance. Reportedly some Chinese communist troops came onto the field and ordered the Americans to leave, but to leave their aircraft behind. The aircraft is in very poor condition and probably near the point of structural collapse.[citation needed] The Chinese claim to have two additional P-61s in storage which they have offered for sale for $2,000,000. [15]

P-61C 43-8330 NACA 330 National Air & Space Museum
P-61C 43-8330
NACA 330
National Air & Space Museum

* P-61C-1NO c/n 1376 43-8330 [16], belonging to the National Air and Space Museum(NASM).[17] Northrop delivered it to the Army on July 28, 1945. By October 18, this P-61 was flying at Ladd Field, Alaska, in cold weather tests and it remained there until March 30, 1946. This airplane later moved to Pinecastle Air Force Base, Florida, for participation in the National Thunderstorm Project.

Pinecastle personnel removed the guns and turret from 43-8330 in July 1946 to make room for new equipment. In September, the aircraft moved to Clinton County Army Air Base, Ohio, where it remained until January 1948. The Air Force then assigned the aircraft to the Flight Test Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. After declaring the airplane surplus in 1950, the Air Force stored it at Park Ridge, Illinois, on October 3 along with important aircraft destined for the National Air Museum.

NACA asked the Smithsonian to lend them the aircraft for use in another special program. The committee wanted to investigate how aerodynamic shapes behaved when dropped from high altitude. The Black Widow arrived at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Naval Air Station Moffett Field, California, on February 14, 1951. NACA returned the aircraft and delivered it to the Smithsonian at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on August 10, 1954. When the engines were shut down for the last time, this P-61 had accumulated only 530 total flight hours. Smithsonian personnel trucked it to the Paul Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. This aircraft has recently gone on public display on 8 June 2006 at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington D.C..

P-61C 42-8353 Moonlight Serenade USAF National Museum
P-61C 42-8353
Moonlight Serenade
USAF National Museum

* P-61C-1NO c/n 1399 43-8353[18] is currently on display at the USAFM[19] in Dayton, Ohio. It is marked as P-61B-1NO 42-39468 and is painted to represent "Moonlight Serenade" of the 550th Night Fighter Squadron. It recently had a reproduction turret installed, fabricated by the Museum's restoration team. The aircraft was donated to the museum in 1958 by the Tecumseh Chapter of the Boy Scouts of America in Springfield, Ohio.

[edit] Specifications (P-61B-20NO)

Data from Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II,[20] and Northrop P-61 Black Widow.[21]

General characteristics

* Crew: 2-3 (pilot, radar operator, optional gunner)
* Length: 49 ft 7 in (15.11 m)
* Wingspan: 66 ft 0 in (20.12 m)
* Height: 14 ft 8 in (4.47 m)
* Wing area: 662.36 ft² (61.53 m²;)
* Empty weight: 23,450 lb (10,637 kg)
* Loaded weight: 29,700 lb (13,471 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 36,200 lb (16,420 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65W Double Wasp radial engines, 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) each
* Propellers: four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller, 1 per engine
o Propeller diameter: 146 in (3.72 m)
*

* Main wheel track: 17 ft 2 in (5.24 m)
* Fuel capacity:
o Internal: 640 US gal (2,423 L) of AN-F-48 100/130-octane rating gasoline
o External: Up to four 165 US gal (625 L) or 310 US gal (1,173 L) tanks under the wings
* Oil capacity: 22 US gal (83.3 L) of AN-0-8 oil per engine

Performance

* Maximum speed: 318 knots (366 mph, 589 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,095 m)
* Combat range: 530 nm (610 mi, 982 km)
* Ferry range: 1,650 nm (1,900 mi, 3,060 km) with four external fuel tanks
* Service ceiling 33,100 ft (10,600 m)
* Rate of climb: 2,540 ft/min (12.9 m/s)
* Wing loading: 45 lb/ft² (219 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (25 W/kg)
* Time to altitude: 12 min to 20,000 ft (6,100 m)

Armament

* Guns:
o 4× 20 mm Hispano M2 cannon in ventral fuselage, 200 rounds per gun
o 4× 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 machine guns in upper turret, 560 rounds per gun
* Bombs: for ground attack, four bombs of up to 1,600 lb (726 kg) each or six 5 inch (127 mm) HVAR unguided rockets could be carried under the wings. Some aircraft could also carry one 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb under the fuselage.

Avionics

* SCR-720 (AI Mk.X) search radar
* SCR-695 tail warning radar
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The Grumman G-21 Goose amphibious aircraft was designed as an eight-seat "commuter" plane for businessmen in the Long Island area. The Goose was Grumman’s first monoplane to fly, its first twin-engined aircraft and its first aircraft to enter commercial airline service. During World War II, the Goose became an effective transport for the US military (including the Coast Guard), as well as serving with many other air forces. During hostilities, the Goose took on an increasing number of combat and training roles. In postwar use, the adaptable little transport continued in use.

Design and development

In 1936, a group of wealthy residents of Long Island, including E. Roland Harriman, approached Grumman and commissioned an aircraft that they could use to fly to New York City.[1] In response the Grumman Model G-21 was designed as a light amphibian transport. The typical Grumman rugged construction was matched to an all-metal, high-winged monoplane powered by two 450 horsepower (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Jr. nine-cylinder, air-cooled radial engines mounted on the leading edge of high-set wings. The deep fuselage served also as a hull and was equipped with hand-cranked retractable landing gear. First flight of the prototype took place on 29 May 1937.[2]

The fuselage also proved versatile as it provided generous interior space that allowed fitting for either a transport or luxury airliner role. Having an amphibious configuration also allowed the G-21 to go just about anywhere, and plans were made to market it as an amphibian airliner.[3] Some had a hatch in the nose, which could remain open in flight.

[edit] Modifications
JRF-1 Goose

There were a number of modifications of the Goose, but the most numerous were those by McKinnon Enterprises, who made three different conversions.[citation needed] The first involved replacing the Goose's engines with four Lycoming GSO-480 piston engines. The second, named "Turboprop Goose" involved replacing the engines with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprops. The third and final variant was the "Turbo-Goose", which was based on the"Turboprop Goose", but with larger windows, and retractable floats on the wings.

[edit] New production

In November 2007, Antilles Seaplanes of Gibsonville, North Carolina announced it was restarting production of the Goose.[4] PWC PT6A-34 turboprops will replace the original Pratt & Whitney piston engines,[5] and the airframe and systems will be updated, increasing the seating capacity from eight to ten; the aircraft will be known as the Antilles Super Goose. The first example is now being assembled.[4][6]

[edit] Operational history
Goose of the Royal Air Force
Grumman G.21 of Alaska Island Air in 1989

Envisioned as corporate or private "flying yachts" for Manhattan millionaires, initial production models normally carried two to three passengers and had a bar and small toilet installed. As well as being marketed to small air carriers, the G-21 was also promoted as a military transport. In 1938, the US Army Air Force purchased the type as the OA-9 (later, in the war years, examples impressed from civilian ownership were designated the OA-13A). The most numerous of the military versions were the United States Navy variants, designated the JRF.

The amphibian was soon adopted by the Coast Guard and, during World War II, it also served with the RCAF in the transport, reconnaissance, rescue and training roles. The G.21 was used for air-sea rescue duties by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF, in a common naming convention with all of its aircraft, designated the type as "Goose".

On returning to civilian service, after the war, the Goose found continued commercial use in locations from the wilderness of Alaska to the sunny climes of Catalina.

A total of 345 were built, with about 60 still airworthy today, most being in private ownership, some of them operating in modified forms.[7]

[edit] Operators

[edit] Military operators

Argentina
Bolivia
Brazil
Canada

* Royal Canadian Air Force

Cuba
France
Japan
Paraguay

* Paraguayan Naval Aviation

Peru

* Peruvian Air Force

Portugal
Sweden
United Kingdom

* Royal Air Force

United States

* United States Army Air Corps
* United States Army Air Force
* United States Navy
* United States Coast Guard

[edit] Governmental operators

United States

* United States Fish and Wildlife Service operated two aircraft.

Canada

* Royal Canadian Mounted Police[8]

[edit] Civil operators
1942 Grumman Goose at Akutan, Alaska, operated by PenAir
British Guiana Govt. Airways Grumman Goose c. 1955. Piarco Airport, Trinidad.

Australia

* Asiatic Petroleum

British Guiana

* British Guiana Airways

Canada

* Air BC
* Almon Landair Ltd
* European Coastal Airways
* H.J. O'Connell Supplies
* Oakley Air Ltd Canada
* Pacific Coastal Airlines
* Sioux Narrows Airways
* West Coast Air Sevices

Dutch East Indies

* Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij

Fiji

* Yaukuve Resort

Iceland

* Loftleiðir

Norway
United States

* Aero Accessories Inc.
* Air Metal Fabricators
* Alaska Coastal Airlines
* Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines
* Alaska Island Air
* Alaska Fish and Game
* Amphib. Inc.
* Antilles Airboats
* Avalon Air Transport
* Baron Aviation
* Caribbean Clipper
* Catalina Air
* Catalina Channel Airlines
* Devcon Construction
* Flight Data Inc.
* Ford Motors
* Goose Aviation
* Gulf Oil
* Kodiak Airways
* Kodiak Western
* North Coast Aero
* Ozark Management
* PenAir
* SouthEast Skyways
* Superior Oil
* Teufel Nursuries
* Tuthill Corporation
* Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle
* Waterlines Ltd
* Webber Airlines

[edit] Accidents and incidents

* June 22 1972. N1513V of Reeve Aleutian Airways written off at False Pass, Alaska.[9][10]
* September 2, 1978, Charles F. Blair, Jr., former Grumman test pilot and husband to actress Maureen O'Hara was flying a Grumman Goose from St. Croix to St. Thomas when the plane crashed into the ocean due to engine failure. He and three passengers were killed, seven passengers were severely injured.
* On 3 August, 2008, a Grumman Goose of Pacific Coastal Airlines with seven passengers and crew crashed during a flight from Port Hardy to Chamiss Bay. The aircraft was completely destroyed by a fire. There were only two survivors.[11]
* On 16 November, 2008 a Grumman Goose of Pacific Coastal Airlines with 8 passengers and crew crashed during a flight from Vancouver International Airport to Toba Inlet, BC. The plane exploded into a mass of burning wreckage according to the lone survivor. This person was rescued up by the Coast Guard on South Thormanby Island off British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. The company resumed floatplane operations on November 19, 2008.[12]

[edit] Specifications (JRF Goose)

General characteristics

* Crew: two
* Length: 38 ft 4 in (11.7 m)
* Wingspan: 49 ft (14.9 m)
* Height: 12 ft (3.7 m)
* Wing area: 375 ft² (34.8 m²;)
* Empty weight: 5,571 lb (2,527 kg)
* Loaded weight: 7,200 lb (3,273 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 8,200 lb (3,720 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior SB-2 air-cooled radials, 450 hp (340 kW) each

Performance

* Maximum speed: 184 mph (296 km/h)
* Range: 1,050 mi (1,690 km)
* Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
* Rate of climb: 1,240 ft/min (380 m/min)
* Wing loading: 21.9 lb/ft² (106.9 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.11 hp/lb (0.18 kW/kg)

Armament

* 2 x .50-cal machine guns
* 2 x 250-lb depth charges
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The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service at the start of World War II. Although its mid-engine placement was innovative, the P-39 design was handicapped by the lack of an efficient turbo-supercharger, limiting it to low-altitude work. The P-39 was used with great success by the Soviet Air Force, who scored the highest number of individual kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type. Other important users were the Free French and co-belligerent Italian air forces. [3] Together with the derivative P-63 Kingcobra, these aircraft would be the most successful mass-produced, fixed-wing aircraft manufactured by Bell.[4]

Design and development

In February 1937, Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey, Project Officer for Fighters at the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), issued a specification for a new fighter via Circular Proposal X-609.[5] It was a request for a single-engine high-altitude interceptor aircraft having "the tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraft at high altitude".[6] Specifications called for at least 1,000 lb of heavy armament including a cannon, a liquid-cooled Allison engine with a General Electric turbo-supercharger, tricycle landing gear, a level airspeed of at least 360 mph (580 km/h) at altitude, and a climb to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) within 6 minutes;[7] the toughest set of specifications USAAC had presented to that date.[8] Although Bell's limited fighter design work had previously resulted in the unusual Bell YFM-1 Airacuda, the Model 12[9] proposal adopted an equally original configuration with an Allison V-12 engine mounted in the middle of the fuselage, just behind the cockpit, and a propeller driven by a shaft passing beneath the pilot's feet under the cockpit floor.[9]

The main purpose of this configuration was to free up space for the heavy main armament, a 37 mm (1.46 in) Oldsmobile T9 cannon firing through the center of the propeller hub for optimum accuracy and stability when firing. In fact, the entire design was made to accommodate this gun in the aircraft.[10] This happened because H.M. Poyer, designer for project leader Robert Woods, was impressed by the power of this weapon and he pressed for its incorporation though the original concept had been a 20-25 mm (.79-98 in) cannon mounted in a conventional manner in the nose. This was unusual, because fighters had previously been designed around an engine, not a weapon system. Although devastating when it worked, the T9 had very limited ammunition, a low rate of fire, and was prone to jamming.[citation needed]

A secondary benefit of the mid-engine arrangement was to create a smooth and streamlined nose profile. Entry to the cockpit was through side doors (mounted on both sides of the cockpit) rather than a sliding canopy. Its unusual engine location and the long driveshaft caused some pilot concern at first, but experience showed this was no more of a hazard in a crash landing than with an engine located forward of the cockpit. There were no problems with propshaft failure.

As originally designed, the XP-39 had a turbocharger with a scoop on the left side of the fuselage;[11] both were deleted for production.[12] The production P-39 retained a single-stage, single-speed supercharger with a critical altitude (above which performance declined) of about 12,000 ft (3,658 m).[13]
Bell P-39 Airacobra center fuselage detail with maintenance panels open.

The XP-39 made her maiden flight on 6 April 1938[14] at Wright Field, Ohio, achieving 390 mph (630 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,100 m), reaching this altitude in only five minutes.[15] The Army ordered twelve YP-39s (with only a single-stage, single-speed supercharger) for service evaluation[14] and one YP-39A. After these trials were complete, which resulted in detail changes including deletion of the external radiator,[14][16] and on advice from NACA,[14] the prototype was modified as the XP-39B; after demonstrating a performance improvement,[14] the 13 YP-39s were completed to this standard, adding two .30 in (7.62 mm) machine guns to the two existing .50 in (12.7 mm) guns.[14] Lacking armor or self-sealing fuel tanks, the prototype was (900 kg) lighter than the production fighters.[17]

After completing service trials, and originally designated P-45, a first order for 80 aircraft was placed 10 August 1939; the designation would revert before deliveries began.[14]

[edit] Technical details

The P-39 was an all-metal, low-wing, single-engine fighter, with a tricycle undercarriage and an Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled Vee-12 engine mounted in the central fuselage, directly behind the cockpit.

The Airacobra was one of the first production fighters to be conceived as a "weapons system"; in this case the aircraft (known originally as the Bell Model 4) was designed around the 37mm T9 cannon.[18] This weapon, which was designed in 1934 by the American Armament Corporation, a division of Oldsmobile, fired a 1.3 lb (610 g) projectile capable of piercing .8 in (2 cm) of armor at 500 yd (450 m) with armor piercing rounds. The 200 lb, 90 inch long weapon had to be rigidly mounted and fire parallel to and close to the centerline of the new fighter; however, it would be impossible to mount the weapon in the fuselage, firing through the propeller shaft as could be done with smaller 20mm cannon. Weight, balance and visibility problems meant that the cockpit could not be placed further back in the fuselage, behind the engine and cannon.[18] The solution adopted was to mount the cannon in the forward fuselage and the engine in the center fuselage, directly behind the pilot's seat. The tractor propeller was driven via a 10 foot long drive shaft which was made in two sections, incorporating a self-aligning bearing to accommodate fuselage deflection during violent maneuvers. This shaft ran through a tunnel in the cockpit floor and was connected to a gearbox in the nose of the fuselage which, in turn, drove the three or (later) four bladed propeller via a short central shaft. The gearbox was provided with its own lubrication system, separate from the engine; in later versions of the Airacobra the gearbox was provided with some armor protection.[18] The glycol cooled radiator was fitted in the wing center-section, immediately beneath the engine; this was flanked on either side by a single drum shaped oil cooler. Air for the radiator and oil coolers was drawn in through intakes formed in both wing-root leading edges and was directed via four ducts to the radiator faces. The air was then exhausted through three controllable hinged flaps near the trailing edge of the center section. Air for the carburettor was drawn in via a raised oval intake immediately aft of the rear canopy.[19][20]

The fuselage structure was unusual and innovative, being based on a strong central keel which incorporated the armament, cockpit and engine. Two strong fuselage beams to port and starboard formed the basis of the structure. These angled upwards fore and aft to create mounting points for the T9 cannon and propeller reduction gearbox and for the engine and accessories respectively. A strong arched bulkhead provided the main structural point to which the main spar of the wing was attached. This arch incorporated a fireproof panel and an armor plate separating the engine from the cockpit. It also incorporated a turnover pylon and a pane of bullet-resistant glass behind the pilot's head. The arch also formed the basis of the cockpit housing; the pilot's seat was attached to the forward face as was the cockpit floor. Forward of the cockpit the fuselage nose was formed from large removable covers. A long nosewheel well was incorporated in the lower nose section. The engine and accessories were attached to the rear of the arch and the main structural beams; these too were covered using large removable panels. A conventional semi-monocoque rear fuselage was attached aft of the main structure. [19][21] [22][23]

Because the pilot was riding above the extension shaft he was placed higher in the fuselage than most contemporary fighters, which, in turn, allowed Bell to use a raised cockpit enclosure, giving the pilot a good field of view.[18] Access to the cockpit was via sideways opening "car doors", one on either side. Both had wind-down windows; because only the right hand door had a handle both inside and outside this was used as the normal means of access. The left hand door could only be opened from the outside and was only for emergency use, although both doors could be jettisoned. In operational service, however the cockpit was difficult to escape from in an emergency because the roof was fixed.[24]

The complete armament fit consisted of the T9 with a pair of Browning M2 .50 in (12.7 mm) machineguns mounted in the nose. This would change to two .50 in (12.7 mm) and two .30 in (7.62 mm) guns in the XP-39B (P-39C, Model 13, the first 20 delivered) and two 0.50 in/12.7 mm and four 0.30 in/7.62 mm (all four in the wings) in the P-39D (Model 15), which also introduced self-sealing tanks and shackles (and piping) for a 500 lb (227 kg) bomb or drop tank.[14]

Because of the unconventional layout, there was no space in the fuselage to place a fuel tank. Although drop tanks were implemented to extend its range, the standard fuel load was carried in the wings, with the result that the P-39 was limited to short range tactical strikes.[25]

In September 1940, Britain ordered 386 P-39Ds (Model 14), with a 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano-Suiza HS.404 and six .303 in (7.7 mm), instead of a 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon and six 0.30 in (7.62 in) guns. The RAF eventually ordered a total of 675 P-39s. However, after the first Airacobras arrived at 601 Squadron RAF in September 1941, they were promptly recognized as having an inadequate rate of climb and performance at altitude for Western European conditions. Only 80 were adopted, all of them with 601 Squadron. Britain transferred about 200 P-39s to the Soviet Union.

Another 200 examples intended for the RAF were taken up by the USAAF after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the P-400, and were sent to the Fifth Air Force in Australia, for service in the South West Pacific Theatre.[26]

A heavy structure, and around 265 lb (120 kg) of armor were characteristic of this aircraft as well. The production P-39's heavier weight combined with the Allison engine having only a single-stage, single-speed supercharger, limited the high-altitude capabilities of the fighter. The P-39's altitude performance was markedly inferior to the contemporary European fighters and, as a result, the first USAAF fighter units in the European Theater were equipped with the Spitfire V. However, the P-39D's roll rate was 75°/s at 235 mph (378 km/h)– better than the A6M2, F4F, F6F, or P-38 up to 265 mph (426 km/h). (see NACA chart).[27]

Above the supercharger's critical altitude of about 12,000 ft (3,658 m), an early P-39's performance dropped off rapidly. This limited its usefulness in traditional fighter missions in Europe as well as in the Pacific, where it was not uncommon for Japanese bombers to attack at altitudes above the P-39's operational ceiling (which in the tropical hot air inevitably was lower than in moderate climates). However the late production N and Q models making up 75% of all Aircobras could maintain a top speed of approximately 375 mph (604 km/h) up to 20,000 ft (6,100 m).

The weight distribution of the P-39 was supposedly the reason for its tendency to enter a dangerous flat spin - a characteristic Soviet test pilots were able to demonstrate to the skeptical manufacturer who had been unable to reproduce the effect. After extensive tests, it was determined the spin could only be induced if the aircraft was improperly loaded, with no ammunition in the front compartment. The flight manual specifically noted a need to ballast the front ammunition compartment with the appropriate weight of shell casings to achieve a reasonable center of gravity. High speed controls were light thus high speed turns and pull-outs were possible although the P-39 had to be held in a dive since it tended to level out, reminiscent of the Spitfire. Recommended dive speed limit (Vne) was 475 mph (764 km/h) for the P-39.[28]

The rear-mounted engine made the aircraft ideal for ground attack since fire would be coming from the front-bottom quarter and was less likely to hit the engine and its cooling systems. However, the arrangement proved to be very vulnerable to attacks from above and behind and nearly any hit on the fuselage from an attacking enemy fighter was virtually guaranteed to disable the cooling system and lead to the prompt demise of the engine and thus the airplane. Coupled with lack of high-altitude performance, the Airacobra was extremely vulnerable to any enemy fighter with decent high altitude performance.[29]

By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, nearly 600 had been built.

When P-39 production ended in August 1944, Bell had built 9,558[14][16] Airacobras, of which 4,773 (mostly -39N and -39Q[14]) were sent to the Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease program. There were numerous minor variations in engine, propeller, and armament, but no major structural changes in production types, excepting a few two-seat TP-39F and RP-39Q trainers.[30] In addition, seven went to the U.S. Navy as radio-controlled drones.

Trials of a laminar flow wing (in the XP-39E) and Continental IV-1430 engine (the P-76) were unsuccessful.[14] The mid-engine, gun-through-hub concept was developed further in the Bell P-63 Kingcobra.

A naval version with tail-dragger landing gear, the XFL-1 Airabonita, was ordered as a competitor to the F4U Corsair and XF5F Skyrocket. It first flew 13 May 1940,[14] but after a troublesome and protracted development and testing period, it was rejected.

[edit] Operational history

The Airacobra saw combat throughout the world, particularly in the Southwest Pacific, Mediterranean and Russian theaters. Because its engine was not equipped with a supercharger, the P-39 performed best below 17,000 feet (5,200 m) altitude. It often was used at lower altitudes for such missions as ground strafing. Russian pilots appreciated the cannon-armed P-39 for its ground attack capability.

[edit] United Kingdom
P-39Q-1BE 42-19447
Saga Boy II
Lt. Col. Edwin S. Chickering, CO 357th Fighter Group, July 1943.

In 1940, the British Direct Purchase Commission in the US was looking for combat aircraft; they ordered 675 of the export version Bell Model 14 as the "Caribou" on the strength of the company's representations on 13 April 1940. The performance of the Bell P-39 prototype and 13 test aircraft which were able to achieve a speed of 390 mph (630 km/h) at altitude was due to the installation of turbo-supercharging. The British armament was 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the fuselage, and four 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine guns in the wings, the 37 mm gun was replaced by a 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano-Suiza.

The British export models were renamed "Airacobra" in 1941. A further 150 were specified for delivery under Lend-lease in 1941 but these were not supplied. The Royal Air Force (RAF) took delivery in mid 1941 and found that actual performance of the non-turbo-supercharged production aircraft differed markedly from what they were expecting.[31] In some areas, the Airacobra was inferior to existing aircraft such as the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire and its performance at altitude suffered drastically. On the other hand it was considered effective for low level fighter and ground attack work. Problems with gun and exhaust flash suppression and compass were fixable.

No. 601 Squadron RAF was the only British unit to use the Airacobra operationally, receiving their first two examples on 6 August 1941. On 9 October, four Airacobras attacked enemy barges near Dunkirk, in the type's only operational action with the RAF. The squadron continued to train with the Airacobra during the winter, but a combination of poor serviceability and deep distrust of this unfamiliar fighter resulted in the RAF rejecting the type after one combat mission. [3]In March 1942, the unit re-equipped with Spitfires.

The Airacobras already in the UK, along with the remainder of the first batch being built in the US, were sent to the Soviet Air force, the sole exception being AH574, which was passed to the Royal Navy and used for experimental work, including the first carrier landing by a tricycle undercarriage aircraft on HMS Pretoria Castle, [32] until it was scrapped on the recommendation of a visiting Bell test pilot in March 1946.[33]

[edit] U.S.
Bell P-39 Airacobra firing all weapons at night.

The United States requisitioned 200 of the next part of the order as the P-400. The P-400 designation came from advertised top speed of 400 mph (644 km/h). After Pearl Harbor, the P-400 was deployed to training units, but some saw combat in the Southwest Pacific including with the Cactus Air Force in the Battle of Guadalcanal.[34] Though outclassed by Japanese fighter planes, it performed well in strafing and bombing runs, often proving deadly in ground attacks on Japanese forces trying to retake Henderson Field. Guns salvaged from P-39s were sometimes fitted to Navy PT boats to increase firepower.[35]

From September to November 1942 pilots of the 57th Fighter Squadron flew P-39s and P-38s from an airfield built on land bulldozed into Kuluk Bay on the barren island of Adak in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. They attacked the Japanese forces which had invaded Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutians in June 1942. The number one foe that claimed the most lives, however, was not the Japanese but the weather. The low clouds, heavy mist and fog, driving rain, snow and high winds made flying dangerous and lives miserable. The 57th remained in Alaska until November 1942 and then returned to the United States.

In North Africa, the Tuskegee Airmen were assigned P-39s in February 1944. They successfully transitioned and carried out their duties including supporting Operation Shingle over Anzio as well as missions over the Gulf of Naples in the Airacobra but achieved few aerial victories.[36] By June they had transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and then P-51 Mustangs in July 1944.

Only one U.S. pilot, Lt. Bill Fiedler, became an ace in a P-39; however, many U.S. aces scored one or two of their kills using the P-39.[37]

[edit] USSR
P-39Q-15BE 44-2664
Aviation Museum of Central Finland

The most successful use of the P-39 was in the hands of the Soviet Air Force (VVS). The tactical environment of the Eastern Front did not demand the extreme high-altitude operations that the RAF and USAAF employed with their big bombers. The low-speed, low-altitude turning nature of most air combat on the Russian Front suited the P-39's strengths: sturdy construction, reliable radio gear, and adequate firepower.

It was common for the Soviet pilots to remove the wing guns and rely only on the cannon and nose machine guns as armament; a modification that improved roll rate by reducing rotational momentum. The Soviets used the Airacobra extensively for air-to-air combat against a variety of German aircraft, including Messerschmitt Bf 109s, Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, Junkers Ju 87s, and Ju 88s.

The second-highest scoring Allied ace, Aleksandr Pokryshkin, flew the P-39 from late 1942 until the end of the war (though rumours exist that he changed in late 1944 to a P-63 Kingcobra); his unofficial score in the Airacobra stands at nearly 60 Luftwaffe aircraft. His wingman, Grigori Rechkalov, scored 57 victories with the P-39. This is the highest score ever gained by any pilot with any U.S.-made aircraft. The usual nickname for the well-loved Airacobra in the VVS was Kobrushka, "little cobra", or Kobrastochka, "dear little cobra".[38][39] A total of 4,719 P-39s were sent to the Soviet Union, accounting for more than one-third of all U.S. and UK-supplied fighter aircraft in the VVS, and nearly half of all P-39 production.[40]

[edit] Australia

In early 1942, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), experiencing Japanese air raids on towns in northern Australia, found itself unable to obtain British-designed interceptors or sufficient numbers of P-40s. US Fifth Air Force squadrons in Australia were already receiving the brand new P-39D-1.[41] Consequently, in July 1942, older USAAF P-39s, which had been repaired at Australian workshops, were adopted by the RAAF as a stop-gap interceptor.

Seven P-39Ds were sent to No. 23 Squadron RAAF at Lowood, Queensland. Later, seven P-39Fs were operated by No. 24 Squadron RAAF at Townsville. In the absence of adequate supplies of P-39s, both squadrons also operated Wirraway armed trainers. However, neither squadron received a full complement of Airacobras, or saw combat with them. The home air defence role was filled first by P-40s, followed by Spitfires. Plans to equip two more squadrons with P-39s were also abandoned. 23 and 24 Squadrons converted to the Vultee Vengeance in 1943.

[edit] France

In 1940, France ordered numerous P-39s to Bell, but because of the armistice with Germany they were not delivered. However, after Operation Torch, French forces in North Africa sided with the Allies, and were re-equipped with Allied equipment including P-39Ns. From mid-1943 on, three fighter squadrons, the GC 3/6 Roussillon, GC 1/4 Navarre and GC 1/5 Champagne, flew these P-39s in combat over the Mediterranean, Italy and Southern France. A batch of P-39Qs was delivered later, but Airacobras, which were never popular with French pilots, had been replaced by P-47 Thunderbolts in front line units by late 1944.

[edit] Italy

In June 1944, the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (ICAF) received 170 P-39s, most of them -Qs, and a few -Ns (15th USAAF surplus aircraft stored in Napoli-Capodichino airfield) and also at least one -L and five -Ms. The P-39 N (without the the underwing fairing for 12.7 machine guns) had engines with about 200 hours; a little newer than the P-39Q engines with 30-150 hours. A total of 149 P-39s would be used: the P-39N for training, while more modern Qs were used in the front line. In June-July 1944, Gruppi 12°, 9° and 10° of 4° Stormo, moved to Campo Vesuvio airstrip to re-equip with the P-39s. The site was not suitable and, in three months of training, 11 accidents occurred, due to engine failures and poor maintenance of the base. Three pilots died and two were seriously injured. One of the victims, on 25 August 1944, was the "ace of aces", Sergente Maggiore Teresio Martinoli.[42]

The three groups of 4° Stormo were first sent to Leverano (Lecce) airstrip, then in mid-October, to Galatina airfield. At the end of the training, eight more accidents occurred. Almost 70 aircraft were operational, and on 18 September 1944, 12° Group's P-39s flew their first mission over Albania. Concentrating on ground attack, the Italian P-39s proved to be suitable in this role, losing 10 aircraft to German flak in over 3,000 hours of combat.[43]

By 8 May 1945, at the end of the war, 89 P-39s were still at the Canne airport and 13 at the Scuola Addestramento Bombardamento e Caccia (Training School for Bombers and Fighters), on Frosinone airfield. In 10 months of operational service, the 4° Stormo had been awarded with three Medaglia d'Oro al Valore Militare "alla memoria".[44]

[edit] Portugal

Between December 1942 and February 1943, the Aeronáutica Militar (Army Military Aviation) obtained aircraft operated by the 81st and the 350th Fighter Groups originally dispatched to North Africa as part of Operation Torch. Due to several problems en route, some of the aircraft were forced to land in Portugal and Spain. Of the 19 fighter aircraft that landed in Portugal, all were interned and entered service that year with the Portuguese Army Military Aviation.[45]

Though unnecessary, the Portuguese Government paid the United States US$20,000 for each of these interned aircraft as well as for one interned P-38 Lightning.[46] The US accepted the payment, and gave as a gift four additional crates of aircraft, two of which were not badly damaged, without supplying spares, flight manuals or service manuals.[46] Lacking proper training, incorporation of the aircraft into service was plagued with problems, and the last six Portuguese Airacobras that remained in 1950 were sold for scrap.

[edit] Poland

The Polish Air Force received two P-39s from the USSR in 1947 for possible use with the re-established AF. It was decided to re-equip with Yak-9s instead.[citation needed]

[edit] Postwar

In 1945, Italy purchased the 46 surviving P-39s at 1% of their cost but in summer 1946 many accidents occurred, including fatal ones. By 1947, 4 Stormo re-equipped with P-38s, with P-39s sent to training units until the type's retirement in 1951. Only a T9 cannon survives today at Vigna di Valle Museum.[43]

[edit] Racing Airacobras

The Airacobra was raced at the National Air Races in the United States after World War II. Famous versions used for racing included the twin aircraft known as "Cobra I" and "Cobra II," owned jointly between three Bell Aircraft test pilots, Chalmers "Slick" Goodlin, Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston, and Jack Woolams. These craft were extensively modified to use the more powerful P-63 Kingcobra engine and had prototype propeller blades from the Bell factory. "Cobra I" with its pilot, Jack Woolams, was lost in 1946, over the Great Lakes while he was flying from the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio back to the factory to get a fresh engine.

The "Cobra II" (Race #84) flown by famed test pilot "Tex" Johnston, beat out P-51 Mustangs and other P-39 racers, which were the favorites, to win the 1946 Thompson Trophy race. Cobra II raced again in the 1947 Thompson Trophy race, finishing 3rd. It raced yet again in the 1948 Thompson trophy race, but was unable to finish owing to engine difficulties. Cobra II did not race again and was destroyed on 10 August 1968 during a test flight prior to a run on the world piston-engine speed record, when owner-pilot Mike Carroll lost control and crashed. Carroll perished and the highly-modified P-39 was wrecked.

Mira Slovak's "Mr. Mennen" (Race #21) P-39Q Airacobra was a very fast unlimited racer; a late arrival in 1972 kept this little 2,000+ hp (1,491+ kW) racer out of the Reno races, and it was never entered again. Its color scheme was all white with "Mennen" green and bronze trim. It is now owned and displayed by the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. The P-39Q (former USAAC serial no. 44-3908/NX40A), is painted as a P-400, "Whistlin' Britches."

[edit] Variants

[edit] XP-39

Bell Model 12

* XP-39-BE (1 completed). Prototype. Powered by an Allison V-1710-17 (E2) engine (1,150 hp/858 kW) fitted with a B-5 two-stage turbosupercharger. Provision was made for two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the forward fuselage and one 25 mm (.98 in) cannon but aircraft remained unarmed.

s/n: 38-326
First flight: 6 April 1939

[edit] YP-39

Bell Model 12
13 Produced

* YP-39-BE (12 completed): Service test version, V-1710-37 (E5) engine (1,090 hp/813 kW). First two aircraft delivered with armament, the remained with a M-4 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon with 15 rounds, 2 × .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with 200 rpg, and 2 × .30 in (7.62 in) machine guns with 500 rpg in the nose. wider vertical tail than XP-39B.

s/n: 40-027 - 40-038
First flight: 13 September 1940

* YP-39A-BE (1 completed). Intended to have a high-altitude V-1710-31 engine (1,150 hp/858 kW), but delivered as a regular YP-39.

s/n: 40-039

[edit] XP-39B

* XP-39B-BE (1 conversion). Streamlined XP-39 based on NACA wind tunnel testing resulting in revised canopy and wheel door shape, oil and radiator intakes moved from right fuselage to wing roots, fuselage increased length (by 1 ft 1 in, to 29 ft 9 in) and decreased wingspan (by 1 ft 10 in, to 34 ft). Turbosupercharger replaced with single-stage geared supercharger, Allison V-1710-37 (E5) engine (1,090 hp/813 kW), carburetor air intake moved to fuselage behind canopy.

s/n: 38-326
First Flight: 25 November 1939.

[edit] P-39C
P-39C-BE assigned to the 40th PS / 31st PG at Selfridge Field

Bell Model 13
80 ordered - 20 produced, remainder redesignated P-39D

* P-39C-BE (20 Produced). First production version, identical to YP-39 except for V-1710-35 engine (1,150 hp/858 kW). Armed with 1 × 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon, 2 × .50 in (12.7 mm) & 2 × .30 in (7.62 mm) machine guns in the nose. Aircraft lacked armor and self-sealing fuel tanks.

s/n: 40-2971 - 40-2990
First Flight: January 1941.

[edit] Airacobra I

Bell Model 13 (P-39C/Airacobra I) - Model 14 (Airacobra Ia)
675 ordered (excluding ex-P-39C's)

* Airacobra I (3 delivered). Three P-39C sent to England for War Testing.

s/n: 40-2981 (DS173) - 40-2983 (DS174)
s/n: 40-2984 (DS175)

* Airacobra Ia. P-400 designation indicates British Contract. Briefly called Caribou. V-1710-E4 (1,150 hp/858 kW) engine, 1 × 20 mm (.79 in) cannon with 60 rounds & 2 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns were mounted nose and four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns were mounted in the wings. IFF set removed from behind pilot. note: the designation Ia indicates direct purchase aircraft.

s/n: AH570/AH739 (170 planes)
s/n: AP264/AP384 (121 planes)
s/n: BW100/BW183 (84 planes)
s/n: BX135/BX434 (300 planes)

[edit] P-39D

Bell Model 13 (P-39D) - Model 14A (D-1) - Model 14A-1 (D-2)
454 ordered

* P-39D-BE (60 Produced). P-39C reordered with 245 lb (111 kg) of additional armor, self-sealing fuel tanks. Armament increased to 1 × 37 mm/1.46 mm cannon (30 rounds), 2 × .50 in/12.7 mm (200 rpg) and 4 × wing mounted .30 in/7.62 mm (1,000 rpg) machine guns.

s/n: 40-2991 - 40-3050

* P-39D-1BE (336 produced). M1 20 mm (.79 in) M1 cannon. Specifically ordered for delivery under Lend-Lease.

s/n: 41-28257 - 41-28406
s/n: 41-38220 - 41-38404
s/n: 41-38563

* P-39D-2BE (158 produced). V-1710-63 (E6) engine (1,325 hp/988 kW) restored the 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon, provisions for a single 145 gal (549 l) drop tank or maximum 500 lb (227 kg) bomb under the fuselage.

s/n: 41-38405 - 41-38562

* P-39D-3BE (26 conversions). P-39D-1s converted to Photo Reconnaissance Configuration; K-24 and K-25 camera in rear fuselage, extra armor for oil coolers

* P-39D-4BE (11 conversions). P-39D-2 converted to Photo Reconnaissance Configuration. Same mods as D-3 aircraft.

[edit] XP-39E

Bell Model: 23
3 Ordered

* XP-39E-BE (three ordered): P-39Ds modified for ground and flight testing. Intended for Continental I-1430-1 engine with (2,100 hp/1,566 kW) actually flown with Allison V-1710-47 (1,325 hp/988 kW) engine. Airframes were used to test various wing and different vertical tail surfaces. Fuselage was lengthened by 1 ft 9 in (53 cm). Used in the development of the P-63. The production variants, with the Continental engines were to be redesignated as P-76; there was no Bell XP-76 as such.[47]

s/n: 41-19501 - 41-19502 plus an unnumbered airframe for static testing.[48]
s/n 41-19501 replaced by 42-71464 after crash on 26 March 1942.[47]
s/n: 41-71464
First Flight 41-19501: 21 February 1942.[47]

[edit] P-39F

Bell Model 15B
254 Ordered - 25 redesignated P-39J

* P-39F-1BE (229 produced). Aeroproducts constant speed propeller, 12 exhaust stacks.

s/n: 41-7116 - 41-7344

* TP-39F-1BE (1 conversion). Two-seat training version with additional cockpit added in nose - no armament.

* P-39F-2BE (27 conversions). P-39F-1 with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

[edit] P-39G

Bell Model 26
1800 ordered - redesignated P-39K, L, M and N

* P-39G-BE. Intended to be a P-39D-2 with an Aeroproducts propeller. Due to modifications during production no P-39G were actually delivered. Instead, these aircraft were designated P-39K, L, M and N.

s/n: 42-4244 - 42-5043
s/n: 42-8727 - 42-9726

[edit] P-39H

Not assigned

[edit] P-39J

Bell Model 15B
25 Ordered

* P-39J-BE (25 produced). P-39F with V-1710-59 (1,100 hp/820 kW) engine with automatic boost control.

s/n: 41-7053 - 41-7056
s/n: 42-7059 - 42-7079

[edit] P-39K

Bell Model 26A
210 Ordered

* P-39K-1 (210 produced). P-39D-2BE with Aeroproducts propeller and V-1710-63 (E6) (1,325 hp/988 kW) engine. Vents added to nose

s/n: 42-4244 - 42-4453

* P-39K-2BE (6 conversions). P-39K-1 with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

* P-39K-5BE (1 conversion). V-1710-85 (E19) engine to serve as a P-39N prototype

[edit] P-39L
P-39L-1BE 44-4673
Lend-Lease to USSR

Bell Model 26C
250 Ordered

* P-39L-1BE (250 Produced). P-39K with Curtiss Electric propeller, revised nose gear for reduced drag, provision for underwing rockets.

s/n: 42-4454 42-4703

* P-39L-2BE (11 conversions). P-39L-1 with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

[edit] P-39M

Bell Model 26D
240 Ordered

* P-39M-1BE (240 Produced). 11 ft 1 in Aeroproducts propeller, V-1710-67 (E8) (1,200 hp/895 kW) engine with improved high-altitude performance at the expense of low-altitude performance, 10 mph (16 km/h) faster than P-39L at 15,000 ft (4,600 m). Note: some P-39M-1BE were delivered with the V-1710-83 (E18) engine.

s/n: 42-4704 - 42-4943

[edit] P-39N

Bell Model 26N
2,095 Produced

* P-39N-BE (500 produced). Originally part of the P-39G order. V-1710-85 (E19) (1,200 hp/895 kW) engine. Aeroproducts propeller (10 ft 4 in diameter) & different propeller reduction gear ratio. Starting with the 167th aircraft, propellor increased to 11 ft 7 in & internal fuel reduced from 120 gal (454 l) to 87 gal (329 l).

s/n: 42-4944 - 42-5043
s/n: 42-8727 - 42-9126

* P-39N-1BE (900 produced). Internal changes to adjust center of gravity when nose guns were fired.

s/n: 42-9127 42-9726
s/n: 42-18246 - 42-18545

* P-39N-2BE (128 conversions). P-39N-1 with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

* P-39N-3BE (35 conversions). P-39N with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

* P-39N-5BE (695 produced). Armor reduced from 231 lb (105 kg) to 193 lb (88 kg), Armor plate replaced the bulletproof glass behind the pilot, SCR-695 radio was fitted, and a new oxygen system was installed.

s/n: 42-18546 - 42-19240

* P-39N-6BE (84 conversions). P-39N-5 with additional belly armor and cameras in rear fuselage.

[edit] P-39O

Not used

[edit] P-39P

Not used

[edit] P-39Q

Bell Model 26Q
4,905 Ordered
Final production: August 1944

* P-39Q-1BE (150 produced). Wing-mounted 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine guns replaced with a single 0.50 in (12.7 mm) with 300 rounds of ammunition in a pod under each wing. Armor increased to the original 231 lb (105 kg) of armor of the P-39N-1BE.

s/n: 42-19446 - 42-19595

* P-39Q-2BE (5 conversions). P-39Q-1s modified to carry cameras for photographic reconnaissance by adding K-24 and K-25 cameras in the aft fuselage.

P-39Q-6BE 42-19993
Brooklyn Bum
8th FG, 36th FS
The Fighter Collection

* P-39Q-5BE (950 produced). Reduced armor (193 lb/88 kg), fuel capacity increased (110 gal/l). Type A-1 bombsight adapters added.

s/n: 42-19596 - 42-20545

* TP-39Q-5BE (1 conversions). Two-seat training version with additional cockpit added in nose - no armament. Enlarged tail fillet and a shallow ventral fin added.

s/n: 42-20024

* P-39Q-6BE (148 conversions). P-39Q-5s modified to carry cameras for photographic reconnaissance by adding K-24 and K-25 cameras in the aft fuselage.

* P-39Q-10BE (705 produced). Increased armor (228 lb/103 kg), fuel capacity increased (120 gal/454 l). Automatic Boost controls added and Throttle & RPM controls were coordinated. Winterization of oil systems and rubber mounts added to the engines.

s/n: 42-20546 - 42-21250

* P-39Q-11BE (8 conversions). P-39Q-10s modified to carry cameras for photographic reconnaissance by adding K-24 and K-25 cameras in the aft fuselage.

* P-39Q-15BE (1,000 produced). Reinforced inclined deck to prevent .50 in (12.7 mm) machine gun tripod mounting cracking, bulkhead reinforcements to prevent rudder pedal wall cracking, a reinforced reduction gearbox bulkhead to prevent cowling former cracking, and repositioning of the battery solenoid. Oxygen system reduced from four bottle to only two.

s/n: 44-2001 44-3000

* P-39Q-20BE (1,000 produced). Minor equipment changes. The underwing 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine gun pods were sometimes omitted in this version.

s/n: 44-3001 - 44-4000

* P-39Q-21BE (109 converted). P-39Q-20 fitted with a four-bladed Aeroproducts propeller.

* RP-39Q-22BE (12 conversions). Two seat trainer conversions of the P-39Q-20.

* P-39Q-25BE (700 produced). Similar to the Q-21 but with a reinforced aft-fuselage and horizontal stabilizer structure.

s/n: 44-32167 - 44-32666
s/n: 44-70905 - 44-71104

* P-39Q-30BE (400 produced). Reverted back to the three-bladed propellor

s/n: 44-71105 - 44-71504

* XTDL-1 (two acquired). P-39Qs used by the US Navy for use as target drones. Assigned to NAS Cape May for test work. Later redesignated F2L-1K.

s/n: P-39Q-10BE 42-20807 Bu 91102
s/n: P-39Q-5BE 42-19976 Bu 91103

[edit] Other

* P-45: The P-45 was the initial designation of the P-39C or Model 13.
* XFL-1 Airabonita: One prototype for the U.S. Navy.

[edit] Operators

Australia

* Royal Australian Air Force

France

* Armée de l'Air

Italy

* Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force

Italy

* Aeronautica Militare

Poland

* Lotnictwo Wojska Polskiego (two aircraft only)[citation needed]

Portugal

* Esquadrilha Airacobra (Airacobra Squadron), later renamed Esquadrilha 4 (Squadron No. 4) — Aeronáutica Militar (Army Military Aviation)

Soviet Union

* Soviet Air Forces

United Kingdom

* Royal Air Force

United States

* United States Army Air Corps / United States Army Air Force

[edit] Survivors

A number of P-39s are still in existence of which three are still flying. The Commemorative Air Force flies a Bell P-39 Airacobra painted in the markings and colors of the 350th Fighter Group, which consisted of the 345th, 346th and 347th Fighter Squadrons operating P-39s in North Africa and Italy. At one time, the Airacobra was painted in Russian colors and markings.

Keski-Suomen Ilmailumuseo at Tikkakoski, Finland, has one restored P-39Q Airacobra, "White 26", on static display, restored in original wartime camouflage and markings. The P-39 is originally a Soviet lend-lease aircraft captured by Finnish troops in World War II that landed in Finnish held territory after its pilot became lost and was forced to land because he was running out of fuel.

On 22 April 1942, P-39F 41-7104 assigned to the 13th AF / 347th FG / 70th FS (Pilot: 1st Lt James W. Blose) crashed in Fiji, but was not found until a local pig farmer discovered the wreck in 2004. The pilot's body was also found and sent to Hawaii for identification. Personal items were recovered at the site.[49] [50]


Other Airacobras on display include:

* P-39Q-6BE 42-19993, "Brooklyn Bum– 2nd" is now at the Fighter Collection in Duxford, UK.

* The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has P-39Q-15BE 44-2433 on display.

* P-39Q-30 44-3887 is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft was obtained by the Air force Museum Foundation from the Hardwick Aircraft Company of El Monte, California in July 1966. It is painted as a P-39K flown by Lt. Leslie Spoonts of the 57th Fighter Squadron on Adak Island during the Aleutians Campaign, and displayed in the Museum's Air Power gallery.[51]


[edit] Specifications (P-39Q)
Bell P-39Q Airacobra at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

General characteristics

* Crew: One
* Length: 30 ft 2 in (9.2 m)
* Wingspan: 34 ft 0 in (10.4 m)
* Height: 12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
* Wing area: 213 sq ft (19.8 m²;)
* Empty weight: 5,347 lb (2,425 kg)
* Loaded weight: 7,379 lb (3,347 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 8,400 lb (3,800 kg)
* Powerplant: 1× Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12, 1,200 hp (895 kW)

Performance

* Maximum speed: 376 mph; (605 km/h; Redline dive speed=525 mph.)
* Range: 1,098 miles (1,770 km)
* Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,700 m)
* Rate of climb: 3,750 ft/min (19 m/s; 15,000'/ 4.5 min at 160 mph (260 km/h).)
* Wing loading: 34.6 lb/sq ft (169 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.16 hp/lb (0.27 kW/kg)

Armament

* 1x 37 mm M4 cannon firing through the propeller hub at the rate of 140 rpm with 30 rounds of HE ammo.
* 2 x .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns. Rate of fire was 750 rpm x 1 gun in each wing, only 300 rpm each x 2 guns synchronized in the cowl. Ammo: 200 rounds per nose-gun, 300 per wing-pod.
* 4 x .30 cal machine guns, wing mounted.
* Up to 500 lb (230 kg) of bombs externally

[edit] Popular culture

* Introduction to the P-39 (1942) Bell wartime training film (38 min) intended for military pilots examining flight techniques, cockpit layout and armament.[52]
* Flying the P-39 (1943) Bell Training Film No. A.F. - 110 (23 min) demonstrating techniques for piloting the P-39 including aerobatics and strafing.[53]
* The P-39 Airacobra is featured in the Russian movie Peregon (Transit) (2006) dealing with Lend Lease aircraft in transit to Russia.[54]
* The P-39 is also featured in numerous shots in the wartime American movie "Air Force" (124 Min.), an Oscar-winning, propaganda-oriented movie directed by Howard Hawks, released by Warner Brothers in 19
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B-17 Flying Fortress
World War II

The B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The Army Air Forces first ordered the aircraft as a static test bed, but it was converted to a flight capable aircraft for testing supercharged engines. The converted aircraft was designated Y1B-17A and was one of a kind. The B-17 prototype flew on July 28, 1935, as Boeing Model 299. A variety of engine installations and configurations eventually led to the bottom-mounted turbo-supercharger which became standard on the B-17B -- the first production model of the B-17 series of bombers.

A flight of B-17s enroute to Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 was assumed to be the large formation of aircraft tracked on radar early that Sunday morning. This formation turned out to be the carrier-based attack and fighter aircraft of Japan. The B-17s arrived later in the day and became the first B-17s to see combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.

Few B-17s were in service on that infamous day, but production quickly accelerated. B-17s served in every World War II combat zone. The aircraft is best known for daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. The B-17E, the first mass-produced model Flying Fortress, carried nine machine guns and a 4,000-pound bomb load. It was several tons heavier than the prototypes and bristled with armament. It was the first Boeing airplane with the distinctive — and enormous — tail for improved control and stability during high-altitude bombing. Each version was more heavily armed.

The B-17G was the result of an almost continuous improvement program of earlier B-17 models. The -G model was basically the production version of the B-17F after the modifications and improvements were incorporated into the design. Although the Bendix chin turret is the most obvious improvement incorporated into the B-17G, it was actually first used on late model B-17Fs.

In the Pacific, the planes earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them "four-engine fighters." The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings. They sometimes limped back to their bases with large chunks of the fuselage shot off.

There are many B-17 Flying Fortresses with famous histories, such as the "Hell's Angels" and the "Memphis Belle." These are just two of the B-17s that were pulled from front line service and flown back to the United States to conduct war bond tours. "Hell's Angels," a B-17F of the 358th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group was one of the first aircraft to participate in a war bond tour. The aircraft completed 48 missions without ever turning back from its assigned target. The members of squadron got the idea to sign the "Hell's Angels" before it left for the states. The idea caught on and other squadrons signed their aircraft before sending them back to the U.S.

The "Memphis Belle" has the distinction of being one of the first B-17s to complete 25 combat missions. It was also the first B-17 with 25 combat missions sent back to tour the U.S. to help sell war bonds. The aircraft was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group, 324th Bomb Squadron and based at Bassingbourn, England. The aircraft is one of the few B-17s remaining and is on display in Memphis, Tenn. A movie "Memphis Belle" is based on the crew's missions.

Production ended in May 1945 and totaled 12,726. Boeing plants built a total of 6,981 B-17s in various models, and another 5,745 were built under a nationwide collaborative effort by Douglas and Lockheed (Vega). Only a few B-17s survive today; most were scrapped at the end of the war.

General Characteristics (B-17G)
Crew: 10
* Primary function: bomber
* Length: 74 feet 9 inches
* Height: 19 feet 1 inch
* Weight: 65,500 pounds gross weight (actual - normal load)
* Armament: Twelve .50-cal. machine guns and 8,000 pounds of bombs
* Engines: Four Wright R-1820-97 turbo-supercharged radials of 1200 horsepower each
* Maximum speed: 302 mph at 25,000 feet
* Cruising speed: 160 mph
* Service ceiling: 35,600 feet
* Range: 3,400 miles (maximum ferry range)

Sources compiled from U.S. Air Force Museum

Armament

* Guns: 13× M2 Browning .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns in twin turrets, plus single dorsal, fore and aft beam positions (with optional extra nose armament fitted in glazed nose).
* Bombs: Although it theoretically could carry 17,417 lb (7900 kg) of bombs, the B-17 rarely flew combat missions with more than 5,071 lb (2300 kg).[citation needed]
o Short range missions (<400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
o Long range missions (≈800 mi): 4,500 lb (2,000 kg)

this is b-17 my grandfathers Crewed
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Consolidated B-24 Liberator

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft Company of San Diego, California. Its mass production was brought into full force by 1943 with the aid of the Ford Motor Company through its newly constructed Willow Run facility, where peak production had reached one B-24 per hour and 650 per month in 1944.[3] Other factories soon followed. The B-24 ended World War II as the most produced Allied heavy bomber in history, and the most produced American military aircraft at over 18,000 units, thanks in large measure to Henry Ford and the harnessing of American industry.[4] It still holds the distinction as the most-produced American military aircraft. The B-24 was used by several Allied air forces and navies, and by every branch of the American armed forces during the war, attaining a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters.

Often compared with the better-known B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load; however, it was also more difficult to fly, with heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics. Popular opinion among aircrews and general's staffs tended to favor the B-17's rugged qualities above all other considerations in the European Theater.[5] The placement of the B-24's fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage and its lightweight construction, designed to increase range and optimize assembly line production, made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage.[6] The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire. History: Life for the B-24 heavy bomber began in 1939, when the U.S. Army Air Corps initiated a request for a new bomber designed to exceed the performance of the B-17. Consolidated Aircraft responded quickly with its proposal, labeled Consolidated Model 32 and, on March 30 of 1939, was awarded the contract. One day short of nine months later, on December 29, 1939, the first flight of the XB-24 bomber prototype took place.

Slightly smaller than the B-17, the turbosupercharger-equipped B-24 flew farther with a bigger bomb load than the much more publicized Boeing aircraft. Of seven service-test YB-24s, six were sent to the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the export designation LB-30A. Because they lacked turbosuperchargers and self-sealing fuel tanks, the RAF found them unsuitable for combat duty over Europe. Instead, they were stripped of their armament and put into service as transports on the Trans-Atlantic Return Ferry Service, which had been established to send air crews to Montreal to take delivery of American aircraft consigned to the British war effort.

Flying for the Army Air Corps as the B-24, and the U.S. Navy as the PB4Y-1, the plane also saw service in the Royal Air Force where it was known simply as the Liberator. There was also a transport version known as the C-87, one of which was Winston Churchill's personal aircraft, carrying him to historic meetings at Moscow and Casablanca, among other locations.

Before the last one was retired from Air Force service in 1953, the plane was produced in variations ranging through type M. The various model numbers were often the result of minor changes, like the relocation of internal equipment, but one major revision, the conversion of the standard Navy B-24 (PB4Y-1) to the PB4Y-2 Privateer, involved a significant rework that exchanged the familiar twin tail for a single tall tail fin and rudder combination. It also had a stretched forward fuselage that placed the pilot's compartment well in front of the un-turbocharged Pratt & Whitney R1830-94 Twin Wasp engines.

Among the features that distinguished the B-24 from the B-17 were its tricycle landing gear (the first installed in a heavy operational aircraft), the mid-mounted, high-lift Davis wing that achieved 20 percent less drag than conventional airfoils of the time, twin tail fins, oval-shaped engine cowlings necessitated by the mounting of turbosuperchargers, unique roll-up bomb bay doors that reduced drag considerably when open, and a fully retractable ventral machine gun turret. The B-24 was also the first to employ Hamilton hydromatic quick-feathering three-blade propellers.

While designed as a heavy bomber, the B-24 experienced more than 100 modifications and conversions for such assignments as photography, mine laying, and cargo hauling (including a C-109 fuel tanker version that flew "the Hump" to refuel B-29s operating out of forward bases in China). More than 18,000 B-24s were built during WWII, more than any other American aircraft. Given its abilities and "convert-abilities," the numbers make perfect sense. However, a postwar attempt to combine portions of the B-24 and PB4Y-2 with a new fuselage to create the Convair Model 39 airliner was not a commercial success, with only one prototype being built.

Of the many thousands of B-24s and derivatives built, only three remain airworthy, all in the United States. [History by Kevin Murphy]

Nicknames: Lib; Ford's Folly; Flying Boxcar; Liberator Express (C-87 variant); C-One-Oh-Boom (C-109 fuel-carrying variant); Lamp Lighter (PB4Y-2s dropping parachute flares in Korea).

Specifications (B-24H/J):
Engines: Four 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-65 Twin Wasp turbocharged radial piston engines.
Weight: Empty 36,500 lbs., Max Overload Takeoff 71,200 lbs.
Wing Span: 110ft. 0in.
Length: 67ft. 2in.
Height: 18ft. 0in.
Performance:
Maximum Speed at 25,000 ft: 290 mph
Cruising Speed: 215 mph
Ceiling: 28,000 ft.
Range: 2,100 miles
Armament:
10 12.7-mm (0.5-inch) machine guns in nose, upper/ventral ball turrets and tail turret, and lateral fuselage positions.
12,800 lb. maximum bomb load.

Number Built: 18,000+

Number Still Airworthy: Three (Two B-24Js and one LB-30)
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Northrop P-61B Black Widow midnight run

General characteristics

* Crew: 2–3 (pilot, radar operator, optional gunner)
* Length: 49 ft 7 in (15.11 m)
* Wingspan: 66 ft 0 in (20.12 m)
* Height: 14 ft 8 in (4.47 m)
* Wing area: 662.36 ft² (61.53 m²;)
* Empty weight: 23,450 lb (10,637 kg)
* Loaded weight: 29,700 lb (13,471 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: 36,200 lb (16,420 kg)
* Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-2800-65W Double Wasp radial engines, 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) each
* Propellers: four-bladed Curtis Electric propeller, 1 per engine
o Propeller diameter: 146 in (3.72 m)
*

* Fuel capacity:
o Internal: 640 gal (2,423 L) of AN-F-48 100/130-octane rating gasoline
o External: Up to four 165 gal (625 L) or 310 gal (1,173 L) tanks under the wings

Performance

* Maximum speed: 366 mph (318 kn, 589 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,095 m)
* Combat range: 610 mi (520 nmi, 982 km)
* Ferry range: 1,900 mo (1,650 mi, 3,060 km) with four external fuel tanks
* Service ceiling: 33,100 ft (10,600 m)
* Rate of climb: 2,540 ft/min (12.9 m/s)
* Wing loading: 45 lb/ft² (219 kg/m²;)
* Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (25 W/kg)
* Time to altitude: 12 min to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) (1,667 fpm)

Armament

* Guns:
o 4 × 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano M2 cannon in ventral fuselage, 200 rpg
o 4 × .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in remotely operated, full-traverse upper turret, 560 rpg
* Bombs: for ground attack, four bombs of up to 1,600 lb (726 kg) each or six 5 in (127 mm) HVAR unguided rockets could be carried under the wings. Some aircraft could also carry one 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb under the fuselage.

Avionics

* SCR-720 (AI Mk.X) search radar
* SCR-695 tail warning radar
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My Art Screen Collection of Aviation Art
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