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Northrop P-61F Escort Fighter - Marge - Maj. Bong

After the unqualified success of the famous mission to kill Admiral Yamamoto in the summer of 1943, the Fifth Air Force spoke with Northrop about the possibility of developing a variant of the P-61 to serve in the very long range day fighter role. This variant would be primarily intended to escort the B-29 in its missions over Japan. After a visit to Northrop to inspect the mockup of the fighter escort proposal, Northrop was given a contract to build 500 long range escort fighters. In order to speed up the development process, the AAF contracted Northrop to build several prototypes to test the various aspects of the new variant. Two XP-61D prototypes would test the turbo-supercharged R-2800 engines on converted P-61As. Two XP-61E prototypes converted from P-61Bs would test the new two seat center fuselage layout with guns in the nose. Finally, a single XP-61F prototype would combine the new features in a final flight test program as the first production aircraft were coming off the line.

The urgency afforded the program would pay off, and the XP-61F first flew in the autumn of 1944. In an effort to further speed up the process of getting the aircraft into combat, experienced P-38 Lightning pilots were sought to train units on the P-61F. Shortly after marrying his sweetheart, Marge Vattendahl in February 1945, Major Richard Bong was asked to return as an instructor to his old unit, V Fighter Command, the first combat unit slated to receive the new aircraft. In preparation for this, Northrop customized a newly completed P-61F for Maj. Bong’s demonstration tour. Based on his famous P-38, the presentation aircraft carried his full 40 kills, the red markings, and even the signature “Marge” photo print.

In spring 1945 both he and the first P-61Fs would arrive in the Pacific and begin combat operations. In order to convince the units coming from P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s of the big new fighter’s considerable speed and maneuverability, famed Northrop test pilot Johnny “The Maestro” Myers accompanied Maj. Bong and put the new aircraft through its paces in front of the best pilots in the PTO. After one flight, they were convinced. The P-61F was the best fighter in the theater and soon it would get a chance to prove itself.
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© 2013 - 2021 comradeloganov
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m60hog's avatar
comradeloganov's avatar
Thanks!  I'm glad you like the P-61s.  You should check out some of my other recent profiles and photos, too.  You'll want to watch this space as I'll be releasing another profile of a brand new type of aircraft later this week, most likely.
ZeroRM's avatar
In this "What-If", I assume Bong didn't die in a crash while flying a P-80?

Oh, and the sad part is that my late Grandfather witnessed the crash...or rather he saw the plume of smoke when the crash occured, and only found out the next day what had happened.  Richard Bong's death shared the front page of the newspapers with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, just to give you an idea as to how shocking this was.
comradeloganov's avatar
That's correct.  Instead of going to Lockheed and testing the P-80C, he'd be going to Northrop to get the P-61F ready for prime-time.  That's incredible that your grandfather was there.  From everything I've read, Bong was a nice, humble guy that got along with most people, unlike McGuire, for instance.  I didn't know that about the headlines, though.
ZeroRM's avatar
That sums him up well, although he had his vices too, namely that he didn't know when to quit (and sometimes disobeyed orders barring him from flying combat).
comradeloganov's avatar
Yeah, but he's in good company there.  I don't think many leading aces didn't break that rule.
ZeroRM's avatar
Maybe, but only from American and British aces.  America and Britain had a system where they cycled pilots to and from the front lines, ensuring that they had a lot of good pilots, as opposed to other naitons which assembled a small but elite cadre of aces.  In the latter cases, as it was in Russia, Germany, Japan and France, you stayed at the front until one of five things happened:

1) The war ended.

2) You were promoted to a desk job away from the front

3) You got transferred to an instructional unit (in the case of Germany this sometimes happened, the others, not so much).

4) You were wounded in a way that renders you unable to fly.

5) You were killed in action or captured by the enemy.
comradeloganov's avatar
Not necessarily.  Once Galland was promoted to command of Germany's fighter force, he was supposed to avoid combat.  You can guess how that turned out.  Even earlier, during the Spanish Civil War, German pilots were supposed to leave Spain once they'd achieved 5 kills.  The number of Germans that left Spain with more than 5 kills (such as Molders) bears witness to how honest they were about following that rule, too.
ZeroRM's avatar
Galland's case was one of him stepping on enough toes in the high command because he DARED to tell them that they needed to focus more on fighters than bombers that he was basically forced to command a fighter squadron just to prove his point.
Rekalnus's avatar
Well drawn. Like your idea of a separate drawing for the pod to see the markings.

Always liked the "Reporter" version of the p-61 and the offshoot fighter concepts.

I'll bet that the what-if storyline could even be written as late as Korea and the first years of Vietnam with this type. Would likely have mixed jet-prop power by then.
comradeloganov's avatar
Yeah, Talos did such a great job with the markings on this one (the photo, "Marge", and the kill markings) that I wanted to be sure to show them off.  Eventually, we plan to do the P-61F in Korean and Vietnam service, though both of those are some way out.
slowdog294's avatar
comradeloganov's avatar
Thanks!  I'm glad you liked it.
slowdog294's avatar
Yu are most welcome. :D
914four's avatar
You almost had me there :-) Bong was a Lockheed test pilot and he killed himself in a shooting star the same day as the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but this is a good work of fiction, close enough to be believable, bravo! I almost believed it because I remembered something about a P-61 pilot crashing "Marge," but that was the P-38J Marge and not this one (I cheated, I Googled it).
comradeloganov's avatar
Oh, and thanks for the fave, by the way!  I'm glad you liked the image!
914four's avatar
Thank you for sharing it with us!
comradeloganov's avatar
My profiles aren't meant to "fool" anyone, which is why I put them in my "What If Profiles" group, but I do write the descriptions as if they were real.  I think it can give the profile a certain level of authenticity that it would otherwise lack.  If you read the full text, though, this wasn't meant to be an "instead of" but rather a tribute to his P-38J "Marge".  The P-61F was a planned variant that was never completed.  Also, in this alternate timeline, Bong is brought in to test the P-61F rather than the P-80C.
914four's avatar
Ah, I see. I found this image through the :iconaircraftfanclub: group and couldn't see that it was in your "What If Profiles" group, so my first reaction was to take it at face value.  I am a fan of Bong and have a diecast miniature of Marge that used to reside on my desk at work (along with "Putt Putt Maru" and two "D-Day" P-38s, posed in formation, so as you can see I'm not immune to "What ifs" myself!), and my first reaction was that this was an aspect of his life I'd never heard of before. I'm also a big fan of Harry Turtledove, so this fits doubly well :-)
comradeloganov's avatar
I try to do profiles of aircraft that never really got their time in the sun, mainly to draw awareness to their designs and to suggest that they really were practical.  Profiles of such aircraft generally exist, but are almost exclusively fairly simple with none of the lighting and shading treatment that "real" aircraft get when they're profiles.  I think that only makes them seem more fantastic, so I try to make them as realistic and "gritty" as possible, to emphasize the fact that they had almost as good a chance as the "real" aircraft, but for one reason or another, they didn't make the cut.
914four's avatar
A good example is the F4U, if the Brits and the Marines hadn't accepted them, one of the greatest fighters of the second world war might never have seen the light of day. I'll have to check out your gallery when I get a moment, what you do seems pretty cool.
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