Aviation Historian 4
M.O'Leary - Out of the Black
P-61B s/n 42-39445 is currently under restoration to airworthy status by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum at Reading, Pennsylvania, and is seen here in an advanced stage of completion at a museum event in June 2010.
In its striking yellow and black colour scheme, Northrop P-61B-1 Black Widow N30020 was photographed at Hammer Field, a former World War Two P-61 training base near Fresno, California, on July 4, 1963, while being operated by Idaho-based Ranchers Inc. The aircraft had not yet had its fire-bomber code added; within two months it was destroyed in a fatal crash while fire-bombing.
The Black Widow “borate bomber” at Hammer Field, Fresno, in mid-July 1963. The fire-bomber code E53 was allocated to the machine and displayed on its fins.
P-61C s/n 43-8353 on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Used for many years as an instructional airframe by the Springfield Boy Scouts, it is now painted to represent a Pacific War Widow.
YP-61 s/n 41-18887 was removed from storage at Chino and flown to Davis-Monthan Field in Arizona, where it joined numerous other aircraft in museum storage.
The 13th YP-61, s/n 41-18888, parked at the vast surplus aircraft scrapyard at Chino, California. The YP prefix denoted a Service Test aircraft with minor differences from production machines. This P-61 was acquired by Pratt & Whitney and used as an engine and propeller testbed for ten years until it was scrapped after an accident.
Owing to the inscription “Hap” Arnold Air Scouts on the nose of this Widow, it was assumed that it was P-61C s/n 43-8353, but its “buzz number” (PK-300 on the port boom) and the fact that it is a P-61B indicate that it is another machine entirely, about which nothing appears to be known.
Conceived specifically as a nightfighter, and the only American aircraft to be built for that particular role during the Second World War, the P-61 was designed around the advances in Airborne Interception radar. This rather weary P-61B, s/n 42-39600, was photographed while up from Hamilton Field, California, on June 23, 1948.
Black Widow N30020 in the elaborate brown, green and orange colour scheme it wore after having been acquired by Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers for aerial survey work. Effective but expensive to run, the Widow spent much of its time on the ramp at San Antonio, Texas, where it was photographed on April 24, 1960.
Only 41 P-61C variants were built, one of which, s/n 43-8330, was used by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics for trials before ultimately being acquired by the Smithsonian Institution. It is now on display at the National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington DC.
Stationed at Wright Field for most of its life, P-61C s/n 43-8353 was used extensively for radar test work before being donated to the Boy Scouts of Springfield, Ohio, on May 9, 1949 - probably for use as an educational and instructional airframe. The Widow was moved (perhaps flown) to a small airfield just outside Urbana, Ohio. It was given a coating of flat black paint, and information on how to join the Air Scouts of the BSA was lettered on the starboard side of the fuselage pod.
The still-smouldering remains of N30020 at the bottom of Gibbon Creek Canyon in the early evening of August 23, 1963. Pilot Bob Savaria was highly experienced, having been in Hawaii on the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the latter prompting him to enlist in the USAAF the same day.
A page from a rare brochure produced by Los-Angeles-based Aircraft Sales Ltd for potential customers for N30020. The brochure declared that it was “the first time a P-61 has been offered for sale to the public” and encouraged prospective purchasers to consider converting the type into a high-performance executive aircraft.
Northrop P-61B-1 s/n 42-39419, with its civil registration N30020, during its tenure with Boise, Idaho-based Ranchers Inc following the company’s acquisition of the Black Widow in April 1963. The aircraft was fitted with Curtiss Electric propellers, the logo of which was applied to both of its props. Also shown above is the SCR-270 radar equipment carried in the nose of early P-61s.