The Northrup P-61 Black Widow was the biggest fighter plane used during World War II. It had many innovative qualities that set it above other fighters yet it wasn’t produced in high numbers. Night fighters were not a major priority for the United States since they mainly played a defensive role against would-be attackers in the dark. But pilots had to undergo intense studying to identify P-61 Black Widows at night in order to avoid friendly fire.
The P-61 earned the name Black Widow due to its dark color and ability to strike under the cover of night at unsuspecting targets. It was the biggest fighter of the war, so big it could have easily been mistaken for a mid-sized bomber. It wasn’t the fastest bomber around but its dark color definitely contributed to its success as a nighttime interceptor. Pilots found the P-61 Black Widow comparable to the P-38 Lightning and could hold its own in dogfights.
“[Pilots] praised its handling qualities as it could perform all sorts of aerobatics and it had a gentle stall behavior. Full control could be maintained on one engine—even when fully loaded. It could be slow-rolled into a dead engine, a maneuver that was devastating on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Its turning radius was excellent, and it gave some single-engine fighters a good run for their money.”
While the P-61 did not have the best track record of aerial victories which was due to its late entry into the war. There aren’t many P-61s remaining nor is there much footage of it in action, but in this film, you can see how to identify it in combat.