Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s P-61 Black Widow Project – Mark Hrutkay

Classicwarbirds would like to welcome contributing Editor and Photographer Mark Hrutkay.

Classicwarbirds looks forward to content provided by Mark from the South East and Mid West areas of the country. As all warbird fans know,many great aircraft are all over the midwest and east coast. With the addition of Mark ,Classicwarbirds can now bring more great content to your monitor.  More about Mark and his background to come.

Mark was visiting the Mid Atlantic Air Museum on  6-3-10 and got a chance to take a few photos of the ongoing P-61  Black Widow project.

The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the first operational U.S. military aircraft designed specifically to use radar. The “Black Widow” was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom, aircraft flown as a night-fighter by United States Army Air Forces squadrons in the European Theater, the Pacific Theater, the CBI Theater, and the Mediterranean Theater during World War II. It replaced earlier British-designed night-fighter aircraft that had been updated to incorporate radar when it became available. On the night of 14 August 1945, a P-61B-2 of the 548th NFS named “Lady in the Dark” was unofficially credited with the last Allied air victory before VJ Day. The P-61 was also modified to create the F-15 Reporter photo-reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.

The Mid Atlantic Air Museum was founded in 1980 under the direction of World War II veteran Gene Strine and his son, Russ.  As experienced pilots, aircraft mechanics, and businessmen, the Strines were the perfect candidates to recover the Black Widow from Indonesia.  Together they would spend twelve years and thousands of man hours negotiating salvage rights and traveling halfway around the world to the remote jungle mountainside where the Black Widow lay.  They risked everything to save this important piece of aviation history, negotiating difficult terrain, dangerous working conditions, and a maze of bureaucracy.  But their gamble paid off, and in the end they emerged victorious.

Today, the museum proudly displays its collection of more than eighty aircraft at its facility in Reading, Pennsylvania.  With the goal of restoring their planes to award-winning airworthy museum condition, the Strines work tirelessly.  The P-61 Black Widow is nearing the end of its long restoration process, and will soon take to the skies once again.  When it does, it will be the only known P-61 in the world to fly.

P-61B-1NO c/n 964 AAF Ser. No. 42-39445, which crashed on 10 January 1945 on Mount Cyclops in New Guinea, was recovered in 1991 by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum of Reading, Pennsylvania. 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 aircraft is expected to be towable on its landing gear as soon as the engines are installed to counterbalance the tail weight.

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