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How Did the P-61's Roll Rate Compare with that of Other Planes?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: September 05, 2013 
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Do you have any information to compare the P61 roll rate and/or turn rate with other aircraft either Allied or Axis ?
Thank you
David Malmad

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Malmad,

The Northrop P-61 had an unusual lateral control arrangement, consisting of tip ailerons that only occupied 15 percent of the outer wings, combined with curved tapers "spoilerons" that totaled about 10 feet in length and 6 inches in width, also in the outer wing panels. When rotated out of the upper surface of one wing, the spoileron reduced lift and increased drag, exerting a negative pressure that would cause the wing to go down and the aircraft to roll, supplementing the positive effects of both sets of ailerons. This, combined with the power of two mechanically supercharged 2,000-hp Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10 engines, endowed the big, heavy welterweight with a roll rate and general maneuverability that, according to a contemporary military publication, The Development and Production of Fighter Aircraft (TSEST-AT), was equal or superior to any fighter being produced in the United States. During one mock dogfight a P-61 outmaneuvered a Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat.

All of this was rather irrelevant in the combat environment in which the P-61 operated, in which good teamwork between pilot, radar operator and ground control intercept mattered more than how well a plane did in a dogfight. Good, smooth control response, however, was a boon whenever a target exploded in a hail of 20mm fire from the P-61, leaving its pilot about three to four seconds to get clear of the debris coming his way.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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