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Night fighter

Night fighter

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A night fighter is a fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 adapted for use at night or in other times of bad visibility. Night fighters began to be used in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and included types that were specifically modified to operate at night.

During World War II, night fighters were either purpose-built or "day"
Day fighter
A day fighter is a fighter aircraft equipped only to fight during the day. More specifically, it refers to a multi-purpose aircraft that does not include equipment for fighting at night , although it is sometimes used to refer to some interceptors as well.Examples of planes that were classified as...

 fighters modified to be effective night fighting combat aircraft, often employing radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 or other systems for providing some sort of detection capability in low visibility. As the size of these systems fell in relation to the size of the average fighter, the need for a separate aircraft to fill this role generally disappeared. In the immediate post-World War II era, night fighters were redesignated as "all-weather" combat aircraft. Modern multirole fighters are capable of filling the night fighter role with no modifications.

Early examples


At the start of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, most combatants had little capability of flying at night, and little need to do so. The only targets that could be attacked with any possibility of being hit in limited visibility would be cities, an unthinkable target at the time. The general assumption of a quick war meant there was no need for strategic attacks.

Things changed on the night of 20-21 March 1915 with the first Zeppelin
Zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

 airship
Airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

 attacks on Paris. The first night bombing of London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 followed on 31 May 1915. Although defences had been set up, all of them proved woefully inadequate. As early as 1915, a number of B.E.2c aircraft (the infamous "Fokker Fodder") were modified into the first night fighters. After lack of success while using darts and small incendiary bombs to attack Zeppelins from above, ultimately a Lewis gun
Lewis Gun
The Lewis Gun is a World War I–era light machine gun of American design that was perfected and widely used by the British Empire. It was first used in combat in World War I, and continued in service with a number of armed forces through to the end of the Korean War...

 loaded with novel incendiary ammunition
Incendiary ammunition
-World War I:One of the first uses of incendiary ammunition occurred in World War I. At the time, phosphorus—the primary ingredient in the incendiary charge—ignited upon firing, leaving a trail of blue smoke. They were also known as 'smoke tracer' for this reason. The effective range of...

, was mounted at an angle of 45° to fire upwards, to attack the enemy from below. This technique would prove to be very effective.

After over a year of night Zeppelin raids, on the night of 2–3 September 1916, a B.E.2c flown by Captain William Leefe Robinson
Leefe Robinson
William Leefe Robinson VC was the first British pilot to shoot down a German airship over Britain during the First World War. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces...

 downed the SL 11
SL 11
The Schütte-Lanz SL 11 was a military dirigible airship built in Germany during 1916.-Operational history:The SL 11 was built by Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz and thus, was not classeD as a Zeppelin. Based at Spich and commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm, on the early night of September 3, 1916,...

, the first German airship to be shot down over Britain. This action won the pilot a Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

 and cash prizes totaling £3,500 put up by a number of individuals. This downing was not an isolated victory; five more German airships were similarly destroyed between October and December 1916, and caused the airship campaign to gradually be diminished over the next year with fewer raids mounted.

Because of airships' limitations, the Luftstreitkräfte
Luftstreitkräfte
The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte , known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches , or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the Imperial German Army during World War I...

began to introduce long-range heavy bomber
Heavy bomber
A heavy bomber is a bomber aircraft of the largest size and load carrying capacity, and usually the longest range.In New START, the term "heavy bomber" is used for two types of bombers:*one with a range greater than 8,000 kilometers...

s, starting with the Gotha G.IV
Gotha G.IV
|-See also:...

 aircraft
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

 that gradually took over the offensive. While their early daylight raids in May 1917 were able to easily evade the weak defenses of London, the strengthening of the home defence fighter force led to the Germans switching to night raids from 3 September 1917. To counter night attacks, Sopwith Camel
Sopwith Camel
The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult...

 day fighters were deployed in the night fighter role. The Camels' Vickers guns
Vickers machine gun
Not to be confused with the Vickers light machine gunThe Vickers machine gun or Vickers gun is a name primarily used to refer to the water-cooled .303 inch machine gun produced by Vickers Limited, originally for the British Army...

 were replaced by Lewis gun
Lewis Gun
The Lewis Gun is a World War I–era light machine gun of American design that was perfected and widely used by the British Empire. It was first used in combat in World War I, and continued in service with a number of armed forces through to the end of the Korean War...

s mounted over the wings as the flash from the Vickers tended to dazzle the pilot when they were fired, and synchronised guns
Interrupter gear
An interrupter gear is a device used on military aircraft and warships in order to allow them to target opponents without damaging themselves....

 were considered unsafe for firing incendiary ammunition. Further modification led to the cockpit moved rearwards. The modified aircraft were nicknamed the "Sopwith Comic". To provide suitable equipment for Home Defence squadrons in the north of the UK, Avro 504
Avro 504
The Avro 504 was a World War I biplane aircraft made by the Avro aircraft company and under licence by others. Production during the War totalled 8,970 and continued for almost 20 years, making it the most-produced aircraft of any kind that served in World War I, in any military capacity, during...

K trainers were converted to night fighters by removing the front cockpit and mounting a Lewis gun on the top wing.

Interwar period


With little money to spend on development, especially during the great depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, night fighting techniques changed little until just prior to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

In the meantime, aircraft performance had improved tremendously; compared to World War I versions, modern bomber
Bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

s could fly about twice as fast, at over twice the altitude, with much greater bomb loads. They flew fast enough that the time between detecting them and the bombers reaching their targets left little time to launch interceptors to shoot them down. Anti-aircraft guns were similarly affected by the altitudes they flew at, which required extremely large and heavy guns to attack them, which limited the number available to the point of being rendered impotent. At night, or with limited visibility, these problems were compounded. The widespread conclusion was that the bomber will always get through
The bomber will always get through
The bomber will always get through was a phrase used by Stanley Baldwin in 1932, in the speech "A Fear for the Future" to the British Parliament...

, and the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 invested almost all of their efforts in developing a night bomber force, with the Central Flying School responsible for one of the most important developments in the period by introducing "blind flying
Instrument flight rules
Instrument flight rules are one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other are visual flight rules ....

" training.

Nevertheless there were some new technologies that appeared to offer potential ways to improve night fighting capability. During the 1930s there was considerable development of infrared detector
Infrared detector
An infrared detector is a photodetector that reacts to infrared radiation. The two main types of detectors are thermal and photonic.The thermal effects of the incident IR radiation can be followed through many temperature dependent phenomena....

s among all of the major forces, but in practice these proved almost unusable. The only such system to see any sort of widespread operational use was the Spanner Anlage system used on the Dornier Do 17
Dornier Do 17
The Dornier Do 17, sometimes referred to as the Fliegender Bleistift , was a World War II German light bomber produced by Claudius Dornier's company, Dornier Flugzeugwerke...

Z night fighters of the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

. These were often also fitted with a large IR searchlight to improve the amount of light being returned.

Immediately prior to the opening of the war, radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 was introduced operationally for the first time. Initially these systems were unwieldy and development of IR systems continued. Realizing that radar was a far more practical solution to the problem, Robert Watson-Watt
Robert Watson-Watt
Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, KCB, FRS, FRAeS is considered by many to be the "inventor of radar". Development of radar, initially nameless, was first started elsewhere but greatly expanded on 1 September 1936 when Watson-Watt became...

 handed the task of developing a radar suitable for aircraft use to 'Taffy' Bowen
Edward George Bowen
Edward George 'Taffy' Bowen, CBE, FRS was a British physicist who made a major contribution to the development of radar, and so helped win both the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic...

 in the mid-1930s. In September 1937 he gave a working demonstration of the concept when a test aircraft was able to detect three Home Fleet capital ship
Capital ship
The capital ships of a navy are its most important warships; they generally possess the heaviest firepower and armor and are traditionally much larger than other naval vessels...

s in the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 in bad weather.

The worrying implications of the test were not lost on planners, who re-organized radar efforts and gave them increased priority. This led to efforts to develop an operational unit for "Airborne Interception" (AI). The size of these early AI radars required a large aircraft to lift them, and their complex controls required a multi-person crew to operate them. This naturally led to the use of light bomber
Light bomber
A light bomber is a relatively small and fast class of military bomber aircraft which were primarily employed before the 1950s. Such aircraft would typically not carry more than one ton of ordnance....

s as the preferred platform for airborne radars, and in May 1939 the first experimental fit took place, on a Fairey Battle
Fairey Battle
The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine that gave contemporary British fighters high performance; however, the Battle was weighed...

.

World War II


The war opened on 1 September 1939, and by this time the RAF was well advanced with plans to build a night fighter fleet. The Airborne Interception Mk. II radar (AI Mk. II) was well on its way to becoming operational, and the Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

 was increasingly available for fitting. The first operational system went into service on November 1939, long before the opening of major British operations. Several improved versions followed, and by the time The Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

 opened in 1941, the AI Mk.IV was available and offered greatly improved performance with a range between 20,000 feet down to a minimum range of 400 feet. This greatly reduced the load on the ground component of the night fighter system, who only had to get the fighter within four miles before the fighter's radar would be able to let them take over during the attack. Due to the relatively low performance of the Blenheim (a converted bomber) the British experimented with using RDF-equipped Douglas Havoc bombers converted to carry a searchlight, illuminating the enemy aircraft for accompanying Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

 single-engine fighters to shoot down. Known as the Turbinlite
Turbinlite
The Helmore/GEC Turbinlite was a 2,700 million candela searchlight fitted in the nose of a number of British Douglas Havoc night fighters during the early part of the Second World War and around the time of The Blitz....

, the idea was not a success, and in time, both the Blenheim and the Turbinlite were replaced, first by night fighter versions of the Beaufighter
Bristol Beaufighter
The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter modification of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design...

 and then by the even higher-performing de Havilland Mosquito
De Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

, which would later accompany the Bomber stream
Bomber stream
The bomber stream was a tactic developed by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command to overwhelm the German aerial defences of the Kammhuber Line during World War II....

 on raids over Germany. In this role support was provided by No. 100 Group RAF
No. 100 Group RAF
No. 100 Group was a special duties group within RAF Bomber Command.It was formed on 11 November 1943 to consolidate the increasingly complex business of electronic warfare and countermeasures within one organisation. The group was responsible for the development, operational trial and use of...

 with Mosquitos fitted with an assortment of devices, such as Perfectos and Serrate
Serrate radar detector
Serrate was an Allied radar detection and homing device, used in Allied nightfighters to track German night fighters equipped with the earlier UHF-band BC and C-1 versions of the Lichtenstein radar during World War II....

, for homing-in on German night fighters. The British also experimented with mounting pilot-operated AI Mark 6 radar sets in single-seat fighters, and the Hurricane II C(NF), a dozen of which were produced in 1942, became the first radar-equipped single-seat night-fighter in the world.It served with 245 and 247 Squadrons briefly and unsuccessfully before being sent to India to 176 Squadron, with which it served till end-1943.

German efforts at this point were years behind the British. Unlike Britain, where the major targets lay only a few minutes flight time from the coast, Germany was protected by large tracts of neutral territory that gave them long times to deal with intruding bombers. Instead of airborne radar, they relied on ground based systems; the targets would first be picked up by radar assigned to a "cell", the radar would then direct a searchlight
Searchlight
A searchlight is an apparatus that combines a bright light source with some form of curved reflector or other optics to project a powerful beam of light of approximately parallel rays in a particular direction, usually constructed so that it can be swiveled about.-Military use:The Royal Navy used...

 to "paint" the target, allowing the fighters to attack them without on-board aids. The searchlights were later supplanted with short-range radars that tracked both the fighters and bombers, allowing ground operators to direct the fighters to their targets. By July 1940 this system was well developed as the Kammhuber Line
Kammhuber Line
The Kammhuber Line was the name given to the German night air defense system established in July 1940 by Colonel Josef Kammhuber.- Description :...

, and proved able to deal with the small raids by isolated bombers the RAF was carrying out at the time.

At the urging of R.V. Jones, the RAF changed their raid tactics to gather all of their bombers into a single "stream". This meant that the ground based portion of the system was overwhelmed - with only one or two searchlights or radars available per "cell", the system was able to handle perhaps six interceptions per hour. By flying all of the bombers over a cell in a short period, the vast majority of the bombers flew right over them without ever having been plotted, let alone attacked. German success against the RAF plummeted, reaching a nadir on 30/31 May 1942 when the first 1,000 bomber raid
Bombing of Cologne in World War II
The City of Cologne was bombed in 262 separate air raids by the Allies during World War II, including 31 times by the Royal Air Force . Air raid alarms went off in the winter/spring of 1940 as enemy bombers passed overhead. However, the first actual bombing took place on 12 May 1940...

 attacked Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, losing only four aircraft to German night fighters.

It was not until 1942 that the Germans first started deploying their Lichtenstein radar
Lichtenstein radar
Lichtenstein radar was a German airborne radar in use during World War II. It was available in at least four major revisions, the FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C, FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1, FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 and FuG 228 Lichtenstein SN-3.- FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C :Early FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C...

, and at that time in extremely limited numbers. This late date, and slow introduction, allowed British radio engineers to develop jamming equipment to counter it. A race developed with the Germans attempting to introduce new sets and the British attempting to jam them, with the British holding the upper hand throughout. The early Lichtenstein B was replaced by the Lichtenstein C-1, but when a German night fighter defected and landed in Scotland in April 1943, it was quickly jammed. The SN-2 unit that replaced the C-1 remained relatively secure until the end of the war, but only at the cost of using huge antennas that slowed their fighters as much as 25 mph, making them easy prey for British night fighters who had turned to the offensive role. Even this radar was eventually jammed when another German aircraft landed in England in July 1944.

The Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

also experimented with single-engine aircraft in the night fighter role, which they referred to as Wilde Sau
Wilde Sau
Wilde Sau was the term given by the Luftwaffe, during World War II, to the technique by which British night bombers were mainly engaged by single-seat fighter planes.- Origins :...

(wild boar). In this case, the fighters, typically Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Focke-Wulf Fw 190
The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger was a German Second World War single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s. Powered by a radial engine, the 190 had ample power and was able to lift larger loads than its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf 109...

s, were equipped only with a direction finder and landing lights in order to allow them to return to base at night. In order for the fighter to find their targets, other aircraft which were guided from the ground would drop strings of flare
Flare (pyrotechnic)
A flare, also sometimes called a fusee, is a type of pyrotechnic that produces a brilliant light or intense heat without an explosion. Flares are used for signalling, illumination, or defensive countermeasures in civilian and military applications...

s in front of the bombers. In other cases, the burning cities below would provide enough light to see their targets. Messerschmitt Bf 109G variants
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

 had G6N and similar models fitted with FuG 350 Naxos
Naxos radar detector
The FuG 350 Naxos radar warning receiver was a World War II German countermeasure to SHF band centimetric wavelength radar produced by a cavity magnetron...

"Z" radar receivers for homing on to H2S
H2S
H2S may refer to:* Hydrogen sulfide , a chemical compound* H2S radar, the first airborne ground-mapping radar used during World War II...

 emissions of RAF bombers. The Bf 109G series aircraft also were fitted with FuG 217/218 Neptun
Neptun
Neptun may refer to:*Neptun, Romania, resort town on the southeast Black Sea coast of Romania*Neptun , educational administration system used by universities and colleges in Hungary*SK Neptun, Swedish swim team...

active search radars, as were Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-6/R11 aircraft: these served as radar-equipped night-fighters with NJGr 10 and NJG 11. A sole Fw 190 A-6 Wk.Nr.550214 fitted with FuG 217 is a rare survivor.

The effective Schräge Musik
Schräge Musik
Schräge Musik, derived from the German colloquialism for "Jazz Music" was the name given to installations of upward-firing autocannon mounted in night fighters by the Luftwaffe and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service during World War II, with the first victories for each occurring in May 1943...

was the name given to installations of upward-firing autocannon
Autocannon
An autocannon or automatic cannon is a rapid-fire projectile weapon firing a shell as opposed to the bullet fired by a machine gun. Autocannons often have a larger caliber than a machine gun . Usually, autocannons are smaller than a field gun or other artillery, and are mechanically loaded for a...

 mounted in large, twin-engine night fighters
Heavy fighter
A heavy fighter is a fighter aircraft designed to carry heavier weapons or operate at longer ranges. To achieve acceptable performance, most heavy fighters were twin-engined, and many had multi-place crews....

 by the Luftwaffe and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service was the air arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, the organization was responsible for the operation of naval aircraft and the conduct of aerial warfare in the Pacific War.It was controlled by the Navy Staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy and...

 during World War II, with the first victories for each occurring in May 1943. This innovation allowed the night fighters to approach and attack bomber
Bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

s from below, where they would be outside the bomber crew's field of view. Few bombers of that era carried defensive guns in the ventral position. An attack by a Schräge Musik-equipped fighter was typically a complete surprise to the bomber crew, who would only realize that a fighter was close by when they came under fire. Particularly in the initial stage of operational use until early 1944, the sudden fire from below was often attributed to ground fire rather than a fighter.

Rather than nighttime raids, the US Army Air Forces were dedicated to daytime bombing over Germany and Axis allies, that statistically were much more effective. The British night-bombing raids showed a success rate of only one out of 100 targets successfully hit. At the urging of the British who were looking to purchase U.S. made aircraft, US day fighters were initially adopted to a night role, including the Douglas P-70 and later Lockheed P-38M "Night Lightning". The first dedicated US night fighter design, the Northrop P-61 Black Widow was introduced first in Europe and then saw action in the Pacific
Pacific Theater of Operations
The Pacific Theater of Operations was the World War II area of military activity in the Pacific Ocean and the countries bordering it, a geographic scope that reflected the operational and administrative command structures of the American forces during that period...

, but it was given such a low priority that the British had ample supplies of their own designs by the time it was ready for production. The first USAAF unit did not move to Britain until February 1944; operational use did not start until the summer, and was limited throughout the war. Colonel Winston Kratz, director of night fighter training in the USAAF, considered the P-61 as adequate in its role, "It was a good night fighter. It did not have enough speed".

The U.S. Navy was forced into the night fighting role when Japanese aircraft successfully harassed their units on night raids. The Japanese Navy had long screened new recruits for exceptional night vision, using the best on their ships and aircraft instead of developing new equipment for this role. To counter these raids, the Navy fitted radar sets to the wings of its single-engined Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair fighters by the close of the war, operating them successfully in the Pacific.In several cases these aircraft were used on raids of their own.

Postwar


Even while the war raged, the jet engine
Jet engine
A jet engine is a reaction engine that discharges a fast moving jet to generate thrust by jet propulsion and in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. This broad definition of jet engines includes turbojets, turbofans, rockets, ramjets, pulse jets...

 so seriously upset aircraft design that the need for dedicated jet-powered night fighters became clear. Both the British and Germans spent some effort on the topic, but as the Germans were on the defensive their work was given a much higher priority. Their Messerschmitt Me 262
Messerschmitt Me 262
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944...

 was adapted to the role and Oberleutnant Kurt Welter
Kurt Welter
Kurt Welter was a German Luftwaffe fighter ace and the most successful Jet Expert of World War II.For a list of Luftwaffe jet aces see List of German World War II jet aces A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat...

 claimed 25 Mosquitos at night.

Other forces did not have the pressing need to move to the jet engine; Britain and the U.S. were facing enemies with aircraft of even lower performance than their existing night fighters. However, the need for new designs was evident, and some low-level work started in the closing stages of the war, including the US contract for the Northrop F-89 Scorpion. When the Soviet plans to build an atomic bomb became known in the west in 1948, this project was still long from being ready to produce even a prototype, and in March 1949 they started development of the North American F-86D Sabre and Lockheed F-94 Starfire as stop-gap measures. All of them entered service around the same time in the early 1950s. In the Korean war, after Starfires proved ineffective, Marine Corps Douglas F3D Skyknights shot down six aircraft, including five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was a jet fighter developed for the USSR by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich. The MiG-15 was one of the first successful swept-wing jet fighters, and it achieved fame in the skies over Korea, where early in the war, it outclassed all straight-winged enemy fighters in...

s without loss as the MiG-15s lacked radar to shoot down individual fighters though they were effective against bomber formations at night.

The RAF introduced night fighter versions of their Gloster Meteor
Gloster Meteor
The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies' first operational jet. It first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with 616 Squadron of the Royal Air Force...

 in 1951, along with a similar conversion of the de Havilland Vampire
De Havilland Vampire
The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire was a British jet-engine fighter commissioned by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Following the Gloster Meteor, it was the second jet fighter to enter service with the RAF. Although it arrived too late to see combat during the war, the Vampire served...

. These were followed by the de Havilland Venom
De Havilland Venom
The de Havilland DH 112 Venom was a British postwar single-engined jet aircraft developed from the de Havilland Vampire. It served with the Royal Air Force as a single-seat fighter-bomber and two-seat night fighter....

 in 1953 and then Navy's de Havilland Sea Venom. In Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Avro Canada
Avro Canada
Commonly known as Avro Canada, this company started in 1945 as an aircraft plant and became within thirteen years the third-largest company in Canada, one of the largest 100 companies in the world, and directly employing over 50,000...

 introduced the CF-100 Canuck, which entered service in 1952.

Night fighters existed as a separate class into the 1960s. As aircraft grew in capability, radar-equipped interceptors
Interceptor aircraft
An interceptor aircraft is a type of fighter aircraft designed specifically to prevent missions of enemy aircraft, particularly bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Interceptors generally rely on high speed and powerful armament in order to complete their mission as quickly as possible and set up...

 could take on the role of night fighters and the class went into decline. Examples of these latter-day interceptor/night-fighters include the Avro Arrow, Convair F-106 Delta Dart
F-106 Delta Dart
The Convair F-106 Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor aircraft for the United States Air Force from the 1960s through the 1980s. Designed as the so-called "Ultimate Interceptor", it has proven to be the last dedicated interceptor in USAF service to date...

 and the English Electric Lightning
English Electric Lightning
The English Electric Lightning is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft of the Cold War era, noted for its great speed and unpainted natural metal exterior finish. It is the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft. The aircraft was renowned for its capabilities as an interceptor; Royal Air Force ...

.

At the time the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was offered to the Navy, the Vought F-8 Crusader had already been accepted as a "day" dogfighter, while the subsonic McDonnell F3H Demon was the Navy's all-weather fighter. The Phantom was developed as the Navy's first supersonic all-weather radar-equipped fighter armed with radar-guided missiles. However compared to early air-superiority designs such as the F-100 or F-8, the massive Phantom nevertheless had enough raw twin-J79 power to prove adaptable as the preferred platform for tangling with agile MiG-17
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 is a high-subsonic fighter aircraft produced in the USSR from 1952 and operated by numerous air forces in many variants. Most MiG-17 variants cannot carry air-to-air missiles, but shot down many aircraft with its cannons...

 and MiG-21
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was popularly nicknamed "balalaika", from the aircraft's planform-view resemblance to the Russian stringed musical instrument or ołówek by Polish pilots due to...

 fighters over the skies of Vietnam, as well as replacing the US Air Force Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and Convair F-106 Delta Dart for continental interception duties and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief as a medium fighter-bomber. The need for close-in dogfighting spelled the end for the specialized Grumman F-111B
General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B
The General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B was developed as a long-range carrier-based interceptor follow-on to the F-4 Phantom II. It was developed in the 1960s by General Dynamics in conjunction with Grumman for the United States Navy as part of the joint Tactical Fighter Experimental with the United...

 which was armed only with long-range Phoenix missiles for fleet defence against bombers. The Navy instead developed the Grumman F-14 Tomcat which on top of the heavy Phoenix, retained the Phantom's versatility and improved agility for dogfighting. The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle was also an interceptor with enhanced agility, but did not carry the Phoenix in preference to the air-superiority role.

The reduced size and cost of avionics
Avionics
Avionics are electronic systems used on aircraft, artificial satellites and spacecraft.Avionic systems include communications, navigation, the display and management of multiple systems and the hundreds of systems that are fitted to aircraft to meet individual roles...

 has allowed even smaller modern fighters to have night interception capability. In the US Air Force's Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program, the F-16 was originally envisaged as inexpensive day fighter
Day fighter
A day fighter is a fighter aircraft equipped only to fight during the day. More specifically, it refers to a multi-purpose aircraft that does not include equipment for fighting at night , although it is sometimes used to refer to some interceptors as well.Examples of planes that were classified as...

, but quickly converted to an all-weather role. The similar McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in its CF-18 variant, was ordered with a the 0.6 Mcd
Candela
The candela is the SI base unit of luminous intensity; that is, power emitted by a light source in a particular direction, weighted by the luminosity function . A common candle emits light with a luminous intensity of roughly one candela...

 night identification light to enhance its night interception capabilities.

World War I

  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 Night fighter
  • Sopwith Camel "Comic" Night fighter
    Sopwith Camel
    The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a short-coupled fuselage, heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult...

  • Sopwith 1½ Strutter Night fighter
    Sopwith 1½ Strutter
    The Sopwith 1½ Strutter was a British one or two-seat biplane multi-role aircraft of the First World War. It is significant as the first British-designed two seater tractor fighter, and the first British aircraft to enter service with a synchronised machine gun...

  • Supermarine Nighthawk
    Supermarine Nighthawk
    -References:NotesBibliography* Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Supermarine Aircraft since 1914. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-800-3.* Bruce, J.M. Warplanes of the First World War, Volume Three: Fighters. London: Macdonald, 1969. ISBN 356-01490-8....


Germany

  • Dornier Do 217J/N
    Dornier Do 217
    The Dornier Do 217 was a bomber used by German Luftwaffe during World War II as a more powerful version of the Dornier Do 17, known as the Fliegender Bleistift . Designed in 1937 and 1938 as a heavy bomber, its design was refined during 1939 and production began in late 1940...

  • Focke-Wulf Ta 154
    Focke-Wulf Ta 154
    |-See also:-External links:*...

  • Heinkel He 219
    Heinkel He 219
    The Heinkel He 219 Uhu was a night fighter that served with the German Luftwaffe in the later stages of World War II. A relatively sophisticated design, the He 219 possessed a variety of innovations, including an advanced VHF-band intercept radar...

  • Junkers Ju 88C/G
    Junkers Ju 88
    The Junkers Ju 88 was a World War II German Luftwaffe twin-engine, multi-role aircraft. Designed by Hugo Junkers' company through the services of two American aviation engineers in the mid-1930s, it suffered from a number of technical problems during the later stages of its development and early...

  • Messerschmitt Bf 110F-4/G-4
    Messerschmitt Bf 110
    The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten...

  • Messerschmitt Me 262
    Messerschmitt Me 262
    The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944...


Japan

  • Aichi S1A Denko
  • Kawasaki Ki-45 KAIc
    Kawasaki Ki-45
    The Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu was a two-seat, twin-engine fighter used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. The army gave it the designation "Type 2 Two-Seat Fighter"; the Allied reporting name was "Nick"....

  • Mitsubishi Ki-46-III KAI
    Mitsubishi Ki-46
    The Mitsubishi Ki-46 was a twin-engine reconnaissance aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. Its Army Shiki designation was Type 100 Command Reconnaissance Aircraft ; the Allied nickname was "Dinah"....

  • Mitsubishi Ki-109
    Mitsubishi Ki-67
    The Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryū was a twin-engine medium bomber produced by Mitsubishi and used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War II. Its Army designation was "Type 4 Heavy Bomber" .-Design:The Ki-67 was the result of a 1941 Japanese army specification for a successor to the Nakajima...

  • Nakajima C6N1-S
    Nakajima C6N
    -See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Francillon, Ph.D., René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970. ISBN 0-370-00033-1 ....

  • Nakajima J1N1-S
    Nakajima J1N
    -See also:-Bibliography:* Francillon, Réne J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970 . ISBN 0-370-30251-6....

  • Yokosuka D4Y2-S
    Yokosuka D4Y
    The D4Y Navy Type 2 Carrier Dive bomber was operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Its Allied reporting name was "Judy". The D4Y was one of the fastest dive-bombers of the war, and only the delays in its development hindered its service, while its predecessor, the slower fixed gear Aichi D3A...

  • Yokosuka P1Y1-S
    Yokosuka P1Y
    |-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Francillon, Ph.D., René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam 7 Company Ltd., 1970. ISBN 0-370-00033-1 ....


United Kingdom

  • Douglas Havoc (US-built)
  • Douglas Havoc (Turbinlite)
    Turbinlite
    The Helmore/GEC Turbinlite was a 2,700 million candela searchlight fitted in the nose of a number of British Douglas Havoc night fighters during the early part of the Second World War and around the time of The Blitz....

     (US-built)
  • Boulton Paul Defiant Mk II
    Boulton Paul Defiant
    The Boulton Paul Defiant was a British interceptor aircraft that served with the Royal Air Force early in the Second World War. The Defiant was designed and built by Boulton Paul Aircraft as a "turret fighter", without any forward-firing guns. It was a contemporary of the Royal Navy's Blackburn Roc...

  • Bristol Beaufighter
    Bristol Beaufighter
    The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter, often referred to as simply the Beau, was a British long-range heavy fighter modification of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's earlier Beaufort torpedo bomber design...

  • Bristol Blenheim Mk IF
    Bristol Blenheim
    The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

  • de Havilland Mosquito NF series
    De Havilland Mosquito
    The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

  • Fairey Firefly NF Mk 5
    Fairey Firefly
    The Fairey Firefly was a British Second World War-era carrier-borne fighter aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm ....


United States

  • Douglas P-70
  • Grumman F6F-3E/F6F-3N/F6F-5N Hellcat
  • Lockheed P-38M "Night Lightning"
  • Northrop P-61 Black Widow
  • Vought F4U-2/F4U-4E/F4U-4N Corsair

United Kingdom

  • de Havilland Mosquito NF 36/38
    De Havilland Mosquito
    The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

  • de Havilland Sea Hornet NF 21
    De Havilland Hornet
    The de Havilland DH.103 Hornet was a piston engine fighter that further exploited the wooden construction techniques pioneered by de Havilland's classic Mosquito. Entering service at the end of the Second World War, the Hornet equipped postwar RAF Fighter Command day fighter units in the UK and was...

  • de Havilland Vampire NF 10/54
    De Havilland Vampire
    The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire was a British jet-engine fighter commissioned by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Following the Gloster Meteor, it was the second jet fighter to enter service with the RAF. Although it arrived too late to see combat during the war, the Vampire served...

  • de Havilland Venom NF 2/2A/3/51/54
    De Havilland Venom
    The de Havilland DH 112 Venom was a British postwar single-engined jet aircraft developed from the de Havilland Vampire. It served with the Royal Air Force as a single-seat fighter-bomber and two-seat night fighter....

  • Gloster/Armstrong-Whitworth Meteor NF 11/12/14
    Gloster Meteor
    The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies' first operational jet. It first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with 616 Squadron of the Royal Air Force...

  • Gloster Javelin
    Gloster Javelin
    The Gloster Javelin was an "all-weather" interceptor aircraft that served with Britain's Royal Air Force in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s...


United States

  • Douglas F3D Skyknight
  • Grumman F7F-1N/2N Tigercat
  • Lockheed F-94 Starfire
  • McDonnell F2H-2N/F-2H-4 Banshee
  • North American F-86D/K/L Sabre
  • Northrop F-89 Scorpion
  • Vought F4U-5N/F4U-5NL Corsair/Goodyear FG-1E Corsair

External links