Sorry to have been out of touch for so long. I was prompted to write a new post by a friend who forwarded an interesting note about the P-61. Here is a quote from the Smithsonian Article on the 75th Anniversary of the P-61’s first test flight.
“75 Years Ago Today: The prototype Northrop P-61 Black Widow (XP-61) made its first flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls. The P-61 Black Widow was the first U.S. aircraft designed to locate and destroy enemy aircraft at night and in bad weather, which was made possible by the use of onboard radar. See our Black Widow, a P-61C-1-NO, on display at our Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA”
You can see photos of the P-61 on display at thislink.
Another noteworthy event this past May is my Father’s 91st birthday. Richard Ziebart is a member of the 417th NFS and still loves and wears his Night Fighter t-shirts & caps. He continues to share his love for the P-61 and all things Night Fighter related to this day. He’s a wonderful spokesperson for the group. Here’s a photo of him working on one of the squadron’s planes:
And here is a photo of him celebrating his 91st with his wife Lorraine
On a closing note, I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. And please feel free to drop me a note if you have any ideas about additional topics related to the Night Fighters or the 417th that you would like to see posted here.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine has published an article titled “Beware the Black Widow” in the August 2016 edition of the magazine. It tells the story behind the birth of the Northrup P-61. You can pick up a printed copy of the magazine or read the article on the web at this link: Beware the Black Widow..
The August edition of the magazine also carries a story about the Foo Fighter phenomena. You can read the article on the web at this link:
I hope your Summer is going well and that you are staying cool. Just a couple updates on the 417th web site. First of all, in May of this year, I brought my father, Richard Ziebart, to meet with one of his other 417th buddies, Earl “Sleepy” Hissett, for lunch. Both had a wonderful time reliving memories. Here is a photo from the reunion (Earl is on the left and Richard is on the right):
Lastly, I have finished posting all of David Diehl’s Diary to the web site under Letter, Diaries and Tributes. Click on this link to read more. Please note that you may need to “refresh” your browser if you have been to Letter, Diaries and Tributes page before in order to see all of the new content.
I hope you are having a good Spring! I’ve added a few new items to the site and updated one of the page titles. First, the page that was called Letters and Tributes is now Letters, Diaries and Tributes. The main reason for the change is that I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of David F. Diehl’s diary. David was a member of the 417th NFS. His diary is an amazing addition and I thank his daughter Julie for providing access to it. The diary is hand written and quite large, so I’ve had to break it into sections. Each section covers about a month in Davids journey. The first 4 sections covering December 1944 thru April 1945 are posted on the Letters Diaries and Tributes Page. Just click on this link and then scroll down a bit to the Diary section. I’ll post more sections as time allows.
Julie also provide a number of photos of her father that we didn’t have on the site and these have been added to the Faces of the 417th gallery.
Amongst other news, it looks like the Air and Space/Smithsonian magazine is looking to feature an article on Bristol Beaufighters, P-61 Black Widows and the Night Fighters. I don’t know when the article will be published, but I’m sure it will be a great read. Keep an eye out for it and let us know if you see it so we can announce it on the site.
Lastly, do you have a diary, letter or tribute that they want to share about an NFS member? Don’t be shy! We’d love to hear from you. Contact us here with more details about what you have to share and I will be in touch.
Just a brief update from me. I have been provided with a copy of Joseph Leonard’s Logbook. Joe was a pilot and original member of 417th NFS. His radar operator was Ray Christensen. Both perished in May of 1944. The logbook was provided by Karen Seeman. Ray was Karen’s great-uncle. A PDF file of the logbook has been added to the Letters and Tributes page. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the entry for the logbook.
A friend of mine recently purchased a book entitled “Royal Air Force Burtonwood” because his fathered had served at Burtonwood. Included in the book was this photo of a P-61 at Burtonwood. There is some confusion over the plane’s serial number. The description indicates that the planes serial number is 239739, which would have been one of the places that eventually shipped to the 417th. However, upon closer look, it seems the serial number may actually be 239730, a plane that was shipped to the 317th in California. You decide!
The description reads:
“P-61 Northrup Black Widows lined up on E Site in 1944. The one nearest the camera is serial 239739. Powered by two Twin Wasp radial engines, this aircraft was a night fighter and usually found in this black colour scheme. 102 were processed by BADI between July 1943 and May 1945. Several were converted for clandestine “CarpetBagger” operations. The sign in the background reads “Supply Division – 1st BAD”, but the rest is indecipherable. Note the canvas on the hanger door behind to break up the line in the event of an enemy recce or attack, and the slipping grass spread over the curved roof of this Lamella type hanger.”
The photo was taken by Carl J. Winkleman.
A larger version has been placed under the gallery for the P-61 planes.
Dear Richard I received your letter several days ago and I believe it is a good thing you are doing. I am an 86 year old WWII veteran and was in the 349th NFS at its inception in Orlando in 1942. I w as scheduled to go overseas in early 1943 with the 414th NFS, however I was in a crash on January 15, 1943 on a test flight out of Kissimmee, Florida where the 349th was then stationed. I was a crew chief and the only survivor of the three occupants. . As a result, I spent 130 days in Orlando Air Base Hospital. When I got out I went back to the 349th and we subsequently went to Hammer Field in Fresno, CA, leaving Florida on Jan 15, 1944. I continued my mechanic duties and went to P-61 school at Northrop in Hawthorne, CA for a six-week course and graduated as a hydraulic specialist. I watched Johnny Meyers perform acrobatics where he flew low over the crowd and did a slow roll on one engine. He was the test pilot and engineer for Northrop for many years and was waiting at age 88 year old to test fly the P-61 they are rebuilding at MAAM in Reading, Pa. After all my training in Fighter planes, I was shipped overseas into the ATC in November 1944. I was stationed in England, Marseilles and Paris (Orly Field). We serviced any planes that came through our base and I witnessed the end of the war in France, Germany, and Japan.
None of this helps you with your project since it doesn’t cover P-61 and Night Fighter activities overseas. I do have a great deal of data accumulated and if I can be of any help please let me know.
I am pleased to announce that an additional document has been uploaded to the 417th website. This document details the life of Raymond Christensen, a member of the original 417th NFS. The document was written by Karen Seeman. Ray was her great-uncle. The document is a labor of love. Karen’s journey into discovering more about Ray’s life began when her grandmother told her that she had a great-uncle who was killed in the war. I’m am honored that Karen has permitted us to publish this wonderful story of Ray’s life. The story not only provides us with addition details on Ray, but also provides additional insight into life as a squadron member.
I have added this document under the Letters and Tributes link that can be found under the Night Fighter History menu. Or, just click here and you will be redirected to that page. Raymond’s story is located in the new section called Tributes which is located at the bottom half of the page.
Do you have a tribute, memoir or letter from someone who served in the NFS that you would like to see published on our website? Please get in touch via the Contact Us link.
I am looking for anyone who can help me locate any living relatives of 417th members Ed Graybill and Harvey Klein. If you have any information that can assist me in locating their relations, please contact me via the Contact Us tab on this site.