by Rob Bardua
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
10/19/2006 - DAYTON, Ohio -- An aircraft that once filled the need for an effective night fighter in the U.S. Army Air Forces until an American aircraft could be produced was placed on display during a special ceremony on Oct. 18 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The newly restored British Bristol Beaufighter first entered operational service with the Royal Air Force in July 1940 as a day fighter. Equipped with a very early Mk IV airborne intercept radar, the powerful and heavily armed night fighter version entered service just as the German Luftwaffe began its "Blitz" night attacks against London in September 1940. Beaufighter crews accounted for more than half of the Luftwaffe bombers shot down during the Blitz.
When the USAAF formed its first radar-equipped night fighter squadron in January 1943, the only American night fighter available was the makeshift Douglas P-70, a modified A-20 bomber using the U.S. version of the Mk IV radar. After initial training in the P-70, the first USAAF night fighter squadrons went to war in the more capable British Beaufighter.
"We are very proud of the addition of the Bristol Beaufighter to our Air Power Gallery because it reminds us of a time when we were not fully prepared for war," said retired Maj. Gen. Charles D. Metcalf, the museum's director. "A good night fighter was not a capability that the U.S. had developed at that point, so we had to use British aircraft and equipment."
In the summer of 1943, the 414th, 415th, 416th, and 417th Night Fighter Squadrons of the Mediterranean-based 12th Air Force received more than 100 "reverse Lend-Lease" Beaufighters, achieving their first night victory in January 1944. Although purpose-built American P-61 Black Widow night fighters began to replace them in December 1944, USAAF Beaufighters continued to fly night cover for Allied forces in Italy and France until the closing days of the war.
The museum's aircraft was built under license by the Fairey Aviation Company in Stockport, England, and delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942. It is marked as the USAAF Beaufighter flown by Capt. Harold Augspurger, commander of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, who shot down an He-111 carrying German staff officers in September 1944.
4/20/2011 3:20:12 PM ET I once visited a museum full of airplanes and ships used in Army - loved them. They had all kinds of items they used in wars in old and new times. I will visit them again soon.