"Moonlight Victory" depicts the first kill scored by the Northrop P-61 "Black Widow" nightfighter in the European Theater.
On the night of June 15, 1944, Lt. Herman E. Ernst and his radar operator, Lt. Ed Kopsel, were on patrol over the English Channel in their P-61B Borrowed Time (named in honor of their survival of a midair collision during stateside training). Their mission was to intercept German V-1 "buzz bombs"….small, remotely piloted aircraft loaded with high explosives and powered by a single pulse-jet engine. These weapons (forerunners of today’s cruise missles) were launched from sites along the Nazi-occupied French coast; guided by autopilots, they would fly at speeds of 400 mph across the channel before crashing into targets in and around London.
On this night, British radar controllers picked up a target, and vectored Ernst and Kopsel to intercept. Within minutes Kopsel had targeted the V-1 using the P-61's onboard radar system, giving Ernst vectors toward it. Soon, Ernst spotted the telltale flicker of the pulse-jet’s exhaust pipe against the dark night sky. Pushing into a slight dive and flying in excess of 400 mph, Ernst opened fire with the Black Widow's 4 .50 cal. machine guns, destroying the V-1, which fell harmlessly into the English Channel. It was the first victory for both of them, and the team of Ernst and Kopsel would go on to score a total of 6 victories (including a "triple play" on the night of December 26, 1944) to join the small cadre of American night fighter aces of World War II.
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