The Champaign County Historical Society, 809 East Lawn Ave., at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, will host Clifford Johnson, a pilot in World War II. Come hear about the unique mission of the Black Widow and how a single plane with three air crewman, the pilot, the radar observer, and the gunner, coordinated attacks on enemy bombers at night. Painted completely black, the P-61 plane was one of the first aircraft designed specifically for night fighting and used an effective then new form of radar to guide them. Local residents will recall that a P-61 Black Widow sat on display on the lawn in front of the terminal at Grimes Field for many years. This same airplane has been restored and is now on display at the National Air Force Museum in Dayton.
In 1943, at the age of 18, Clifford Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was called to active duty February 1944. He took pre-flight and pilot training in California and Arizona. During active duty he was stationed in the Philippines as part of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron of the 13th U.S. Army Air Corps. As WWII was nearing an end, he saw little actual combat in his flights over Borneo.
Since so many soldiers had to remain overseas for some time after the war because of the lack of available transportation home, pilots were allowed to continue to fly P-61s, B-25s and P-38s while waiting their turn for orders back to the USA. He enjoyed the extra flying time until June 1946 when he concluded his piloting experience.