First delivered in May 1944, the twin-engine Northrop P-61 was the first USAAF aircraft to be specifically designed as a night-fighter. Appearing as it did late in the war, only four P-61 pilots achieved ace status, three in the ETO and one in the Pacific Theater.
1st Lt. Herman E. Ernst, assigned to the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron, became an ace in the predawn of 2 March 1945, when he executed a "triple play". Teamed with his radar observer, 1st Lt. Edward H. Kopsel, Ernst lifted his big fighter off the runway of strip A-78 in Belgium at 0348 hours and contacted the "Nuthouse" ground control. Directed by "Nuthouse", Ernst closed 400 feet on an Me-110. Opening fire, he scored several hits on the fuselage and the '110 snapped violently to the right. Almost immediately Ernst and Kopsel were vectored to a second target, which proved to be a Ju-87 Stuka dive-bomber. Closing to 500 feet, Ernst opened up with the four belly-mouthed 20mm cannon and the Stuka went straight down into the ground. Three minutes later "Nuthouse" called out a third target. Kopsel picked it up on his airborne radar at 2 1/2 miles and guided Ernst in until he made a visual sighting of another Ju-87, 1,000 feet dead ahead. Ernst later responded, "I fired two three second bursts at a slight deflection. Eddie and I both saw strikes on the on the wings and fuselage, whereupon the enemy aircraft started to fall very rapidly in what happened to be a fairly wide, flat spin. A short time later, Eddie observed a large flash on the ground...We claimed this Ju-87 destroyed, and the victory credit was awarded. We were aces."