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P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit

Great Wall Hobby 1/48 P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review May 2012 Manufacturer Great Wall Hobby
Subject P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Scale 1/48
Kit Number 4806 Primary Media Styrene/Photo-Etch
Pros Beautifully done model of this distinctive aircraft Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $95.95

First Look

P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit
P-61A Black Widow 'Glass Nose' Kit

Even before the United States entered World War Two, the importance of the still-secret RADAR (radio aids for detection and ranging) was impressed upon American planners as the British not only wanted to share the technology, they looked to the Americans to mass-produce the technology from the safety of their shores. The RAF had aircraft in the pipeline that could employ the first generations of airborne radar sets but their industry was already stretched to the limits and beyond. Together the US and Britain evolved radar technology to help them achieve greater air superiority of the night skies over the UK and the continent.

In those early days before the US entered the war, US Army Air Corps planners wanted to get their own design for a dedicated radar fighter into production and Jack Northrop's concept was accepted for development. The design was radical as the resulting aircraft weighed more than some of the medium bombers in service. With an empty weight of over 23,000 pounds, the P-61 weighed a ton more than an empty B-25 Mitchell.

The P-61 was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R2800 engines rated at 2250 horsepower (each) and carried a crew of three. The engines not only made the P-61 as fast as a de Havilland Mosquito, they could also produce the electrical power needed for the huge radar set and other on-board equipment.

The P-61 was armed with four 20mm cannons mounted in the belly of the fuselage similar to the Mosquito and the Heinkel He 219. A turret was mounted on top of the fuselage that could accommodate four .50 caliber machine guns that could be aimed 360 degrees around the aircraft or locked in boresight with the 20mm guns. Because the guns were mounted in the aircraft centerline (vice out in the wings) they didn't have the convergence problem that wing-mounted guns have and simply fire where they're aimed. To help the aiming further, the Black Widow had innovative roll control designed into the wing. The aircraft had nearly full-span flaps for improved low-speed performance with only two very small ailerons at the wing ends. To make the aircraft turn, Northrop employed three spoilers in each wing which also eliminated the problem of adverse yaw as you're turning into a target.

The P-61 saw service in Europe, Pacific, CBI, and Mediterranean theaters during the war and would continue to provide US air defense support through 1948 and air defense in the Pacific through 1950.

Great Wall Hobby has released a new version of their P-61A kit in 1/48 scale. We looked at their first release here but over time a number of detail inaccuracies were uncovered and Great Wall Hobby corrected them in this release. Before we get into the corrections, let's look at the basics: the kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on 13 parts trees plus two trees of carefully packaged clear parts, and one fret of photo-etched details.

Looking at the features and options in this kit:

  • Beautifully detailed cockpit
  • Correct seats for pilot, gunner and radar operator
  • Decals for cockpit placards and instrument faces (not an instrument panel decal)
  • Positionable forward and rear crew entry hatches and ladders
  • Positionable overhead escape hatches for all three crew stations
  • Beautifully detailed landing gear
  • Photo-etched splash guard on nose gear
  • Nicely detailed SCR-720 radar inside the radome
  • Nice radome!
  • Positionable spoilers
  • Positionable elevators
  • Positionable rudders
  • Positionable full-span flaps
  • Detailed R2800 engines
  • Choice of open or closed cowl flaps
  • Detailed ventral 20mm gun bay
  • Plug for dorsal turret (not used in this release)
  • Pair of drop tanks (not used with this release)

The cockpit is a work of art and uses a nice mix of photo-etch and decal placards to provide the visual detail. The option for open overhead escape hatches will make it even easier to look inside the aircraft and admire that detail.

Speaking of admiring the detail, Great Wall Hobby not only produced a nice radar, they also provided a clear radome complete with integral pitot tube that comes specially packaged inside the box. Very nice!

P-61

With the dorsal turret out of this release, I can see at least one more version coming for a late-block P-61A or P-61B which will also add some other details not in this box.

There is still one glitch in this kit that is left over from the original release. The instructions indicate that the spoilers are airbrakes and are depicted with rear hinges. Oh brother - if those opened in flight, you could turn that P-61 on a pin-point (right before they came off the aircraft). The spoilers are stowed inside the wing and while they curve forward when extended, they are invisible when stowed. When they are open (and since they provide roll control, only one wing will extend them at a time), they are perforated like an SBD or SB2C dive brake.

So what is different about this release? Let's take a look:

  • Transparent radome to replicate the semi-transparent radomes seen on some aircraft (you'll need to flat coat the radome to replicate the appearance)
  • Rear canopy corrected
  • Windscreen frame corrected
  • Interior cockpit details updated/corrected
  • Corrected propellers and spinners
  • Corrected cowlings
  • Corrected engine crank case and magnetos
  • Nice set of window masks now included

Markings are provided for two examples:

  • P-61A-1-NO, 42-5527, 6 NFS, Saipan, 1944, 'Moonhappy'
  • P-61A-5-NO, 42-5554, 6 NFS, Saipan, 1944, 'The Virgin Widow'

The decals not only provide all of the external markings for the airframe including stencils, the kit also provides a nice array of cockpit placards and instrument faces. Nicely done!

Even with the bugs in their first release, the Great Wall Hobbies Black Widow was arguably the best P-61 available in any scale. With this revised design, there is no doubt that they've secured the best in any scale title. Now let's hope this series extends into the P-61C/D and F-15 Reporter!

My sincere thanks to Great Wall Hobbies for this review sample!

References:

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