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P-61B Black Widow

Hobby Boss 1/32 P-61B Black Widow Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2012 Manufacturer Hobby Boss
Subject P-61B Black Widow Scale 1/32
Kit Number 83209 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch, Vinyl, Metal
Pros Nicely detailed kit Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $159.00

First Look

P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow
P-61B Black Widow

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 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.

Hobby Boss has released the P-61B Black Widow in 1/32 scale and this beast is huge. I mentioned in another P-61 review that the Black Widow was larger than most medium bombers and this kit looks and feels larger than the HK Models' 1/32 B-25J Mitchell kit. As with many of the Trumpeter/HobbyBoss kits in this scale, the box is full of details and features that will make this kit into an eye-catching model. Let's cover the basics first...

The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on  22 parts trees (duplicate trees not shown) plus four trees of clear parts, two clear cowlings, one set of white metal landing gear struts, one set of white metal ballast (thank you!), two frets of photo-etched parts, one tree of black vinyl parts, and one set of rubber (vinyl) tires. According to the specs, there are over 550 parts in this box.

Looking at the features/options in this kit:

  • Detailed cockpits (front, center, and rear)
  • Rear cockpit as detailed radar set that will be seen through the clear rear cone
  • Control console details provided as decals
  • Vinyl parts for oxygen hoses and cooling duct
  • Positionable crew entry doors
  • Metal nose ballast
  • Detailed ventral gun bay with vinyl ammo chutes
  • Positionable ventral gun bay doors
  • Detailed dorsal gun turret with vinyl ammo belts
  • Detailed radar set under radome
  • Positionable canopies
  • Positionable spoilervators
  • Positionable elevators
  • Positionable rudders
  • Positionable flaps
  • Detailed landing gear
  • Detailed engines (that you won't see if you paint the clear cowlings)
  • Detailed leading edge engine intake ducts
  • Choice of open or closed cowl flaps

Markings are provided for two aircraft:

  • P-61B-2-NO, 42-39414, 6 NFS, 1945, 'Sleepy Time Gal II'
  • P-61B-15-NO, 4239713, 547 NFS, 1945, 'Lady in the Dark'

The kit does have a few interesting twists in its design:

  • The engines in the kit have collector rings with no exhaust port in them, so cranking these engines would be interesting - once. From what I've seen, the collector ring would be used with a supercharged engine such as the one used on the later P-61C (with an exhaust dump) but the photos I've seen of the earlier Black Widows like this one have an array of exhaust dispersers that collect exhaust gasses from one front cylinder and one rear cylinder and disperses the exhaust through a V-shaped duct running between the firewall and cowl flap to minimize the flame signature. There would be nine of these V-shaped exhaust ducts around the engine and would be especially visible with the cowl flaps open.
  • The fuselage sidewalls and some of the interior details are a bit lacking in detail but Squadron is producing some cockpit detail sets for this kit in their Avionix line.
  • I was a bit surprised to see the detailed resin wheels for this kit from True Details (another Squadron product) come in last month but now that I see the vinyl tires in the kit box, the resin wheels and tires are an improvement.
  • There was some discussion about the main landing gear doors - the kit provides full-length main gear doors and from what I can see, this is correct. The P-61B on display in China has these same doors on their Block 15 aircraft. The P-61C has split doors that close up the well well cavity after the gear is extended similar to the B-25. If the aircraft in China was restored with the wrong doors, then it will be easy enough to modify the kit doors accordingly, please check your references.

Overall this looks like a nice kit out of the box. Most folks won't know or care about some of these subtleties but the AMS modeler can have some fun with this kit to apply some modeling skills to further enhance the model. The cockpit will certainly be worth the effort given all of the transparencies on the airframe to allow viewers to admire your work. Likewise leaving off one or both of the cowlings will also allow any detailing and corrections to be readily visible. With a little work on the nose, you can also backdate this kit to a P-61A and have more interesting options. There are lots of possibilities with this kit!

If you want to see a P-61B that has been undergoing extensive restoration complete with numerous detail photos to help you with this project, check out this special section on the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's website!

My sincere thanks to Squadron Mail Order for this review sample!