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P-61A Black Widow Kit

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

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2011 Manufacturer Great Wall Hobby
Subject P-61A Black Widow Scale 1/48
Kit Number 4802 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 Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow Kit
P-61A Black Widow 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 is a kit manufacturer from China that originally started producing model kits initially focused on armor subjects. Their first aircraft offering was the magnificent 1/48 Fw 189 kit which demonstrated their great design and mold technologies. Here is their second all-new aircraft subject - the Northrop P-61A Black Widow, also in 1/48 scale. The CAD drawings of this kit were quite impressive and on opening the box, I can honestly say that these plastic parts are no-less impressive. In fact, there are some pleasant surprises in this box!

First to the basics: the kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on 13 parts trees plus one tree of carefully packaged clear parts, one impressively packaged clear part, and one fret of photo-etched details.

This release is designed around the P-61A that had the dorsal turret deleted and only had hard points on the outboard wing panels for external fuel starting with the last 10 aircraft produced in Block 10. These P-61As produced with the single hardpoints on each outer wing panel were designated as Block 11.

While some of the Block 1s did get produced with the dorsal turret, those that did stay on the aircraft were locked forward because the aircraft would experience severe buffeting when elevating the guns or rotating the turret.

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

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.

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 are two minor glitches in this kit that jumped out at me as I looked over the instructions - the photo-etched spoilers and the external tanks:

  1. Spoilers: The instructions indicate that these 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
  2. Drop tanks: The kit does provide a set of external fuel tanks but the instructions have you place them into the inboard stations. If you look at the underside of the wings, the inboard and outboard stations have slots molded into the wing to accept the drop tank (a clue of things to come). If you're building the Block 11, you need to ignore the instructions and put the tanks into the outboard slots. If you're not building one of those 10 Block 11s, ( look here for more information), then you'll need to fill in those slots. Even if you are using the tanks, you'll need to fill in the inboard slots

Markings are provided for two examples:

  • P-61A-5-NO, 42-5544, 422 NFS, Florennes, Belgium, 1944, 'Lady Gen'
  • P-61A-10-NO, 42-5623, 427 NFS, Myitkyina, Burma, 1944, 'Sweatin' Wally'

As I mentioned previously, 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!

This is clearly the best P-61 kit produced in any scale to date. The detailing and layout of this kit make it a straightforward build that isn't over-engineered. The transparencies are thin and clear so you can see inside the aircraft with no problems, but with the optional escape hatches removed, you'll have the ability to admire this model for years to come.

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