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Revell 1/48 P-61 Black Widow Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review November 2008 Manufacturer Revell
Subject Northrop P-61 Black Widow Scale 1/48
Kit Number 7546 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Still the best P-61 kit in any scale Cons
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $17.25

First Look


Sixteen months before the United States entered World War II, the British offered to share their new radio detection and ranging (RADAR) technology with the US, underscoring the contribution that radar played in the fight for protecting British skies from the Luftwaffe. The British were also looking for US companies that could produce a radar-equipped fighter that could loiter for eight hours to provide continuous top-cover over Britain. Seeing a similar need, the USAAC began looking for their own long-range night fighter that shared similar requirements with the British fighter.

While the USAAC awaited the development of the XP-61, Martin had adopted their A-20 Havoc into the P-70 by mounting the radar in its nose and adding a tray of cannons under the fuselage. These early USAAC nightfighters were effective through the early stages of the war, but the arrival of the P-61 heralded a new capability.

When the British evaluated an XP-61, those aircraft were powered with smaller engines, leaving the RAF with the belief that the P-61 was unsuitable for combat. They chose to keep their Mosquito nightfighters and were pressing the USAAF to also adopt the Mosquito as the standard European theater night fighter. Subsequent flight tests would reveal that the P-61 and Mosquito were evenly matched.

In combat operations in Europe, the P-61 was very capable against most of the Luftwaffe's aircraft, including intercepts against the V-1, but never succeeded at intercepting the new jet or rocket-powered aircraft. No Luftwaffe aircraft succeeded in shooting down the Black Widow, though the reciprocal is not true - the P-61 dispatched a number of Luftwaffe aircraft that tried to operate in the night skies. In the Pacific, the Japanese had no aircraft that the P-61 couldn't dispatch, but by the time the Black Widow arrived in-theater, there weren't that many targets left to shoot.

Here is another one of my favorite kits to come from Monogram - the 1/48 P-61 Black Widow. This model was first released in 1970s as part of their equally impressive kit line-up consisting of the 1/48 B-24D, 1/48 B-24J, 1/48 B-29, 1/48 C-47, 1/48 DC-3, and many more, all released under the Monogram banner. If you look at all of the heavy styrene in this one line-up, you're looking back at the Trumpeter of a few decades ago. No one, not even Trumpeter, has even taken aim at any of these subjects (with the exception of the C-47/DC-3) in their respective scales.

Back in the days of AMtech, that company had announced new-tool P-61 Black Widow and F-15 Reporter kits, but that company unfortunately went out of business before they completed their P-40 Warhawk line-up. That leaves the Monogram 1/48 P-61 Black Widow kit as the only option in this scale (DML did the aircraft in 1/72).

When Revell-Monogram hyphenated, we started seeing Revell kits with Monogram logos, Monogram kits with Revell logos, then the same kits with hyphenated Revell-Monogram logos, and more recently everything wearing a Revell logo. The Pro-Modeler brand came about by taking a stock Monogram kit and adding some aftermarket resin and/or new-tool styrene parts. Confused? Don't be - just know that the kits developed by Monogram, no matter what logo they wear, are the nicely detailed and reasonably priced kits from this manufacturer.

This kit molded in black styrene and is presented on six parts trees, plus a single tree of clear styrene transparencies. As old as these molds are getting, the detailing is still crisp and the flash is not really a problem. Given the age of these molds, the panel lines are raised.

Construction naturally begins with the aircraft interior. The main floor provides the structure for the cockpit as well as radar operator and gunner's compartments. The flight deck is nicely appointed with many details that will look great with some careful painting, though an Eduard interior detail set will really light off the appearance of this kit.

The kit has lots of details and features that marked the quality of Monogram's kits that remain significant today. These include:

  • Builds into a P-61A or P-61B
  • Nicely detailed interior
  • Choice of dorsal turret or no turret installed
  • Steerable nosegear strut
  • Choice of shorter P-61A or longer P-61B noses
  • Radome can be removed to reveal radar
  • Positionable landing flaps
  • Choice of A or B-model gear doors
  • External tanks for the B-model
  • Positionable ventral cannon access panel
  • Positionable aft entrance hatch
  • Positionable forward cockpit access ladder
  • Positionable pilot, gunner, and radar operator hatches
  • Positionable port engine access panel

Unlike the full-scale aircraft, this model is tail-heavy. Monogram provides a clear strut to help keep this model on its nosegear, but ballast can be added to the nose and engine nacelles to eliminate the strut. If you aren't going to remove the radome, then that space can be used for ballast and result in less weight needed to hold the nose down.

Markings are provided for two aircraft:

  • P-61A, 42-5536, 422 NFS, 1944, 'Husslin Hussy'
  • P-61B, 403, 418 NFS, 1944, 'Times A Wastin'

While I would love to see this aircraft as a new-tool subject with current technology detailing, you know that any such kit would cost at least five times more than this one. These legacy Monogram kits are buildable by modelers of all ages and skill levels, yet in the hands of an AMS modeler, this subject can be rendered as a super-detailer's dream.