P-61B Black Widow
1:32 Hobby Boss
From the outset, the XP-61 was designed as a night-fighter, and engineered to incorporate the early radar sets that were being developed even before the war in the UK and US. The various design requirements led to a large aircraft with twin engines and fairly bristling with offensive armament. The name Black Widow was coined to reflect its sheer power and the fact that a lot of them would be painted black in their night fighting role. Its less-than-conventional twin-boom design gave it an imposing look, and in competition with the XA-26 from Douglas (later to become the Invader) it won the day.
It had a long gestation period due to its innovative design, and finally reached service in 1944, too late to take a huge role in the conflict. Where it did feature, it was highly effective, and its high speed, capability at altitude, long loiter time and fire power helped greatly. The three-man crew also reduced the workload on the individual members, leaving the gunner to concentrate on the current targets while the radar operator searched for more, as well as keeping a look-out for night intruders that would seek to knock them down. The concentration of four 20mm cannon and a further four .50cal Brownings in the top turret gave it an awesome stopping power, which was enhanced by gyroscopic stabilisation of the guns, with control being selectable by either the gunner, or radar operator as needed.
The twin 2800 Double-Wasp engines gave it a significant speed advantage over the bombers it was designed to combat, which it used to its advantage, downing many of the larger German and Japanese types, and plenty of fighters into the bargain. Although it served in the Pacific theatre, its use in the European theatre is possibly less well known, where it acquitted itself well, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, and flying from airfields in France and Belgium. In the Pacific, it was used widely, replacing the Ageing Bostons and taking part in some of the notable actions and missions in that area. Some squadrons weren't so fortunate with their kill-tally, finishing the war with no credited kills. During the last months of the war the addition of drop-tanks carried under the wings gave extra loiter time, which was solely lacking in the widely spread Pacific Island campaign.
After the war the Widow continued on in service, although with the rapid advances being made in jet aircraft technology, its days were already numbered. The last in service aircraft were withdrawn just before the start of the Korean War, to be replaced initially by the Twin Mustang, and then the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, which was on the drawing board even as the last shots of WWII were being fired.
There has been a resurgence of P-61 based activity and interest of late, with the GWH Widow making its debut in 1:48 last year in a couple of versions, and now we have this monster of a kit from Hobby Boss. It arrives in one of HB's large top-opener boxes with a fine painting by Kostas Kavvathias, who is a member of this site. The box is large and heavy, and that is because it is pretty full of "stuff". Inside the box are twenty two sprues of mid-grey styrene, four of clear styrene (plus two clear engine cowlings), a small sprue of flexible black styrene, a set of tyres in the same black flexible styrene, five white metal nose weight pieces, two frets of Photo-Etch (PE) brass, three white metal landing gear struts, two decal sheets, instruction booklet and full colour painting and decaling guide.
The first impression, once you get over the stacked box, is that there is detail everywhere. Some kits that cross my desk do so without enticing me to pore through the contents again, and don't induce a satisfied smile while doing so. This kit is one of those kits that makes a modeller grin, and 1:32 isn't my thing normally, so it's clearly doing something right. The kit has been cleverly engineered so that none of the parts are too large, with the inherent problems of possible warping and increase in tooling costs. In fact, every sprue fitted in my photo tent, which as well as being rather convenient of me makes handling the sprues easier during construction. A small thing, but I find large sprues a bit of a pain, as you have a tendency to clear your desk of things while wielding them.
Construction starts conventionally with the cockpit, with the floor running the whole length of the fuselage pod. A bulkhead separates the front from the rear, behind which the turret gear will sit. The pilot's control column, foot pedals and instrument panel (which is clear) are added along with a gunsight for the under fuselage cannons, while the gunners seat and turret controls are installed just in front of the bulkhead. Each chair is made up from a large number of parts, with plenty of detail captured, as well as a full set of PE seatbelts. The bulkhead is detailed with some add-on parts such as the crew operated fire extinguisher, and from the flexible sprue, a long hose is made up from two parts and attached to a box at the top of the bulkhead, although the correct location of the other end isn't immediately clear. A large corrugated tube runs from the bulkhead (from an L-shaped cylindrical assembly) to the front of the cockpit, and is cut to length to terminate at the end of the pilot's footwell. A pair of nicely detailed sidewall parts are decorated with equipment and side consoles for the pilot, but are relatively simple toward the gunner's station, with only rib work present. Decals are supplied for all of the pilot's instruments both on the main panel and on the side consoles, although more detailed dial faces are available from the Airscale range, which is certainly worth investigating.
The rear seat, which also faces forward is reserved for the radar operator, who has the same design chair as the gunner (he also has access to the gun controls, so that makes sense), and a stack of black boxes and radar screens to peer into. His workstation covers over a page of the instruction booklet and uses almost 50 parts, excluding the seat, which takes up another 20. The sidewall detail for his station is moulded into the fuselage halves, and augmented by a number of boxes and flexible tubes before the fuselage is closed up.
Turning the cockpit over, and element of the gun bay is moulded into the underside. This causes some very shallow sink marks on the mid-section of the topside, which you can either fill for a dead-flat floor, or rely on painting to disguise the fact, knowing that nothing will be seen once the glazing and turret are installed. The nose gear bay is a separate part that has its own roof skin, so sink marks aren't a problem in the very visible front cockpit. It is boxed in by shallow side walls, and the deeper wheel well and crew access section is boxed in. The gap between the bay roof and the cockpit floor is filled with a custom shaped lump of white metal that is more dense and has a finer surface than the metal found in short-run kits. Wiring looms are added from separate parts, and the gear lock is added just aft of the gear leg's pivot point. The wheel well is covered by a hinged bath-shaped panel, to which a crew ladder is attached at the rear. This is shown deployed in the instructions, but closing it up shouldn't tax the modeller much. The gear leg is shown in the instructions as fully styrene, but can be replaced by a hybrid that has a white metal core that is enclosed in a styrene outer above the wheel yoke.
The cannon bay is moulded to the underside of the cockpit, as mentioned earlier, to which a number of boxes are added, as well as a small bulkhead that prevents the see-thru look at the rear of the cockpit floor. The four 20mm Hispano M2 cannons are mounted with barrel braces to the bay roof, and each cannon has a nicely done hollow barrel, courtesy of slide-moulding, and a flexible length of shells that run back to the feeder holes in the roof/floor. These should be secure once installed, with little concern about them coming loose during the process of sealing the fuselage.
The fuselage halves have large wing-root shaped depressions in their side, which are covered over by two identically shaped inserts that continue the internal detail mentioned above in the rear. Another large shaped white-metal weight is installed forward of the main instrument panel before the fuselage is closed up, ensuring that your pride and joy sits on its wheels rather that its tail. Cleverly, the radar assembly in the nose also hides two more weights, which masquerade as the cylindrical drums (capacitors/accumulators?) that sit behind the dish on a floor part. This is then attached to the forward bulkhead and further braced by two y-shaped legs for strength. The clear radome part is frosted, as even when left unpainted, these domes weren't totally clear. The top of the fuselage between the two main canopies is also supplied as a frosted clear part, as is the turret itself, which although slightly thought provoking as to why, shouldn't be an issue, as they hold paint as well as any styrene. It does open up the possibility of being able to "ghost" the fuselage top, but as there is little in that section other than the turret, there seems little point. The pointed rear glazing is installed along with a pair of side-windows, and a couple of small inspection panels and intakes are added to the sides of the fuselage.
The top turret is next, and this is supplied as a complete unit that drops into the hole in the frosted fuselage top. It is built up from a pair of semi-cylindrical halves, into which flat internal bulkheads are added with the pivot point for the gun platform at their top. You have a choice of smooth or perforated jackets for the M2 machine guns, and all four of each have slide moulded hollow muzzled. They attach to the two part breeches, and these fit into a stepped base, with pivot points at each side that fit into the receptors on the turret body. A pair of flexible black styrene ammo feeds are supplied, which are bent once installed to enter the turret body outboard of the hinges. Front and rear access panels are added, and a ribbed turret ring is installed by sliding it over the barrels, and positioning it around the top of the turret body. It slips into the fuselage and glues in place by its tapered base. The frosted clear turret cowling is installed in the same way as the turret ring, and I'm still struggling as to why this is a clear part.
The main canopy glazing has optional emergency exits for crew access, but these are only shown installed in the closed position, so some research will be needed if you plan on leaving them open. Clarity and gloss on these parts is first rate, and there will be plenty of detail visible in the cockpit even if you leave everything closed.
Underneath the fuselage are the gun bays and the rear crew access, as well as the large nose gear bay doors. The barrels of the cannon pack are covered over with nicely shaped covers (or not - your choice!), and the door is just a chunk of the rear underside fuselage that hinges down with a single part ladder on the concave internal surface.
At this stage of the build, the fuselage is pretty much complete, but it still needs wings, tail booms, motive power and of course the main gear legs. HB have gone to town on the engines, which are both supplied as very detailed units with their mounting frames holding them firmly in place against the firewall. Both rows of pistons, head-gear, exhaust and wiring are depicted, as well as the magnetos and reduction gear in front, which has a prop-shaft installed to hold the large four-bladed propellers in place. I can't imagine a resin engine improving much on this detail at this scale, and a pair of transparent cowlings are included to allow you to show off your handiwork if you wish. If you're not interested in that aspect of modelling, and some aren't, you simply paint the inside a suitable primer colour and paint the outer skin at the same time as the rest of the fuselage. I'd be tempted to leave a little "window" on one of the engines unpainted to allow the viewer to see the engines from one side at least. In order to close up the booms, the main landing gear bays are made up, and detail here is very nice. There are very close ribbing details in the upper roof of the bay, and some odds-and-sods added to a partial bulkhead, with the landing gear leg added at the same time as the bay walls. As seems to be the vogue with Chinese kits of late, the gear legs have to be enclosed at this point, unless you're planning on doing some adjustments to allow them to be added later. I'm actually coming round to this way of building, as long as the legs and their attachment parts are strong, which in this case they definitely will be. The legs are supplied as either completely styrene in the instructions, but there are white-metal alternatives for the main strut, in case you are worried about their strength. The parts will need a little fettling to remove the seam lines in either case, but the metal legs also have some prominent ejector pin marks on them, which will need cleaning up and/or filling. The bonus of extra strength should be well worth the effort, and if you're phobic of metal parts, you can still use the styrene alternatives. It's odd that the metal parts aren't mentioned in the instructions though. The hubs and auxiliary struts are all styrene, with the hub provided as front and rear sides that trap those rubbery styrene tyres in place. Love them or loathe them, they're your only choice out of the box, and as they are hollow (just like the real thing), I wonder if they would sag more and more over time. With these assemblies built and painted, the engine nacelle/tail-booms can be closed up, with the engines added to the bulkhead at this point. The booms are then set aside while the wings are built up.
The Widow was fitted with full-width flaps, and used Zap-flaps, named after their designer, to replace the ailerons. These flipped out of the upper surface of the wing, slowing airflow and reducing lift, causing that wing to drop. These are depicted deployed on the kit, with no option of stowing them. That's a shame for such an expensive kit, but I suspect an easy scratch-build fix. Interestingly, the wings are built from four outer skin parts, split outboard of the boom location point, and joined strongly by an internal spar part that is ribbed lengthways for extra strength, and forms the attachment tab at its inboard end once installed. Before closing the wings up however, you must build up the intakes on the leading edge that are found either side of the engine nacelle. These are made up from top and bottom halves, and have full length trunking, plus PE parts for the splitter vanes, and a separate outer lip that traps the PE parts in place. A very nicely detailed part of the wing that could easily have been overlooked. A scrap diagram shows how the PE vanes are folded up into box-like shapes, and all of the joints are pre-weakened with etched fold-lines. Once closed up, two clear leading edge light covers are added, and a wing-tip light inserted in a hole at the end of the wing. The flaps are all then added, and could be depicted deployed if you wish, although they are shown stowed in the instructions. The Zap-Flaps are curved, and the PE parts must be rolled to match the profile of the supports, so a rolling tool might be useful if you want to get the correct shape to them. There are two perforated spoilers on each wing, the shorter one having two supports and the outboard long one having three. Again, there are no parts documented to show them retracted, which might be the only option if you're PE averse, or manage to make a mess of rolling the PE by some chance. Some reference material and styrene strip could be the way to go here if you don't want to have them hanging out.
The wings and booms are brought together next, and have a good sized mating surface for a strong joint. There should be minimal seam filling if you take care with the joint too, as the seams are all on panel line breaks. The large rounded rudders are added at the rear on the hinge tabs, so could be offset if you wish, but remember to point them both in the same direction! Underneath the nacelle, a large PE grille is installed in a recess, a vent is added to a rectangular hole behind it, and the gear bay doors are added to each side. Interior detail on the doors is well done, but I'd leave them off until after painting to ease masking, handling and painting. The cowling for the engine is clear, as mentioned earlier, but the cowling flaps are separate styrene parts, with open and closed parts included for a little variety. Simply slip your choice of parts over the engine and glue in place, following that with the clear (or previously painted) cowling parts. Hobby Boss would also have you install the props here, but these are also best left off until the end. The rear of the boss accepts the blades, which are all keyed, and the front of the boss is then put in place to hold everything together in-line. The kit includes two types of prop, and in this instance you are instructed to use the needle-ended type, but there are broader paddle-type blades included on another sprue, so check whether your intended subject was ever fitted with the alternative blades, just in case.
Final assembly sees both wings mounted on the fuselage using the large tab/spars sandwiched between the wings, and the large horizontal stabiliser is added across the full length between the two booms, with the elevator a separate posable part build up from two halves, as is the stabiliser. Four large drop-tanks are included in the kit, but if you are building any early B models, the first 62 had no hard points installed for extra tanks, and the following 38 had only the inboard tank points fitted. From the B-10 onwards, all B models had the four hard points. The two main gun-pack doors are added, and some small antennae attached to the nose and forward fuselage, finishing off the build.
The decal sheet is fairly restricted in content, extending to the national markings, serials, walk-ways and some squadron badges, plus instrument panel decals. The separate sheet has only four decals on it, two of each of the nose art paintings, depicting a scantily clad woman on her knees leaning back, and a topless woman sitting on a crescent moon. The decals are well printed, with thin carrier film, and even a hole in the underwing stars-and-bars for the landing light, which is nice.
From the box you can model one of the following two options:
- P-61B 6th NFS, Capt. Ernest Thomas, March 1945 - all over black "Sleepy Time Gal" Sn. 239414
- P-61B 547th NFS Lingayen, Philippines Lt. Arthur Bourque - all over black "Lady in the Dark" Sn. 239713
If I'm reading the serials correct however, Sleepy Time Gal is a P-61B-2, and as such wouldn't have a turret, and only the two inner fuel tanks. Lady in the Dark is a P-61B-15, so should have the turret with four guns and all the drop-tanks. It's entirely possible that I've got it wrong (it happens), but even so, if you look on sprue RA, part 2 is the cover for the missing turret, so you can still model it accurately if you fill the outer drop-tank points. The turret wasn't reinstated on the B until the B-11, which leaves around 150 early airframes without turrets, and over 60 Bs without drop-tanks. Please though, just check for yourself that I'm not talking drivel.
This is a monster of a kit, and will scale out to be only a little smaller than the excellent HK Model B-25J released last year. It is a well-stocked box though, and will keep most modellers entertained for a good many hours. Detail is excellent on the parts, and marks a step-change from the recent F-117 in the same scale. Some don't like the rubber tyres, and I have misgivings, and a few more parts could have improved the fit options immensely by providing closed doors for the open bays or retracted Zap-flaps, but these aren't massive problems that can be surmounted with the application of a little modelling skill. Why should you have to? Because every kit is built to a budget in the end, and the extra parts would have resulted in a higher price tag, and probably accusations of over-engineering.
Apart from the tyres, the only part of the build that would cause me a little trepidation is the final joining of the wings to the fuselage and tail. It's difficult to tell whether that will be a snug fit or not, and that will be key to easing the job, as a loose wing joint would result in a rather wobbly airframe while the glue set up.