1:48 Northrop P-61A 'Black Widow' from Great Wall Hobby

1:48 Northrop P-61A 'Black Widow'
Great Wall Hobby
Catalogue # L4802
Available from The Airbrush Company for £64.99

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As the wars in the Pacific, Asia and Europe were at critical turning points in 1944, the Americans introduced an aircraft design that was specifically geared towards night attack and interception. Previously, the Allies had modified existing airframes to fulfil these roles, and some of these operated with distinction at night, such as the Douglas P-70, and De Havilland Mosquito and Bristol Beaufighter NF series machines. The Black Widow had first flown in 1942, and was initial crews were secretly trained on the type in the latter part of 1943. When the RAF evaluated the P-61A in early 1944, they found its performance and handling to be inferior to the Mosquito, and mainstream operation was cancelled, and the machine was sent to operate with the USAAF. The Americans operated their own Night Fighter squadrons from British soil which operated with distinction over the skies of Europe. The Black Widow also operated with great success in many theatres of war globally, despite relatively few being built.

The P-61A was a heavy and powerful twin-boom layout machine, with two 2000HP Pratt & Whitney  R-2800-10/65 radial engines, which gave the aircraft a maximum speed of over 370mph. Crewed by three, and packing a formidable punch, the later versions of the Black Widow had their upper turrets removed and faired off due to turbulence being caused when the turret was rotated and fired. The turret was used reinstated on the last 'A' variants though, and carried through into other major variants. Being a night-fighter from the outset, the aircraft was designed to intercept enemy aircraft using its native radar systems, and indeed was the first aircraft ever designed with that purpose.

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The Great Wall Hobby 1:48 P-61A Black Widow was first released a few short months ago, and demand for this kit, plus an initial problem with a wrongly supplied nose-cone has meant that some review sites have failed to receive their copy. I shan't go into the initial problems with the first batches of this kit, as it has been well documented online and Great Wall Hobby have sorted this issue swiftly. This kit will be reviewed for what we have in the box, and not look at the earlier, initial batches, as that is only fair to the reader, and to Great Wall Hobby.

The Black Widow was a large aircraft, so it won't come as a surprise to see that this kit is supplied in quite a large, rigid top-opening box. The artwork is excellent, and depicts a P-61 attacking a train, head on, as it crosses a viaduct. The use of blurring around the aircraft really does convey the speed that the aircraft is making its low level attack. This grabs you straight away!

Inside the box, a total of THIRTEEN light grey sprues, TWO clear sprues; one of them containing a solitary clear nose part in a blister packet, ONE fret of photo etch metal, and THREE decal sheets are included. One of the decal sheets is simply a correction for the stork motif for one machine. I can't see what is different, but there must be something.

Another correction is also included in the form of a printed sheet with some corrections to the main instruction booklet. A small packaged resin gun-sight is packed with the correction sheet.The instruction manual talks of a length of round brass rod being included, but from what I see, this is a length of plastic strip. The box is certain very full of plastic, so you can tell this isn't going to be a simple build.

With the exception of the clear parts and an occasional grey sprue, the remainder of the sprues in this kit aren't individually packaged. The ones that are multi-packed are those which are similar, such as the boom, wing and engine/prop/drop-tank sprues. I am pleased to see that that have been thoughtfully packaged so no exterior faces can scuff against each other. Four 'sprues', as I have classed them, are merely the four engine cowl radiator parts, encompassed in their own circular sprues. I quite like that.

Now what of the kit itself?

GWH have produced a gorgeous nacelle interior which includes both forward and rear crew areas, along with a canopy which can be posed either open or closed, plus the crew entry hatch with a boarding ladder that can be posed for the two forward crew positions. The rear crew position also has its own entry door with photo-etch ladder framework and steps to be made from the styrene rod piece.

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The nacelle interior walls are very well detailed with structural elements, pipework and avionics placement. There are a few ejector pin marks in areas, but thankfully they are nothing more than the circumferential edge, and will be very easily removed. The cockpit has a nicely reproduced plastic instrument panel , with many different relief levels to differentiate the various instrument and switch banks, and recessed, blank instrument placings. Decals, included on the main sheet, are designed to fit here. The IP also incorporates the rudder pedals which are quite delicate, with photo etch pedal plates if you want to use something with a more scale thickness.

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All crew seats are furnished with photo-etch seatbelts. Other crew area detail includes fire extinguishers, detailed bulkheads, side wall instrumentation, consoles, and other equipment etc, plus the night fighter radar set with its integral scope eye shield. The interior should look quite 'busy' when complete.

Finally, the nacelle includes a belly gun package. The guns are quite delicate in how they have designed and moulded, and even the gas springs look quite authentic. A light wash around them should really highlight detail such as this. You will be able to see these too, as you can pose the gun bay doors in an open position, should you wish. It would be criminal NOT to!

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A single piece clear plastic nose is supplied which, should you wish, you can paint so that the radar dish and equipment can be seen. A correction sheet is supplied for the assembly of the radar, but this only appertains to the part numbers, and no other problem. The real question is how you'll get this model to sit on its nose wheel if you don't utilise that space for lead weight! The correction sheet does say that counterweight needs to be added, so you'll either need to be ingenious, peg the nose wheel down to a base, or use the nose to pop lead in, and not the radar.

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The twin booms are supplied in halves, with the undercarriage sidewall formers and stringers moulded in situ. There are some ejector pin marks in here, and they are heavier than those in the nacelle. I would suggest the use of a No.15 small, curved scalpel blade to remove these, and sanding back with something like the 'Skinny Sanders' from MDC (review coming soon!). The main gear bay is sandwiched in between two nacelle formers and also has a few ejector pin marks, but these are easily removed. A little extra plumbing in here would be beneficial too. The undercarriage doors are superb, with finely moulded interior detail, and no pin marks.

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Rudders are supplied as separate parts, but I feel the fabric and rib detail should be sanded back a little as it seems a tad heavy.

The horizontal stabiliser is assembled with separate elevator too. Again, the fabric and rib representation of the elevator is a little heavy and would benefit from a sanding sponge to lessen the effect. The stabiliser has a series of internal ribs which aid rigidity and lessen the chance of any warp developing.

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Those impressive wings are supplied as upper and lower halves, and again, within them are a range of plastic ribs to aid rigidity and prevent warping. I suggest liquid cement such as Revell 'Contacta' to be used along these before you close the wing halves. The characteristic three upper spoilers per wing are supplied as photo etch parts. These have detailed fold down tabs which means you can display these in the open position. If you wish to show them closed, remove the tabs and lie the spoiler flat. Separate engine cooling plates are installed within the wing leading edges.

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Wings have both separate ailerons and landing flaps too. The small outboard aileron has a rib and fabric detail finish.

Surface detail of the whole airframe is very well done, with delicate panel lines and access panel representation. There is no rivet detail, but ranges of fasteners are present around access panels and plates, and these are very finely rendered. The same fastener detail is present around the wing/fuselage fairings. As I have said, the only heavy detail is on the rudders and elevator, and this isn't an insurmountable problem.

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One criticism of this kit has been the shape of the engine cowl, and if I reference this with both my MBI and Squadron Walkaround books, then this criticism is valid, but still not a major issue. The problem seems to be the engine opening shape. If you wish to improve these, then True Details now has a correction set for this in resin. The engines themselves are beautifully moulded with fine cooling fin detail on the cylinders, and the exhaust bank moulded as a single part. The cowl cooling rings are moulded in either an open or closed position. To me, these look very good, and not overly thick on the 'open' parts. The engine also has photo etch ignition looms to attach.

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The props on this kit have also been criticised, and again, I can see the reason. The blades and spinner are moulded as a single part which makes the part look a little two-dimensional. I'm not sure about the spinner shape too, BUT, again you can get a replacement set from True Detail, complete with the extended reduction gear fairings and magneto, props, cowls and spinners for only $15USD.

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GWH have got the undercarriage just right, with sharp oleo and scissor detail, and the main tyres are moulded as 'weighted'. Strangely enough though, the front wheel isn't weighted, and my reference pictures do show compression to some degree. For the oleos, just add a brake line and this should be all you need.

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A set of drop tanks with separate pylons are included too.

Construction looks to be straightforward enough, with no pitfalls for the modeller. All grey plastic is extremely well moulded with no apparent flash, and minimal seam lines. There don't appear to be any sink marks either, despite those stiffeners within the wings. Ejector pin marks are only an issue within the wheel bays, as previously mentioned.

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Apart from the clear nose, one other clear sprue is included, incorporating 11 parts, such as the canopy sections and wingtip lights. Canopy framing lines are excellent and not overdone. They should also be easy to mask too. This kit doesn't include the mask set of the previous Fw 189 kits, and I can only guess that may be due to quality issues with the fit of the individual mask parts. Clarity of the transparent parts is excellent, with no flash etc. evident

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The single etch fret contains the seatbelts, ignition looms for the engines, spoilers etc. with a total parts count here of 33.

The instruction manual is a high quality production with a nice full colour box art image on the front cover. With 12 pages and some beautifully drawn constructional sequences, this model should be a breeze to build. Photo etch parts are highlighted in yellow within the constructional drawings. The last two pages give the two colour schemes, printed in colour also. These serve as decal placement references too. One scheme is for an all-black machine, whilst the other has an olive drab upper side and grey undersides. I think I'll build the latter!

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A small poster resides in the bottom of the box, depicting the main box art. Place that over your workbench for an instant inspiration hit!

Three decal sheets are included. Printing is in perfect register, while perhaps a little thicker than contemporary decals. The finish is also matte. Colour reproduction seems good, whilst carrier film levels are acceptable. The main decal sheet contains the national markings, stencils and walk way bands. Several placards for the cockpit are printed here too. The middle sheet contains the personal machine motifs, various numbers and the instrument decals and kill markings. The last sheet has a re-print of the stork decal, as a correction.

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The schemes provided are:

  • P-61A "Lady Gen", Florennes, Belgium, December 1944
  • P-61A "Sweatin' Wally", Myitkyina, Burma, 1944

So what do we think?
I've been waiting for what seems like an eternity to review this kit, and I'm in no way disappointed! The Black Widow has been crying out for a newly tooled kit over the last years, and GWH have done an excellent job with this release. Dripping in detail and buildability, this has to be one of the highlights for me of recent months, and I'll ensure that I try to get this onto the 2012 building schedule for me personally. For only the second different aircraft release from GWH, this company is certainly setting out its stall with regards to design, subject and 'wow factor'. We can't wait until we receive the TBD-1 'Devastator' in the near future. As for this kit, what else is there to say, apart from...

VERY highly recommended!

Our sincere thanks to LionRoar/Great Wall Hobby for supplying our review sample. To purchase this from The Airbrush Company, click THIS link.

James H

 

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