1/48 Hobby Boss P-61B Black Widow

Gallery Article by Mike Muth on Mar 19 2021

 

      

Black Widow with Zotz Decals
Up until the P-61 appeared, night fighters were converted fighter or light bomber aircraft. The  Northrop P-61 was the first airplane designed from the start to be a night fighter. Powered by 2 Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp engines, the twin boomed fighter could top 400 mph in the hands of a good pilot. There were 3 main versions of the Widow and overall over 700 were produced.  The Widow's 45.5 ft (14 m) length, 66 ft (20 m) wingspan and projected 22,600 lb (10,251 kg) full-load weight made it larger than some medium bombers. Nonetheless, it was a fighter through and through with a decent record against both German and Japanese airplanes by the end of the war.

The primary armament for all Widow versions consisted of 4  20 mm cannons mounted in the belly of the fuselage. The top turret located on the early P-61A version housed 4 50 caliber machine guns, had a 360 degree turning radius and could be locked into a forward firing configuration. The turret was removed on later A versions until the kinks could be worked out. It was reintroduced with the P-61 B-15 variant, the largest production run for all Widows. The P-61 B version had its nose elongated by 8 inches from the A version. The Widow was crewed by a pilot, gunner and radar operator (located at the rear of the fuselage). 

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For the longest time, a scale modeler was pretty much limited to the Revell-Monogram kit in 1/48 scale. These are still being cranked out and can be found at many hobby stores, as well as in your closet, probably on the floor at the bottom of a stack of other kits you intend to build. New toolings for the Widow in 1/48 scale have been produced by Hobby Boss and Great Wall Hobby. There are some great decals out there, a lot with cool nose art. So, I selected the P-61 B from Hobby Boss as my first effort at building a Widow.

There are really no problems with the kit overall. The parts fit together without the need for much, if any, putty. Not only is the final product huge, but the Widow had a tri-cycle landing gear...a notorious tail sitter. Fortunately the Hobby Boss kit is designed so that weights are provided that fit neatly above the plastic interior front wheel well. The two engines are supplied as metal plug-ins and fit perfectly. The result is a big airplane that sits properly on the ground. I made this one a while ago, and honestly can't remember if I added extra weight but I don't think I did.

The cockpit has a lot of glass which means some time should be spent on the forward cockpit as well as the rear R/Os location. I used a masking set from Montex and it worked nicely. I didn't add any aftermarket items in the cockpit, but there is plenty of stuff out there if that is your preference. 

The kit decals provided in the kit are for "Swing Shift Skipper" and "Sleepy Time Gal II". There are many cool aftermarket decal sheets available for the Widow with great nose art. The long front nose of the Widow allowed for the local base artist to have a field day with copying Vargas Girls for nose art with lots of puns for the name of the individual airplane. I went with "First Nighter" from the Zotz Venomous Widows at War, Part II.

In July of 1944 Northrop held a contest for 2 Widows that were purchased by Northrop employees as part of a War Bond drive. The winner of the contest chose the name First Nighter because that was the name of his favorite radio show. The pinup was a variation of a Vargas Girl called Sleepy Time Gal (also the name of at least 1 Widow). First Nighter was assigned to the 414th NFS in England where it was flown by Capt. Joe Jenkins.

The Widow was also used as a light bomber in the ETO as German night bombers became scarce. It could carry three 1,000 pound bombs. A color photo in the book "The Northrop P-61 Black Widow" by Garry R. Pape with John M. and Donna Campbell, shows First Nighter with bombs in white below the cockpit indicating bombing missions flown. Capt. Jenkins was not credited with any air-to-air kills but his bombing scoreboard is quite impressive.

Widow crews were somewhat fluid, and a pilot wouldn't always have the same gunner or radar operator. So, one R/O was able to become an "ace" even though the pilots he flew with hadn't reached the magic 5 kill mark. Some lists include V-1s destroyed, some don't. Anyway, there are 5 pilots who attained ace status flying the Widow. There are also 5 R/Os listed in Pape's book with at least 5 kills, 4 of whom flew with one pilot for all of their kills (making both the pilot and R/O aces) and one R/O who flew with one pilot for 4 of his kills and  another pilot for the R/O's fifth kill.

The kit when finished is huge. The color scheme of overall glossy black certainly stands out. The Army tested different shades of black from flat to glossy and the Widows came factory fresh either glossy black or OD over Neutral Gray. I undercoated/primed my model with Testors metallic silver from a spray can. After letting it set for a few days, I applied the top coat of gloss black with an airbrush. This was an enjoyable build and I still have the Great Wall Hobby Widow to make as well as 2 Hobby Boss P-61As...oh yeah, and 1 Revell-Monogram Widow somewhere in my closet.

Mike Muth

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Photos and text by Mike Muth