Monogram's 1/48 Northrop P-61 'Black Widow'
Model, Text and Photos by: Joe Frazier
"Anonymous III" - 548th Night Fighter Squadron
True Details photoetch
cockpit interior set
True Details resin wheel set
Cutting Edge Cowlings
Terry Dean P61 A/B Nose Weight
Super Scale Decals
The 1/48th scale Monogram kit (7546) of this famed World War II night fighter aircraft has been available since 1974, and still gets repackaged for sale time after time, attesting to its popularity with modelers. It has been re-released under the Monogram-Revell banner several times. Since there is so much information readily available for this airplane, I will not comment on its history, other than to say that it proved to be a highly effective night fighter and proved the value of radar intercept attack missions during the later years of World War Two.
Somewhat dated in terms of casting, the kit does have raised panel lines throughout. These are very finely rendered, and in my opinion do not hinder the overall finished appearance of the model. However, I chose to sand off the upper details for the most part and then I rescribed them to more accurately represent the actual aircraft. I left the undersurfaces alone, since they look fine and would not be seen anyway unless the model is set over a mirror surface. The plastic used by Monogram takes scribing very well, allowing for clean and even lines.
Cockpit and Crew and Clear Glass Areas
The kit cockpit is very complete and makes up into a busy "office" with a lot of eye appeal and apparent accuracy. I did enhance the area with the addition of selected pieces from the True Details P-61B photoetch cockpit detail set (TD26028), which is hard to find now. Eduard also offers a much more varied (and expensive) photoetch set for this kit (48-382) for the advanced modeler, but I found the pieces in the TD set to be enough to make a very nice presentation, especially since I planned to have the forward crew area open. The aft crew area is also very nicely furnished, and with the large clear rear glass areas looks great when finished out.
The clear canopy and window areas took the most time during my construction work, because I chose to sand them flush with the body areas. While this was a lot of work, it paid off in the final appearance of the model. I used Testor's clear cement to cement the glass parts to the fuselage area, making sure I had a good strong bond, as I would need to do a lot of sanding to remove the raised detail on the clear parts. Using Sears Filled Epoxy, I filled in any little cracks and joints which did not mate well with the fuselage pieces. The small windows just forward of the clear tail cone do not fit well, and will require some clear epoxy to seal them in. After I had the parts in place, I began the long task of sanding off existing detail, making sure the glass areas were flush with the joint lines, and then polishing the parts out with Blue Magic polish, I then masked the framed areas, using another set of clear parts from a second kit for measurements. I painted exposed frames Interior Green followed by the Black external finish. The end result is very pleasing and gives a realistic effect to this highly visible area of the model. However, for the person building for the shelf, going to this much effort is not really recommended or necessary.
Cannon Bay and Nose Gear Area
This is one area in which careful construction will pay off, since the fit of some of the parts is hard to achieve. I would recommend closing the cannon bay doors unless you plan to leave the inner external fuel tanks off the kit. The doors will not open with them on. If you do leave the doors closed, then I recommend you do not try to use the four cannon housings. They are extremely hard to get placed and will cause problems if you close the outer doors. I simply used the barrels and epoxied them in place prior to closing up the door parts. The door parts themselves will require a bit of filling to achieve a good fit. The nose wheel area includes a box, which fits under the cockpit area. This will require some cutting and pasting to achieve a good fit. Again, nothing that a little patience, sandpaper, and filler can't fix. I found that having to put the nose wheel in place early in construction meant being very careful later on not to break the strut off!
I strongly recommend the fitted nose weight which is sold by Terry Dean. It is a true bargain! You can contact him at email@example.com for his list of P61 and other nose weights. This piece fits perfectly inside the nose cone. and allows the model to sit easily on its tricycle gear.
Fuselage, Wings, etc.
The rest of the kit goes together quite well. Care must be taken to align the fuselage booms so that the rudders have the same angle. I had no problems with the fit of the wing sections. They are quite heavy, and my crew fuselage upper seam aft of the cockpit split once under their weight (after I had painted it!!) I recommend using strips of plastic to reinforce the inside of the fuselage roof area between the two crew areas in order to provide additional strength. The wings really place a lot of stress here!
I used the excellent Cutting Edge cowlings (CEC 48-302) to replace the kit parts. This required a little cutting and filling of one fuselage boom, but I did not want the open engine area to show. If you close the cowling area using the kit parts, you will find the fit will require a lot of effort to correct. The Cutting Edge cowlings fit perfectly after a little adjustment and also allow for an open cowl flap appearance.
I used the True Details resin wheel set (TD48028) since the tread is more accurate and I like the flattened appearance of the tires. I covered the wheel rim and sanded the "bulged" areas down quite a bit to get a more realistic front and side view, as the original bulge is very pronounced and pictures of the wheels on the real aircraft look pretty flush to the rims.
Finishing and Decals
After priming the model with Mr. Surfacer 1000, I painted this model using Floquil Engine Black as a base color, Originally, these aircraft were painted gloss black, but the paint dulled very quickly. I did spray about five coats of thinned clear lacquer over the upper surfaces of the wings and the sides of the fuselage areas. I actually mixed one half clear, one fourth semi gloss, and one fourth flat finish in order to get the softened gloss effect I wanted. A very light spray of Floquil Grimy Black was sprayed front to back at regular intervals over the wings and elevator to vary the upper finish and produce a more realistic effect. The exhaust pattern was produced by spraying light coats of primer Grey softened down later with black, grey, brown, red, and white pastels. Interior surfaces, which are viewable from outside the airplane, were painted with chromate green darkened slightly to represent "Northrup Green." which is a slightly darker green color. All other areas such as the nose wheel housing were painted chromate yellow. The interior of the cowlings was painted Aluminum. I used a very light application of Rub 'N Buff on the wing and stabilizer leading edges, cowling fronts, and propeller blade fronts to produce the effect of weathering and paint loss due to wind flow over leading edges. I wanted the model to represent a fairly new aircraft, so I did not go too heavily with weathering techniques. . I used SuperScale decals (SS 48-42) which went on nicely. I used pastels to soften the color of the nose decals, which are a very bright red and white, in order to produce a weathered effect.
I started this kit because its large wing and fuselage surfaces let me have a good area for scribing practice. Because that turned out so well, I decided to invest the time to try to make a competition model. With the new AmTech kits just around the corner with completely recessed detail, I don't recommend to anyone that they spend time on scribing or sanding clear parts, unless like me, they are trying to learn techniques.
All in all, still a fine representation of a very important airplane, and a very satisfying build for modelers who have time and patience to spare. The price is very attractive too, especially in this era of very expensive models, since the Black Widow can easily be found in stores and/or swap meets for around $10-12 dollars.
Finally, thanks to Brent and Mike at Roll Models for allowing me to produce this article. I hope it helps other modelers enjoy this build as much as I have.
Squadron Signal P61 "In Action" (1106) is an excellent reference book for P61 A/B and later variants. Highly recommended.
Internet sites provide a huge amount of information. I would suggest going to GOOGLE and typing in P61. From there, you can spend a lot of time learning about this airplane!
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