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Great Wall Hobby 1/48 scale Northrop P-61A

Many modelers know Monogram’s 1/48 scale Northrop P-61 Black Widow — a kit with wide appeal that has been equally as famous for its difficulty. It’s been a long wait, but now Great Wall Hobby has released the first P-61 in this scale since Monogram first kitted the late-war night fighter in 1974.

The model is molded in medium gray plastic on 14 sprues and looks fine at first glance. You also get one fret of photoetched metal with delicate details (sometimes too delicate) and a choice of two sets of markings: One is Lady Gen in the European theater; the other is Sweatin’ Wally from the China-Burma-India theater, 1944.

Among the options are positionable gun-bay doors underneath the fuselage — it looks like they fit snugly enough to be pressed into place if you want the doors closed — and movable and positionable control surfaces.

Although the instructions’ steps are not numbered, assembly is straightforward. The build begins with the seats in the cockpit. Instructions indicate two pilot seats and one radar operator’s seat; in fact, it should be the other way around. The photoetched-metal seat belts and harnesses are nice, but they’re delicate, fragile, multipiece assemblies that require special care.

Also included are decals for instrument dials and data plates; nice thoughts, but difficult to apply. The instruments won’t fit properly into the molded dial faces unless you punch each of them out; I didn’t have that kind of time for review, so I just painted the panel black and dry-brushed it. The data plates would go on the ledge of the cockpit side walls, but that surface isn’t wide enough and the decals weren’t flexible enough to attach, so I applied them just below the ledge.

The instructions would have you install the forward boarding ladder next. But if you want to display it extended, I would suggest leaving it off until after paint and decals. Just nip the pivot pins off the assembly and slide it into place later.

The fuselage halves are supposed to trap the nose-gear assembly when joined, but I waited and snapped it in after gluing the halves.
The plastic didn’t seem receptive to liquid cement, though, and I had to clamp the fuselage all the way around and let it dry overnight.
If you want the model to balance, you will have to load the nose with 2 ounces of weight.

The clear parts for the forward cockpit and rear radar operator’s station all fit nicely. They sit a little proud, but not enough to take away from the model. Parts J4 and J5 should be glued permanently in place; these were escape panels.

I masked all the clear parts and glued before painting. I tacked the upper, opening piece of the forward cockpit, Part J3, because I wanted to pose it open. You will have to file a flat on the edge of Part J3 to provide a gluing surface for the left side.

Next, the wings and booms: The wings, ailerons, and flap assembly goes together nicely. But I don’t understand the recessed area for the speed brakes. The photoetched-metal brakes can be posed opened or closed. If you choose closed, you need to trim the extension arms off and glue the remaining portions in the provided recess — or, at least, that’s what the instructions say. In reality, the speed brakes retracted down and back into the wings, not down and forward onto the wing as depicted.

The booms go together without a hitch. Again, you’re supposed to trap the landing 
gear. And, again, it can be left off and snapped into place, then glued, after painting and decaling. 

The engines are nice, but there are a few problems. First, there are no magnetos provided. Second, the photoetched-metal ignition harness is delicate. You’ve got about one chance to bend and locate the leads to the proper cylinders or they may snap off. I lost a few.

On the cowling parts (I29), the front openings are too small. They need to be opened up a little. The props and spinners are molded as one piece, which leaves an open notch behind the prop blades. It would have been better to have a back plate for the spinners to close the gaps.

The booms go on nicely, just a little filler on top where the wing meets. The boom/wing assemblies mate up with the fuselage with no gaps. Don’t forget the horizontal stabilizer between the booms; don’t glue it right away, just trap it between the booms. After the wing-to-fuselage assemblies dry, pull everything tight and glue the stabilizer and booms. No filler is needed.

You get two fuel tanks, but there are four slots, two on each wing: one inside and one outside of the booms to mount the fuel tanks. Check your references to see where the tanks should go. I mounted mine in the inner slots.

The rear hatch/boarding ladder is a nice little unit with photoetched-metal framing and .015" styrene-rod strips.

Decals went down OK but were a little thick. They had a flat finish, which always makes me leery, but were not a problem.

It took me about 33 hours to complete my P-61. No special tricks; just follow the instructions carefully. Aside from the few engineering issues, it’s a big improvement over the Monogram kit. A few years of modeling experience also helps. 

Note: A version of this review appeared in the January 2012 issue of FineScale Modeler magazine.


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