1/48 P-61B Black Widow – Lady in the Dark

Welcome, this next build is one of my favorite World War II aircraft. I will be building the 1/48 Great Wall Hobby P-61B. The P-61 nicknamed “Black Widow” was the first aircraft specifically designed to be a night fighter. It was built by Northrop at their Hawthorn California facility. The aircraft was used in most of the theaters during the war. The scheme for this build is for the “Lady in the Dark” which is “unofficially” credited with the last Allied air victory before Japan surrendered (VJ day) in 1945. For this build I will be using the Eduard “BigEd” detail set which has eight photo etch sheets to detail this kit inside and out.

Starting off with the cockpit I added some of the photo etch to give details to the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead. The seats were assembled and then detailed with the photo etch seal belts. The rear seat in the cockpit has one of the control sticks for the remote controlled gun turret was detailed with new adjustment wheels and the levers to fire the four Browning .50 cal guns. The rear bulkhead was detailed with the holder and mounting strap for the fire extinguisher. I then sanded down the kit details on the instrument panel and added the photo etch. I added some photo etch details to the control stick as well.

I then started on the rear fuselage deck. This holds the four 20mm Hispano M2 cannons in the belly of the fuselage and the radar operator area. The photo etch set replaces the floor surface and the top step for the hatch. The Radar operator bulkhead that holds all the radar equipment for the kit is not used at all. The photo etch set replaces everything from bench to shelves and all the equipment. I am working on these now and then I can begin to detail the interior of the fuselage.

Week two of the P-61B I began detailing the interior of the fuselage. With the cockpit area detailed I started to detail the radar operator’s station. The avionics rack for the kit is a one piece molded section. The Eduard photo etch set replaces the kit part. The photo etch pieces include the desk frame and all the equipment. One of the things you need to do is remove the viewing hoods for the front and rear radar screens off the kit part. After finishing the avionics I then began detailing the starboard fuselage interior walls. The kit ribbing was removed in certain sections to add the photo etch walls.

Then the various control boxes and more avionics parts were added. The rear entry ladder was also detailed. The ladder will be in the open position when the model is finished. I used some 30 AWG wire to add the cables to the equipment and then installed the cockpit section and radar section floors. I am now detailing the port side of the fuselage and will be adding all the various cable to the radar avionics equipment. I am hoping to have the fuselage together this upcoming week. I started to make a dry fit of the fuselage halves together to make sure everything fits. There is some interesting issues that need to addressed. I will cover what they are and how I corrected them next week.

For the third week of the Black Widow build I spent a lot of time getting the fuselage together. First I completed detailing the avionics in the radar area by adding all the cables and wiring. I used 30 AWG wires for the cabling and 30 AWG bare wire for the wiring portion.

Next came the part of getting the fuselage halves together. Even without the photo etch details this kit is very challenging to get the halves together. The part that makes it difficult is the 20mm guns in the belly. The issue is the gun barrels stick out about 0.5 inches out the belly gun ports. The fuselage half has alignment pins that are about 0.2 inches long so the halves align correctly. The basic premise is to feed the gun barrels thru the ports and then slide the fuselage half back to align it with the other half. It may sound easy, however the guide pins being so long causes the gun barrels to bend outward. The bending of the gun barrels is very extreme especially with the length that needs to be fed thru the ports. I would like to note on the old Monogram kit the panels with the gun ports are separate panels. This kit has them as part of the fuselage halves. So moving forward I found it easier to cut off the alignment pins on the bottom. This allowed me to slide the gun barrels thru the ports then align the halves together. It took a little bit of work to get the bottom of the fuselage halves to line up but this worked out a lot better assembly wise.

With the fuselage finally together I needed a little putty along the seam. I then detailed the nose gear bay with photo etch. There are still some wires and cables that need to be added but I will add these later when I get ready to attach the nose gear. The forward crew boarding ladder is thru the nose gear bay. The kit part was then detailed with photo etch framing. With the main fuselage together I am now starting on the engines and they wing assemblies.

 Arriving at week four of the P-61B I built and detailed the Pratt & Whitney 2,250 hp R-2800-65W Double Wasp 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines. I chose to use the open cowl flaps so that the exhaust can be seen. The photo etch set adds the inner cowl flaps and the ignition wires to the engine. I painted the cylinder using Vallejo’s Metal Air Gunmetal gray. The pushrod covers and engine block were painted using the Metal Air duraluminum, and the Metal Air Exhaust for the exhaust pipes. The intakes were painted gloss black and ignition was dark canvas brown. The cowl flaps were painted insignia red for the paint scheme of the “Lady in the dark”.

The wings have leading edge intakes. The kit has solid plastic inserts but the photo etch set has open detailed pieces. The intake areas were cut open and the photo etch pieces were installed. I used a little putty to bland in the intakes to the wing. I then added some photo etch details to the upper wing and placed the dive brakes in the closed position. The photo etch set also has the parts to open them if you want. I am now working on the booms that hold the engines and the main landing gear. The photo etch for the landing gear bays is extensive and the photo etch sheet just for the booms is a large 8” X 6” sheet filled with many detailed parts.

 The fifth week of the P-61B I started assembling the nacelles and detailing them. The photo etch set has all the interior walls and bulkhead details. This required a couple of days sanding and scraping the kit details off the parts and preparing them for the photo etch parts. With the basic walls installed I started adding more of the details. First was the mounts for the oxygen tanks. The oxygen tanks themselves were made from 2.5mm styrene rods. These were cut to length and the ends sanded down to round them out. They were painted with insignia yellow and slid into place.

On the bulkhead I added all the photo etch for the wires and hoses. The part of the hoses seen in the photos sticking out will ultimately attach to the landing gear strut. Just to note a fellow modeler noted that the kit struts have the incorrect length so I ordered the SAC metal landing gear struts for this kit. They should arrive early next week.

After assembling the nacelle halves I needed to cut out the supercharger intake screen so that the photo etch screen could be attached. For the top side of the landing gear bay I needed to remove a plastic brace and then install the photo etch panel. I am now working on adding some more details in the landing gear bay then I can get the assemblies mounted to the fuselage.

 Arriving at week 6 of the P-61B the wings were assembled and the rest of the details for the main gear bays were detailed. I then worked on the fuselage by adding the photo etch details and prepared the nose as well. I weighed the model and calculated the weight required to place in the nose so that the model will sit correctly on the landing gear. I used some 5-minute epoxy and mounted the weight into the nose. The wings, nacelles, rear stabilizer, and nose were installed onto the fuselage. 

I then gathered all the canopies and began masking them with kapton tape.

You can see my Tips and Tricks section for more information on masking with kapton tape at Masking with Kapton Tape

With all the canopies masked I then installed them. The aft canopy over the radar operators section was an excellent fit. However the front canopy was not. It required some trimming and sanding to get it very close then I used a little putty on the front edge and the top of the rear edge to blend it with the fuselage. I then masked off the landing gear bays, rear crew entry, and the gun turret area. Everything is now ready for the basecoat of semi-gloss black. Once the painting is completed I will then move on to the decals.

Welcome to the 7th week of the Black Widow build. The past week has been spent on completing the base coat of paint and building up the landing gear. Starting with the nose gear I added the supports for the fender and then added some photo etch to detail the fender. The SAC metal landing gear strut required some minor clean up. On advantage to using the metal struts is the strut shock cylinder can easily be polished to a high shine. I added the landing light from the kit to complete the strut which was then installed. I then added more photo etch details on the nose gear bay for the doors and installed them.

The main gear struts required less clean up. Once painted I added the photo etch lines and hoses. The main wheels even have a photo etch ring for the inboard side. The struts were installed and the gear bay lines that were previously installed were attached to the struts. The main wheels have a flat spot to replicate the aircrafts weight on them. I dry fit the wheels on then sat the aircraft on them. With the wheel flat sections aligned up I placed a drop of glue to hold them in place while I glued the rest of the wheels onto the axles. The nose weight calculations were good. The aircraft now sits perfectly on the tri-gear so I will not need to add any weights to the engine cowls. I am working on the main gear doors then I can begin applying the decals.

Week 8 of the P-61B has been a tough one. You build many models long enough you do make errors occasionally. Many mistakes can be corrected, some modelers move the model to the “shelf of doom” to figure out how to fix it later, some just leave the mistake and continue on, and some will put it in the circular file (aka trash can) Now onto the mistake I made. To start off it was noticed by a few that the main landing gear was installed backwards. The struts should be outboard with the wheels facing inside. I then assessed what it would take to correct the issue. Due to the large amount of photo etch and the current level in this build I had three choices. The first option was to cut apart the wings and booms to swap the complete landing gear bays. The second option would be to leave the landing gear with the incorrect configuration. The third option would be to remove the landing gear and install the landing gear doors closed.

After careful consideration I chose the third option and finish the build “in flight”. Originally I was going to build this kit wheels down and I have the 1/48 HobbyBoss P-61C that I was going to build “in flight” to hang in my studio. Now the GW kit will be the hanging kit and I will use the already detailed SAC metal landing gear on the HobbyBoss kit. With my decision made, I carefully removed the landing gear and reworked the nose gear doors so these could be closed. I spent most of the week adjusting the fit of the landing gear doors. I then built up and painted the turret. I used the Vallejo metal air for the gun barrels.

Moving forward I painted the propellers and applied the decals. I then started applying the decals to the aircraft. I used the kit decals for the “Lady in the Dark” scheme. The decals are slightly thick but with a little decal set and decal solvent they laid down very well. The red walkway lines come in four separate sections but line up well. The red triangles require a little care as there is no carrier film in the middle so they can be easily distorted. Next week I will be weathering the aircraft with pastel chalk and then applying the final top coat to seal everything.

 The “Lady in the Dark” is now finished! First, I know it has been two weeks since my last update. We were out of town last weekend visiting friends. To bring everyone up to date I completed the decals and then weathered the exhaust using pastel chalk. For the exhaust I laid down a medium brown followed by a light gray and finally a streak of black giving the exhaust staining some depth. In the reference photos there are two short whip antennas on each side just behind the nose cone. I use 30AWG wire to simulate these and then sprayed the final top coat of matte on the aircraft. The canopy masks were removed and I then added the wire antenna from the tails to the rear of the main fuselage using EZ-line. I installed the propellers completing this build.

This kit is good in details but has some issues during the build. As stated previously the fuselage assembly is challenging due to the belly guns. The other issue with this kit is the decal sheet shows the wing insignias incorrectly. The previous confusion with the landing gear was due to the Eduard instructions only showing one side of the landing gear bays and showing the numbers for both sides. This led me to assemble the main gear bays backwards. Aside from the incorrect instructions the kit decals worked well. They went down well and conformed to the surface details. Since I changed this to wheels up, this is now displayed hanging. Overall this kit had its issues but in the end it makes for a nice looking P-61B.

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