1/72 P-61B "Black Widow"
Kit Number: DRA 5036 Premium Edition
Reviewed by  Ned Ricks, IPMS# 36013

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MSRP: $29.99
Website: www.dragonmodelsusa.com

Dragon has produced a fantastic 1/72 scale plastic kit of the Black Widow. This Premium Edition kit depicts a P-61B variant. This Premium Edition kit has an array of newly designed photo-etched parts to upgrade details and improve the aircraft's look. There are lots of things to love with this big boy, even for a some-time aircraft guy such as myself.

Background History: The Northrop P-61, was shrouded in secrecy from its inception. Known as the "BLACK WIDOW", it was the first U.S. aircraft designed exclusively as a night fighter. The P-61 was the most advanced night fighter of its day, possessing incredible capabilities of destruction. Four .50 caliber machine guns were mounted in a dorsal turret and four 20 millimeter cannons in the ventral location on the fuselage pod. The improved P-61B featured more effective SCR-720C A/I radar, a slightly lengthened nacelle, and was was approximately 8 inches longer than the "A" model. Of the four hundred-fifty "B's" produced, only the second two hundred had the dorsal turret.

The Dragon kit was very impressive to me even when I had just opened the box. The sprues were poly-bagged and there was an accompanying set of photo-etch. The plastic is grey and has a nice consistency - soft enough to work, but crisp enough to hold details.

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I found that some of the photo etch was "Fiddly-bits," especially the teeny handles for side panels of cockpit. The pre-painted photo-etch ROCKS, and gives a great detail, such as the seat belts and the instrument panel. The cockpit ("The Office") does not have an "open" option to show off the cockpit detail, which is a shame. I was initially confused by the instructions decals versus PE details. Photo etch parts are labels "MA," and the decals are a number in a circle. The model has a neat replica of the crew boarding ladder that takes them up through the forward wheel well into the cockpit via a drop-down ladder. The ladder is plastic and broke (three times) when I cut it from the sprue and while trying to repair/salvage my blunder. Maybe photo-etch would be better, or a more careful modeler. Use your razor saw.

[review image] In keeping with the size of the actual aircraft, the tires are big! They have a diamond pattern that gets disrupted when sanding or scraping seam from gluing the two halves together. Solid cast resin tires are available on the Internet, as are resin engines and the gun pack. Photo etch is provided for brake lines to attached to the landing gear. Those parts went on a lot easier than I thought they would and add a nice sense of realism. Dragon has provided good molded-in detail even in wheel wells. If I knew what those raised things were, I might paint them to resemble tubes, or hoses, or whatever.

Lots of intricate masking was required for canopies which seemed to be composed of as many small panes of Perspex as possible. It was like a green house! This set of instructions calls for the solid nose, but a clear part is provided, so another variant may be planned. The nose part is a just a bit too narrow to fit the fuselage assembly. I measured the clear part to see if it would be a better fit (I could paint it black if I had to). No joy; they are the same size. Putty may be called for. The P-61B was painted an overall gloss black as were many P-61A's, although initially the P-61A was painted in the conventional olive drab over neutral gray. The P-61B, when painted a glossy black, was almost invisible in the night skies. For scale perspective and to allow a little panel line coloring, I mixed gloss black with gloss white to make my own dark gray. The end result still seemed a bit shiny to my eye, so I dusted the finished product with a bit of Dullcote. The kit's Cartograf decals slide off easily after a short time in Windex + water. The red pattern on the top of the wings and fuselage doesn't seem to fit if you use the instructions' illustration as a guide. After fuming at myself for not planning better, I found it best to put on the aft pieces and then align to fore segments. Several of the warnings, fuel labels, etc. are visually lost due to red decal on dark paint. I skipped them.

The manufacturer recommends putting weights in the nose and also the engine cowlings. The cowlings allow the engine itself to sit forward, so there is a bit of space to load up more lead. Believe the instructions! I gave thought to using the wheel wells to hide more weight, but they sit behind the center of gravity, so I skipped that.

This kit is Recommended, at least by this reviewer. It was a pleasant, recreational build with no hassles (that weren't self-inflicted). The resulting model is one that is a nice addition to my collection.

The MSRP is $29.99. My thanks, and those of IPMS, goes Dragon Models USA for providing this kit for review.

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