Dragon 1/72 P-61B Black Widow

KIT #: 5036
DECALS: Three Options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: includles color photo etch

 The P-61 in the Pacific

The 6th NFS based on Guadalcanal received their first P-61s in early June, 1944. The aircraft were quickly assembled and underwent flight testing as the pilots transitioned from the squadron's aging P-70s. The first operational P-61 mission occurred on 25 June, and the type scored its first kill on 30 June 1944 when a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was shot down.

Throughout the summer of 1944, P-61s operating in the Pacific Theater would see sporadic action against Japanese aircraft. Most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted, but when the enemy was detected they were often in groups, with the attack resulting in multiple kills for that pilot and radar operator, who would jointly receive credit for the kill.

In the Pacific Theater in 1945, P-61 squadrons struggled to find targets. One squadron succeeded in destroying a large number of Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lily" Japanese Army Air Force twin-engined bombers, another shot down several Mitsubishi G4M "Bettys", while another pilot destroyed two Japanese Navy Nakajima J1N1 "Irving" twin-engined fighters in one engagement; but most missions ended with no enemy aircraft sighted. Several Pacific Theater squadrons finished the war with no confirmed kills at all. The 550th could only claim a crippled B-29 Superfortress, shot down after the crew had bailed out having left the plane on autopilot.

On 30 January 1945, a lone P-61 performed a vital mission that was instrumental in the successful effort of the U.S. Rangers to free over 500 Allied POWs held by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. As the Rangers crept up on the camp, a P-61 swooped low and performed aerobatic maneuvers for several minutes. The distraction of the guards allowed the Rangers to position themselves, undetected, within striking range of the camp. The story of the rescue and the role of the P-61 is told in the book Ghost Soldiers (by Hampton Sides) and in The Great Raid, a movie based upon the book, though the absence of a flying P-61 forced the filmmakers to feature a Lockheed Hudson in the film in its place.

Last kill of World War II

It is widely believed. that the last enemy aircraft destroyed before the Japanese surrender was downed by a P-61B-2 named "Lady in the Dark" (s/n 42-39408) of the 548th NFS. The aircraft was piloted by Lt. Robert W. Clyde and R/O Lt. Bruce K. LeFord on 14 August/15 August 1945 claiming a Nakajima Ki-44 "Tojo". It should be noted, though, that the destruction of the "Tojo" came without a shot being fired. After the pilot of the "Tojo" sighted the attacking P-61, he descended to wave-top level and began a series of evasive maneuvers which ended with his aircraft striking the water and exploding. Lts. Clyde and LeFord were never officially credited with this possible final kill of the War. 


This particular kit was released back over a decade ago when Dragon was known as DML. The kit holds up well with what is produced today with the usual nicely engraved panel lines and crisp detailing. Dragon has packed each sprue number in its own bag, meaning that only the engine/cowling/prop/main gear sprues have been duplicated. Molding is in great shape and while I did find some ejector pin marks, there is no flash or sink areas readily apparent. Even the inner gear door area is nicely detailed. The least detailed part of the kit that I could see, was the engine faces. The cylinders are devoid of detailing, but then, they are also pretty much hidden by the props and spinners.

The cockpit is well done though a tad basic. Thankfully, Dragon has decided to include color photo etch for this kit and the majority of that will go to adding to the interior with instrument faces, belts and a bunch of other bits and pieces. This particular kit, being the later B model, uses a solid nose. A transparent nose as used in earlier P-61As is included, but not used. This gives room for the copious amount of weight that will be needed to keep it on its nose gear. The instructions show that weight is needed but gives no amount. The only real option is to include the four under wing fuel tanks and one will need to open holes if one is to use these. What is probably inaccurate is the shape of the upper turret. The P-61 had difficulty with this item as it frequently caused buffeting when not kept in the straight forward position. A reshaped one was developed and used in the Pacific, but as this kit is a bit on the old side, that information was probably not available to the kit engineers and we get what appears to me to be the 'standard' turret.

The instructions are standard Dragon from the period with Gunze and ModelMaster color information. There are three options with all of them in overall gloss black with Interior Green wheel wells and inner gear doors. The box art plane is the famous 'Lady in the Dark' from the 548 NFS based on Iwo Jima during 1945. A 418 NFS aircraft from the South Pacific in 1944 with the tail band is next, and finally a 422 NFS plane from France in 1945. This latter plane has the other nose art. I'm also pretty certain that the exhaust stains on the wing are not in the green that is shown on the box.  The decals look to be pretty good but only use will tell for sure.


Though I have never built the Dragon P-61, the only other real choice in 1/72 scale is the Airfix kit which I have built. It was a challenge. This one looks to be quite nicely done and though it will probably take careful construction, as do all the older Dragon/DML kits, it should build into a real beauty.

May 2009

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