On The Bench

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Northrop P-61A Black Widow Build Review
G.W.H. (Great Wall Hobby) GWH4806
Scale: 1/48


Started: June 2012
Finished: Oct 2012
As with most aircraft models, construction begins with the cockpit. I was able to find a fair bit of reference photos of the P-61 interior and I was quite impressed with the job that GWH had done. The P-61 was designed to carry a crew of 3. The pilot and gunner were situated in the front cockpit whilst the radar/radio operator sat in the tail. Much of the work I did on the interior was really just adding more detail (oxygen hoses etc) to make it feel more busy. Using the available reference photos my detailing work also re-arranged some of the kit provided parts to make the pilots area feel more cramped as the GWH layout feels too spacious. As I had the older Mongram kit along with just about every aftermarket detail set produced for that kit, I wanted to make use of as much of it as I could (selling it did not seem like a useful thing to do).

The completed pilots area now looks much busier than before. Nothing I have added was to correct problems with what GWH provides, it's simply to make the cockpit look more detailed (eg realistic)
Early work on the rear compartment in which the rader/radio operator sat. The PE panels have all been taken from the Eduard sets I had left over from the old Monogram kit.
The GWH provided rear entry door is quite nicely detailed. The PE shown here is provided in the kit.
Quite a bit of extra's added in this compartment. Not sure that much of it will be visible when its all buttoned up, but its good fun (yes fun) to add in :)
Whilst probably not really needed (nor visible on the finished model) as I had the Eduard set for the monogram kit I decided to use as much of it as possible.
I have found that "anealing" (over a naked flame) the photo-etch parts like seat belts helps to soften the brass so that it will bend in a more natural fashion, rathet than kinking.
Much of this detailing is educated guess work as there are not that many clear photos of the rear compartment that I could find.
Again parts have been scavenged from the Eduard PE set designed for the Monogram kit. Not surprisingly most fitted the GWH kit with little or no modifcation
My original intention was to fully detail the wing leading edge intakes. This changed further into the build as in the end I decided to simply blank them off with FOD covers.
You can see I progressed a fair way on my plan to detail the interior of the wing intakes.
The intake was looking pretty good. In the end the decision to abandon this work was based on the challenge (and time needed) to get a satisfactory finish on the wing seam join and also add all the internal detailing once it was joined up, also painting it all once it was closed up was gonna be a headache.
Laminating the PE parts to plastic card is a trick I picked up from somewhere and has served me well. Its a simple process and allows you to apply the parts on the model in their final position with more precision (and working time) than using CA glue directly.
I did try to salvage the GWH turret by using my Dremel tool to thin out the parts but this just ended up with a bigger gap at the bottom. In the end I gave up and switched to the Monogram turret instead.
The Quickboost engine despite the fact that it was designed for the Monogram kit was a viable option for a time, however when I decided to open the cowlings which meant you would be able to see a lot more of the rear row of cylinders I switched back to using the kit engine. Of course shortly after I started to detail up the kit engines, Eduard released a resin engine for this kit. Always the way...
One of the "problems" with the GWH kit that was not fixed in the second boxing was the way they supplied the spinner and props molded as a single unit. This really was not acceptable to me and so my first idea was to cut the props off and drill out the spinner. In this picture you see the kit spinner with the props removed and plasticard inserted inside to provide something to drill into. Once I realised that True Details had released a resin spinner and props, I stopped work on the kit items and ordered the resin parts. This had the added benefit of being a more accurate size (see the noticable difference between the two spinners)
By switching to the True Details spinner it became necessary to rework the cranckcase covers to ensure they matched the diameter of the new spinners. Easist wway to do this was to scratchbuild new ones from evergreen tube.
Here we see the whole assembly coming together. The magnetos have been added back onto the scratchbuilt crankcase cover.
Whilst the kit engines are quite good, as I was planning to display this one engine with the cowls off it needed some more detail added. I also need to add some supports onto which to attach the front of the cowl. This was achieved by using brass rods
The final step in detailing the engine was to add the ignition leads, 36 in total as each of the 18 cylinders has two spark plugs. My first attempt was to solder the copper wire but this was not very successful. In the end I used super glue and the result was fine.
I chose to paint the interior using Mr Color "Interior Green" rather than Zinc Chromate Yellow as I have seen others do. A light wash of Raw Umber oil paint was applied to accentuate the details followed by a light dry brush of Model Master "Chrome Silver" to simulate the normal wear n tear.
The kit instrument panel is again quite good and GWH supplied all the instrument faces as indiviual decals. A bit time consuming but the end result is worth it. All the placard decals you see here are provided in the kit.
The detailing in the rear compartment included some printed maps and clipboard, instruments decals from the spares box and carefully painted wiring looms to make the area look realistically cluttered.
I was very happy with how the front cockpit turned out. The extra effort to add the copper wire hoses and wiring looms was worth it.
One last job before I sealed up the fuselage was preparing to fit the 20mm cannon barrels from the outside (ie at the end when the model was completed). To make this possible I needed to add a support guide to the inside of the lower fuselage for each of the 4 cannon holes. Here we can see the two supports on the port side of the lower fuselage which will guide the canon barrels when I slide them into the model at the very end.
Whilst the fueslage was drying I some tidy up work on the two tail booms. Here we see the panel lines being added back after seam sanding is complete.
The crew entry doors (fore and aft) as supplied by GWH are very good. A coat of interior green and some weathering as all that is needed.
With the fuselage seam dry, it was time to sort out the fit of the clear parts. The P-61 has a lot of transparencies both fore and aft and the fit of these was "ok" but not great, especially the front cockpit canopy. This part had a fairly significant step that needed filling at the rear and as can be seen in this photo, the forward join to the fuselage also needed some help.
As the gap was quite large and I did not like the idea of trying to fill and sand it once the clear part was installed I decided to build up the low side with card and sand it back. Care was still needed to ensure I did not damage the instrument panel or yoke in the cockpit proper.
The fit of the rear clear parts was quite good and because I planned to display this model on a maintenance base I wanted some of the access doors open. GWH provides the emergency door on the rear compartment as a separate part so this made my job easier.
In every photo of WWII P-61's the top canopy panel of the pilots station is open. GWH provides this part for us and all it needs is to be pinned
Another simple correction needed on each flap involves adding the horizontal brace in the middle. GWH have this part outlined on each flap but this incorrect as this part is fixed to the wing and not the flap.
If you are reading this article and intend to use the GWH supplied masks for the canopy, my advice is to throw them in the bin. The adhesive they use on the masks tends to not come away cleanly when removed and more than half of them just don't fit. Better to go with an Eduard set or just use masking tape.
Even though its double the masking work, I almost always elect to mask and paint the interior framing of canopies. As I was planning to display the P-61 with many open canopy panels I really had to continue that policy on this model. I find that masking the external window panes first is easier as you can use the framing as a guide. When you then go to mask the interior you can use the visible exterior masking as a guide to ensure they line up.
The clear tailcone is going to be a pain for most modelers (me included) as GWH do not provide any framing on the clear part to allow you to mask and sand it into the fuselage. In the end I chose to glue carefully to the fuselage and then fill (with super glue) and sand flat the join. Of course this makes a mess of the clear part, but like most things in modeling, this can be fixed.
Once the join is removed, the clear part can be buffed and polished to bring it back. I've learned through experience not to be frightened of working with clear plastic.
The general fit of the GWH parts is very good. Like most models though, seams have to be removed and panel lines rescribed as needed. In some cases, parts join seams occur where the real aircraft does not have a natural panel line.
The join where the boom meets the wing is a pretty good fit but does need sanding to tidy it up. GWH gives us some really nice rivet and panel detail on top of the wing which will be very visible on the finished model. Once we repair the seam a lot of the damaged panel/rivet detail has to be rescribed.
A quick improvement that will be highly visible (and therefore worth doing) is to replace the antenna dipoles with brass rod. The larger rear antenna is fitted thru a hole drilled in the mounting bracket and the smaller forward antenna is carefully butt glued to the bracket.
As I wanted to display one of the engines with the cowling covers off and unlike the Monogram kit, GWH do not give you parts to do this out-of-the-box. Step 1 in fabricating new cowling covers was to determine accurately the corerct shape. Here I have simply laid down some Tamiya tape onto the kit cowling and then using a new sharp blade, trimmed along the panel lines for a single cover (there are 3 covers around the circumference of the engine).
Step 2 is to remove the tape and stick it to some suitably scale thickness copper sheet. A sharp blade in a heavy duty craft knife (Stanley knife) is then used to cut alog the edges of the tape. This template was used 3 times to make all the cowling covers.
With the panel cut out and the edges cleaned up, I added some basic rivet detail and then used the kit part as a guide for bending to obtain the correct curvature (now you see why I used copper).
The landing gear in general is well done by GWH. The only extras I added was some basic copper wire to simulate the brake lines. It may be wise to use a brass or steel pin to strengthen the cross member where it joins the main leg because this join will bare the weight of the whole model once its installed. I found out the hard way right at the end of the build when both sides collapsed and I had to pin them.
Here are the parts (minus on of the cylinder banks) for one engine. At this stage no weathering washes have been applied and you can see how unrealistic it looks if you just assembled it like this.
Compare the engine after oil washes, paint chipping and dry brushing has been applied. Hardly looks like the same as the previous photo with all the component parts, but it is. Looking at the engine like this I wonder if all that extra work was worth it but if you took away the ignition wires and the other additions it would look just that much less realistic. Often its all those little things that work together to give you that something special.
I include this photo mainly to show for the record the amount of effort that GWH has to gone to with the kit engines. This will all be hidden forerver once the model is mated to the nacelle.
The completed engines are ready to be mated to the booms when the main model is finished. Notice that the engine on the left has no ignition wire or interior detail added because this one will have the full cowling placed over it. What you see on the left is pretty much the kit engine (well the cylinders etc anyway)
Once all the seam work is complete its time to begin the painting. You may think this photo shows the final black coat, but you would be wrong. This is in fact a coat of primer. For this task I used Tamiya X-18 Semi Gloss Black as I wanted a dark primer and something that gave a smooth finish over which I would apply the coat of Alclad Aluminium. I have really taken a liking to Tamiya paints of late and Semi Gloss Black is one I use regularly.
Once the Semi Gloss Black primer is dry (overnight is fine for the semi gloss) a normal coat of Alclad Aluminium ALC 101 is applied. As I was not sure at this point just how much chipping I would do I decided to cover the entire airframe. Note the the nosecone is painted a tan color to represent the perspex item and likewise the control surfaces were painted a cloth color.
After the Alclad has dried, I applied via airbrush a light coat of a new product I have been using lately to do paint chipping. Its from an Italian company called True Earth - Run Off Effect. The way you use it is very similar to the "Hairspray Technique" which basically uses water soluable hairspray to create a barrier coat between two layers of paint. To randomly remove (ie chip) the top coat you apply water and let it soak thru the top coat (which must be acrylic based) and when it hits the hairspray (or in my case the True Earth Run Off Effect) it disolves and the top coat comes away. Takes a bit of practise but I like the results. If your wondering what this photo has to do with the P-61, well its nothing. I borrowed it from the True Earth website to illustrate how the product works.
So after leaving the True Earth Run Off Effect to dry (15 mins) a fairly light coat of Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black was applied to the whole airframe. I like the Rubber Black as its not completely black when compared to XF-1 Black. As you can see from the photo I also applied a small amount of light grey to the mix and thin very heavily to fade the centers of most panels on the model. I prefer this technique to pre-shading with a darker color. Not sure what happend to the color of these photos because Rubber Black is certainly much blacker than it appears here (see some of the later photos)
Once I left the XF-85 to dry (a few hours) it was time to start the chipping process. I had no real process to follow here other than to generously apply water on a brush to the part of the model I wanted to chip and start rubbing. The good thing about this technique is that the paint comes away randomly and looks realistic and the bad thing about this technique is the the paint comes away randomly and sometimes not exactly as you would like. Oh well. I concentrated on the wing and tail leading edges and tail booms as these are where war time photos show most obvious wear on the P-61's black paint.
Overall I was more than pleased with the result given it was the first time I had used this technique on a large scale. Some areas I did not like the look of but given I was going for a random effect I figured random is random, don't be a control freak ...
Because I wanted to chip the nose of the model (just like the real thing) I had previously undercoated it with a non metalic color as the radome was made from perspex. Its a small detail but one that if not done right will be picked up by someones keen eye.
With the chipping complete to my satisfaction it was time for a coat of gloss clear (Future floor polish in my case). Next up was the decals and I used an older sheet Aeromaster 48-628 Black Widows Pt.1 I chose this sheet because of the red cowl flaps and spinners which I believed would liven up the model with some color. As expected the decals performed faultlessly.
Of the three options provided on the decal sheet I chose Midnite Madness which was actually written off during the war when it was literally run over by another P-61 which failed to see it still on the runway (it had blown a tire on landing) due to fog.
My decision to to highlight the panel lines with a light color will not be to everyones taste. However by the time I got to this stage I had looked at plenty of PTO P-61's and even in black and white you could quite clearly see the coral dust had settled in the panel joins and against the black paint was very visible. To not put some sort of wash on the panel lines would have been a shame as GWH has done a beautiful job in the detail and I kinda wanted to show it off (without looking unrealistic).
Once the excess panel wash was removed and cleaned up with White Spirits (I used Model Master Light Grey for the wash) I think the effect worked well. I knew this would (could) be toned down with additional weathering to come after.
Initally I was not going to weather the decals (in particular the national insignia). This was because in most of the wartime photos I had seen, even if the rest of the airframe was in bad shape, the stars n bars etc were pretty good. My reading revealed that the ground crews were required to make sure that national insignia and any other significant identification markings were repainted as needed. Having said that, given the rest of the model was by this stage so beat up (with more to come), it just looked kinda odd not to have at least some wear and tear on the decals. Some carefully abrading with micro mesh pads was enough to wear thru the decal and give it a tired look.
Despite all that had come before I was still not finished with the finish of this model. I wanted to give the paint finish a natural (ie random) faded weathered look and I had heard about the salt technique before but never had the courage to give it a go. A great post by Chuck Sawyer on ARC was what I needed to push me to give it a try.
First step in this method is to cover the model with water (use an airbrush or spray atomiser) and then sprinkle Sea Salt over the surface. Just literally apply it as I've shown here. More is better and plenty will come off when you dry it.
Let the salt/water dry (you can use a hair dryer to speed things up like me just be careful to keep it moving or the model will start to react badly). Once the salt is dry you mix up the paint you want to apply to your base color (in my case black) to give the faded/patchy effect. I chose to use a very dark grey (Model Master Enamel Gunship Grey) as I I did not want it to contrast to much with the black. Make this paint very thin and lightly mist it over the model. The whole idea here is that the salt grains act as a random mask. This photo was taken AFTER I had sprayed the Gunship Grey and so you can see its not very heavy. You don't want this layer to over power the base black paint.
Once the Gunship Gray had dryed (assisted again by the hair dryer) you simply rinse the salt off over the kitchen sink under luke warm water. Dry off with a paper towel and hope for the best. I was very pleased with the result being my first attempt. If you wondered why I sometimes use Arylic paints and then switch to Enamel paints its because by using Model Master Enamel Gunship Gray for this layer, had it all gone wrong I could have wiped it all off with white spirit and not affected any of the paint below, because it all acrylic and sealed by a coat of future. Call it an insurance policy.
The tail boom came up particularly well. Theres no doubt that this sort of "extreme" weathering will give many modelers a moment of pause when that consider doing it themselves. I have to admit my heart was in my mouth when I was covering my pride and joy with salt, but as they say you can't make and omlette without breaking a few eggs. Luckily this egg was not rotten :)
A final shot of the patchy effect provided by the salt masking. The model was not ready for application on the characteristic exhaust stains in the wing tops and booms. The masking tape could come off and all the detailed parts be added on.
I had always intended to display this model on a dedicated base. Eduards PSP matting base was used this time around. The various figures are taken from the Monogram P-61 kit and the General (it actually Douglas Macarthur if you look closely) from the Tamiya set. The drums and can, boxes etc are from a Verlinden set and the very nice Willys Jeep is again by Verlinden (much nicer than the Hasegawa Jeep imo). The guns are all from the kit and the tarp is made from lead foil.
This was a project I had to work hard on from time to time as I had a very specific idea in my mind of what I wanted the model to look like, in particular the weathering. Paint chipping and salt masking were two entirly new techniques I used here and I'm very glad I did because not only has it improved this model but given me the confidence to use them again in the future. If you want to see the final photos of this model, click here. for the Gallery section.