Douglas P-70 Nighthawk by Revell-Germany
Kit No. 03939
Decals: Two versions – both United States Army Air Force
Comments: Re-issue of MPM kit; engraved panel lines; high quality decals printed in Italy
To shore up its need for a dedicated night fighter in 1940, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) drew up plans for a modified Douglas A-20 “Havoc” (“Boston” to the British) light bomber to fill the role. Development began in 1942 with the expectation that the type would be an interim solution, since the Northrop P-61 “Black Widow” – purposely designed for night fighting – was scheduled to arrive in 1943. A total of 163 conversions were made, some never to see combat at all. An XP-70 served as the series prototype to prove the validity of the conversion and the aircraft then operated under the formal designation of P-70 “Nighthawk.” All P-70s were delivered before September 1942.
It was the British Royal Air Force (RAF) that first realized the A-20’s potential as a night fighter when they converted their A-20 Havocs for the role by installing appropriate air intercept radar and a ventral gun pod, as they had previously done with the Bristol Blenheim. The naturally-glazed nose section was painted over to shroud the radar suite and an additional internal fuel tank was fitted for extended operational ranges. The U.S. Army Air Corps followed suit, arming their A-20s and outfitting them with local copies of the British AI Mk IV radar (as the SCR-540). These aircraft too lost their glazed nose sections. Some fitted a ventral cannon tray with 4 x 20mm cannons while others utilized a “gun nose” mounting 6 or 8 x 0.50 M2 Browning heavy machine guns – continuing the American reliance on all-machine-gun armament for their aircraft. 2 x 0.50 machine guns were fitted under the nose to fire tracer rounds, useful in gun-laying. In these forms, the radar suite was moved to the bomb bay. The armor protection encountered in the original A-20 was reduced to help lighten the operational loads of the P-70s. It was deemed that such an aircraft, in its given role, need not burden itself down with unnecessary protection.
The Douglas A-20 airframe proved a solid choice for the mission ahead. Its dual-engine configuration, particularly over expansive oceans, meant that the aircraft could fly on a single engine if forced. The multiple crew spread the workload around helping to reduce pilot fatigue. Cannon armament – or similar forward-firing firepower – was a prerequisite considering that the crew would have, at best, a single drive against an enemy target and best make the first shots count.
In practice, the P-70 proved a serviceable machine but was mostly fielded in the Pacific Theater. There was already a converted A-20 with radar on station over California after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor to prove the aircraft-radar combination sound. First deliveries of P-70s occurred in April 1942 with machine gun noses while retaining support for 2,000 lbs. of internal stores if needed. The A-1s then followed in 1943 during a period when night fighters were in constant need against marauding Japanese raiders during the fight for Guadalcanal. While P-70s were not capable of high-altitude performance (they lacked superchargers), they fullfilled a role in the Pacific Theatre at a time that nightfighters were badly needed. They served longer than planned because the Northrop P-61 had teething problems which delayed its arrival in the Pacific until 1944.
P-70’s began to be phased out from 1943 as other converted types, including the Grumman Hellcat, promised better results and performance as nightfighters. By the start of 1945, all P-70s were removed from front-line service, ending their operational career in World War II. They served as trainers until their final days, and in this role they graduated some 485 pilots to serve in American night fighter squadrons.
Revell’s P-70 Nighthawk represents a long awaited update to its Nighthawk kit from the 1970’s, and it is a beauty. However, it is also a slick re-boxing of the MPM kit of the same type released in 2013, right down to the decals. But if you are as big a Nighthawk fan as I am, you will not be bothered by such details — personally, I was overjoyed to finally see a new Revell Nighthawk, even if it’s not really theirs. Besides, after a year or so of hunting for the MPM version without success, I was in no mood to quibble, especially because the Revell version is slightly more affordable.
Revell’s P-70 Nighthawk is injection molded in black plastic and consists of five sprues holding 171 parts, 10 of which are clear plastic and offer a choice of plexiglas noses, allowing you to build the A-20G and A-20J versions of the standard A-20 attack bomber from which the P-70 evolved, or the initial versions of the P-70 which featured painted-over plexiglas noses bristling with a radar antenna. It was only later versions that featured a modified solid nose. Parts for both types are provided.
The kit features engraved panel lines and includes a well-detailed cockpit with raised relief on the floor, bulkheads and main instrument panel, and separate parts for instrument panels providing sidewall details. Decals are provided for the seat straps and the instrument panel, although in the case of the latter they are not necessary. The rear compartment is also well detailed with a basic seat and separate parts for radar and navigation equipment. Most important, the long, unique dorsal hatch giving the pilot access to the cockpit is accurately recreated.
The instructions are clear and well illustrated in color, and call out paint numbers for Revell-Germany’s acrylic Aqua Color series in the blue plastic box containers. The schematic of the sprues makes clear that a fair number of the 171 parts provided are not for the P-70 and should ignored.
The engine nacelles have interior bulkheads with raised details, providing a realistic look for the wheel wells. As for the engines, the double Wright Cyclone radial engines are faithfully recreated. The landing gear are detailed with four-part assemblies which will require careful positioning of struts, and offer realistic interior detail on the gear doors. The 20mm ventral gun pack is well-detailed and includes machined chutes for spent shell casings.
The decals say they are printed in Italy for Revell GmbH, so their exact origin is unknown, but most decals originating from Italy are high-quality (with the exception of some older Esci examples) and the P-70 decals are no exception. Examining them closely, it’s clear they will not need to be trimmed terribly closely. They are sharp and crisp with realistic color and perfectly in register. Markings are provided for two versions in overall matt black, including decals for “Dusty,” a P-70 of Detachment A, 6th Night Fighter Squadron, based on New Guinea in late 1943 — the subject of the MPM kit featuring painted-over plexiglas with an antenna protruding from the nose. Also included are markings for “Black Magic,” a machine fitted with the all metal nose, based somewhere in California early in 1944.
This kit is of excellent quality. Long awaited and highly recommended — even if it is an MPM re-box.