American Night Fighters
Douglas P-70 – North American F-82G – Douglas F3D-2
Intercepting aircraft at night was almost impossible before the invention of radar. Even the early radar sets were too large, heavy and limited to be of much use during the early years of World War 2. The innovation of lighter electronic equipment allowed aircraft of both sides to carry radar sets but the necessity for large antennas limited their use to larger aircraft until the invention centemetric radar, which came into allied service around the middle of the war. This allowed the use of much improved air intercept radar which remained key to effective aircraft interception at night for many years to come. Let’s look at three relatively early radar equipped United States fighters.
Douglas P-70 in 1/72 by Revell
This aircraft was as conversion of the Douglas A-20/Boston light bomber. In its new role it was fitted with additional forward firing machine guns or machine guns and cannon and an early version of air intercept radar. Planning for the conversion began in 1940 and the first batch of 60 had been delivered by September 1942. In all 163 A-20s were converted into P-70. They flew combat missions exclusively in the Pacific theater of operations. They were relatively effective but lacked performance for high altitude flight. They were a stopgap before the Northrop P-61 entered service and all P-70s had been withdrawn from service by 1945.
This model was made using the Revell kit which was first published as an A-20 kit in 1967 and with parts to make the P-70 version in 1975. Given the quality of many Revell kits from this period I was surprised and pleased by the quality of this kit and enjoyed making it. I don’t recall what the qhailty of the radar antennas was like but they might have been crude because I replaced them with finer ones made from stretched sprue. According to Scalemates the Matchbox kit is a reissued Revell kit. You also have the option of the MPM kit that is a conversion of that company’s A-20G which has the rear turret and represents a later P-70. The Modelling Madness review concludes that the Revell kit can be made into a ‘gorgeous model’ using your skill and patience. I haven’t seen the MPM kit, or a review of it, but later MPM kits are pretty good so you should be okay with it
North American F-82G in 1/72 by Idea
This aircraft was designed late in World War 2 as a very long range escort fighter for B-29 bombers attacking Japanese targets. It comprised two modified North American P-51H fuselages that were lengthened to give greater fuel capacity and linked by new center sections. Although the first aircraft had flown before the end of the war they had not yet entered service. By then the air force was interested in the new jet engines but needed F-82s until jets had been sufficiently developed so they were flown as day interceptors during the late 1940s. The F-82G was a special night fighter version developed to replace the earlier Northrop P-61 with the pilot on one side and the radar operator on the other. They entered service in 1948 and were used operationally during the Korean War. They did not remain in service long, being replaced by jet powered interceptors in the early 1950s.
I made this model from the Idea kit that was published in 1985 and seems to be an almost direct copy of the Monogram kit first published in 1973. I can’t say that I enjoyed this kit and the decals in it were so bad that I ended up buying a second hand Monogram kit so that I had decent decals for the completed model. You can make the kit as either the night fighter version with the big radar or as the day fighter version without it. A better option might be the Special Hobby kit which was published as both versions in 2010. Special Hobby kits are invariably more difficult to build than earlier kits like the Monogram one and the review of the Special Hobby kit in Fine Scale Modeler comments that it is difficult to make and some of the dimensions are incorrect. So perhaps there is still value in the old Monogram kit which the review on the Aeroscale website still rates favourably. I guess the decision on which one to build would also include cost and availability.
Douglas F3D-2 in 1/72 by Sword
This aircraft was designed and built specifically for the United States Navy as an all-weather night fighter. It was made large in order to accommodate the early radar sets and an operator for it. Development began in 1945 and the prototype made its first flight in March 1948 with 268 being manufactured. The US Marine Corps began using them from land bases in Korea in August 1952 where they scored more kills against enemy aircraft than any other Navy type, including MiG-15s. In January 1953 they also began flying escort missions with Air Force B-29s on night bombing missions. They remained in service until 1970 in other roles including electronic warfare.
This model was made from the Sword kit which first published in 2013. The only other readily available version if the Matchbox kit that was published in 1987. The only reason to make the Matchbox kit these days is because you found it very cheap at a Swap Meet and you haven’t yet seen the Sword kit. True, the review of the Matchbox kit on the Modelling Madness website makes it look very attractive <<https://modelingmadness.com/scott/viet/f3d.htm>> but that was written before the Sword kit came along. I’d recommend the Sword kit highly, as would the reviewer for Fine Scale Modeller who says he is going to be buying more of the Sword kits and selling his Matchbox kits of this aircraft.