Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Rob Ronconi's 1/72 Fiat イ-shiki Ju

The last but by no means least of the season's Army twins is this magnificent -shiki ju (I-type heavy bomber - Fiat Br.20) model made by Rob Ronconi from the 1/72 Italaeri kit which has been going strong since 1972 and was re-released again in Battle of Britain guise only last year. Rob's model represents an aircraft of Hiko Dai 12 Sentai as operated over China during 1938-39. 
Rob observes that some of the mouldings in  the kit reflect its vintage appeal but that nevertheless it was a pretty fun build and relatively straightforward. He replaced all the machine guns with more scale-appropriate weaponry and added a wire antenna loop before completion with an aftermarket PrintScale decal sheet which worked very well. Rob decided to paint over the passenger fuselage windows but was not sure about the accuracy of that choice.

The Japanese operated Fiat had been purchased as the result of an initiative by the Japanese air attaché in Italy Lt Col Seizo Arisue as an interim measure to provide heavy bomber support in China as Type 97 (Ki-21) bomber production would be behind schedule for the Army's pressing operational needs. The type proved fairly rugged in long range unescorted sorties, suffering most from unserviceability issues and a poor ordnance weight to range ratio compared to the Type 97, requiring a reduction in payload from 500 kg to 300 kg in order to reach Chinese targets from its bases.  Although defensive armament was considered to be superior to the Type 97 it was deemed to catch fire too easily. That vulnerability was improved with later aircraft variants delivered resulting in several instances of heavily damaged aircraft being able to return to base. For example on 20 February 1939 Lt Tsunesaburo Nishio's 98th Sentai aircraft returned from a raid against Lanchow with 110 bullet strikes from Chinese fighters, whilst on 23 February Lt Koichi Ohmura's aircraft returned from Lanchow to a crash landing with 153 strikes, including a bullet lodged in Ohmura's seat parachute pack. The bomber had been forced to leave formation with one undercarriage down and was set upon by Chinese fighters in a long running battle where the gunners expended all their ammunition. Ohmura had then put the badly damaged aircraft into a crash dive considered fatal but managed to recover at low-level. Of the ten I-shiki losses during operations only five were shot down by fighters whilst the others were force landed with damage or engine failures, including Maj Fujita's aircraft (see below).

The I-shiki was operated by Hiko Dai 12 Sentai from January 1938, with a planned 24 bombers in  four Chutai, and by Hiko Dai 98 Sentai from August 1938, formed from the 3rd and 15th independent squadrons. The 3rd had been operating the Italian bomber against railway targets from May to June 1938.  The 12th Sentai deployed to China with three Chutai each of four bombers from September 1938 and engaged in long range attacks against Lanchow during the winter of 1938-39 in tough weather conditions. Lanchow was a major hub for Soviet aid to China, especially in aircraft, and therefore a strategic target.  The 98th were engaged in operations over central China but participated in the Lanchow operation during February 1939.  By the end of November 1938 the 12th had 9 aircraft serviceable from a strength of 19 whilst the 98th also had 9 serviceable from a strength of 38. In February 1939 Maj Yuzo Fujita of the Army Test Centre had attempted a flight from Tachikawa in Japan to Hankow to demonstrate that the I-shiki could achieve longer range flights but became lost due to cloud cover and had to force land 100 km west of the city. He and his crew encountered Chinese troops on their walk back to Japanese territory and were all killed in the ensuing gun battle. This incident had an adverse if unwarranted effect on Japanese confidence in the bomber's long range capability. 
The Japanese purchased 72 of the Fiat bombers which were delivered unassembled and by ship in batches of 12. What happened to the survivors when they were replaced by the Type 97? Well at least 13 of them ended up parked neatly on the apron at Shinchiku airfield in north-west Formosa where they were photographed during a 14th AF strike on 25 November 1943, presumably being used as decoys.  

With special thanks to Rob for sharing these images and details of the build,
References: Japanese Army Heavy Bomber Units by Yasuho Izawa (unpublished translation); Le Fiat BR.20 by Yves Domange (Lela Presse, 2004); Fiat BR.20 by Pawel Babinski (Wydawnictwo Militaria, 1999); Flight in the China Air Space 1910-1950 by Malcolm Rosholt (Rosholt House, 1984).
Image credit:- All photos © 2021 Rob Ronconi.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Special Hobby Ki-54 On The Way!

Continuing the theme of Army twins into this New Year with a hat tip to Danilo for kindly alerting me to this announced future release by Special Hobby of a 1/72 kit of the Tachikawa Ki-54 Hei 'Hickory', Army Type 1 Transport. Long overdue as a mainstream kit but mixed feelings about likely ease of build and availability. Will this announcement deter Hasegawa, Tamiya, Fine Molds et al and become a sad repeat of the Ki-21 story?  

This has an old series number SH72270 but according to Hannants is a brand new kit.

Image credit:- Box art © 2021 Special Hobby

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Rob Ronconi's 1/72 Kawasaki Ki-48

It is a delight to be able to continue this brief season of Japanese Army twins with another Kawasaki Ki-48 model built from the Hasegawa (ex-Mania) kit in 1/72 scale, this time by Rob Ronconi. This Lily is all closed up and resplendent in a very effectively realised kumogata scheme to represent an aircraft of Hiko Dai 34 Sentai. The 34th was established in Indo-China in October 1942, serving on the Burma front as part of the 4th Air Brigade from Loilem (near Heho) with 20 aircraft on strength and 15 committed to operations. From February 1944 the unit was deployed to the New Guinea theatre but operated there at very low strength with an average of only 12-13 aircraft and at one point was described as a training unit. Withdrawn twice to the Philippines for refitting it was disbanded in August 1944.    

Rob described a straight forward build from the box with no fit or assembly problems worth mentioning. The only additions being an Albion Alloy pitot tube, and EZ line antenna wire. Rob also substituted the kit RDF loop with one made by wrapping fine solder wire around a pen to achieve the desired circumference and diameter. Tamiya paint mixes were used and the propellers were finished and chipped with a silver Prismacolor pencil.

With special thanks to Rob for kindly sharing these images of his Ki-48 model. The two splendid Ki-48 models by Rob and Kevin Bade featured here should inspire some rummaging through the stash to build this excellent and unsurpassed kit, whether in Mania or Hasegawa boxes, and there are plenty of aftermarket decals available for it.

Image credit: All photos © 2020 Rob Ronconi


Monday, 28 December 2020

Otaki 1/48 A6M5 Zero by John Haas

This model could not be included in the recently featured collection of John Haas' vintage Zero models due to a heavy landing accident following its sortie from his display cabinet and resulting in damage to the undercarriage and antenna. John has effected repairs and photographed it anew for Aviation of Japan. 

Built from the 1/48 scale Otaki A6M5c kit but modified to represent an A6M5 Otsu with wing mounted drop tanks operated by 407 Hikotai of 221 Ku, the 'Z' under the tail code denoting a fighter-bomber with central bomb rack for long range anti-shipping attack missions. The model also features over-painted white borders on the wing upper surface and fuselage hinomaru.  

Originally released in 1971 this kit was also issued by AMT/ERTL in 1990 and was afterwards available under the Arii label with 1973 box art by Rikyu Watanabe

With special thanks to John for kindly sharing these images of another vintage Zero.

Image credit: All model photos © 2020 John Haas; Box art © 1991 Arii

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Season's Greetings

With Very Best Wishes to All Aviation of Japan Readers for the Christmas Season and New Year

And with very special thanks to those who have very kindly shared images and details of their models, those who have generously shared the fruits of their research and those who have taken the time to leave comments.

Image credit:- Uragawa Hiroshige Snow on New Year’s Day at Susaki, 1831-32, from the series Famous Places in the Eastern Capital.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Kevin Bade's 1/72 Kawasaki Ki-48

Still on the theme of Army twins Kevin Bade has very kindly shared these images of his excellent 1/72 scale Kawasaki Ki-48 'Lily' model, built from the classic Hasegawa (ex-Mania) kit.

Kevin built the model about ten years ago from the 1995 Hasegawa special edition release with 1-1 missile and commends the kit as a joy to build and truly a fine example of Mania's then cutting edge technology with fine panel lines, a wonderful fit and a really well detailed interior for the 1970s. An Eduard photo-etch set was used to augment the interior but little can be seen even with the kit canopies carefully cut and positioned open. Eduard masks were indispensable for painting the canopy frames.

Aeromaster paints from Kevin's stock were used as he finds those the best airbrushing paints he has ever used, grey for the overall colour with dark green camouflage blotching. The hinomaru are kit decals whilst the tail insignia came from an unknown aftermarket sheet representing the 1st Shotai leader's aircraft from the 2nd Chutai of Hiko Dai 8 Sentai, a mixed reconnaissance and light bomber regiment.

With very special thanks to Kevin for sharing these images of an excellent model made from a classic and not yet surpassed kit of this widely used Japanese light bomber. 

Image credit: All photos © 2020 Kevin Bade