Tuesday, 9 September 2014

1/48th scale Kyushu K9WI Maple (Cypress) by John Haas

This time another exquisite John Haas 'little gem' in the form of the diminutive Kyushu K9WI Momiji (楓 - Maple), Allied code name Cypress, Navy Type 2 Primary Trainer Model 11, a license- build Bücker Bü-131"Jungmann". It was originally built under licence for the IJN but in 1943 the Japanese Army also adopted it as the Ki-86, Type 4 Primary Trainer, ultimately using more than three times as many as the Navy. 

John made this model from a 1/48th scale vacuform kit from MPM Models, now out of production. He was impressed by the MPM vacuforms and managed to purchase most of the range including some rare examples like the FW-89, Tupelov SB-2  and Siebel Si-204.

Whilst appreciative that it usually takes more care and experience to build vacuforms than injection moulded kits, John thought this one was a piece of cake. However the small parts which were injection moulded took a lot of work to clean up and remove flash from. John liked the special camouflage paint- diagram, which also included the underside.

The Kyushu Aeroplane Co. (Kyushu Hikoki K K), originally the Watanabe Ironworks Ltd (Watanabe Tekkosho K K) also made other types for the Navy and produced wheels for other aircraft manufacturers. The IJN had first evaluated the Bücker Bü-131 in 1938 as a potential replacement for the Type 3 Primary Trainer, subsequently importing a total of 20 for testing. Watanabe were then instructed to produce a similar aeroplane design and submitted two, one of them a monoplane, but the IJN decided on domestic production of the original Bücker design with Watanabe obtaining a licence to manufacture. The first example was constructed in August 1941 with a Japanese engine, the Hitachi Hatsukaze Model 11. A total of 17 pre-production examples were built, followed by 200 production aircraft and Hitachi manufactured an additional 60. The Hitachi engine was not as efficient as the German original suffering from more vibration and inconsistent power output. The type was originally designated as Koyo (紅葉 - autumn leaves, also maple).

The Army version was manufactured by Nihon Kokusai Koku with the first prototype completed in July 1943 and official acceptance in early 1944.  The original aircraft had a metal fuselage frame and metal panels but in January 1944 an all-wood version was proposed as the Type 4 Otsu (Ki-86 II) whereupon the earlier version received the designation Type 4 Ko (Ki-86 I). 

Image credit: All model photographs © 2014 John Haas

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago

The map above shows the results of the B-29 bombing campaign by comparing Japanese cities to comparably sized cities in the USA and expressing their destruction as a percentage of how much of the city was burned out.

I've just completed the draft text of Ki-61/Ki-100 Aces for Osprey. As I wrote the last two chapters the experience was sobering and thought provoking. The air defence of Japan also featured in Ki-44 Aces and here I was again reading and writing about the aircrew experiences on both sides, trying to reconcile the often confused and contradictory testimonies, contemplating the horrible reality of what the statistics concealed, coming to terms with the extent of human tragedy and loss, as well as the paradoxical demonstrations of the finest qualities of the human spirit. It is all too easy to drift into viewing that terrible campaign through the prism of actual B-29 losses alone and to presume old clichés about the extent to which the Japanese fighter force was "finished" in the air. But that really does a disservice to the young men on both sides who endured and sacrificed so much in the name of duty and responsibility, determination for their homeland and desire to protect their families. 

That map and the B-29 losses are sobering enough but the statistics of damaged B-29s and wounded crewmen (physical and otherwise) are largely unknown. There is the darker aspect of the B-29 crews who survived the horrific experience of being shot down only to be executed by their captors, in some cases after the war had officially ended. This was an intense, vicious air campaign with little or no let up on either side. I don't particularly enjoy flying in modern airliners but the B-29 crews and fighter pilots, Japanese and American, accepted the danger of flying, and combat, in hostile skies, again and again knowing what they risked. My respect for them knows no bounds.

On 27 January 1945 the bombers attacking the Nakajima factory endured 984 individual fighter attacks, the 497th BG alone enduring 554 of them. The 530 B-29s that attacked Kobe on 5 June 1945 endured no less than 647 individual Japanese fighter attacks. The 862 B-29s that attacked Japan on the night of 1 August 1945 burned out an average of 78% of the built up areas of four cities, over six square miles, and dropped 1,025 tons of high explosive, 5,115 tons of incendiaries and 242 tons of mines. The single B-29 loss was the result of flak hits followed by two gun attacks and then a ramming or collision by a single fighter pilot almost blinded by the glare of the conflagrations below and lucky to survive afterwards. Most of the crew of that B-29 returned home.

Some people have complained that my books contain nothing new - in fact they do, but it is impossible to write on the subject of past events using the recorded facts without treading some familiar ground. Or that they don't contain enough technical data about the aeroplane - the clue is in the series title. But in any case they are not so much written for the pundits who already have all the books and references as to hopefully introduce the subject to a broader and less specialist audience and to consolidate for an easier consumption. And a lot of very good people have helped enormously with that and been very kind.

Image credit: National Archives

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Rising to the Occasion ~ New Decals & Accessories

The prolific Rising Decals have issued further sets of interest to Japanese aviation enthusiasts, both as decals and resin accessory parts. 

First up is 1/72nd decal set RD72061 for the Mitsubishi G3M2/3 'Nell' (Kyu-Roku Shiki Rikujoh Kohgeki-ki - 九六式陸上攻撃機 - 96 Type Land-based Attack Aircraft, abbreviated to '96 Rikko' -九六陸攻) designed for the Hasegawa kit but probably good for the older LS/Arii kit notwithstanding controversy over scale. This impressive set includes the markings for four aircraft plus 'bonus' markings for a fifth example the full appearance of which is unknown. The subjects provided are:-

  • G3M3 702-03 of the 702nd Ku during the battle for Okinawa - in green over grey with a kikusui - 菊水 floating chrysanthemum - emblem on the tail fins. This emblem is symbolic of the 14th Century Samurai Masashige Kusonoki whose qualities were loyalty and fearlessness of death. The term was used as the code word for a series of large scale special attack (kamikaze) operations against US warships off Okinawa.
  • G3M2 M-361 of the Mihoro Kokutai during the battle for Malaya 1941 - in green and brown over grey with the Hokoku presentation legend No.339
  • G3M2 Z-388 of the 1st Kokutai during the battle for the Philippines 1942 - in green over grey
  • G3M2/3 1398 probably of the 1081st Kokutai at Atsugi, Japan, 1945 - in an unusual scheme of green and brown with a stylised bird symbol on the fin
  • G3M2/3 教-1303 (Kyou-1303) of an unknown unit at Atsugi, Japan, 1945 - bonus markings for the rear fuselage and tail only, the rest of the aircraft being of unknown appearance - in brown with a green 'snake pattern' camouflage similar to 1398 above
The brown colour in these schemes is suggested to be mixed using GSI Creos ('Gunze') primary paints in the ratio 40% # 7 Brown + 30% # 4 Yellow + 30% # 6 Green. I haven't tried this mix but presume it comes from Hasegawa instruction sheets. The vexing subject of IJN browns was covered here, here, here, here, here, here and here (!) in the early days of this blog and probably warrants re-visiting and consolidation into something more, er, user friendly.

RD Acr-004 is an extensive resin set designed to convert the 1/72 Revell kit of the Junkers F-13 into the Nippon Koku Yuso Kenkyujo (NKYK - Japan Air Transport Research Association) floatplane J-BAZG which was featured in Rising's RD-72-062 J-Birds Pt.III. NKYK was founded in June 1922 by Mr Choichi Inouye of the Itoh Flying School. It was based on the beach in the Osaka suburb of Sakai and initially operated 10 Yokosho floatplanes bought from the Japanese Navy, providing passenger services to Tokushima in Honshu and to coastal resort towns on Shikoku and Kyushu. In January 1928 NKYK introduced two Junkers F-13's for the coastal routes. However, according to the Japanese Civil Register J-BAZG was operated at Sakai by the Teikoku Kaibo Gikai (Imperial Maritime Defence Volunteer Association) and the Junkers aircraft operated by NKYK are listed as J-BBEO and J-BBGO.

The conversion parts are finely moulded in a grey-green resin and consist of a new upper fuselage, lower cowling, exhaust stack, ailerons and complete tail unit, together with an errata decal sheet of two white 'J's for the tailplanes. A striking model should ensue.

Next are two sets very much for the Tony enthusiast who already has everything. RD Acr-005 and RD Acr-009 provide resin ski undercarriages in 1/72nd scale for a dark green Ki-61-I Hei with white tail number '15' and natural metal Ki-61-I Otsu with red tail number '19' respectively, both at airfields in Hokkaido circa 1943. Each set comes with a small decal sheet of Hinomaru and the tail numbers. 

These sets are designed to be used with the excellent Fine Molds kits or the announced but not yet released RS and AZ Models kits. The old Hasegawa kit, still re-appearing from time to time with new decals, represents a Tei and the Dragon kit, which was explored here and here, is something of a hybrid. Still, if you happen to have it in the stash it is not nearly so bad as some people make out.

RD Acr-007 is an accessory set which provides a quartet of resin IJN Type 3 No.1 Mk.28 Model 1 (Rocket) Bombs and their launch rails to hang under the wings of a Yokosuka D4Y2/D4Y2-S 'Judy', including decals for two examples from the 131st Kokutai at Kanoya, Japan in 1945 with the tail codes 131-151 and 131-56. 

For 1/48th scale modellers there is also good news in the form of two new decal sets for Army fighters. Sets RD48018 Emperor's Eagles Pt.1 and RD48019 Emperor's Eagles Pt.II offer schemes for 7 Ki-43 Hayabusa and 6 Ki-61 Hien as follows:-

  • Ki-43-I of 2nd Chutai, 50th Sentai in NW Burma, December 1942 - as flown by M/Sgt Chikara Kotanigawa who crashed this aircraft named takashi (孝 - filial piety)  behind British lines in the Chittagong hills on 15 December 1942 after accidentally hitting a tree during the very low-level pursuit of a Hurricane IIc flown by PO Gray of 79 Sqn RAF. 
  • Ki-43-II of 13th Sentai at Kamari, Noemfoor in early 1944 - dense green mottle over natural metal finish
  • Ki-43-II '51' of 2nd Chutai, 25th Sentai at Hankow, China in Spring, 1944 - green with darker green or brown mottle - as flown by WO Iwataro Hazawa who claimed 15 victories. The reddish-brown mottle applied to some aircraft by the 25th and 85th Sentai in China often looks darker than the green in monochrome photographs.
  • Ki-61-I Otsu of 19th Sentai at Clark Field in the Philippines, 1945 - sparse green 'snake weave' over natural metal finish
  • Ki-61-I Tei of 55th Sentai at Sano, Japan, 1945 - olive brown or dark green over natural metal

Hinomaru for one Ki-43-I, one KI-43-II and one Ki-61 are included. Although the decal sheet follows a common convention in identifying the Oscar II subjects as Ko and  'Otsu late', etc., this is not an official designation but rather an anachronistic one of modern convenience. The Ko, Otsu, etc., suffix designations, sometimes rendered as a, b, c, etc., in English sources, were usually used by IJAAF to denote armament variations in fighters which do not apply to the Ki-43-II as it carried an identical armament of 2 x Ho-103 12.7mm machine-cannon throughout its service. The detail differences in the II series were production changes to the airframe and engine and in Japanese references these sub-types are often divided by features into early, mid and late production types with the II Kai as a final type, all using the word ki (期) which means period but is sometimes given as 'production' in English. Thus:-

初期 - (hatsu ki) = first period (Ki-43-II with annular oil cooler and long Ki-43-I wingspan)
中期 - (naka ki) = middle period (Ki-43-II with enlarged under cowling cooler and shortened wingspan)
後期 - (nachi ki) = later period (Ki-43-II with rearwards thrust exhaust stacks and landing light in port wing leading edge)
末期 - (matsu ki) = end or final period (this is the Ki-43-II Kai with individual exhaust stacks)

Only the main features of each sub-type are remarked above but not all the additional detail changes. There are actually four distinctively identifiable versions of Ki-43-II prior to II Kai with one researcher referencing designations of Ki-43-IIa early, Ki-43-IIa  late, Ki-43-IIb early and Ki-43-IIb late. This divides the mid-production into IIa late and IIb early. The official IJAAF table of aircraft designations makes no such distinctions, just referring to Ki-43-II and listing the differences simply as production changes but unfortunately does not date them precisely or provide the serial numbers for first change. Many references, even Japanese, incorrectly attribute the shortened wingspan from the first introduction of the II series, whereas the first production II retained the long wingspan of the I. Digression over!


  • Ki-43-II of 2nd Chutai, 24th Sentai at Hollandia, New Guinea in 1943 (transposed with subject 3 on the instruction sheet) - green mottle over natural metal finish. This is a former Divisional HQ aircraft whose symbol appears on the rudder with the Sentai emblem over it
  • Ki-43-II of 2nd Chutai, 63rd Sentai, New Guinea in 1944 - this aircraft has an unusual dark 'crazy paving' camouflage pattern over the original green
  • Ki-43-II of 1st Chutai, 248th Sentai at Hollandia in 1944 - green over natural metal finish
  • Ki-61-I Ko of 2nd Chutai, 68th Sentai, New Britain, 1943 - a well known aircraft attributed to Cap Shogo Takeuchi. It might have been flown by him at one time, probably with a red fuselage band that was subsequently over-painted in white and not as shown on the decal sheet with blue borders (for which thin blue decal strips are included).
  • Ki-61-I Ko/Otsu of 68th Sentai, Vunukanou, Rabaul, 1943 - in green 'snake weave' over natural metal finish with white diagonal fuselage band - the tail marking is unconfirmed as representing the 68th Sentai and possibly represents a simplified marking used by the 1st Attack Unit (Kogekitai) which combined surviving aircraft of the 68th and 78th Sentai under the command of the former 3rd Chutai leader of the 78th Cap Ryoichi Tateyama or another little known and short-lived ad hoc 'Tony' unit the 103rd Dokuritsu Hikotai
  • Ki-61-I Otsu of 68th Sentai at Dagua, New Guinea in 1944 - dense green mottle over natural metal finish with white diagonal fuselage band
  • An alternative scheme for a 248th Oscar in green with large brown blotches using the decals for subject 3 is also depicted.

Hinomaru for one Ki-43-II and one Ki-61 are included. Although not apparent from the scans here the yellow is the correct deeply saturated colour and not the lemon yellow printed on some decal sheets. As well as providing suitable alternative schemes for Hasegawa or Fine Molds kits both sheets offer excellent and useful decals to dress up older kits such as the Otaki/Arii Ki-43 and Ki-61 and are highly recommended. Special thanks to Mirek of Rising Decals for kindly providing samples of these new products.

Image Credits: All © 2014 Rising Decals

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Otaki 1/48th scale Ki-100 Ko by John Haas

Here is another splendid model by John Haas, this time a modified Otaki 1/48th scale "Goshikisen" (五式戦 - literally "5-type Fighter"). John built this model several years ago after Otaki launched their series of excellent 1/48th scale models and was very pleased with the release. Until then only Tamiya had produced a Ki-100 to 1/50th scale with plenty room for improvement. Otaki did just that. 

John bought 2 examples and built one from the box as a Ki-100 Otsu with the round vision canopy, Then years later he modified the other one as the Ki-100 Ko so-called "fastback". The conversion was a relatively simple job, just building up the fuselage top with plastic card and putty. The rear part of the canopy came from the spares box.

John relates that this all happened before PComputer times, so his only reference was an article in Air Enthusiast Quarterly and those well known books of William Green "Fighters" Vol.3. The model was finished in Humbrol HJ.3 and the undersite in Humbrol Aluminium Nr.56. After all these years the model is still in good condition, with no cracks or deteriorated paintwork. Even the glass parts are still clear which says much for the quality of those old Otaki kits!

John's model represents an aircraft of the 3rd Chutai, 59th Sentai participating in the air defence of Japan during 1945. Kawasaki's "Goshikisen" was never bestowed with an Allied reporting name.

John also wrote:-

"May I add my reaction to your latest writing "In the eye of the Beholder".  With a big smile, I can only agree with your opinion.  I have been building models now for more than 50 years. And I have built a lot of them. Of course nowadays the quality is better then ever, but the most important part is still "PLEASURE". Accuracy is fine, but not to all costs. That's the reason I started scratch building, I was a bit bored by all those excellent Spits, Me-109, FW-190, or F-16's, etc. I know my scratch built models are sometimes not better than model kits, but the fun and satisfaction building those unusual aircraft is so much greater. My motto: Happy modelling!"

Amen to that!

Image credits: All model photographs © 2014 John Haas

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Modelling In The Eye of the Beholder

An anorak; the pockets are the wrong shape and size and its the wrong colour...

One of the curious aspects of modern modelling is how as kits have become more advanced and detailed over the years the accuracy of their shapes and even their smallest details has become more hotly disputed and subject to more demanding expectations. Forums are awash with pages of debate showing models and photos, claiming supremacy of this kit's shape over that or identifying the World's Greatest Fatal Flaw. This can even precede the release of a new kit as arguments are launched about the mock-ups and pre-production images. Once released a new kit is usually hailed for a brief period until inevitably its fatal flaw or flaws are pointed out and it suddenly becomes unbuildable without much hand wringing, soul searching and the correct resin correction sets, the accurate ones not those others which have got the shape of that tiny panel wrong. Or it becomes a  pariah of the kit world.

This disdain of 'inaccuracy' even extends to old kits once hailed as excellent in the simpler, less expectant era when they were first released. It is sometimes not even a question of criticism within reason as perfectly respectable but ageing kits are dismissed or scorned as a 'POS'. Call me an old cynic but I have sometimes dug out example pairs of the supposedly less than twin subjects of gushing praise and vitriolic ridicule, compared them and scratched my head to see much appreciable difference. A lot of it, like colour, seems to come down to preference, especially to brand preference, where A can do no wrong and B can do no right.

"Do not forsake me oh my darling..."

Reviewers once wrote glowingly of some kits which are now panned (e.g. Academy's 1/72 Spitfire XIV). Were they lying? Were their references less reliable or has the accessibility of imagery provided by the internet facilitated comparisons to an extent and level of scrutiny that were just not feasible then? The Spitfire is a good example because the demand for accuracy has now reached a stage  of critical scrutiny and expectation of details to the 'enth degree that make the building of a model a pretty intimidating prospect, especially for a tyro. And this is just at a time when if you compare a Frog Spitfire VIII (1974) to an Airfix Spitfire 22 (2012) the advance of moulding finesse and parts count over those 38 years is nothing short of staggering. But will my oleos be correct? What about my wheel hubs? Should that blister be there? Should it be as big as that? Is the cowling too long/too short/too square/too thin? And what about the panel lines? Better put the parts back in the box and wait for the perfect kit...

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Tachikawa Ki-77 in 1/48th Scale by John Haas

Here is another of John Haas' expertly scratch built Japanese aircraft models in 1/48th scale, in this case the experimental long range communications aircraft Tachikawa Ki-77. This time John has treated us to photos showing the various stages of his build, using wood and plastic card. The model was only completed last month.

The Ki-77 originated in 1940 from an Asahi Shimbun sponsored project for an aircraft designated the A-26, a very long range promotional transport capable of non-stop flights between Tokyo and New York. Dr Hidemasa Kimura of the Aeronautical Research Institute of Tokyo University led the design project assisted by Ryoichi Endo of Tachikawa. Following the outbreak of war the original concept was taken over by the Imperial Japanese Army to furnish an aircraft capable of non-stop liaison flights to Germany from the staging post of Singapore and a prototype was completed by November 1942. On 30th June 1943, after a series of successful tests and trials, a second prototype undertook an inauguration flight to Singapore. The flight to Singapore was successful but after the Ki-77 took off for the second stage of its journey to Germany on 7th July it was never seen again. It was reportedly shot down by intercepting RAF fighters over the Indian Ocean but details of the encounter remain obscure as recorded here. A Ki-77 flight to Germany was not attempted again but in July 1944 the first prototype established a non-stop long distance record of 8,900 miles in 57 hours 11 minutes over a closed course.

A wooden fuselage was made using a set of plans enlarged to 1/48th scale. The interior was furnished with plastic card. Tail surfaces also made from laminated 3mm plastic card. Wings and cowlings were also fabricated from wood. 

Instrument panel, seats and other details added to the cockpit. Props and undercarriage were scratch built too.

John writes that painting was done this way. Firstly four coats of white primer. Then two coats of Humbrol gloss dark grey to check the surface and two final coats of Humbrol 11 Silver. Additionaly John applied Rub'n'Buff Sterling Silver to touch up some parts like the props and the leading edges of the wings.  

The Ki-77 carried a crew of six, pilot and co-pilot, two flight engineers and two radio operators.  Maximum speed was 273 mph at 15,000 feet with a cruising speed of 186 mph and a ceiling of 28,500 ft. Range was just over 11,000 miles and the aircraft could carry 3,000 gallons of fuel in the wings. The performance figures reveal that the aircraft would have been relatively vulnerable to interception by contemporary fighters.

AFAIK there are no 1/48th scale kits of the Ki-77 but in 1/72nd scale there was a limited edition vacform and resin kit by Friendship Scale Models and a resin kit by Planet Models which is still available. 'Higeki No Tsubasa A26' (Tragic Plane A26) by Fukumoto Kazuya (Kadokawa Shoten, 1984) tells the story of the A26 but is in Japanese only.

Friendship Scale Models 1/72 Vacform and Resin Ki-77

Planet Models 1/72 Resin Ki-77

'Higeki No Tsubasa A26' by Fukumoto Kazuya

Image credits:- All model photographs © 2014 John Haas; Box art via net; Book cover via Amazon.jp

References:- 'Japanese Experimental Transport Aircraft of the Pacific War' by Giuseppe Picarella (Stratus 2011)