Thursday 19 September 2013

Johan de Wolf's Royal Thai Air Force Ki-55 in 1/72nd scale

Fujimi's Ki-36/55 family are cracking little kits that offer a diverse and eclectic range of presentational and marking possibilities. It was one of those rare arrivals that managed to evade any pre-release awareness and which I stumbled upon by chance in a sporting goods and toys shop where I had drifted idly one lunchtime with no great expectation of finding anything interesting. Knowing the type I was amazed to be holding a new mainstream kit of a "Go-Go Ko-ren" - of all things - during that Great Age of Polystyrene Jets. And that memorable box art - two bright yellow trainers cruising peacefully in a clear blue sky over a snow-like cloud ceiling with Mount Fuji in the background. Coming from left field was an understatement. Burns says it was issued in 1987 but my memory of acquiring that first one precedes that by at least two years and Jacob Terlouw has kindly confirmed that the instructions on his kit are dated October 1983.

Johan de Wolf has very kindly shared his very welcome build and review of the kit, presenting it as a Royal Thai Air Force example finished in immediate post-war interim markings.

Kit Details
Aircraft: Tachikawa Ki-36
Scale: 1/72
Kit: Fujimi kit nr. 7A-A2
Parts: 35 light grey + 7 clear injection molded.
Surface detail: engraved
Decals: 1 option
Accuracy: excellent
Price: € 5 (via eBay)
Additional items used: Siam Scale sheet # SSN.72038 (also available from Aviation Megastore )


In early 1937 the Koku Hombu issued a specification for a modern army co-operation aircraft that should be able to take of from rough strips close to the front, equipped with radio and cameras and to be capable of light bombing attacks. Both Mitsubishi and Tachikawa submitted designs, but only Tachikawa was instructed to build a prototype. This aircraft made its first flight in late April of 1938. The design was a low wing monoplane with fixed spatted landing gear. To provide the pilot with a good field of vision the wing leading edge was swept backwards. The observer also had a good downwards view through several windows in the bottom of the fuselage. Armament consisted of a fixed forward firing machine gun and a flexible machine gun in the rear cockpit. It could also carry a total of ten 15kg bombs. As it had no real vices it was put into production in late 1938 as the Type 98 Direct Cooperation Reconnaissance Airplane Ki-36 (Kyu-Hachi Shiki Chokusetsu Kyodo Teisatsu-ki - 九八式直接協同偵察機 - often abbreviated to Kyu Hachi Chokkyo - 九八直協). In 1940 a production line was also set up by Kawasaki. 

With excellent performance and good handling characteristics, it was considered an ideal aircraft for advanced pilot training. For this task a special variant was built as the Type 99 Advanced Trainer Ki-55 (Go-Go Shiki Kohtoh Renshuh-ki - 九九式高等練習機 or Go-Go Ko-ren - 九九高練). This was stripped of the observation windows, radio and armament and provided with dual controls. However the fixed forward firing machine gun was retained. The spats were frequently removed as well. The Ki-36 was highly successful during the early conflicts in China, but with the onset of the war in the Pacific, increased fighter opposition limited its safe deployment. Towards the end of the war a modernized version, the Ki-72, with retractable under carriage and a stronger engine driving a three bladed prop was on the drawing board, but it never reached production. Some machines were also converted and used for suicide missions and these could be armed with a centrally-mounted 500kg bomb. 

During the war Ki-55’s were also supplied to the Manchukuo and Thai air forces. After the war both the Nationalist and Communist Chinese air forces operated a small number that had survived the war, as did the French Air Force in Indochina. In Indonesia a few abandoned machines were used against the Dutch during the struggle for independence. The Royal Thai Air Force acquired 24 machines in 1942 which they designated in their parallel system as aircraft Type 6 and Type 89. They were generally just called "Tachikawa" by personnel. The trainers remained in active service until 1950 when the last remaining machines were retired. Of more than 1300 built, only 2 machines now survive, one in the China Aviation Museum (Beijing Aviation Museum/PLAAF Museum) and the other in the Royal Thai Air Force museum in Bangkok. This last museum is well worth a visit as it has several rare and even unique types on display.

The Kit

This is one of four boxes of what are essentially permutations of the same kit. There is the Ki-36 kit, the Ki-55 kit, and in this case the de-militarized Ki-36 that was operated by the Asahi newspaper as a fast communication plane. It retained its photographic equipment, and it was probably used for clandestine aerial spy photography. Then there is a combined kit that contains the parts of all three previous mentioned versions and their markings. The kits come in a sturdy top opening type box with nice box art. The two/three grey sprues are packed separately from the clear sprue(s). Although it is a fairly simple kit with a limited amount of parts, external detail is generally rather good and very refined. For a kit of this age the quality is very good. There are no moulding defects or flash to be found, there are however a few ejector pin marks in the cockpit area. Parts fit very well. The instructions are in Japanese and English. They start with a very short type history, followed by 6 easy to follow construction diagrams. Next there is a colour and markings guide. Colours are mentioned throughout construction both in generic terms and paint numbers from the Gunze Sangyo range. The small decal sheet is sharply printed and looks to be of excellent quality.


Dimensionally all is well, with all measurements within a millimeter of what they should be. Surface detail has been accurately reproduced. There is also some bad news though. All kits have the under fuselage observation windows which are incorrect for the Ki-55. The biggest problem is the over simplified interior. The Ki-36/55 didn’t have a floor as such. The seats in the kit are very clunky as well, unlike the real thing. The prominent and highly visible crash/roll over frame is missing too.


As I wanted to build a Thai aircraft I first had to find the correct kit. I had the Ki-55 box but this only supplies the un-spatted gear. So I would need the Kisaragi or the Ki-36 box. I soon obtained the Kisaragi box for a very reasonable price through eBay. I started with mounting the observation windows in the lower wing part and then puttied them over. The bomb mounting slots were treated in the same way. After this had dried the area was sanded flush. I also removed the flaps so I could display them open. I then glued the wings together and added ribs to the flaps. The ejector pin marks were removed from the interior and some structural detail was added. The side walls were also provided with a throttle quadrant and map cases. 

Although incorrect I decided to stick with the floor provided by the kit. Here too I added more detail in the form of rudder pedals and rails. As the Ki-55 was a trainer I used both control columns. The seats were refined by thinning them down and the addition of seat belts. The instructions suggest navy blue as the interior colour, but I decided on Japanese cockpit green as the main colour. The prominent roll bar was also added. I did not use the side windows and hatches (parts C4 and 30) but in all I added some 30 parts to the meager 7 parts provided by the kit. The very clear green house canopy will provide a good view of every detail you care to add. After the fuselage was closed and left to dry, I turned my attention to the landing gear and engine. The landing gear is rather simple and a bit crude. I didn’t like the flat sided and crudely detailed spads very much, so I puttied them over and sanded them to a slightly more bulbous shape. I also scribed around the wheels to create the impression of depth. The single piece engine is very nicely detailed and looks great after careful dry brushing and weathering. The rear edges of the cowling were thinned down before glueing the halves together. The wings were now added to the fuselage and this is really the only place where I needed some filler.

Main construction was finished by adding the cowling and landing gear. Before painting I added some scratch built details like the under wing venturi tube, the step bracket in the wing root and the step pylons on the left fuselage side. After painting the prop, flaps,  exhausts (drilled open) and drainage pipe were added.

Painting and decaling

For a post war Thai example things would be simple as they are trainer yellow all over. However things are much less simple when it comes to wartime colours and markings.  The Tachikawa Ki-55 trainers were provided together with the Nakajima Ki-27 fighter. The Thai Ki-27s were camouflaged and there are depictions of several variations of colours. There are very few pictures of the Ki-55 in Thai service and most date from just after the war. I found a single photograph of  a Thai machine with a western style number '7' - probably a post war example. The paint job looks very worn with several chipped of patches and a generally scruffy look. The colours are very dark and at least two shades are visible. This leads me to believe that it could have been finished in the brown/green scheme like some of the Japanese army machines. This is the colour scheme I chose for my model. It was then weathered rather heavily. The Siam Scale decals went on without fuss as usual. The tail number came from the spares box. Note that the Siam Scale instruction sheet shows the machine with a radio mast and telescopic sight which is incorrect. In hindsight I should have painted the undercarriage dark green instead of light grey. I may still change this sometime in the future.


Even though the interior detail is basic, this is still a very nice kit. When it was first released it was rather pricey, but nowadays they can be found for very reasonable prices. The kit goes together without any trouble, and I can therefore recommend it to builders of all skill levels. It would be nice if one of the resin companies would provide an alternative for the interior.

Johan de Wolf

Note on RTAF Markings

Johan's model depicts a Ki-55 in the brief period of interim markings seen just after the war. The aircraft is still camouflaged but the rudder has been re-painted with the pre-war national colours. The wartime elephant insignia on the wings has not yet been replaced by the post-war roundels. After the rudder the upper wing markings were usually re-painted first leaving the elephant insignia beneath the wings until those too were re-painted.

Here is an interesting wartime film of IJAAF Ki-55 trainers of the Kumagaya Army Flying School, note the very clean looking finish of these aircraft:-

However the interior shot doesn't seem to be of a Ki-55. Note the shape of the spats on these aircraft and also that the cowlings and spats don't really appear to be black. Perhaps they are Fujimi's "cocoa brown" or even red? (Heresy! Burn the Witch!)

Image credits: Box art © Fujimi Mokei Co. Ltd; Model photographs © 2013 Johan de Wolf


Mark Smith said...


Beautiful model and an interesting article, thanks! It's nice to see such a very different paint scheme for this one, and a cockpit under all that glass. I built Fujimi's 1/72 Grace when it was released about the same time, and it clicked together and looked right. All these years later their kits still compete well against newer generation tooling.

Jacob Terlouw said...

Johan, Nick,

This kit is among others one of my favorites. A pleasure to look at in Thai colours!
And I've still a few unbuilt ones in my stash. It's age? a took a quick look at the building instructions- october.1983.

Jacob Terlouw

Ken Glass said...

Nice build and thanks for sharing it with us, Johan.

Ken Glass

fugaku said...

Great article and interesting choice of subject!