RS Models 1/72 kit of the Kawasaki Ki-61-1 Ko is unique in representing the first operational variant of this uniquely inline-engined Army fighter and therefore a welcome addition towards completing a line-up of the type. My example of this kit is sharply moulded in buff coloured plastic and shares some common parts with other kits in RS Models Hien family. The main identifying feature of the Ko was its retractable tailwheel, although early production examples of the Otsu also had retractable tailwheels. I was slightly disappointed to find that the tailwheel doors and tailwheel assembly are provided as resin parts and necessitate cutting out the tailwheel well from the fuselage halves, although I can fully understand why that approach was taken.
The other feature of the Ko was its 7.7mm Type 89 wing armament, although there is a misconception around in some parts that this was the cowling armament and perhaps that is unfortunately reinforced by the splendid box art showing the lighter armament blazing away from the wings and the heavier cowling armament not being fired. The wing parts in the kit are the same as provided for the Tei kit and therefore feature the upper wing gun panel blisters of the Otsu and Tei variants with 12.7mm Ho-103 armament. Those are larger tear drop shaped blisters at the rear of the panel with squared off ends abutting the ventilation slot. On the Ko variant the blisters were smaller and situated further forward against the right hand side of the panel (see below). The fuselage halves are for the short-nosed variants that preceded the Tei variant with a separate upper cowling piece. The gun troughs are moulded empty but the staggered gun barrels of the Ho-103 armament should be visible protruding in them. Those fussy about detail should drill out the troughs and install suitable brass barrels.
Upper wing gun access panel blister on Ki-61-1 Ko
The cockpit in this kit is comprehensively furnished, with sidewall detail, forward and rear bulkheads, a detailed floor, control stick, two-part seat, instrument panel, cowling gun breeches and gunsight. The armour plate for the turnover pylon is a separate piece incorporating the headrest cushion and the rear canopy decking consists of two separate parts. The distinctive lightening holes for these are indented and purists will probably wish to drill them out. A commendably thin and clear one-piece injected moulded canopy allows the interior detail to be appreciated but a vacform replacement will be needed if it is desired to be shown open.
The radiator consists of five separate parts requiring assembly before fitting to the under fuselage aperture which will require some care. The wheel wells and undercarriage parts are nicely detailed and the kit includes under wing racks and two-part drop tanks. A colour schematic on the instruction sheet shows stencil and national markings placement together with a forward view to aid alignment of the main parts. A small but sharply printed decal sheet provides for three colour schemes as shown above. First an Akeno Fying School aircraft in natural metal finish with a very nicely printed tail emblem - one of the best I've seen. Secondly a well known 68th Sentai aircraft from the New Guinea campaign in mottled dark green over natural metal. Finally an air-to-air rammer flown by Sgt Matsumi Nakano of the Shinten Seikutai (Heaven Shaking Air Superiority Unit) attached to the 244th Sentai wearing a solid post-factory coat of dark green and red-painted empennage. This aircraft had the cowling gun troughs faired over and the wing armament removed. Nakano rammed two B-29s, surviving on both occasions, and claimed a third shot down, with these victory markings included on the decal sheet. Both the latter two schemes are included as profiles by Ronnie Olsthoorn in Osprey's 'Ki-61 and Ki-100 Aces' (2015). Whilst the RS kit decal sheet includes the 68th Sentai command fuselage band in neatly red-outlined white, photographs of the original suggest that the white was painted over a former red band with a ragged edge (as shown below). Some tricky re-painting there in 1/72 scale even for those with good eyes, a magnifier and a steady hand! This particulae aircraft has been attributed to the 2nd Chutai leader and 46-victory ace Capt Shogo Takeuchi. It was perhaps handed over - and re-painted - to another pilot following the delivery of numbers of the Hei variant in-theatre, shortly before Takeuchi's death.
The only previous Hien kit in this scale to feature the retractable tailwheel was the Revell kit from the 1960s, recently available again in tarted-up presentation. That kit was something of a hybrid as it featured the projecting cannon and large wing blisters of the Hei as well as the Messerscmitt-type side opening canopy fitted to the prototype (although re-issues of the kit had a single-piece canopy).
Although somewhat over-shadowed by the recent Tamiya 1/48 Tei kit the RS Models 1/72 Ko is a valuable addition to the Hien family for those who prefer to work in the smaller scale and a variant not kitted before or elsewhere. A built and painted example of the kit may be seen at the RS Models website here. More Tony Tales to follow in due course. . .
Image credits: Box art and parts view © 2017 RS Models; Wing schematic © 1996 Model Art Co. Ltd. ; Photograph US National Archive