Wednesday 8 September 2021

Nate-Fest Part One ~ 97-Sen in 1/72 by Rob Ronconi

The Type 97 fighter, Nakajima Ki-27 'Nate', was a nimble sky dancer which Chennault described as 'one of the best aerobatic aeroplanes ever built'. observing that it 'climbs like a skyrocket and manoeuvres like a squirrel'. He later remarked that his AVG pilots were to find it 'more troublesome than the Zero because of its astonishing rate of climb and incredibly short turning radius'*. Notwithstanding Nate's WWI-type armament of two synchronised, rifle calibre machine guns** being all but obsolete by 1941, the 97-Sen still equipped 17 (nearly 90%) of the Army's 19 fighter Sentai at the outbreak of the Pacific War and the extent of its exploits during the first year, especially over China, have tended to get overlooked in favour of later and more heavily armed types.

To begin a seasonal Nate Fest Rob Ronconi has very kindly shared these images of his superb Type 97 'Nate' models in 1/72 scale, his all-time favourite subject - "a great looking aircraft sleek and a bit delicate reminiscent of a 1930's air racer" - and built out of the box from the classic Mania/Hasegawa kit with some improvements. Rob expressed amazement at how well the mouldings of the 'mad genius' behind Mania have held up so well in the ensuing 51 years. Rob replaced the kit supplied and rather crude parts for the Type 89 telescopic gun sight and pitot tube with Albion Alloys brass tubing as well as thinning down the propeller hubs and antennae. The excellent photography displays the models to great effect. 

The models representing aircraft of the 24th and 77th Sentai during the opening phases of the Pacific War were finished with Tamiya paint mixes and AK pencils to simulate and accentuate panel lines, with markings from Lifelike Decals Ki-27 Nate sets. The 24th Sentai example with the white fuselage band was made by Rob's Canadian friend Victor Riquelme whilst the model with the red and white band as flown by 2nd Chutai leader Capt Hyoe Yonaga is Rob's. A curiosity of the camouflaged Nates of the 24th Sentai which participated in the Philippines campaign was the presentation of five rather than the more usual four stripes on the rudder, as confirmed by photographs. 

With very special thanks to Rob and Victor for sharing another series of fine and superbly photographed models. More Nimble Nates on the way in 1/48 scale.

* The AVG's main fighter opponent, other than the Ki-27, was the Army Nakajima Type 1 fighter, Ki-43-I Hayabusa 'Oscar' rather than the Navy's Zero, but many US pilots in China continued to refer colloquially to all single-engined enemy fighters as 'Zeros' despite correctly identifying the Ki-43 and Ki-44. 

** Some flight-sim and gamer types often refer to paired 7.7mm machine guns as 'popguns'. Being invited to stand atop the butts on a firing range as two machine gunners introduce them to 7.7mm rounds fired from 300 metres at 820 m/s and  'too close for comfort' might change their minds!

Image credit: All model photos © 2021 Rob Ronconi


Michael Thurow said...

Wow, these are very neat Type 97s. Superb modelling and painting. I first thought they are from the 1/48 Mania/Hasegawa kit.
About 30 years ago I build this 77th Sentai bird in 1/48. Although at a first glance it looks like Rob's, his one has a much more eleborate camouflage. I'll take it as a template when I restore mine.
Thanks for those great pictures!

Alex said...

What a beatiful team of Nates. Superb realisation for so old kits. Very interesting variants. Not Nomonhan. Thanks for sharing.

Kevin Bade said...

Kudos Rob and Victor on a pair of nifty Nates. If I didnt know it I would guess the same modeller built both of them. I agree with Mr Thurow that they appear to be a larger scale. Amazing how well the Mania kits were light years ahead of their time. So much so that they still hold up. I had never thought about it but Robs right the Type 97 DOES look very much like a 1930s racer. Great models.

Mark Smith said...

Rob, Victor, these are really nice builds - and great photography! The heading picture, especially when clicked on to enlarge, is really impressive, reminding me what drew me as a kid to modeling: being able to picture another time, and elegant machines of that past. And that photo highlights how well the shape of the Type 97 was captured in this kit so long ago.

Thanks for hosting these, Nick, we've already seen many lovely models here in 2021...and it's only September.

Baronvonrob said...

Gratitude to all for the kind words and yes Mark that particular photo is one of my favorites as well :)

Ken Glass said...

Very nice Nates, Rob. Thanks for sharing, Rob & Nick.