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.
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