Tuesday 26 March 2024

Kamikaze's Return

Giuseppe 'Joe' Picarella MRAeS has very kindly provided this fascinating and beautifully presented news story to the Aviation of Japan blog.

Screen shot from Asahi.com news website

Kamikaze’s return

by Giuseppe 'Joe' Picarella

On 15 March this year, Ayami Koh of the Asahi Shimbun (Asahi Press) website made the surprise announcement that the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Historic Archives had placed an aviation artefact of national importance back on display for the Japanese people. The item in question is a skin panel (as shown in the heading image above, screen shot from Asahi.com news website) that it has identified as belonging to the Mitsubishi Karigane aircraft Kamikaze, which in 1937 undertook the gruelling (15,357km) flight from Tokyo to London (6th to 10th of April), to celebrate the coronation of King George VI.

Kamikaze at Croydon Airport 9 April 1937 (Author collection)

The exploits of Kamikaze and its daring crew (Masaaki Iinuma and Kenji Tsukagoshi) during the spring of 1937 are well known for capturing the imagination of the Japanese people during a period of economic turmoil and political insecurity. The whole concept of the coronation flight was initiated by the Aviation Department of Asahi Shimbun in the hope that such an event would raise the national pride of the country and they would of course report on the unfolding events. Kamikaze certainly achieved this aim and in doing so also gaining Japan’s first Fédération Aéronautique Internationale record for the flight from Tokyo to London with a duration of 94 hours. 17 minutes and 56 seconds, achieving an average speed of 162.854 kilometres per hour.

Kamikaze was in fact the second prototype (c/n 1502) of the Ki-15, (Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Plane - Kyu-Nana Shiki Shireibu Teisatsu-ki  - 九七式司令部偵察機 or Kyu-Nana Shi-tei - 九七司偵) the world’s first high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft, an Army aircraft specifically designed to undertake its highly specialised (and at that time unique) photographic missions deep inside enemy territory, being immune from interception by virtue of its high performance.

Kamikaze in its first military scheme (James F Lansdale via Author)

After returning to Japan on May 21st, Kamikaze, in its striking silver and blue paint scheme, became a national icon and drew crowds wherever it appeared. But following the start of the second Sino-Japanese war in July 1937, Kamikaze was recalled into service for the Army in order to perform reconnaissance duties and assist in the training of reconnaissance crews as production of new Ki-15 airframes was slowly increased. In this role the aircraft received a hastily applied camouflage paint scheme, painted over and around the Kamikaze and Asahi markings, giving the impression that a silver coloured banner had been applied behind them.

Kamikaze first accident (Henry Sakaida via Author)

On 6 November disaster struck when the aircraft was badly damaged at Tachiarai Army Airfield following an engine failure during take-off, forcing Iinuma and Tsukagoshi to attempt a landing on muddy turf, which resulted in the aircraft flipping over onto its back.  Both men were dazed but escaped with only minor injuries. However Kamikaze did not fare so well and the damage was deemed almost beyond economic repair, as the engine, forward fuselage, cockpit, rear fuselage, empennage and outer wings were all badly damaged. However, Asahi Shimbun realized that the value of this specific aircraft was important to their image and decided to have the aircraft restored back to airworthy condition regardless of the cost.

Kamikaze in second military scheme (Author collection)

On 3 March 1938, Kamikaze was rolled out for a second time complete with new camouflage markings, but its renewed stint in the military would be brief and the aircraft was soon repainted in civilian markings for a second time, before resuming its role as the Asahi Shimbun flagship for another 18 months. While almost identical to its first civilian paint scheme there were subtle changes, most notably a larger name and Asahi Shimbun logo.

Kamikaze in second civilian paint scheme (JAA via Author)

On 6 October 1939, while performing a courier mission from Taipei Airport to Hakata Airport, the crew of the day became lost in bad weather and crashed into the sea 100 meters off the coast of southern Formosa (Taiwan). The pilot narrowly escaped death, but the navigator’s body was never found. Once again the aircraft was returned to Mitsubishi for restoration, but this time, the damage and saltwater corrosion rendered the airframe unsafe and it was decided to proceed with a static restoration only.  That resulted in a miss-match of various Ki-15 production parts being fitted to the aircraft. Once completed the aircraft was placed on display at the Yasukuni Shrine for a few months, before being moved to the TouGou Shrine at Harajuku, Tokyo.  Finally, on 20 October 1940, the aircraft was placed on display in the Kamikaze Memorial Hall, which had been built on Mt. Ikoma, between Osaka and Nara Prefectures. 

Kamikaze's second accident (Henry Sakaida via Author)

Kamikaze Memorial Hall. Note high canopy enclosure, prop and smaller spinner (Ron Cole via Author)

The aircraft survived the Pacific War with only minor damage sustained during Allied bombing, but under the terms of the occupation, all activities concerning aviation were prohibited and during the autumn of 1945, Kamikaze was removed from display and burned by US soldiers in the road. However it appears that the destruction of the aircraft was not as thorough as intended, as according to Mitsubishi the panel was cut from the burnt wreckage by a member of the US military and subsequently taken back to the US as a war trophy. Luckily, the family of this serviceman were able to identify this unusual item and, recognising its potential importance to Japan, donated it to Mitsubishi in 2021. 

Skin panel location © 2024 G Picarella

The 60cm x 40cm skin panel is from the port (left) side of the fuselage in the region of fuselage frame station FS.4 and FS.6. The exterior face carries the Asahi Shimbun flag motif, which has survived surprisingly well, given that the aircraft was set alight, but there is evidence of burning around the edges. The photo also reveals that final restoration of Kamikaze was not finished to the same standard as the original 19 March 1937 roll-out, which had (for aerodynamic purposes) received so many coats of lacquer that it was difficult to discern rivets heads and even some panel lines. A question that will concern Japanese aviation circles is that of the internal paint application; is it Aotake blue or possibly a light grey interior application that was often applied to Army aircraft of the period? Interestingly, the right-hand side of the photo reveals the edge of fuselage frame FS.7, which seems to show a dark blue finish. But, given that Kamikaze was rebuilt on two occasions, with the second time being a total rebuild, it is likely that the original 1937 interior finish was completely removed and a later Aotake application was applied. Discussions are already underway with the archive to investigate this issue, so watch this space.

Kamikaze markings and colour schemes © 2024 G Picarella

The whole story of the Mitsubishi Ki-15 family of aircraft, including the 1937 coronation flight of Kamikaze, is coved by the author in two volumes: “Mitsubishi Babs – the world’s first high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft” – published by MMP Books – Vol. I published in 2023, Vol. II published in 2024.

© 2024 G. Picarella 

With very special thanks to Joe for sharing this news story and images with Aviation of Japan. Volume II of Joe's ground breaking treatise on the Ki-15 to be reviewed here shortly.

Image credit: Per captions

Thursday 21 March 2024

Marabu Design Photo-Etch Sets - Japanese Subjects in 1/72 Scale

Other Japanese subject 1/72 photo-etch sets available from Marabu Design include:-

  • M72013 A6M2 Zero (for Airfix kit)
  • M72020 Yokosuka D4Y1-3 Judy (for AZ model kit)
  • M72028 Nakajima Ki-44 I Shoki (for Sword kit)
  • M72033 Nakajima B5N2 Kate (for Airfix kit)
  • M72040 Kawasaki Ki-61 I-Tei (for Tamiya kit)
  • M72041 Kawasaki Ki-61 I-Otsu or Hei (for Fine Molds kit )
  • M72052 Nakajima Type 91 (for AZ model kit)
  • Shown in the heading image and below is the impressive set M72052 for the Nakajima Type 91 kit, of possible interest to both Japanese and Chinese aircraft enthusiasts. 

    Another excellent set is M72028 designed for the Sword Nakajima Ki-44-I Shoki 'Tojo' and shown in situ below. The annular oil cooler matrix made up from five separate laminates is especially impressive. Cockpit door flaps are included for both sides of the fuselage.

    Set M72013 for the Airfix Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero is equally impressive.

    And the superlative set M72020 for the AZ Model Yokosuka D4Y1-3 'Judy'.

    This set includes the Navigator's Compass Model 1 mounted on the port side fairing between cockpits and visible even beneath the canopy, an instrument which is often either missing or crudely represented in some kits. This compass had a reflector glass and mirror between the pivot frames, not included in the set, so that it could be read horizontally by the navigator. 

    Two sets M72040 and M72041 for the Tei, Otsu and Hei variants of the Ki-61 Hien 'Tony' designed for the Tamiya and Fine Molds kits. Both contain film layers for the instrument panels.

    And finally set M72033 designed for the Airfix Nakajima B5N2 'Kate'.

    All the sets are well presented with clear schematic instructions for assembly. They can probably be adapted in whole or in part for other kits of the intended types, for example the Fujimi 'Judy'.

    With thanks to Radek of Marabu Design for providing these images of the sets.

    Image credit: All © 2024 Marabu Design

    Saturday 16 March 2024

    Marabu Design 1/72 G4M1 Interior Details

    I'm not a great fan of photo-etch. This is not a reflection on the photo-etch, originating in model railway circles (?) and now offering exceptional scale details for model aircraft, but on my own inability to master it to a degree of comfort and confidence. Marabu Design is a Czech Republic based company that was unfamiliar to me until their photo-etch detail set M72055 for the 1/72 scale Sword Mitsubishi G4M1 'Betty' came to my attention. That kit itself had impressed but the Marabu Design photo-etch set for it is superlative and has tempted me to give it another go. The last time I had attempted to detail a G4M1 interior was with the 1969 vintage Hasegawa kit using plastic card, wet & dry and an engraving tool many moons ago and long before photo-etch was even a thing. Now I'll need the 20 x lenses and the tweezer extensions for each finger.

    These images from Marabu Design show the prototype set as installed in the Sword G4M1. The sheet is beautifully sharply etched on metal that would itself make an excellent finish for the anodised aluminium of the A5M, a very subtle gold tinted silver (please someone make a 'Bare Metal' type foil with this finish!). And the level of detail in the parts offered is astonishing.

    The instructions which come with this set are very comprehensive, covering no less than 24 stages of construction and the whole presentation is to an exceptionally consistent care and quality, not always the case with photo-etch sets. The 'Betty' set includes film sheets for the instrument panel with differences specific to different aircraft variants.

    This image doesn't do justice to the gilded silver 'A5M' finish of the sheets

    Marabu Design offer other equally impressive sets for Japanese subjects which will be fully covered in a further blog. The sets can be purchased direct from Marabu in addition to being stocked by mail order houses such as Hannants in UK and Hobby Search in Japan.

    With special thanks to Radek of Marabu Design for providing these images of the photo-etch set and for permission to show them here.

    Image credit: All © 2024 Marabu Design

    Thursday 14 March 2024

    Magnificent 1/72 Emily - 'She's A Big Bird' - by Jan Voorbij

    Rather larger than the 1/144 scale Mavis preceding it, this magnificent and fully crewed Kawanishi H8K2 Type 2 Flying Boat Model 12 'Emily' flying boat in 1/72 scale has been built by Jan Voorbij of Holland from the Hasegawa new tool kit, presenting a 'Little and Large' feature for the IJN's flying boat duo. The title quote relates to the iconic 1944 colour movie 'The Fighting Lady', narrated by Robert Taylor, where an 'Emily' is encountered and attacked by aircraft from  USS Yorktown (CV-10). 

    Jan's model represents an aircraft operated by 802 Ku at  Shortland Island in the Solomon Islands during 1943 and is well displayed on a plinth with its description presented on the image of an IJN battle flag.

    Jan observes that the kit is fantastic but that the plastic is a bit soft. 

    Jan also notes that whilst the instructions are in themselves clear, the advised building sequence is not always logical so he advises creating a building plan before construction starts.

    Jan encountered one omission: the wing floats should be strengthened by cables attached to the wings. There is no mention whatsoever of these cables in the instructions. To solve this problem Jan referred to the instructions of the older Hasegawa version of the 'Emily' (kitographed here) and the relevant section of those is added below for the assistance of others who may be building or planning to build the new tool model.

    In official IJN parlance 'Emily' was the Ni Shiki Hikoh-tei (二式飛行挺) colloquially abbreviated to Ni Shiki Taitei (二式大挺). 'Emily' was conceived to achieve a 30% higher speed and 50% longer range than 'Mavis' plus improved manoeuvrability for torpedo attacks. The flying boat had an impressive range of 3,800 nautical miles (4.370 miles). However whereas Mavis was stable on the water the prototype of 'Emily' completed in 1940 capsized during take-off runs due to the reduced hull width designed to lighten the aircraft. An in board step partly solved the problem and with the aid of a double flap combining fowler and split designs the flying boat was able to take off in 30 seconds even when heavily loaded.

    Jan's superbly realised Emily flight deck with busily engaged crew

    To further solve the problem of porpoising an indicator was installed to facilitate the pilot maintaining the nose up at 4-6 degrees by lining up the horizon with the so-called 'hairpin' bar fitted to the pylon on the nose in front of the windscreen. In post-war flight testing in the USA NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) noted that 'Emily' left far less wash during take off and landing than comparable German and American flying boats. The Model 12 'Emily' was deemed to have superior performance to the Consolidated PB2Y Colorado and was 50 mph faster in level speed. A total of 131 examples of the flying boat were manufactured at Konan near Kobe and 36 of the Model 32 transport version 'Sei-ku' (Clear Sky) which could carry 64 personnel and their armaments.

    'Emily' was noted for a second attack on Pearl Harbor in March 1942, albeit unsuccessful, when two flying boats made the sortie from Watje in the Marshall Islands, re-fuelling from submarines I-15 and I-19 at French Frigate Shoals after a flight of 1,605 miles, then flying another 482 miles to their target. Cloud cover disrupted bomb aiming and each aircraft dropped its four 550 lb bombs blind.

    Although appearing elsewhere, special thanks to Jan for sharing these images and details of his magnificent model with AoJ and for his patience in waiting for them to appear here. Reference for the additional details of 'Emily' development from 'General View of Japanese Military Aircraft in The Pacific War' by the staff of 'Aireview', published by Kantô-Sha Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan, 1956, in dual Japanese and English text volumes.

    Image credit: All model photos © 2024 Jan Voorbij; Instruction excerpt and box art © Hasegawa Corporation