Kit No. C-3001
Cost: Out of production in Asahi Shimbun livery (likely to be pricey if found); $10-15 as re-issued Hasegawa kit in military scheme
Decals: One version
Comments: Engraved panel lines; Civilian high-speed transport version of the Ki-15, later codenamed “Babs” by American forces during WWII
The Ki-15 was designed by the Mitsubishi Corporation to meet a 1935 Imperial Japanese Army Air Force requirement for a two-seat, high-speed reconnaissance aircraft. It was a low-wing cantilever monoplane with a fixed, spatted undercarriage, similar to other all-metal stressed-skin monoplanes developed elsewhere in 1930’s, such as the Heinkel He 70 and the Northrop Alpha. Its powerplant was a single Nakajima Ha-8 radial engine, giving 560 kW (750 hp) at 4,000 m (13,120 ft). The first prototype flew in May 1936, and met all performance requirements, reaching a speed of 481 km/h (299 mph) and showing good handling characteristics. Despite the relatively weak engine and fixed undercarriage, the Ki-15 was remarkably fast. Service testing was completed without difficulty and the Ki-15 was ordered into production under the official designation Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Plane Model 1. In May 1937, a year after the first flight, delivery of the first of 437 production aircraft to the Army began.
World Record Flight to Europe
Mania’s kit depicts the most famous of the Ki-15’s, the second prototype which was purchased by the Asahi newspaper, Asahi Shimbun. This aircraft was given the registration J-BAAI and due to its speed was named Kamikaze (Divine Wind), years before the name took on a very different meaning and symbolism during World War II. It was the first Japanese-built airplane to fly to Europe and caused a sensation in 1937 by making the flight from Tokyo to London, for the Coronation of King George VI, between 6 April 1937 and 9 April 1937 in a flight time of 51 hours, 17 minutes and 23 seconds, a world record at the time. Following the success of the Japan-England flight, a small number of Ki-15s were sold to civil customers. One of the early production aircraft was named “Asakaze” (J-BAAL) and was also used by the “Asahi Shimbun”; others were used by various civilian operators as mail planes.
The Ki-15-I went into operational service at the beginning of the war with China in 1937. The aircraft proved useful in the early period of the Second Sino-Japanese War and performed missions deep into Chinese strategic rear areas, as far-reaching as Lanzhou. Its high speed gave it a distinct advantage until the Chinese Air Force acquired Soviet Polikarpov I-16 fighters. The Ki-15 was used for level bombing, close support and photo reconnaissance before being eventually replaced by the Mitsubishi Ki-30.
The Imperial Japanese Navy showed an interest in the type and ordered 20 examples of the Ki-15-II under the designation “Navy Type 98 Reconnaissance Plane Model 1,” or Mitsubishi designation C5M1, even before the Army. The Navy acquired subsequently 30 C5M2 aircraft which had an even more powerful 708 kW (949 hp) Nakajima Sakae 12 engine, and used them for reconnaissance duties. When production ended, approximately 500 examples of all versions of the Ki-15 had been built, the majority in front-line service when the Pacific War began. By 1943, the Ki-15 had been relegated to second-line liaison and training duties, but ironically, several were expended in kamikaze attacks during the closing stages of World War II.
The kit consists of 38 injection molded parts, 34 in grey and 4 in clear plastic. The parts bear engraved panel lines, and most are clean with only a few having the tiniest bit of flash. There is a one-piece canopy bearing a fairly well scribed greenhouse frame, and two clear parts for eight passenger windows, four on either side of the fuselage — these openings will have to be cut out of the fuselage, but the incisions will be easy as the mold takes this into account. The cockpit is a bit more than basic, with a seat, control stick and instrument panel for the pilot, with the panel actually bearing raised detail for the guages — something rarely seen in a 1/72 scale kit of this vintage. There is also raised detail on what appears to be a radio in the second position on the flight deck behind the pilot, which includes a stool in place of an proper seat with a seat back.
The radial engine has a decent amount of engraved detail; three additional parts form the exhaust manifold, and the illustrated instructions provide the necessary guidance on their placement — the back of the radial engine bears a series of machined depressions facilitating this. Although the box art implies that the Ki-15 has a three-bladed propeller, there is a two-bladed prop and a two-piece cowling, the halves of which will require seam-hiding. The main landing gear are simple, with the spat and the visible portion of the wheel molded as one piece, two such parts forming the halves of a single gear.
This is an original Mania kit, made in Japan, with the main instruction sheet entirely in Japanese. Fortunately, a second sheet is provided in English, which gives step-by-step assembly instructions. Neither sheet includes a paint guide of any kind, but there is a striking color plate of the Ki-15 bearing the livery of its record-breaking flight. There is also a postcard, again in Japanese, which appears to be for the purpose of mailing in to the manufacturer for any missing parts. The main instruction sheet is well illustrated in nine assembly steps, so that no words are really necessary. In addition, the back of the sheet bears an exploded drawing of the entire kit which serves as a convenient reference for checking parts.
Although Mania appears to have gone under, this kit was subsequently re-issued by Hasegawa. Both Mania and Hasegawa have marketed the kit with markings for an Imperial Japanese Army bomber, but only Mania appears to have put out the historic civilian version of this important aircraft. LS and Arii produce the military version of the Ki-15 in 1/72 scale also, but as of this writing the origins of those kit molds are unknown.
The kit decals are for one version only, Kamikaze — the Asahi Shimbun aircraft that broke a speed record in 1937. Given the vintage of this kit (estimated to be early 1980’s), the decals are predictably yellowed and have curled a bit. It may be possible to rehabilitate them with a coating of Future before putting them to the test.
This is a fine kit with above average detail commemorating an historic aviation achievement. Highly recommended.