Kit No. ?
Decals: One version
Comments: Crisp molding, beautifully engraved panel lines, one-piece canopy, flattened tires
With the opening of the war in the Pacific, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) shocked the Western powers with the sophistication and efficiency of its miltiary tactics and equipment, most notably with a sleek, single seat fighter that had a retractable undercarriage, the Army Type 1 Fighter Model 1 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon). Nakajima’s Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied Code name: “Oscar”) made its combat debut over Burma (now Myanmar) and the Malay peninsula in the opening weeks of the war.
Design work on the Hayabusa began in December 1937 when the IJA, dropping its longstanding policy of awarding contracts based on a competitive design process among Japanese manufacturers, instead instructed the firm of Nakajima Hikoki K.K. to design a single-seat fighter to succeed the Type 97 fighter (Nakajima Ki-27), later code-named “Nate” by the Allies. The Nate was fast when initially introduced, but by the late 1930’s there was evidence in the form of still more modern European and American fighters that a monoplane fighter without fixed undercarriage would have improved performance. The new specification called for a fighter with a maximum speed of 311 mph (500 km/hour), a climb rate of 5 minutes to 16,405 feet (5000 meters), a range of 500 miles (800 km), an armament of two 7.7mm machine guns, and maneuverability at least equal to the Ki-27’s.
A design team led by Hideo Itowaka set out to meet the stringent requirements. Within a year the first prototype was completed, flying for the first time on December 12, 1938. Together with two additional prototypes, it went through a very smooth flight test program, marked by only minor problems, and was handed over to the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) for service trials. The Ki-43 met all of the other performance requirements of the JAAF, but was criticized for failing to meet the manueverability requirement. To many pilots at the time, the retractable undercarriage was a technical luxury, adding unwanted weight. For a time the future of the Ki-43 was in doubt; but the JAAF decided upon further testing with 10 Nakajima-built service trials aircraft from November 1939 to September 1940. The additional seven prototype aircraft were modified with a new all-round vision canopy; one of them was fitted with an experimental Nakajima Ha-105 engine with a 2-speed turbocharger, and other was armed with two 12.7mm machine guns in lieu of the lighter 7.7mm armament.
An eleventh prototype was built with the most important modification: “butterfly” combat flaps that could be extended in action to increase the aircraft’s sensitivity to the pilot’s controls, provide greater lift and a much tighter turning circle. Feedback from Service pilots indicated they now liked the plane’s handling characteristics, and with the manueverability issue resolved, the IJA ordered the new flaps incoporated into all production versions. The Ki-43 went into production with a 950 hp Army Type 99 radial engine, an improved version of the Nakajima Ha-25 double-row, 14-cylinder engine (including a single speed supercharger) that had powered the prototypes, with the key difference being an increase of 25 hp over the prototype version.
Officially designated the Army Type 1 Fighter Model 1A, the Ki-43 entered service with a fixed-pitch, two-blade wooden propeller (soon changed to a Hamilton-type metal version), and two synchronized 7.7.mm machine guns in the upper engine cowling, along with hard points under the wing center section for auxiliary fuel tanks, inboard of the main landing gear. Aircraft were delivered to the 59th and 64th Sentais (Squadrons) which were deployed to China just prior to the opening of hostilities after a training period in Japan.
Early engagements established the Hayabusa as one of the most feared Japanese aircraft, despite its relatively light armament and lack of pilot and fuel tank protection. A technologically advanced design at the time, like the Zero it initally dominated, and for a subtantial time afterward continued to hold its own against Allied fighters. The Ki-43 was initially a mystery to Western forces in the Southwest Pacific Theatre, where it was code-named “Oscar”. It was also code-named “Jim” in the China-Burma-India theatre until the Allies discovered that they were the same aircraft.
The Ki-43 I continued to be modified (the Type II and Type III followed) and remained in service until the end of the war. Numerically, it was the most important Imperial Japanese Army fighter of the war, serving on all fronts in which the IJA was involved, although by 1945 it had been replaced in front-line service by newer types and was instead increasingly used for taiatari, or kamikaze attacks. The Royal Thai Air Force, under a puppet government installed by the Japanese, also flew the Ki-43 during the war.
Fujimi’s Ki-43I Oscar comes on six sprues in a standard box (bearing superb box art) containing three individually stapled clear plastic bags, with a separate bag for the one-piece clear canopy. The kit is injection molded in grey and consists of 35 parts. It bears crisp, well-defined panel lines and flattened tires for the main landing gear. The cockpit is fairly well detailed, with a curved floor — an unusual feature in any kit, it would be interesting to know if the original Hayabusa bore this feature — a two-part seat, control stick and engraved detail on the main instrument panel, but also a decal for an added measure of detail on the individual dials.
The wheel wells for the main gear are boxed in but lack any real detail. There is a fairly well detailed face for the radial engine, and a detailed cowling ring sporting both engraved panel lines and crisply machined openings for the Ki-43’s main armament of two 7.7mm machine guns. The kit is cleanly configured, having only two drop tanks for placement beneath the wings, aft of the main landing gear, and no other other external ordnance. Fujimi have gone the extra mile for a measure of additional accuracy by providing a periscope gunsight, which protruded through the windscreen on the original aircraft. Modelers will have the option of drilling a 1mm hole through the center of the windscreen for the full-length periscope, or cutting the periscope roughly in half and cementing its forward half to the outside of the windscreen.
Markings are provided for an aircraft of the 1st Hiko-Sentai flown by Major Kinshiro Takeda in October 1942 from Hanoi airbase in Indo-China (later Vietnam). This aircraft was painted Nakajima dark green overall with an orange-yellow rudder (upper two-thirds only) and orange-yellow elevators, over a natural metal underside. The markings include the Hinomaru as well as Japanese characters for the smaller of two fuselage bands.
- Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, by R.J. Francillon; Putnam & Company, London, 1970.