Kawanishi N1K-J

Kawanishi N1K/N1K-J
Kawanishii N1K2-J
TypeFighter
ManufacturerKawanishi Aircraft Company
Maiden flight(N1K-J) December 27, 1942
Introduced1943
Retired1945
Primary userImperial Japanese Navy


The Kawanishi N1K "Kyōfū" (強風 "Strong Wind") was an Imperial Japanese Navy seaplane fighter aircraft. The Kawanishi N1K-J "Shiden" (紫電 "Violet Lightning") was an Imperial Japanese Navy land-based version of the N1K. Assigned the Allied codename George, the N1K-J was considered by both its pilots and opponents to be one of the finest land-based fighters flown by the Japanese during World War II. It possessed a heavy armament and, unusually for a Japanese fighter, could absorb considerable battle damage. The N1K-J evenly matched the F6F Hellcat and was a match for such aircraft as the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang. Despite such ability, it was produced too late and in insufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the war.

History

Enlarge picture
Kawanishii N1K1-J
Kawanishi's N1K was built as a floatplane fighter to support forward offensive operations where no airstrips were available, but by 1943 when the aircraft entered service, Japan was firmly on the defensive, and there was no need for the N1K. They were used defensively anyway, but were no match for US Navy carrier fighters.

The requirement to carry a bulky, heavy float was what crippled the N1K against modern American fighters. Kawanishi engineers, however, had proposed in late 1941 that the N1K would produce a formidable land-based fighter too, and a land-based version was produced as a private venture by the company. This flew on December 27, 1942, powered by a Nakajima Homare radial engine, replacing the less powerful Mitsubishi Kasei of the N1K. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and this and the large propeller necessitated long, stalky landing gear. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically based on acceleration, freeing up the pilot from having to do this and reducing the chance of stalling in combat.

The Nakajima Homare was powerful but had been rushed into production before it was really ready, and was troublesome. Another problem was that, due to poor heat-treating of the wheels, the landing gear would often simply rip off when landing. It was reported that more Georges were lost to this than to Allied forces. Apart from engine problems and the landing gear the flight test program showed that the aircraft was promising. Prototypes were evaluated by the Navy, and since the aircraft was faster than the Mitsubishi A6M5 "Reisen" and had a much longer range than the Mitsubishi J2M2 "Raiden", it was ordered into production as the N1K1-J, the -J indicating a land-based fighter modification of the original floatplane fighter.

The aircraft entered service in early 1944 and proved highly effective against American fighters, though mechanically unreliable. The engine was difficult to maintain and, like the complicated undercarriage, plagued by frequent failures.

N1K1-J aircraft were used very effectively over Formosa, the Philippines, and later Okinawa. Before production was switched to the improved N1K2-J, 1,007 aircraft were produced, including prototypes. Their weaponry was very powerful, four 20 mm guns in the wings and a pair of machine-guns in the nose. Practically, it was the evolution of the Zero's armament, with a pair of additional guns, still Model 99 but improved in several aspects to the previous weapons.

Enlarge picture
Kawanishii N1K-J, probably N1K4-J Shiden Kai Model 32 - only two prototypes were built
The N1K2-J was a complete redesign—begun only four days after the Shiden's first test flight—to address the N1K1-J's major defects, primarily the mid-mounted wing and long landing gear. The wings were moved to a low position, which permitted the use of conventional landing gear legs, the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole aircraft was made much simpler to produce and to use fewer critical materials in short supply. The Homare engine was retained, since there was no alternative even though its reliability problems had not been fully corrected. A prototype flew on January 1, 1944 and was rushed into production after Navy trials in April. The aircraft was named the "Shiden-Kai" (紫電改), standing for Modified.

Problems resulted in very few aircraft being produced, but the Shiden-Kai proved to be one of the best fighters fielded by either side. Roll rate was 82 deg/sec @ 240 mph (0 km/h). As a bomber interceptor it was less successful, because of a poor rate of climb and poor engine performance at high altitude.

Because of production difficulties and damage caused by B-29 Superfortress raids on Japanese factories, only 415 fighters were produced, and so, they were mainly used by units like Minoru Genda's 343 Kokutai ("naval air group"), the Japanese equivalent of Adolf Galland's JV 44 (Jagdverband). The new Shiden was one of the most involved in the battles fought in the last year of war.

The 343 Kokutai in action



One of the famous tales about the Kawanishi N1K2-J was the battle fought by Kensuke Muto. He was supposed to have single handedly shot down four Hellcats, but this was not totally true as other Japanese fighters were also involved in that battle which effectively downed four Hellcats. But the most famous dogfights involving the Kawanishi N1K2-J was fought on March 19, 1945.

The 343 Kokutai (343°) was constituted on December 25, 1944 by Minoru Genda, an experienced Imperial Japanese naval officer. This unit had previously existed, but was disbanded in July of 1944. It had three hikotai with the best pilots and the best fighters to answer the formidable fighters and pilots of the Allied forces. Many experienced pilots did not have modern aircraft available, and many modern aircraft were not manned by experienced pilots, so it was necessary create an 'elite' unit to have both. Another important characteristic of 343 was the presence of the C6M Myrt, 34 of them were present with the task of long range reconnaisance, so the incoming carriers could be spotted before their aircraft strikes. And since one of the Myrt managed, 18 March, to spot the US carriers, the day after, the 343 Kokutai was ready to fight them.

That morning, 300 American aircraft were met by the Shidens. Many of these Shiden were N1K2s which were approximately 250 kg lighter, faster, structurally simpler and more reliable than the previous N1K1 version. The battle started when some Shiden dived on the VBF-17 Hellcats. Three aircraft were lost on both sides in the initial attack. One Hellcat and two Shiden downed by enemy fire, two fighters collided, and one Hellcat crashed trying to land. Then, the other Shiden dived on the Hellcats downing another. In the end, the 407 Hitokai lost six fighters versus eight VBF-17 Hellcats.

The worst was, for Japanese, the encounter with VBF-10 Corsairs, two of them were separated from the main formations, and then attacked by Shidens. They managed to shoot down four N1K2s and then managed to return to their carrier, USS Bunker Hill.

Revenge soon took place, when VFM-123 Corsairs were surprised by Shidens, initially mistaken for Hellcats, with a 30 minute aerial combat ensuing. Three Corsairs were shot down and another five were damaged while three other heavily damaged F4Us which had landed on carriers were subsequently thrown into the sea. Of the ten Japanese aircraft declared shot down, no one was effectively downed. Finally, two Shiden were shot down at landing by Hellcats of VF-9. Many other Shidens were destroyed by American fighters over another airport, where they tried to land because they were low on fuel. At the end of the day, 343° declared 52 victories, US fighter 63. The actual losses were 15 Shiden and 13 pilots, a "Myrt" with its three crew, and nine other Japanese fighters. US lost heavy, with 14 fighters and 7 pilots, and 11 other attack aircraft. Five days later, an unofficial encomy was sent to 343 Kokutai for the valour shown on 19 March. Many other battles will be fought by this unit, but even with brave and well trained pilots this unit was too few to contrast the naval armada fielded by Allies, and then the excessive losses led to the retirement of this special unit.

12 April 1945 another fierce battle saw involved 343° , during Kikosui N.2. They obtained several victories but suffered 12 losses out of 34 machines. 4 May, another 24 Shiden were sent in Kikosui N.5. After a loss of 29 machines out 48, 343° was retired at the end of June.

In every case, the Shiden, especially kai version, lighter, simpler and more reliable, showed the possibility to face a pair Hellcats and even Corsairs, even if they were not 'easy kills' as some sources suggested. The Shiden was slower than both the American aircraft, and with poor performance at altitude. But the firepower, agility and ruggedness were overall much improved than the Zero, and if these fighters were available in 1944 for Japanese carriers, they could have been a serious challenge for the Americans at Mariannes and Leyte. In fact, the lack of new generation fighter was the main weakness for Imperial Navy, because the other types of machines (B6N and D4Y) were of new models, even faster than the A6M5s (At least D4Y, 575 km/h vs 540-565).

At least three aircraft survive in American museums. One is at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida; the second is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, while the third is owned by the National Air and Space Museum but was restored by the Champlin Fighter Museum at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona, in return for the right to display the aircraft at Falcon Field for 10 years after restoration.

Versions

Shiden-Kai Production
MonthNumber Produced
19431 (prototype)
January 1944N/A
February 1944N/A
March 1944N/A
April 1944N/A
May 1944N/A
June 1944N/A
July 1944N/A
August 1944N/A
September 1944N/A
October 1944N/A
November 1944N/A
December 1944N/A
January 194535
February 194547
March 194556
April 1945N/A
May 194520 (Himeji factory)
June 1945N/A
July 1945N/A
August 1945N/A
Total415
Sources: Pages 29 and 63-68 of Genda's Blade.

N1K1 Kyofu

  • N1K1: only standard type as floatplane, which was used from early 1943.
  • N1K2: reserved name for an intended model with larger engine, not built.

N1K1-J Shiden

  • N1K1-J: Prototypes: development of fighter hydroplane N1K1 Kyofu, 1,820 hp Nakajima Homare 11 Engine, 9 built
  • N1K1-J Shiden (Violet Thunder) Navy Land Based Interceptor, Model 11: first production model: 1,990 hp Nakajima Homare 21 engine with revised cover, armed with two Type 97 7.7 mm MG and two Type 99 20 mm cannon. Modified total vision cockpit
  • N1K1-Ja, Model 11A: Without frontal 7.7 mm MGs, only four 20 mm cannon in wings
  • N1K1-Jb, Model 11B: Similar to Model 11A amongst load two 250 kg Bombs, revised wing weapons
  • N1K1-Jc,Model 11C: definitive fighter-bomber version, derived from Model 11B. Four bomb racks under wings.
  • N1K1-J KAIa: experimental version with auxiliary rocket. One Model 11 conversion.
  • N1K1-J KAIb: conversion for dive bombing. One 250 kg bomb under belly and six rockets under wings.

N1K2-J Shiden-KAI

  • N1K2-J Prototypes: N1K1-Jb redesigned. Low wings, engine cover and landing gear modified. New fuselage and tail, 8 built
  • N1K2-J Shiden KAI (Violet Thunder, Modified) Navy Land Based Interceptor, Model 21: first model of series
  • N1K2-Ja,Model 21A: Fighter-bomber version. Four 250 kg bombs. Constructed by Kawanishi: 393, Mitsubishi: 9, Aichi: 1, Showa Hikoki: 1, Ohmura Navy Arsenal: 10, Hiro Navy Arsenal: 1.
  • N1K2-K Shiden KAI-Rensen (Violet Thunder Fighter Trainer, Modified) Trainer version of N1K-J Series with two seats, operative or factory conversions

Further versions

  • N1K3-J Shiden KAI 1, Model 31 Prototypes: Engines displaced to ahead, two Type 3 13, 2 mm MGs in front, 2 built
  • N1K3-A Shiden KAI 2, Model 41: Carrier-based version of N1K3-J, only project
  • N1K4-J Shiden KAI 3, Model 3: Prototypes, 2,000 hp Nakajima Homare 23 engine, 2 built.
  • N1K4-A Shiden KAI 4, Model 4: Prototype, experimental conversion of N1K4-J example with equipment for use in carriers, 1 built
  • N1K5-J Shiden KAI 5, Model 25: High Altitude Interceptor version. only project
  • Total Production (all versions): 1,435 examples.

Specifications (N1K2-J)

General characteristics

* Crew: 1
  • Length: 30 ft 7 in (9.3 m)* Wingspan: 39 ft 4 in (12.0 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.9 m)* Wing area: 253 ft² (23.5 m²)* Empty weight: 5,855 lb (2,656 kg)* Loaded weight: 8,820 lb (4,000 kg)* Max takeoff weight: 10,710 lb (4,860 kg)* Powerplant: 1 Nakajima Homare NK9H radial engine, 1,990 hp (1,480 kW)

Performance

Armament

References

  • Galbiati, Fabio. "Battaglia Aerea del 19 Marzo su Kure." Storia Militare magazine, Albertelli edizioni, N.166, July 2007. (in Italian)
  • Sakaida, Henry, and Koji Takaki. Genda's Blade: Japan's Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Classic Publications, 2003. ISBN 1-903223-25-3.

External links

Related content

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Designation sequence

  • N1K - N1K-J

Related lists

List of military aircraft of Japan - List of fighter aircraft

An aerospace manufacturer is a company or individual involved in the various aspects of designing, building, testing, selling, and maintaining aircraft, aircraft parts, missiles, rockets, and/or spacecraft.
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The Kawanishi Aircraft Company was a Japanese aircraft manufacturer during World War II.

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Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) (Kyūjitai: 大日本帝國海軍 Shinjitai: 大日本帝国海軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun
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The Kawanishi Aircraft Company was a Japanese aircraft manufacturer during World War II.

It was founded in 1920 in Hyōgo Prefecture as an outgrowth of the Kawanishi conglomerate, which had been funding the Nakajima Aircraft Company.
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Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) (Kyūjitai: 大日本帝國海軍 Shinjitai: 大日本帝国海軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun
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fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for attacking other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed to attack ground targets, primarily by dropping bombs. Fighters are comparatively small, fast, and maneuverable.
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Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) (Kyūjitai: 大日本帝國海軍 Shinjitai: 大日本帝国海軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun
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Type Fighter aircraft
Manufacturer Grumman
Maiden flight 26 June 1942
Introduced 1943
Retired 1954, USN
Primary users United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Fleet Air Arm
French Navy
Produced
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Type Carrier-based fighter aircraft
Manufacturer Chance Vought
Designed by Rex Beisel

Maiden flight 29 April 1940
Introduction 28 December 1942
Retired 1953
Primary users U.S.
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Type Fighter
Manufacturer North American Aviation
Designed by Edgar Schmued
Raymond H. Rice
Larry Waite
E. H. Horkey
Maiden flight 26 October 1940
Introduction 1942
Retired 1957, US Air National Guard

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United States Navy (USN) is the branch of the United States armed forces responsible for conducting naval operations. The U.S. Navy currently has over 340,000 personnel on active duty and nearly 128,000 in the Navy Reserve.
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aircraft carrier is a warship designed to deploy and in most cases recover aircraft, acting as a sea-going airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power great distances without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations.
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The Nakajima Homare (誉, "praise" or, more usually, "honour") was a Japanese aircraft engine manufactured during World War II. It was an air-cooled radial engine in the 2000-HP class, and was used widely by both the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy.
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The radial engine is an internal combustion engine configuration in which the cylinders point outward from a central crankshaft like the spokes on a wheel. This configuration was very commonly used in aircraft engines before being superseded by turboshaft and turbojet
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Kasei (火星, "Mars") was a two-row, 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and used in a variety of World War II Japanese aircraft, such as Mitsubishi J2M and Mitsubishi G4M.
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The Nakajima Homare (誉, "praise" or, more usually, "honour") was a Japanese aircraft engine manufactured during World War II. It was an air-cooled radial engine in the 2000-HP class, and was used widely by both the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy.
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Type Fighter
Manufacturer Mitsubishi
Maiden flight 1 April 1939
Introduction July 1940
Retired 1945 (Japan)
Produced 1940-1945
Number built 11,000
Variants Nakajima A6M2-N

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Type
Manufacturer Mitsubishi
Maiden flight 20 March, 1942
Introduction December 1942
Retired August 1945
Primary user Imperial Japanese Navy
Number built 621 [1]

The Mitsubishi J2M
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Okinawa Prefecture (沖縄県 Okinawa-ken)

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