N1K1J “George” fighter

From the standard reference by Rene Francillon, Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War (UK: Conway Maritime Press, 1987; also in US by Naval Institute Press), pages 323-25:

“… [despite engine troubles] … In combat, however, the Shiden was a superlative combat aircraft and experienced pilots had little difficulty in engaging American aircraft and, under the code name GEORGE, it was considered by Allied personnel to be one the best Japanese aircraft.

“… In operation the N1K2-J revealed itself as a truly outstanding fighter capable of meeting on eqial terms the best Allied fighter aircraft. Its qualities were demonstrated spectacularly by such pilots as Warrant Officer Kinsuke Muto of the 343rd Kokutai who, in February 1945, engaged single-handed twelve US Navy Hellcats, destroying four (of them) and forcing the others to break off combat. Against the high-flying B-29s the Shiden Kai was less successful as its climbing speed was insufficient and the power of its Homare 21 (engine) fell rapidly at high altitudes.”

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This engine was one of the main problems with flying the Shiden, since it could fail to run up to its full power for combat. The undercarriage was relatively weak as well. But once in the air and at full power it was a dangerous adversary.

There are three surviving N1K2-J examples left today, all in the US. One is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, another in the US Air Force Museum in Ohio, and the third in the New England Air Museum in Connecticut.

In 1993, the Smithsonian’s Shiden was sent to the Champlin Fighter Museum in Arizona for its restoration. There had been a special job of rewiring the engine to match the original six-color, 12- and 16-gauge wiring and its braiding. The experts had enthused that even this job alone was almost a work of art by itself, a common sentiment in rare warplane restoration and maintenance.

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Kawanishi N1K1-J Shiden George 11:

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One Nakajima NK9H Homare 21 eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial rated at 1990 hp for takeoff, 1825 hp at 5740 feet, 1625 hp at 20,015 feet.

Performance: Maximum speed 363 mph at 19,355 feet, 334 mph at 8040 feet.

Cruising speed 230 mph at 6560 feet, service ceiling 41,000 feet, cruising speed 230 mph at 6600 feet.

Climb to 19,685 feet in 7 minutes 50 seconds.

Normal range 890 miles at 230 mph at 13,120 feet, maximum range 1580 miles.

Weights: 6387 pounds empty, 8598 pounds loaded, 9526 pounds maximum loaded.

Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 4 7/16 inches, length 29 feet 1 25/32 inches, height 13 feet 3 27/32 inches, wing area 252.95 square feet.

Armament: Two 7.7-mm Type 97 machine guns in the fuselage, two 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in the wings, two 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in underwing gondolas. Two 132-pound bombs or one 88 Imp gall drop tank could be carried externally.

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N1K2-J Shiden Kai George 21:

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One Nakajima NK9H Homare 21 eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial rated at 1990 hp for takeoff, 1825 hp at 5740 feet, 1625 hp at 20,015 feet.

Performance: Maximum speed 369 mph at 19,355 feet, 359 mph at 9840 feet.

Cruising speed 230 mph at 9845 feet, service ceiling 35,300 feet, cruising speed 230 mph at 6600 feet.

Climb to 19,685 feet in 7 minutes 22 seconds.

Normal range 1066 miles at 219 mph at 9840 feet, maximum range 1488 miles with 88 Imp. gall. drop tank.

Weights: 5858 pounds empty, 8818 pounds loaded, 10,714 pounds maximum loaded.

Dimensions: wingspan 39 feet 4 7/16 inches, length 30 feet 7 29/32 inches, height 12 feet 11 29/32 inches, wing area 252.95 square feet.

Armament: Four 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in the wings. Two 551-pound bombs or one 88 Imp. gall. drop tank could be carried externally.

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Minoru Genda’s elite 343 Kokutai flew the Shiden-Kai. Training began in January 1945 at Matsuyama Airfield, and the base of operations later moved to Kanoya (April 4), Kokubu (April 17), and Omura (April 25) in Kyushu.

During the Battle of Okinawa, the 343 Kokutai had the task of trying to clear the way for kamikaze planes as they flew from southern Kyushu to Okinawa during the Kikusui operations from April 6 to June 22, 1945. The Shiden-Kai pilots fought several fierce battles with American fighters over Amami Oshima and Kikaigashima. When American planes bombed Kyushu airfields to try to stop kamikaze attacks in April and May 1945, the 343 Kokutai at times engaged enemy aircraft although the Shiden-Kai was not intended for high-altitude interception of B-29s.

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai by Henry Sakaida and Koji Takaki.

All English-language names for Japanese fighters derived from Western Allied identification codes, in which male names were given to enemy fighters and female names to Japanese bombers. The Japanese Naval Air Force (JNAF) Zero, or Mitsubishi A6M “Reisen” (Zero-Sen), was the best fighter available in the Pacific in 1941. It was lighter, faster, and more maneuverable than American land-based aircraft. It also had a much greater range and more nimble handling than any U.S. carrier-based fighters. That gave the Imperial Japanese Navy a critical advantage in early carrier vs. carrier fights such as Coral Sea. The Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) flew three models of the Nakajima Ki-43 “Hayabusa” (“Falcon”). Designated alternately as “Jim” or “Oscar” by the Western Allies, these land-based JAAF fighters saw most service in China and Southeast Asia, flying cover over ground forces. They faced handfuls of older Soviet and other fighters in China until the arrival of American pilots and modern aircraft of the American Volunteer Group, or “Flying Tigers” (“Fei Hu”). Japanese pilots in Hayabusa also faced RAF Spitfire and Hurricanes in Malaya and over Burma. Western pilots were initially shocked at the excellent performance of the Hayabusa, whose characteristics were not known to British or American military intelligence. The JAAF also flew the very fast “Hein,” which reached speeds above 400 mph. The “Frank” (Nakajima Ki-84-Ia “Hayate”), introduced in 1944, and the excellent “George” (Kawanishi N1K1-J “Shiden”), introduced in 1944–1945, were also well-known to Allied sailors, troops, and flyers. But as improved as those aircraft were, neither model could match Western Allied fighters by that point in the war: the Japanese planes were relatively underarmored and undergunned, and by 1944 were usually flown by inexperienced, young pilots. However, over Japan the Hayate’s ceiling of nearly 38,000 feet and rocket weapons did pose a threat even to American B-29 bombers.

The USN F4F Wildcat was overmatched by Zeros in nearly all ways, an often-fatal disadvantage not overcome by introduction of new American fighters for the first two years of the Pacific War. But the USN controlled the skies of the Pacific after powerful Pratt & Whitney engines were put into its heavily armored F6F “Hellcats” and F4U “Corsairs.” The combination of power, climb rate, ceiling, and arms and armament allowed those aircraft to master the fast but lightly armored Zero and to splash hundreds of slow IJN and Japanese Army bombers. The USAAF also had inadequate and mostly short-range fighters at the start of the war. But by war’s end, the USAAF boasted several of the finest and most effective fighters in the world. Many U.S. fighters were shipped to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease, including 4,700 Bell P-39 “Airacobras” personally requested by Stalin. The P-47 “Thunderbolt” and P-51 “Mustang” dominated the skies of Italy, France, and Germany almost as soon as they were introduced in 1943. The P-51 may have been the fi nest fighter of the war. It was equipped with long-range drop tanks that permitted it to escort strategic bomber formations deep into Germany and to the home islands of Japan. Both the P-47 and P-51 were also fitted with rockets and used in a “tank buster” role. In combination with late-war deterioration in Japanese aviator skills, better trained American pilots with new and better tactics in much improved machines achieved a 10:1 or higher kill ratio in Pacific War dogfights.

Variants

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, 1,357 kW (1,820 hp) Nakajima Homare 11 Engine, 9 built
  • N1K1-J Shiden (“Violet Thunder”) Navy Land-Based Interceptor, Model 11: first production model: 1,484 kW (1,990 hp) Homare 21 engine with revised cover, armed with two 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97 machine guns and two 20 mm Type 99 cannons. Modified total-vision cockpit.
  • N1K1-Ja, Model 11A: Without frontal 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97s, only four 20 mm Type 99s in wings
  • N1K1-Jb, Model 11B: Similar to Model 11A amongst load two 250 kg (550 lb) 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 (550 lb) 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 (550 lb) 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 variants

  • N1K3-J Shiden KAI 1, Model 31 Prototypes: Engines displaced to ahead, two 13.2 mm (51 in) Type 3 machine guns in front, 2 built
  • N1K3-A Shiden KAI 2, Model 41: Carrier-based version of N1K3-J, project only
  • N1K4-J Shiden KAI 3, Model 3: Prototypes, 1,491 kW (2,000 hp) 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. Project only

Total Production (all versions): 1,435 examples.

Factory Production

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