Tuesday, July 27, 2010

すごいい! Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa: Up Close and Personal

It has been over 65 years since Japan's catastrophic defeat at the end of the Second World War. During the war, thousands of fighter aircraft were built for Japan and fought throughout the Pacific Theater. Many planes were lost in combat and many more survived to the August surrender of 1945, yet so few of those surviving planes exist today. So when I discovered by chance there was a surviving Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa “Peregrine Falcon” fighter of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, I jumped at the chance to go see her in person.

You see, when I was growing up we all watched television and movies about the war usually filmed with models dangling from visible wires. In other cases, American A-T6’s were used to double as Mitsubishi Zero’s such as the Baa-Baa Black Sheep Squadron series which I used to see being filmed out of the Oxnard Airport by where I lived as a child in the 1970’s. I was disappointed back then to know there were no real Zero’s. There were plenty of original F-4U Corsairs for the show but no real Japanese fighters. I was seriously bummed. It would be some thirty years before I learned the real truth of the fate of the surviving planes.

If any of you have seen the recent Japanese film Ore-Kimi you will know that the American conquerors of Japan deliberately destroyed 99% of the surviving aircraft to prevent Japan from breaking the peace. From the standpoint of an aircraft history buff, I found that move to be as tragic as the entire war itself. But fortunately some planes do survive in museums thanks to the dedicated work of skilled restoration specialists such as GossHawk Unlimited of Casa Grande, Arizona who helped recreate this Hayabusa in 2008 from the wreckage of four planes that were based in the Kurile Islands.

The Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa served the Showa Emperor from late 1941 to the end of WWII. Close to 6000 of them were built and is said to have been more maneuverable than the famed Mitsubishi Zero. She was 29ft in length with a ceiling of 37,400 ft, and a range of 1,320 miles. Her cruising speed was 275 mph but suffered from the same problems of inadequate armor and firepower which cost the lives of many brave men who flew them. This plane bears the markings of the 3rd Chutai, 54th Sentai assigned to protect Hokkaido from attack from the Aleutian Islands.

In examining this Ki-43 up close, what struck me was how cramped the cockpit was. Even more so how small the flight suit was. The average pilot must had been no more than 5’8 to have fit in this thing! The restoration is flawless! My thanks go to Doug Champlin for finding the parts to restore her and to Col. Hiroo Murata of the JASDF for their dedication to this plane’s restoration. It is really worth seeing in person which stands as a living testiment to the men who flew them. This plane can be found at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington. 

To find out more about the Ki-43 and other great warbirds please visit:

1 comment:

  1. I honestly didn't think I was going to have as much fun as I did! But I had a blast :) Thank you Louis :)