Category Archives: Empire of Japan

Gasuden Kōken-ki

 Empire of Japan (1937)
Long Range Research Aircraft- 1 Built

The Gasuden Kōken-ki was Japan’s attempt at building a world record setting plane for the longest distance covered in a non-stop flight. First conceived in 1931 to surpass John Polando and Russell Boardman’s flight, the Kōken-ki would have a slow development finally completed and ready for flight on August 8th of 1937. Though 6 years late and many other world records for distance had been set, the Kōken-ki still managed to prove its worth on May 13th of 1938 where it made a non-stop flight in a closed-circuit course in Japan covering 7239.58 mi (11651.011 km), a record that Japan would hold until 1939.

History

In the 1920s and 1930s, many countries were competing against each other for setting aviation-related world records, be it endurance, speed or distance. The goal of establishing a long distance world record was one of the most popular ambitions a country could have. The 1931 world record was established by John Polando and Russell Boardman, flying a Bellanca J-300 Special nicknamed “Cape Cod” from Floyd Bennett Field in New York to Istanbul, Turkey. The distance covered by these two men spanned 5011 miles (8066 km). The Empire of Japan was by no means idle in the conquest for setting the world record. The Kōkū Kenkyūjo (Aeronautical Research Institute) began to formulate a design proposal in the latter half of 1931 for a plane that would be able to beat Polando and Boardman’s record flight. The Kōkū Kenkyūjo was on good terms with the Tokyo Imperial University, and convinced them to put their design forward to the Monbushō (Ministry of Education). The design proposal moved rapidly through the approval process and eventually made its way to the Kokkai (Diet). Relatively confident in the design, the Kokkai approved the Kōkū Kenkyūjo’s design and provided them with a monetary grant.

A factory worker fitting parts on the tail section of the Kōken-ki. (Arawasi)

With adequate funding and support of the government, the Kōkū Kenkyūjo began to formally investigate the matter of designing the plane. The plane was now named the Kōken-ki (航研機). The man responsible for overseeing the project was Dr. Koroku Wada, with professor Keikichi Tanaka assisting him. Many members of the design staff were from the engineering department of the Tokyo Imperial University. Various committees were also formed for the purpose of designing the Kōken-ki. It would take two years until the basic design was completed. By the time the design was finished in August of 1934 however, another world record had been set by French aviators by the names of Maurice Rossi and Paul Codos. The French aviators were able to surpass the previous record set by Polando and Boardman by 645 miles / 1038 km by flying their Blériot 110 monoplane from New York to Rayak, Syria on August 5th of 1933. The Japanese were confident that they would soon be able to best this record, as they’d designed the Kōken-ki to endure 8078 miles (13000 km) of flight.

The next step for the Kōken-ki was construction, but this process would be slow as the advanced design of the Kōken-ki had to be completed first. Various components and tooling would be manufactured the following year. The Tokyo Gas and Electric Industry (known as Gasuden) was selected to be the manufacturer of the airframe, while Kawasaki Kokuki KK. was selected to manufacture the powerplant, which would be a licensed Japanese made version of the German BMW VII engine. Once the advanced design was completed, construction began. Due to the fact that Gasuden was relatively inexperienced with metal fabrication, the construction of the Kōken-kid would be delayed. The major components of the Kōken-ki were finally completed on March 31st of 1937, and were promptly moved to a hanger owned by the Teikoku Kaibo Gikai (Imperial Maritime Defence Volunteer Association) at Haneda Airport where it was to be assembled. On August 8th of 1937, the assembly was completed and the Kōken-ki was ready for its maiden flight.

Test pilots for the plane were carefully selected as testing the potential record setter was a matter of great importance to the Japanese. A decision was finally made with Major Yuzo Fujita as the pilot, Master Sergeant Fukujiro takahashi as the co-pilot and Flight Engineer 

From left to right is Major Fujita Yuzo, Flight Engineer Sekine Chiaichi and Master Sergeant. (Arawasi)

Chikakichi Sekine as the flight engineer. All of these men belonged to the Imperial Japanese Army’s Rikugun Kokugijutsu Kenkyū (Air Technical Research Institute) and had been involved with the design of the Kōken-ki since the start. The long awaited maiden flight finally took place on May 25th of 1937. The test flight went well with no problems to report, so plans for the Kōken-ki’s official record setting flight was set in motion. More test flights had to be completed, so the three men continued fly the Kōken-ki. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s own Tupolev ANT-25 made its record flight on June 18th of 1937 where it flew from Moscow over the North Pole and landed in Vancouver, Washington. This flight took the Russian pilots 63 hours and covered 5670 mi (9130 km). The Japanese however, were not concerned as the Kōken-ki’s range was surely able to surpass this. 

The first attempt for setting the world record was conducted by Japan on November 13th of 1937. Unfortunately for the Japanese, a landing gear failure surfaced and the Kōken-ki had to be grounded for months until May 10th of 1938. This second attempt was also met with a problem, as the autopilot system malfunctioned. This problem was far simpler to remedy than the landing gear, and was rapidly repaired. On May 13th at 4:55 AM, the Kōken-ki successfully took off from Kisarazu Naval Air Base near Tokyo Bay to break the world record. To verify the authenticity of the flight, Imperial Japanese Navy Lieutenant-Commander Tomokazu Kajjiki was to monitor the

A poster advertising Nisshin’s salad oil, with the Kōken-ki displayed in the background. (Arawasi)

flight as he was the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s (World Air Sports Federation) representative for Japan. The flight plan of the Kōken-ki was to follow a square shaped course that would lead to Choshi from Kisarazu, then to Ohta and back to Kisarazu. Many minor problems occurred during the flight, such as a tear in the water cooler. The Kōken-ki flew the square course for 29 laps nonstop, and finally completed its task of setting the world record, amassing a total distance of 7239.58 mi (11651.011 km). The Kōken-ki landed back at Kisarazu at 7:21 PM of May 15th after almost 63 hours. Upon landing, the flight of the Kōken-ki was officially approved as a world record by the FAI. It is noteworthy that the Kōken-ki was reported to still have about 132 US gallons (500 L) of fuel left, meaning that it could have potentially flown another 745 mi (1200 km). Nonetheless, it was an achievement which made the nation proud. The Kōken-ki was then featured on many advertisement posters in Japan.

The Japanese were able to hold the world record for about 15 months before being beaten by the Italians in August of 1939. The Italians flew a Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 and covered a distance of 8038 mi / 12936 km over a closed-circuit course. Nonetheless, the flight by the Kōken-ki was still an incredible feat for the Japanese, as it was the first and only Japanese plane to obtain a FAI world record at the time. After the record setting flight, the Kōken-ki would mostly remain in the Kaibo Gikai hangar where it was first assembled. Occasionally, the Kōkū Kenkyūjo would and perform test flights for various purposes. After the Kōken-ki was past its prime, the Japanese wanted to see if they could further improve their long distance flight. In the eyes of professor Hidemasa Kimura, the Kōken-ki was only useful for challenging the world record for distance, but not for anything else. As such, Kimura decided to design a plane which would be capable of flying from Tokyo to New York, a route spanning 6737 mi (10842 km). The work of this would result in the Tachikawa Ki-77, or A-26.

From left to right, Chikaichi, Takahashi and Fujita receiving the Japanese “Yokosho” medal for their feat. (Arawasi)

The Kōken-ki flew for the last time on June 14th of 1939 as a commemoration for Major Fujita, the pilot of the record flight who was killed in combat in China.  After Major Fujita’s funeral flight, the Kōken-ki was stored in the Haneda Airport and remained there for the entire duration of World War II in relatively pristine condition. However after Japan surrendered, American occupational forces began to arrive and began a long process of demilitarizing Japan. Upon reaching Haneda airport, all of the Japanese planes there ,military or not, were targeted for destruction. The Kōken-ki and every other Japanese plane present at the airport was towed to the field and burnt in a mass pile, thus bringing an ungraceful end to the Kōken-ki.

Design

A closeup on the Kawasaki-built BMW VIII engine.

The Gasuden Kōken-ki had an all-metal semi-monocoque fuselage which housed a Kawasaki-built German BMW VIII engine driven by a Sumitomo SW-4 two-bladed metal-shrouded wooden propeller. The wings of the Kōken-ki were carefully designed with the intent of allowing it to operate in thinner air. The cantilever wings were constructed using a Kōken-ki Model 4 aerofoil shape, with about 17.5% thickness. The wingtips however, had a different material which was Kōken-ki Model 11 alloy. This aerofoil only had 4% thickness. The resulting wings had an aspect ratio of 8.7. As the plane was designed with range and endurance in mind. 14 fuel tanks were installed in the wings allowing for 1538 US gallons (5822 L) of fuel. A system was also installed which would allow the fuel to even out in all the tanks in order to maintain center of gravity. The landing gear of the Kōken-ki was retractable in order to reduce drag and once retracted, fairings would cover the landing gear wells. The cockpit was set on the left side of the plane, giving it an asymmetrical design. The Kōken-ki’s windshield could be extended and folded in order to reduce drag. Only when taking off and landing would it be extended. This design was a hindrance for the pilots as they reported poor visibility and control. The Kōken-ki was completely metal, with the exception of fabric covers which were fitted over the control surfaces and wings.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The Gasuden Kōken-ki was operated solely by Japanese pilots for all the flights it flew.

Gasuden Kōken-ki

Wingspan 91 ft 7 in / 27.9 m
Length 49 ft 5 in / 15.1 m
Height 11 ft 9 in / 3.6 m
Wing Area 939.7 ft² / 87.3 m²
Wing Loading 21.6 lb/ft² / 105.9 kg/m²
Power Loading 25.3 lb/hp / 11.5kg/hp
Engine 1x Kawasaki-built BMW VIII 12-cylinder water cooled V-engine (715 hp)
Propeller 1x Sumitomo SW-4 two-bladed metal-shrouded wooden propeller
13 ft 1.5 in / 400 cm
Fuel Load 1538 US gallons / 5822 L
Empty Weight 9314 lb / 4225 kg
Loaded Weight 20317 lb / 9216 kg
Maximum Speed 155 mph / 250 kmh at Sea Level
152 mph / 244 kmh at 6562 ft / 2000 m
Cruising Speed 131 mph / 211 kmh at 6562 ft / 2000 m
Range 8078 mi / 13000 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 11187 ft / 3410 m
Crew 1x Pilot
1x Co-Pilot
1x Flight Engineer

Gallery

Kōken-ki sideart by Ed Jackson
The Kōken-ki being prepped for flight by ground crew and an armed guard. (Arawasi)
The Kōken-ki taking off. (Arawasi)
Underside view of the Koken with its gear retracted.
The Kōken-ki in the factory during construction. Note the exposed engine. (Arawasi)
Engineers working on the Kōken-ki. (Arawasi)
A poster advertising Nitto’s black tea. The Kōken-ki is featured in the background. (Arawasi)
A 1939 postage stamp commemorating the Kōken-ki’s record flight. (Arawasi)
A replica of the Koken-ki on display in a museum in Japan

A Series of Youtube Videos on the World Record Attempt:

Sources

Takenaka, K. (2007). Koken Long-range Research-plane.Swopes, B. (2017). 13–15 May 1938.Tupolev ANT-25 Soviet Long Range Record Setter. (n.d.). Fiddler’s Green.Mikesh, R. C., & Abe, S. (1990). Japanese aircraft, 1910-1941. Ann Arbor, MI: Naval Institute.Dyer, E. M. (2015). Japanese Secret Projects: Experimental Aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1922-1945. Ian Allan Publishing. Images: Side Profile Views by Ed Jackson – Artbyedo.com, Other images from http://arawasi-wildeagles.blogspot.com/

 

Mitsubishi G7M “Taizan”

 Empire of Japan (1941)
Strategic Bomber- 1 Scale Mockup Built

The Mitsubishi G7M “Taizan” (泰山/Great Mountain) was a planned long range strategic bomber for Imperial Japan’s Army Air Service. Developed out of the need for a bomber capable of striking the continental United States, the Taizan would face a series of developmental problems, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the project.

History

Prior to the start of World War II, Japan had foreseen that in a potential future conflict with the United States, it would require a long range bomber capable of striking the US mainland. In order to fulfill this requirement, a review was conducted in 1941 of all the Imperial Japanese Navy’s bomber aircraft in service. It was revealed that the entirety of the Japanese bomber arsenal was incapable of striking targets in the United States from the Japanese airfields. The Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” was one of Japan’s newest aircraft being pushed into service. Despite its superior range of 3,749 mi (6,043 km) compared to previous IJN bombers, it still was not sufficient enough to strike the US mainland or targets deep in the Soviet Union. As a result of this, the Naval Kōkū Hombu (Aviation Bureau) issued the 16-shi specification in 1941 for a long range bomber. The 16-shi specification would call for a bomber capable of flying at least 361 mph (580 km/h) with a maximum range of 4,598 mi (7,340 km).

Interested in this specification, Mitsubishi’s staff began work on a design that would meet the criteria set by the Kōkū Hombu. Mitsubishi engineer Kiro Honjo (the designer of the G3M and G4M) proposed a four engine design, but this was promptly rejected by the Kōkū Hombu. As a result, another Mitsubishi engineer by the name of Kijiro Takahashi submitted his own design. Upon inspection by the Kōkū Hombu, Honjo’s design was approved and given the green light to proceed. Within Mitsubishi, the 16-shi design was known as the “M-60”. Takahashi’s design was to be powered by two “Nu” engines. The Nu was a 24 cylinder liquid cooled engine which was able to provide 2,200 hp at 16,404 ft (5,000 m) but, due to the start of Operation Barbarossa, Germany was unable to export machinery and tools needed to manufacture the Nu engine. Unfortunately for Takahashi, this turn of events would prevent his design from being completed. As a result of this, Takahashi fell out with the Kōkū Hombu and Kiro Honjo would take over the M-60 project. This time, Honjo followed the Kōkū Hombu’s suggestion and used two engines instead of his idea of four. Under Honjo’s lead, the Taizan’s power plant was changed to two 18 cylinder Mitsubishi Ha-42-11 engines capable of generating 2,000 hp each. It was also seen that Honjo’s design was less aerodynamic than Takahashi’s due to the weaker engines and heavier armament.

On October 31st of 1942, an evaluation was conducted on the work done so far, and a performance estimation gave the Taizan a range of 3,454 mi (5,559 km) and a speed of 332 mph (518 km/h) at 16,404 mi (5,000 m). Falling short of the original 16-shi specification, Mitsubishi scrambled to make adjustments but further revised estimates stated that the design didn’t see any improvements, and actually saw some deterioration. By the time the Taizan’s design was completed in late 1942 and ready for construction of a wooden mockup, a new 17-shi specification was released calling for a new bomber design. Kawanishi took up the design and created the K-100 bomber project. Seeing promise and a better alternative to the Taizan, the Kōkū Hombu ordered all work on the Taizan to be halted until the K-100 could be completed and evaluated. Kawanishi completed initial work on the K-100 and a comparison was made between K-100 and Taizan in the summer of 1943. The Taizan’s range differed significantly from the proposed normal range from 2,302 mi (3,705 km) to 1,726 mi (2,778 km). Due to the significant range reduction, the Kōkū Hombu stopped supporting the Taizan. With no more interest and reason to develop the Taizan, Mitsubishi would finally shelve the project and stop all work on it.

Design

From an exterior aesthetic point of view, the Taizan bears a striking resemblance to the German Heinkel He 177. The nose of the Taizan was rounded and glazed over, a new design not in use by any Japanese bombers at the time. The wings of the Taizan were mounted mid fuselage, and were to be constructed out of metal. Fabrics, however, were to be used for the cover of the Taizan’s ailerons and rudder.

Ordinance wise, the Taizan was to carry a maximum bomb load of 1,764 lbs (800 kg). The defensive armament underwent several changes. Takahashi’s Taizan design was to be armed with two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons and two 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns. Honjo’s initial design would carry two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons, two 13mm Type 2 machine guns and two 7.92mm Type 1 machine guns. Later on, the armament finalized at two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons and six 13mm Type 2 machine guns. There would have been one Type 99 Mk.2 in the nose and one in the tail. There would have been two Type 2 machine guns in the forward upper fuselage turret, two in the rear fuselage turret and two in ventral position, firing rearwards.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The Taizan would have been operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.

 

Mitsubishi G7M1 “Taizan” *

*Estimated performance of Mitsubishi’s G7M1 proposal

Wingspan 82 ft / 25 m
Length 65 ft 6 in / 20 m
Height 20 ft / 6.09 m
Engine 2x Mitsubishi Ha-42-11 (2,000 hp)
Power Loading 8.8 lbs/hp / 3.99 kg/hp
Empty Weight 23,368 lbs / 10,600 kg
Usual Weight 35,273 lbs / 16,000 kg
Fuel Capacity 4,497 L / 1,188 US Gallon
Climb Rate 32,808 ft / 10,000 m in 10 minutes
Maximum Speed 344 mph / 544 kmh @ 26246 ft / 5,000 m
Typical Range 1,739 mi / 2,799 km
Maximum Range 4,598 mi / 7,400 km
Crew 7
Defensive Armament 6x 13x64mm Type 2 machine guns

2x 20×101mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons

Ordnance / Bomb Load 1,764 lb / 800 kg – Maximum

Gallery

 

Artist’s conception of the operational G7M Taizan

Sources

Dyer, E. M. (2013). Japanese secret projects: experimental aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1939-1945. Burgess Hill: Classic.Aircrafts of Imperial Japanese Navy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from http://zenibo-no-milimania.world.coocan.jp/epljn.htmlImages: Side Profile Views by Ed Jackson – Artbyedo.com

 

Kawasaki Ki-88

 Empire of Japan (1943)
Prototype Fighter Interceptor – 1 Built

The Kawasaki Ki-88 was a fighter interceptor designed in 1942 with the intent of intercepting enemy aircraft heading towards vital military locations. The Ki-88 would never see service, as it was cancelled in 1943 after a mockup and partial prototype were constructed. Although considered by many to be the Japanese copy of the American Bell P-39 Airacobra due to the exterior aesthetic similarities, this is only speculation.

History

The origins of the Kawasaki Ki-88 began in August of 1942 when Tsuchii Takeo, a designer for Kawasaki, responded to a design specification put forward by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (IJAAS). The IJAAS determined that they needed an interceptor aircraft that would defend important military assets like airfields, gun emplacements, and others. The specification also stated that the aircraft had to be heavily armed, provide a stable gun platform and be easily flyable by new pilots.

Takeo began work on the Ki-88 and chose to use a 37mm Ho-203 cannon as the plane’s primary armament, with two 20mm Ho-5 cannons to complement the Ho-203. The placement of the guns prompted Takeo to place the engine behind the cockpit. Many sources state that this was done to copy the American Bell P-39 Airacobra, but that claim is debated. The P-39 Airacobra was in service at the time the Ki-88 was developed, but saw limited service with the United States. It did however, see service during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese were certainly aware of its existence and possibly captured an example of the P-39. If they did indeed capture an example, Takeo could have simply copied the gun and engine placement. It is important to note that such a “rear-engine” fighter configuration was a rarity in plane design at the time. Another common theory is that Takeo came to the same conclusion as H.M Poyer (designer of the P-39) did during the planning phase and designed the plane without copying the P-39. Other than the engine and gun placement, the two planes are quite dissimilar.

Takeo completed the Ki-88’s design in June of 1943. A full scale mockup and prototype were in the works in mid/late 1943, and estimated that the prototype would be completed in October of 1943. However, after the mockup and plans were inspected by representatives of the IJAAS, it was concluded that the Ki-88 had no real improvements over other designs of the time, and the top speed was only slightly better than the Kawasaki Ki-61 after calculations. The IJAAS immediately lost interest and ordered Kawasaki to cease all work on it.

Design

The Ki-88 was a single seater, single engine fighter powered by a Kawasaki Ha-140 engine producing 1,500hp while driving a propeller using an extension shaft. The radiator was placed under the cockpit at the bottom of the fuselage. There was an air intake placed beneath the fuselage on the left to provide cooling for the supercharger in the Ha-140.

The Ki-88 used a conventional landing gear, in which the main wheels could be retracted into the wings while the tail wheel stayed fixed. There was a fuel tank in each of the wings, beside the landing gear wells.

The size of the Ho-203 canon prevented Takeo from placing the engine into the nose which led him to place it behind the pilot’s cockpit, much like the American P-39 Airacobra. Moving the engine to the back of the cockpit was a smart move, as it theoretically would have made the plane a more stable gun platform. Under the Ho 203, on both sides of the nose, there were two 20mm Ho-5 cannons.

Operator(s)

  • Empire of Japan – The Ki-88 was supposed to have been operated by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service, but never did so due to the design being deemed as inferior to the Ki-61 and was thus cancelled.

Kawasaki Ki-88*

*Estimated Performance

Wingspan 40.6 ft / 12.37 m
Length 33.4 ft / 10.18 m
Height 13.6 ft / 4.14 m
Wing Area 8,598 ft² / 27.49 m²
Engine 1x Kawasaki Ha-140 (1,500hp)
Empty Weight 6,503 lbs / 2,949 kg
Loaded Weight 8,598 lbs / 3,899 kg
Climb Rate 6 minutes & 30 seconds to 16,404ft (5,000m)
Maximum Speed 373 mph / 600 kph at 19,685ft (6,000m)
Range 745 mi / 1,198 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 36,089 ft / 11,000 m
Crew 1x Pilot
Armament 1x 37mm Ho-203

2x 20mm Ho-5

Gallery

 

Sources

Performance. Report No. 19b(4), USSBS Index Section 2 (Tech. No. 19b(4)). (n.d.)., Pacific Survey Reports and Supporting Records 1928-1947 Kawasaki Aircraft Industries Company, Ltd. (Kagamigahara, Gifu plant), Dyer, Edwin M. Japanese Secret Projects: Experimental Aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1939-1945. Classic, 2013.Francillon. (1987). Japanese aircraft of the Pacific war. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press., Images: Side Profile Views by Ed Jackson – Artbyedo.com

 

Suzuka 24

 Empire of Japan (1944)
Rocket Powered Fighter Aircraft – 7 Built

The Suzuka 24* was an obscure rocket fighter plane developed from the Yokosuka MXY-7 “Ohka” suicide bomber. The Suzuka 24 was armed with two 20mm cannons and is speculated to have been powered by a Toko Ro.2 (KR-10) rocket. It was allegedly seen in action 3 times near the end of the Pacific War by B-29 bomber crews, but did not inflict damage and retreated shortly afterwards. A single example was found in Suzuka Airfield after the war, which led to the name “Suzuka 24”. The machine was further described in detail in a prisoner of war interrogation with two Japanese petty-officers.

Please note this article is done in collaboration with Eun Ae Sun’s (Mai_Waffentrager) Sensha blog. The article is still a work in progress as info is still being collected. The article will be updated as soon as more info is found and verified. Please also note that some of the information presented here is speculation, and will be corrected when verified sources are found.

Update 10/10/2018: There has been some debate of the existence of this aircraft and upon closer examination of the documents, the Americans most likely saw the elongated variant of the Ohka, known as  the Model 22. The POW’s drawing and statements were also subjected to close examination, and were determined to be dubious. This means that the aircraft known as the “Suzuka 24” may have just been an Ohka Model 22.

* – The “Suzuka 24” was the American designation for the aircraft. The actual name is not yet known.

History

One of the most troubling machines for the Japanese during the war was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The B-29 could fly at high altitudes with little resistance due to the lack of performance of Japanese aircraft at such altitudes. The Japanese developed many aircraft in response to this threat such as the Ki-94-II, Ki-61-II, J8M/Ki-200 and probably the Suzuka. It is undeniable that the German technology exchange program helped the Japanese substantially in their rocket development.

It is unknown whether or not the Suzuka was developed by the Army or the Navy, but the original Ohka model was developed used exclusively by the Navy. The Army would have been a more likely designer and operator, however. The Suzuka was rumored to have been developed late 1944.

Reports on the Suzuka 24’s spotted from aerial photos, as well as information collected from POWs.

During the war, a few examples of the Suzuka were found by the US military on various airfields. The first such discovery was made by AC/AS intelligence when they photographed Suzuka Airfield and found a single example. Soon afterwards, XXI Bomber Command discovered 4 examples on photographs of an airfield in Kanoya. The photos are yet to be found.

In an interview conducted post-war of two Japanese petty officers confirmed the existence of the Suzuka. One of the interrogates described seeing the Suzuka at Yokosuka airfield in October of 1944. He described it as a “ground-launched, rocket-propelled, interceptor bomb”. The primary target seems to be Boeing B-29 Superfortresses.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Suzuka is related to the Ohka 43B, which is incorrect. The Ohka 43B and Suzuka are two completely different machines.

Design

A POW’s Sketch of the fighter

The Suzuka 24’s design differed from the Ohka significantly. First, the Suzuka completely removed the warhead from the nose and replaced it with a fuel tank and two 20mm cannons were fitted. (There is debate as to whether the 20mm cannons were Ho-5 or Type 99)

The tail of the Suzuka also differed significantly from the Ohka. The tail was redesigned to accommodate the new fighter role. It featured a singular vertical stabilizer along with a horizontal stabilizer, as opposed to the Ohka’s twin vertical stabilizer. This design would have improved handling in flight. The wingspan of the Suzuka was increased by 0.5m on each side and was reinforced. This would help with maneuverability.

The engines for the Suzuka was one of the most important changes. The average Ohka Type

11 would be powered by three Navy Type 4 Mark 1 Model 20 rockets, each producing approximately 2.6 kN (590 lbf) of thrust. The Suzuka would be powered by a single Toko Ro.2 (KR-10) rocket (Japanese copy of the Walter HWK 509A rocket used in the J8M/Ki-200 interceptors) producing around 14.7 kN (3007 lbf) of thrust. The fuel capacity accommodated an estimated 7 minutes worth of fuel.

A rocket launching track for the aircraft
A rocket sled for launching

The Suzuka 24 would have been launched from a ramp, and is unknown whether or not it had landing gear.

Highlights of the Aircraft’s Service Record 

There were a total of three different alleged combat encounters of the Suzuka 24 near the end of the war.

A U.S. Military report about the encounters with the rocket fighter

The first encounter occurred on April 3rd of 1945 during a B-29 raid on the Tachikawa Aircraft Factory. A B-29 crew reported seeing a “ball of fire” at their 5 o’clock closing in behind them.The B-29 pulled quick evasive turning maneuvers while lowering their altitude. The “ball of fire” quickly closed in on the lost distance, but suddenly turned back a few seconds later. One of the crew members reported that he saw a stream of fire following the object, and faded when the object turned. The blister gunner reported seeing a wing attached to the object, and what seemed to be a navigational light burning on the wing’s left tip.

The second encounter occurred during a raid near Tokyo Bay. A B-29 crew member reported seeing a “ball of fire” following it at approximately 4,000ft (1,220m) while the bomber was at approximately 7,000ft (2,130m). The B-29 began evasive maneuvers right away, gaining and losing 500ft (152m) quickly. It also changed its course by 35 degrees, and increased the airspeed from 205mph (330km/h) to 250mph (402km/h). The B-29 crew lost sight of the “ball of fire” three times as it was flying through the clouds but to their surprise, found it sitting on their tail when the B-29 came out of the clouds. The “ball of fire” followed the B-29 for approximately 5 miles (8km) across Tokyo bay before turning around.

The third encounter supposedly happened at night, a waist gunner of a B-29 at 8,000ft (2,440m) reported seeing what was thought at first to be light from an amber colored searchlight. The light gained altitude and followed the B-29. The pilots then climbed to 12,000ft (3,660m) and then came down to 10,000ft (3,050m) but the light followed. The radar operator then picked up an object trailing behind the B-29 at approximately 1 mile (1.6km) behind. Shortly afterwards, the tail gunner reported seeing a stream of fire emanating from the pursuing object. The fire appeared to be coming out in bursts, with each burst measuring approximately 24 inches (61cm) with a 6 inch (15cm) break between each burst from the gunner’s perspective. The fire kept emanating for about 7 minutes before ceasing for good. The B-29 continued through evasive maneuvers, but the object kept on following. The object was last seen about 30 miles beyond the coast line above the ocean.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The designer of the Suzuka 24 is unclear, but it’s speculated to be either the Imperial Army Air Service or the Imperial Naval Air Service. It was rumored to have seen action in the closing stages of the war.

Suzuka 24

Wingspan Estimated 20 feet / 6.097m
Length Estimated 20 feet / 6.097m
Height Unknown
Wing Area Unknown
Engine Speculated to be 1x Toko Ro.2 (KR-10) rocket – 3,307 lbs / 1,500kg  thrust
Fuel Capacity 7 minutes
Climb Rate Estimated 10,000ft / 3,050km per minute
Maximum Speed Unknown
Maximum Glide Speed Estimated 520mph / 840km/h
Cruising Speed Unknown
Range Unknown
Maximum Service Ceiling Estimated 32,000ft / 9,755m
Crew 1x Pilot
Armament 2x 20mm Ho-5 or Type 99 cannons* (60 or 150 rpg)

*- It is unknown which of the two would have been used.

Gallery

The POW’s sketch compared with a blueprint of the Ohka 43

Sources

Eun Ae Sun (Mai_Waffentrager)

US Intel Report No. 63a-6 Rocket Powered Aircraft (Tech. No. 63a-6). (n.d.).

US Intel Report Report No. 9-a-60 Rocket Plane “Ball of Fire” (Tech. No. 9-a-60). (n.d.).

“R.A Liaison Letter, July 1945 .”

Tachikawa-Kokusai Ta-Gō

 Empire of Japan (1945)
Prototype Special Attack Aircraft – 3 Built

The Ta-Gō was an attempt at creating an easily made and cheap kamikaze aircraft in anticipation of Operation Downfall and Operation Olympic. The plane would have been used by special “shinpū” (kamikaze) units to ram advancing Allied tanks, infantry and boats. Fortunately for the Allies, the Ta-Gō project was cancelled once the Empire of Japan capitulated.

History

The concept of the Ta-Gō came in late 1944, when Japan was on its heels after losing the majority of its territories to the Allies. With the recent loss of Guam, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and other islands, Japan was convinced that the American invasion of the Japanese mainland was inevitable. By 1945, Japanese factories and industries suffered from constant bombings by the USAAF. This led to the deprivation of much needed materials to produce planes and tanks. Because of this, much of the already existing aircrafts were designed to be built with wood. (Example: Ki-106 from Ki-84, D3Y from D3A). Even then, Japan’s industry could barely produce such planes due to the situation of the war.

Watching his country’s resources slowly depleting and the rapid advance of the Allies, IJA Captain Yoshiyuka Mizuyama wanted to make a difference. He wanted to design a simple, cheap and easily producible plane requiring minimum materials for designated kamikaze units. If the Ta-Gō was mass produced, it could easily fill already depleted kamikaze units, and would make kamikaze attacks more popular. Once Mizuyama finished designing the plane, he went to Tachikawa Hikōki Kabushiki Kaisha (Tachikawa Aircraft Company) and submitted his design. His design was however rejected because Tachikawa Hikōki simply could not afford to allocate resources for the Ta-Gō. It was also rejected due to the fact that Mizuyama’s design was not officially approved by the state.

Determined to initiate his project, Mizuyama looked around the city of Tachikawa until he discovered a small woodwork shop. He rented the shop and began constructing his first prototype with the help of his men. Around February of 1945, Tachikawa was firebombed by the USAAF. The workshop was completely destroyed along with the sole prototype. Still determined to initiate the project despite the major setback, Mizuyama approached Nippon Kokusai Kogyo K.K (Japanese International Aviation Industries Ltd) to continue his project. Luckily for him, Kokusai accepted his project. Since Kokousai accepted the project, they asked that Mizuyama redesign certain parts of the plane to so that it would require even less materials and manpower. The Kokusai design’s dimensions was significantly scaled down compared to Mizuyama’s original design and was simpler altogether.

Now satisfied that his work was accepted, he began building the new model of the Ta-Gō with help from Kokusai. The prototype was completed around the middle of June, and was test flown for the first time on June 25th, 1945 with an experienced pilot from Kokusai in the cockpit. The test pilot expressed obvious handling concerns and gave helpful tips to the designers. As a result, the Ta-Gō participated in more test flights and was modified on the drawing board. In the end, the blueprints for the production variant were finalized. Unfortunately for Mizuyama and Kokusai, the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies in August of 1945, and the Ta-Gō never entered production. Interestingly enough, the Allies discovered two variants for the Ta-Gō named “Gi-Gō” and “Tsu-Gō” after Kokusai surrendered all their documents. However, there is no known information on them today.

Tachikawa, funnily enough, took on the project too after the Kokusai prototype was completed and authorized by the Gunjushō (Ministry of Munitions) despite them rejecting the project earlier. Once the American Occupation forces arrived in Japan, they found the Tachikawa Ta-Gō incomplete. Once the Ta-Gō was accepted, it was given the designation Ki-128. It is not confirmed whether the designation was for the Kokusai or Tachikawa variant or both.

Design

The Ta-Gō was a single seated kamikaze plane made mostly out of plywood, fabric, and wood lathes. The original Ta-Gō design used wood lathes for the fuselage and structure, and used plywood and fabric for the outer skin and control surfaces. The pilot’s compartment featured a simple acrylic glass. The landing gear was fixed, meaning they couldn’t be retracted. It featured a Hitachi Ha-13 Ko 9-cylinder radial engine that produced 450hp, with thin steel sheets as the engine cowling. The only armament it could carry was a 500kg bomb, which cannot be released. Other than these details, little is known about the original Ta-Gō as hardly any evidence exists.

The refined design for Kokusai made the Ta-Gō much smaller than its original size. Due to this, the plane could no longer house the Hitachi Ha-13 Ko, and was replaced by the Hitachi Ha-47 11 producing 110hp instead. Because of the severe engine power decrease, the 500kg bomb load had to be changed to 100kg. Another change from the original design was the cockpit was open topped. The only thing that covers the pilot is a simple acrylic glass pane that shields from the wind. As for the engine, it was protected by an angular wooden cowling. The engine was paired with a two-blade fixed pitch wooden propeller. The engine mount was made of metal, with the fuel tank placed on top of the engine, thus using a gravity feed system. In between the acrylic glass pane and the fuel tank, there was an oil cooler. As for cockpit instruments, only the very basic and important ones were kept. Such instruments used were a compass, speedometer, altimeter, and engine-related gauges such as fuel and oil. The fuselage was also boxier than the original design. This design feature was extremely simple to manufacture, but was very un-aerodynamic.

The fuselage and structure was made with wooden spars and plywood, much like the original Ta-Gō. The wings were rectangular shaped, and were hinged near the landing gear, which allowed the the wings to fold upwards. The reason why the wings could be folded was because the Ta-Gō was suppose to be hidden in caves and take up less space in the factory line. The rudder and elevator of the Ta-Gō were both rectangular shaped. As for the landing gear, it was made out of steel tubing and paired with rubber wheels. Each landing gear was supported by a metal strut.

Variants

  • Original Ta-Gō: The original Ta-Gō was powered by a Hitachi Ha-13 Ko (450hp) and could carry a 500kg bomb. It was almost completed before being destroyed in a bombing raid. Only one photo of the original prototype is known to have existed.
  • Revised Ta-Gō:The revised Ta-Gō design featured a smaller airframe to save the factories effort and materials. As a result of this modification, the engine had to be changed to a Hitachi Ha-47 11 (110hp) and the bomb load was reduced to 100kg. Two of these were made. One was completed by Kokusai, test flown and evaluated while the other one by Tachikawa was incomplete.
  • Gi-Gō: The Gi-Gō was a late war development of the Ta-Gō. There is no information known about it to this date. The project was commenced by Kokusai.
  • Tsu-Gō: Like the Gi-Gō, the Tsu-Gō was developed very late in the war. No information about it has been discovered to this date. The project was commenced by Kokusai.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The Ta-Gō would have been used by special kamikaze units in both the army and navy.

Ta-Gō (Revised Version) 

Wingspan  8.90m | 29.2ft
Length  7.40m | 24.3ft
Height  3.87m | 12.7ft
Wing Area  5.10m² | 54.9ft²
Engine Hitachi Ha-47 11 (110hp)
Take-Off Weight  565.5kg | 1,290lbs
Empty Weight  345.5kg | 761lbs
Maximum Speed  195km/h | 121mph
Cruising Speed  179km/h | 111mph
Range  150km | 93 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling  4,600m | 15,091ft
Crew  1 (pilot)
Armament 1x 100kg bomb

Gallery

The never completed first Tachikawa prototype
Artist Interpretation of a completed first Tachikawa prototype

Sources

Dyer, E. (2009). Japanese Secret Projects : Experimental Aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1939-1945: Ian Allan Publishing.
Kokusai Ta-Gō. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017
Ta-Gō. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2017
Beechy, Robert. “Imperial Japanese Army Air Service Aircraft Code Names & Designations.” Japanese Military Aircraft Designations. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2017.