Special Hobby 1/32 Ki-27 otsu

KIT #: 32040
PRICE: 5,280 yen at www.hlj.com
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Includes resin and photo etched parts


             Most fighter pilots prior to 1936 were technological conservatives who valued high‑g close‑in maneuverability in their biplane fighters more than they did the speed and armament increase possible with the all‑metal monoplane.  Perhaps no fighter pilots in the world were more conservative in this area than those of the Japanese Army Air Force, who were taught to compare themselves with the ancient Kendo masters, and to use the maneuverability of their aircraft in the same way that the Kendo master wielded his Shinai. Thus, when Koku Hombu ‑ the Air H.Q. of the Imperial Army ‑ issued their requirements for an "advanced fighter" in 1935, the primary goal was to graft the most desirable characteristics of the biplane onto a monoplane.  The IJN had previously issued a similar requirement, which resulted in the 9‑Shi fighter, known to the IJN as the A5M, and to history as the "Claude" fighter; Mitsubishi entered a modified A5M type, known as the Ki.33, in the competition.  But for the JAAF, even this outstandingly maneuverable monoplane was not maneuverable enough.

      Chief Designer Tei Koyama of Nakajima created a design that was even more exacting in terms of weight control than what Jiro Horikoshi at Mitsubishi had achieved with the A5M, representing the smallest possible airframe that could be designed around the Nakajima Kotobuki‑II Kai, a license built version of the Bristol Jupiter.  The prototype, designated the Ki.27, first flew on October 15, 1936. When flown in competition with the Mitsubishi Ki.33 and the Kawasaki Ki.28, the Ki.27 displayed noteworthy superiority as regarded maneuverability. At a weight of only 2,866 lb., it had a wing loading of 14.33 lb/square foot, it had a clear edge in close‑in high‑g combat maneuvering over its competitors. The new warplane retained all the agility of the Ki.10 it was intended to replace, yet offered major advances in speed and climb performance.  

      A trio of pre‑production Ki‑27s were assigned to the 1st Chutai of the 2nd Hiko‑Datai in northern China in March, 1938. On April 10, 1938, the well known JAAF ace Captain Tateo Kato, 1st Chutai CO, claimed the destruction of three Chinese flown I‑152s on his first mission.  On April 15, the trio ‑ accompanied by 12 Ki.10s ‑ fought a pitched battle with 30 I‑152s over Shanxi, with Japanese claims of 24 out of 30.  After this, the Chinese fighters were pulled back out of range of their new Japanese opponents.  Despite the fact that the range and firepower of the Ki.27 even at the outset of its combat career was shown to be below that of the international standard, Koku Hombu made no move to try and improve the Ki.27, which was in fact an airframe that was so specialized it had no growth potential. Lacking range to escort bombers, the Ki.27 did not again see combat for a number of months.  On April 20, 1939, the Ki.27 suffered its first combat losses in combat against Soviet flown I‑152s over Nanking.  A month later, the Nomonhan "incident" ‑ a three month war between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Soviet Union ‑ began.

       Within two weeks of Mongolian cavalry crossing into Manchuria on May 11, 1939, fighting escalated to aerial combat. On May 22, six patrolling Ki.27s encountered six I‑16s and shot down three. On May 28, 60 I‑16s and I‑152s were intercepted by 18 Ki‑27s, who claimed 51 of the Soviet fighters without loss.  On June 22, 1939, the 24th Sentai claimed 54 of 60 I‑16s, against a loss of 4 Ki.27s.  These claims were due to the vast difference between the highly trained Japanese pilots and their haphazardly trained Soviet opponents.  Throughout the Nomonhan Incident, JAAF fighters consistently maintained a margin of aerial superiority.

       Shortcomings in the Ki.27 revealed in the Nomonhan incident were not corrected, since they resulted in adverse effects on performance of the fighter. In September, 1940, Nakajima was ordered to phase out production of the Ki.27 in favor of its successor, the Ki.43.  Production was continued at the Mansyu plant in Harbin, Manchuria, until July 1942.

       Outside of two Sentais equipped with the Ki.43‑I‑Ko and one independent Chutai equipped with the pre‑production Ki.44, the JAAF entered the Pacific War still equipped with the Ki.27 as its major fighter.  The extreme maneuverability of the fighter gave British pilots over Malaya fits, but the pilots of the American Volunteer Group, fighting over Rangoon, discovered that one good burst of their two .50 caliber machine guns was sufficient to explode the completely‑ unprotected Ki.27.  Diving on the Japanese fighters, the AVG's P‑40s could attack and dive away in the knowledge that the lightweight Ki.27 could not keep up with them. The 77th Sentai formed two‑thirds of the Japanese fighters the Flying Tigers fought over Burma in the first months of 1942; to this day, one risks complete ostracism if they inform a veteran of the AVG that they did not in fact fight "Claudes" and "Zeros" over Rangoon, but rather "Nates" and "Oscars."  By the end of 1942, the Ki.27 only equipped units assigned to defense of the Home Islands.


            The kit comes on five sprues of limited-run injection-molded parts with engraved detail, a small bag of resin parts and a small photo-etch fret. Decals are provided for three aircraft with different field applications of camouflage as seen in the later stages of the Malaya and Burma campaigns in January-March 1942.

             Bill Koppos did a great review of the Ki.27-ko kit  and this kit is essentially that kit, using the different rear canopy section.


             Since Bill did such a good job of finding all the land mines in this kit, I followed his review, and you should too, if you do this kit.  Since this model was headed for display at Planes of Fame, behind a glass door at least three feet from the viewer, I did not go into the detail Bill did with his contest model, and decided to close up the canopy and preserve the external lines of the model.  I note that my research for the interior color found information at j-aircraft.com that “Nakajima Interior Color” as it applies to Japanese Army Air Force aircraft is a more yellow version of their Navy Interior Color, which is essentially Interior Green.  I mixed some Tamiya “cockpit color” with “yellow chromate” and got what might be right.  No one who looks at it is going to know.  Bill's blue cockpit may be right too.

             Overall, as Bill pointed out, assembly is easy, and it was even easier for me since I followed the rule “if you can't see it, I didn't do it.” This applied to the engine, most of which is invisible behind the oil cooler once inside the cowling, and the cockpit, which is almost invisible with the canopy closed.  The fit of the lower wing to the fuselage is fine everywhere except at the front area behind the cowling, where I got a “step” I couldn't get rid of no matter how much of this and that I trimmed.  I ended up using a lot of Squadron Green Putty, then Tamiya Surfacer, and then rescribing that area.  Just remember that the motto at Special Hobby is: “Fit?  Fit?!  We don't need no steenking fit, steenking Yanqui!!” (To paraphrase the famous line in Treasure of the Sierra Madre)


             I decided to do the airplane on the box art, which was flown by 13-victory ace Captain Toshiro Kowabara, commander of the 3rd Chutai of 77th Sentai, the main opponents of the AVG over Burma.  I painted the underside with Tamiya “J.a. Grey,” and the upper surfaces with Tamiya “NATO Brown” and “Deep Green,” which looked about right in comparison with the color profile.

             The kit decals went on perfectly under a coat of Micro-Sol and I was glad to see that the yellow markings were sufficiently opaque to cover the colors beneath the decal.


             I decided to let the airplane look like it might have shortly after receiving its field-applied camouflage, and did not ding it.  I then realized that I had managed to feed the resin exhausts to the carpet monster (I'm sure he found them a tasty treat).  Oh well.  Their absence won't be noticed where this model will sit, but you should take care to keep those little resin parts inside the kit box during your project.  Think of the women and children, man!  They don't need to hear all that “purple prose.”


            As Bill Koppos demonstrated, you can create a show-stopper with this kit, with only a bit of “some modeling skill required.”  My model will look just fine sitting there in the glass case next to those Hasegawa JAAF fighters.  Yours can look even better. 

Tom Cleaver

November 2011

 Thanks to HobbyLink Japan for the review kit. 

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