Hasegawa 1/48 Ki-61-1c 'Hien'


9114 (JT 14)




Two 244 Sentai aircraft


Tom Cleaver





    The Japanese Army Air Force was extremely conservative in its view of what constituted a good fighter.  As a result, when the JAAF entered the Pacific War, its main fighter was the obsolete (by Western standards) Nakajima Ki.27 (Nate), and its newest fighter - which only equipped one fighter Sentai - was the already-obsolescent Ki.43 Hayabusa (Oscar).  While both fighter were highly-maneuverable and could give Western opponents fits, an Allied fighter pilot had only to keep his speed up and avoid high-g "dogfight" maneuvering in the horizontal plane to neutralize the good qualities of either fighter, with the Allied pilot able to break off combat at will through use of superior speed overall, and higher diving speeds.

      The first JAAF fighter to meet Western standards to see combat in the Pacific War was the Kawasaki Ki.61, known as the Type 3 Model 1 land-based interceptor.  The Japanese name was Hien, which translates as "Flying Swallow"; the Allied code name was "Tony."  First encountered over New Guinea in 1943, the Tony would give good account of itself through the remainder of the Pacific War, and was considered by its opponents to be one of the most dangerous Japanese fighters, and very difficult to shoot down.

      Kawasaki had acquired the manufacturing rights to the new series of Daimler-Benz aircraft engines in 1937, though it would not be until 1940 that the JAAF would take advantage of this fact.  In February 1940, Kawasaki received development contracts for two fighter designs to be powered by the Daimler-Benz DB601A - the Ki.60 and Ki.61.  Of the two, the Ki.60 was a very straightforward attempt to emulate European design standards, with the result being a "heavy" fighter with a top speed of 350 mph - the fastest of any JAAF aircraft to date when it first flew in March 1941 with a German DB601A engine.  It was, however, ahead of its time so far as the JAAF was concerned, and further development was given over to the lighter, more "Japanese" Ki.61.

      Kawasaki had simultaneously been working on the Ha.40, an indigenous development of the DB601A that was lighter than the original German engine, and rated at 1,175 h.p.  Unfortunately, this lightness of design would ultimately be the downfall of the engine, because it could not stand up to prolonged operational use, in addition to being subject to poor quality control in production.    

     The Ha.40 powered the Ki.61 prototype which first flew in December 1941.  In early tests the aircraft achieved a top speed of 368 mph, though this would never be matched by production versions until the introduction of the higher-powered Ki.61-II in 1943. Twelve additional prototypes were built, and were flown in comparison with captured U.S. P-40Es from the Philippines and a German Bf-109E; the Ki.61s were superior to both. 

      The first production Ki.61, powered by the production version of the Ha.40, the Type 2 Ha.60/22, rated at 1,100 hp and providing a top speed of 348 mph. The initial production version, the Model 1, was armed with two 7.62mm machine guns in the fuselage, and two 12.7mm weapons in the wings. The Model 1 entered combat over New Guinea in April, 1943, where it was first assumed by the Allies to be a development of the Bf-109.

      In August, 1943, production switched to the Model 1A, in which the 12.7mm wing guns were replaced by German 20mm Mauser cannon.  Only 800 of these weapons were obtained from Germany, limiting production of the Model 1A to 400 aircraft. An interim production version, the Model 1B, replaced the previous armament with 4 12.7mm weapons in both the fuselage and wings.  In January 1944, production switched to the Model 1C, with substituted domestically-designed Ho-5 20mm cannon for the wing armament. 

     After fighting in New Guinea, the Ki.61 next appeared over Rabaul, followed by deployment to China, where it proved more than a match for the P-40s of the 23rd Fighter Group, which in turn led to expedited equipment of the 23rd FG with the P-51 Mustang in early 1944. The Ki.61 equipped units based in the Philippines in 1944.

      Allied fighter pilots respected the Ki.61, which provided better armor protection for the pilot and engine than other Japanese fighters, while providing excellent maneuverability and a diving speed that allowed it to keep up with any Allied fighter that attempted to disengage by diving.  

     The appearance of the B-29 in significant numbers over Japan, beginning in November 1944, led to the return of as many Ki.61-equipped units to the Home Islands as possible.  In limited combat against the China-based B-29s in the summer of 1944, the Ki.61 had proven to be one of the few Japanese fighters capable of meeting the B-29 at altitudes over 30,000 feet.  It equipped Japanese Taiatari (special attack) units, such as the 244th Sentai based outside Tokyo; its design allowed for ramming attacks against B-29s that gave the pilot a good chance of a successful bailout just before impact. 

     Unfortunately for the Ki.61, the Ha.40 engine became an ever-increasing source of trouble, varying greatly in rated power between specific engines due to poor production quality control.  The designed-in lightness of the engine led to main-bearing failures and oil system faults.  By the Spring of 1944, production of the Ki.61 was lagging due to the fact that production of the Ha.40 had been cut back in an attempt to restore production quality.  Production of the engine stalled out completely in the summer of 1944 due to a severe shortage of cylinder blocks and crankcases. Further development of the Ki.61 in the Ki.61-II and -III versions with a higher-powered development of the Ha.40 - the Ha.140 - were completely unsuccessful due to the failure of the engine, though when the engine worked the Ki.61-II was the only Japanese interceptor capable of maintaining combat formation up to 33,000 feet.


     To my mind, the Ki.61 Hien is the best-looking Japanese fighter of the Pacific War, from a strictly-aesthetic point of view, with its narrow fuselage and pointed nose, and graceful wings. Tamiya produced a 1/50 Ki.61 in the late 1960s, but this suffered major fuselage outline irregularities due to the fact it was designed to take an electric motor inside, which additionally meant that interior cockpit detail was non-existant. Otaki released a Ki.61 in the early 1970s in 1/48 scale, which is accurate and still available, though it has a bit more recessed surface detail - in the form of rivets - than one might care for today, as well as a cockpit in need of detailing. Hasegawa first released a Ki.61 in 1/72 scale in 1974.  This was the first accurate kit of this airplane released by any manufacturer, with very nice (for the time) cockpit detail.  This kit is still in production nearly 30 years later, and can be safely recommended to any modeler who builds in the smaller scale.

      Hasegawa released this 1/48 Ki.61 in 1994.  There have been several limited releases of the kit with various markings in the years since.  Both the models shown with this article came from the initial kit, which provided markings for the 244th Sentai, a unit that was well-known as the result of a propaganda campaign in late 1944 and early 1945, revealing the unit's successes against the B-29s.

      The kit is accurate, with thin trailing edges on all flying surfaces, and a cockpit that is detailed sufficiently out of the box that most modelers will not feel the need for a resin replacement.  To my knowledge, only True Details ever made a resin cockpit for this kit, and it is now out of production.  The one negative - at least to me - is that the canopy is one-piece and cannot be displayed open.  However, there is a Squadron vacuform canopy available for the Otaki kit; this will not completely fit accurately to the Hasegawa kit, but by using the sliding section from this and cutting the kit-supplied canopy apart, the model can be displayed with an open cockpit canopy. 

     Aeromaster did decals for the Ki.61 (48-116C, "Kawasaki Tony Ki.61-I, Part 1"), which is now out of production but may be brought back now that Aeromaster has been purchased by Eagle Strike Decals, who have pursued a program of re-release of the Aeromaster line. (To your editor's understanding, the 'new' Aeromaster is owned by the same person who owned the 'old' Aeromaster and started Eagle Strike when the old Aeromaster was sold to a consortium who eventually went bankrupt. If I'm mistaken, clarification would be appreciated. ed)


     Construction of this kit is extremely easy.  I began by painting the parts for the cockpit interior, the gear wells, and inside of the gear doors, with Gunze-Sangyo RLM79 Sandy Brown, a good substitute for the Kawasaki Tan used on the original.  I painted the various details, such as levers, etc., according to the color diagram of a Ki.61 cockpit in Don Thorpe's "Imperial Japanese Army Aircraft." 

      I then assembled the cockpit inside the fuselage, and proceeded to assemble the fuselage, then the wings.  I only needed putty along the central fuselage seam; there were no gaps between the fuselage and wings, or the horizontal stabilizers. 

      The first kit, which is the one on which I used Aeromaster decals, was done with the canopy closed.  By the time I did the second one I had the Squadron canopy, and substituted the sliding section of that for the kit canopy after discovering that the Squadron canopy would not fit directly to the Hasegawa kit.


Painting and Decals:

      Painting and Decals were a combined step on these two models, due to the way they were painted.

      The Ki.61 was delivered from the factory in two schemes: overall green upper surfaces with natural metal lower surfaces and the fabric covered control surfaces painted in Kawasaki Grey, and overall natural metal; the latter was the dominant scheme by the time the Ki.61-Ic entered service in the spring of 1944. The various camouflage schemes were field-applied on these NMF aircraft, and I chose to do the two most-common versions. 

      For the 244th Sentai airplane flown by Sentai Hon-cho Major Teruhiro Kobayashi, I followed the scheme shown in the numerous photos taken of this airplane.  I painted propeller and spinner with Tamiya "Red Brown," the vertical fin and rudder with Gunze-Sangyo "Red Madder," the leading edge ID stripes with Gunze-Sangyo "Orange-Yellow", the upper fuselage with Tamiya "Flat Black,," and the fabric control surfaces in Gunze-Sangyo "IJA Grey." I then masked off those areas and shot the rest of the model with SnJ Aluminum. 

      I then applied the Hinomarus, and the blue fuselage stripes which were cut from a sheet of solid blue decal of the right shade.  When that had set up, I put a coat of sealer over the decals, and then airbrushed the green blotching around the markings, using Gunze Sangyo "IJA Green".  This is not as hard as it sounds, if you are using a fine tip on the airbrush, and using no more than 15 p.s.i from the air compressor, to limit "splash." 

     When the camouflage was dry, I unmasked everything and applied the wing stripes - since photos show these were applied later over the blotching - and the personal score below the cockpit.  The Sentai marking was applied to the rudder, and the "no walk" markings on the wing over the flaps.

      The second Ki.61 is from the Command Chutai (as evidenced by the blue Sentai markings on the rudder and the fuselage stripe) of the 68th Sentai. This airplane was delivered in natural metal finish, with dark green paint randomly applied over the upper surfaces by brush, in the "palm tree" pattern (so-called because it resembled palm tree leaves.

      For this airplane, I painted it as I did the first one with Gunze-Sangyo "Orange-Yellow" on the wing leading edge, Tamiya "Flat Black" on the upper fuselage nose, Tamiya "Red Brown" for the prop, and Gunze-Sangyo "IJA Grey" for the control surfaces, all masked and the airplane then painted with SnJ aluminum.

      When this was dry, I applied all the decals for the national insignia and individual aircraft markings.  When they were dry, I applied a light coat of Model Master Sealer, and then applied the camouflage by hand, using a 000 brush, and Gunze-Sangyo "IJA Green" thinned 60-40 with rubbing alcohol, painting around the markings with random "squiggles."


     I lightly weathered the two airplanes, providing some "chipping" of the anti-glare panel along panel lines, and doing a light exhaust stain on both.  I additionally "chipped" the yellow ID stripes on the 68th Sentai airplane.  Major Kobayashi's airplane was left quite clean, which is the way it is seen in contemporary photos.

      I attached the open canopy to the one airplane, and the landing gears and props to both, and they were done. 


      Like I say, the Ki.61 is a beautiful airplane, and the Hasegawa kit does it full justice, built "out of the box."  These two look very good on my JAAF shelf, very different from all the other radial-powered fighters next to them.

 Kits courtesy of my wallet.

February 2003

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