Hasegawa 1/72 N1K2-J Shiden Kai






 See Review


Jon Hudak




History and Introduction:

It is interesting to note that such a fine, formidable fighter aircraft like the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai started life as a floatplane, the case in point being the N1K1 Kyofu. To think that it is one of few airplanes that started life as a floatplane and was then redesigned back into a successful land based fighter is no small feat. With it's pilot operated combat flaps the original Kyofu or "Rex" as it was code named by the allies was said to posses pleasant handling characteristics. However by the time it was ready for operational use it was basically too late as it was already outclassed by superior and faster allied aircraft.  That coupled with the fact that the US Navy Seabees could construct airfields quickly also meant that opposition to the Kyofu could arise from practically anywhere thus basically negating the effects of the floatplane attacks.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances the Kyofu had shown promise that if transformed into a land based version it could make an exceptional fighter plane. The Japanese engineers must have felt they were onto something and eventually they would get it right. It is interesting to note that when the concept was presented to the Japanese Navy they showed little interest and were more interested in choosing the J2M Raiden instead.  Testing was begun which eventually would result in the N1K1-J Shiden. While a capable fighter with increased speed, armor protection and firepower in the form of four 20 mm cannons the Shiden was not without it's share of problems. The combination of the larger four bladed prop (which replaced the original 3 bladed one from the Kyofu) to get the most horsepower out of the Homare 11 radial engine and the higher mounted mid wing called for some exceptionally long landing gear for ground clearance. The idea was for the gear to retract in length before folding up into the wing. While a novel idea this would plague the N1K1-J throughout it's career and was also time consuming to produce. Often the landing gear would collapse without the slightest provocation during landings. A solution was needed and it was felt that by lowering the wing further down on the fuselage like many other aircraft of the time they would also be able to shorten the landing gear and eradicate the problems being encountered and simplify production as well.

Eventually engineers and designers had gotten it right. With the wing lowered and the landing gear problem solved as well a redesign of the fuselage among other things the much improved N1K2-J Shiden-Kai was born. Finally the Japanese navy had the plane they were looking for and all these modifications had paid off. The new N1K2-J Shiden-Kai first took to the air on December 31, 1943, and it proved to be a menacing opponent and in the hands of a skilled or even an average pilot it was on equal footing with the new breed of American fighters it was facing such as the Corsair and Hellcat. It has been said that the N1K2-J George was the finest fighter of the Japanese Navy during WW2 and for good reason. It must have came as a scary surprise to unsuspecting US pilots when encountered. The exploits of the 343rd Kokutai and their use of the George are legendary considering the small amount of time in which they operated and the number of aircraft they shot down. The case of too little too late certainly applied here but considering the deteriorating condition of the war around them and the extensive damage of the B29 raids on the factories the Shiden-Kai proved effective against it's attackers and things might have been different had it been available earlier in the war. For more information on the 343rd Kokutai check out Tom Cleaver's excellent review on his 1:48 Hasegawa N1K2-J and the new book Genda's Blade that is also reviewed on this site.


For more information as well as a photo of what's inside check out Scott's preview of this same kit. Inside the box you'll find two sprues molded in Hasegawa's light gray plastic and a third smaller clear one for the canopy. Detail is quite good for a kit of it's age being comparable to the J2M3 Raiden and Ki-61 Hien kits with all panel lines being recessed and adequate detail for the cockpit. The moldings overall are excellent being nicely executed and the trailing edges of the wings, stabilizers and tail are commendably thin. As can be expected with kits that have been around this long, older ones typically seem to have less flash than newer releases as I observed this with both of mine. 


Not to sound unoriginal, but the first place I started with was the cockpit. This consists of a floor with an integrally mounted "stump" for the pilot's seat as well as some basic floor pedals, a separate rear bulkhead, control stick, instrument panel and seat. A decal for the instrument panel is provided. I then glued all the pieces together to complete the cockpit assembly and it along with the interiors of the fuselage halves were ready to be painted. Originally I was just going to use Gunze H340 green for the whole thing as per the instructions. It was after reading an article entitled "Double Threat" from the 2003 Warbird Modeling special issue from Fine Scale Modeler that I wanted to try and simulate the color the author had used in his George's interior.  This was a nice article that featured a build of both the N1K1-J and N1K2-J kits from Tamiya and Hasegawa respectively and in 1:48 scale. The "mix" consisted of 4 parts of interior green mixed with one part of olive drab. This is where I goofed and ended up using 4 parts of Gunze H340 green to 1 part of olive drab rather than using the "correct" interior green color. Mine ended up looking a bit too dark, but it was nothing I couldn't live with.  Determining the correct cockpit color for a lot of WW2 Japanese aircraft is a bit like trying to figure out who shot JFK. While we may have a pretty good idea, we'll never be absolutely sure!

I'd also painted the instrument panel black and put the decal on it and then with these assemblies complete I glued them into a fuselage halve and then joined both halves together and set this aside to dry. I noticed the canopy supplied with this kit had a molding defect in it that resembled a hair or something and so to expedite construction I raided a second kit I had of a George in an older boxing that I'd picked up at a show for only $3. This part was free from defects. I then glued together the three piece wing assembly which consists of the normal one piece lower and two upper halves. While dry fitting this kit earlier I'd noticed a rather horrendous step where the inner edge of the right wing met the fillet on the fuselage. Taking some advice from my modeling buddies, I would just widen the wing at this point with wood or plastic shims. I simply used some leftover sprue and scrap from the kit's sprue trees.  How's that for recycling? I just played around adding and subtracting pieces and checking the wing to the fuselage along the way. It was really very simple and once I was happy I just squirted a generous amount of plastic cement in the wing to hold it all together. The "corrected" wing assembly was then glued on followed by the rear stabilizers. It was at this time I noticed I was missing one of my rear stabilizers, perhaps from that dry fitting test from a few months back! Oh well, time to raid the other kit for more parts.  One gripe of mine with this kit was the amount of flash that was around the cannon barrels, there was a lot and it was quite pesky to remove without damaging the round curvature of the barrels. Now none of this tomfoolery was present in my older kit!  Other than this minor setback, so far so good. Next I glued together the drop tank assembly and went to work on cleaning it up as well.

I then started working on the seams, some areas were pretty good not needing a lot of filler while a couple of other areas needed more work like the wing roots and where the wing assembly connects to the fuselage on the belly of the plane, but that spot is to be expected I guess.  I then painted the engine assembly using flat black for the engine itself and aluminum for the crankcase. When these were dry they were assembled along with the prop shaft and I dry brushed the cylinders with some steel enamel paint to pop out the detail. This was then glued onto front of the fuselage and I slipped the cowling on and off a few times to make sure the engine and prop shaft would be centered and aligned. The landing gear doors were cut apart as per the instructions and I just eyeballed the positioning of them as to what looked about right.
The last major parts of the airframe to be glued on were the cowling and the small "scoop" that sits just slightly aft of the cowl on the bottom of the fuselage. With the airframe complete I continued working on filling and hiding any seams and when satisfied with the whole affair the model was now ......ready for paint.


Using some moistened paper towel, I stuffed the insides of the cowl and cockpit to protect from any unwanted overspray. Normally I attach my masked canopies before painting but as I was in a hurry to paint I just figured I'd do that part later. The first thing I painted were the leading edge wing band areas. For this I used some Humbrol flat white as a base followed by Floquil Reefer Yellow. The Floquil paint was so thin that I was able to spray it straight from the bottle. A word of caution with this color if you're not used to it is that it is very thin and therefore easy to get a run in it, so be careful.

I allowed this to dry for a day or two and then masked off the bands with some cut strips of Tamiya tape. Next, using Tamiya #XF-12 Japanese Navy Gray acrylic paint I airbrushed the underneath of the entire aircraft and the outsides of the gear doors and drop tank. So far so good. This was allowed to dry for about a day and I then pondered how I was going to mask the fuselage for the somewhat tricky demarcation line towards the rear of the fuselage. For this I used some low tack drafting/masking tape from 3M and using a fresh no. 11 X-acto blade I cut out a pattern on a piece of plexiglas for the area immediately underneath the rear stabilizers. The rest of the underneath of the plane was masked off with regular masking tape and along with the spinner was sprayed with a coat of no. XF-11 Tamiya Japanese Navy Green.  After this was done the propeller was then sprayed with Tamiya XF-64 Red Brown and the prop hubs were painted silver. The masking worked rather well and so another feather in the cap so to speak for trying a new technique. After the paint was applied I noticed some irregular patches that started to appear on the upper wings while the paint was starting to dry. To me, Tamiya paint is a little tricky to work with and less tolerant than other brands. However if you know what you're doing or are just plain lucky, you can get a wonderful finish. I think the reason for the "patches" was the result of the enamel paint underneath, something just didn't jive. I had wiped the model down before painting with a cloth dipped in isopropyl alcohol except on the upper wing areas where there was the overspray from the white and yellow. I was afraid of a reaction of some kind and I think that may have been the root of the problem, who knows?  I ended up wet sanding these problem areas and then resprayed them the next day. While it was better than before, they hadn't gone completely away. I decided to just live with it and proceed, hoping it would disappear under a few coats of clear. At this time the landing gear struts and wheel rims were painted silver and the tires were painted with Floquil Grimy Black.


With all of the tape now removed I was happy to see that the all the masking had held up rather well including the leading edge wing bands which had held up perfectly. Over the next several days several light coats of Future were sprayed on with the airbrush straight out of the bottle. Alas, still the patchy areas reared their ugly heads. I just crossed my fingers and prayed they'd be banished to the netherworlds by a homespun concoction of a little elven magic and some good old fashioned Slavic mojo!  This and another light application of Future applied carefully with a brush deemed them to their fate. Victorious at last I could now begin applying the decals.

There are two markings for this kit both from the 343rd Kokutai. The first is the rather attractive and famous "white 15" of pilot First Lieutenant Kanno as depicted on the box art. The second choice is First Lieutenant Oshibuchi's mount with the red stripes and no number inside the hinomaru. Originally I'd wanted to do Kanno's plane, but with a couple of issues I'd had with my finish and the fact that it seems I'd incorrectly painted the undersides gray rather than natural metal I decided to do Oshibuchi's mount. Seeing a color profile of this plane in a book of mine revealed that it was rather colorful with the red fuselage bands and a half white spinner cap.
Decals for the most part didn't go too good. I've used Hasegawa decals before and had few problems. Despite my best efforts I still could not manage to avoid a few tiny wrinkles is some of the hinomarus. While not too noticeable they are present if you look close enough, shucks. The other small characters and numbers presented no problems. It is interesting to note that the "white 15" number inside the hinomaru was used for training purposes and probably wouldn't have been present in an actual combat situation as depicted on the box art. Scott also confirmed this saying it was applied with either chalk or some sort of limestone paste and was for students to recognize the flight leaders aircraft during transition or training or something like that.

The fuselage bands were a nightmare to apply and I ended up trashing the first set and had to pull them off and start over with the yellow bands for Kanno's plane. Luckily at this point I hadn't applied any of the personal markings and numbers and was able to proceed. I ended up putting a small tear in the second set of fuselage bands and they are somewhat translucent on top of it. I took a tip from Tom Cleaver's review of his 1:48 Hasegawa kit and cut the fuselage hinomarus back a bit with a sharp blade to avoid this but I didn't cut them back far enough. Sigh. Also the outer edges of the hinomaru on the bottom of the right wing had curled in badly and after trying everything but a welding torch to get them off again I just decided to live with it. I'll just say it was a test to dazzle the eyes of enemy pilots or soldiers below or something like that. I used Micro Set & Sol for them which is what I normally use and have been pretty lucky with it and Hasegawa decals in the past. I'll take the blame for the decal problems crediting myself and not the decals themselves. Perhaps one day I will truly be able to snatch the pebble from the master's hand!

During this time I tried another first and used Bare Metal Foil cut into little slightly oversized squares to mask off the canopy. This also was raided from the "spares" kit. I had a set of vacuform ones from Squadron but in the end I wimpied out. They were burnished down with a wooden toothpick and any excess was trimmed with a fresh no. 11 blade. I'd never tried this before and have heard it can be messy. I had no problems with it, but it didn't stay on for more than a couple of days either. I'd recommend it to any that are hesitant about trying it. When I removed all the foil I went over the window panes with a micro brush dipped in some stuff called Model Wax "The Final Detail" to remove the spotty appearance which was no doubt from the BMF. It was a cinch and cleaned up easily and the wax made the canopy come out nice and clear almost as if I'd given it a treatment with Future which I did not do this time.
With all of the decals on I let the model sit overnight and went over all the areas with a damp cloth to remove any excess setting solutions.  I then gave the model another coat of Future with the airbrush to seal everything in and highlighted most of the panel lines with a pencil before finishing it off with a final coat of Testors Dullcote also sprayed with the airbrush.


With the model almost complete now came the task of adding all the final little bits that end up taking up more time than you plan on. I painted the cannon barrels flat black and dry brushed them later with some steel. For the exhaust stubs I used acrylic Floquil Roof Brown dryrushed with a little bit of steel or aluminum.
The wingtip and navigation lights were also painted at this time and I painted the tail wheel assembly in silver and black. Originally I'd painted the wheel wells and inner faces of the gear doors in Aotake. Further research indicated that the wheel wells should be natural metal as at this point in the war such things as a protective anti corrosive coating were stopped so that production could be expedited at a faster pace. So it was out with the Humbrol Dull Aluminum metal cote and I quickly took care of this. As I was getting ready to glue the landing gear assemblies together I noticed the doors weren't lining up with the pegs on the gear struts and that the doors were too short for the struts. In hindsight next time I'll know to use the gear struts as a guide when gluing together the two piece doors by lining up the holes on the doors with the pins from the struts. D'oh.

Almost done! Also at this time I discovered that I'd managed to break one of the actuating arms off one of the struts but luckily/sadly my second George kit was quickly now becoming a "donor" kit and once again it was raided for the gear doors and struts and these were just started anew.  I painted the head rest with Model Master's Leather as it looked a pretty close match with some color photos of one I'd seen from a museum while some seat belts made from Tamiya tape painted with Humbrol #72 Khaki Drill and a tiny amount of aluminum for the "buckles" at the ends to spruce up the cockpit a little. The completed landing gear were glued in place as well as the drop tank and the small inner doors along with the completed canopy. Fit of my canopy was rather poor but it was nothing a little carefully applied white glue couldn't hide. With everything else all bolted down it was time to dirty it up a bit and I broke out some pastels for weathering using black around the guns, shell ejector chutes and exhaust pipes.  Some gray was brushed into and around some of the panels to try and achieve that sun bleached finish. A silver pencil was used here and there and along the leading edges of the wings for a little more wear and tear and I dry brushed some aluminum near the left wing root to simulate the "traffic" from the pilot and ground crew.  At some point during construction but before painting I'd managed to break off the antenna mast that sits behind the canopy and it's attachment point got blended in during all the sanding and painting. Oops. Like the classic Three Stooges episode where Moe gets mad at not being able to get all the guts back inside the TV set he was fixing, I too said "just for that you're not going in there!" and left it off.


With the model now weathered, I knew I was done and could finally sit back and take it all in and enjoy the satisfaction of having completed another kit. Is it perfect? Of course not and you can't be afraid to make mistakes, but then again how many models really are? Other than a couple of little issues here and there, overall I'm still pretty happy with how it turned out even if it's not one of my best efforts. Watching a kit materialize from some bare plastic parts into a miniature version of the real thing is what does it for me and I'm sure the same goes for a lot of us out there. Don't let my own couple of experiences hinder you from building your own George. This is still a nice little kit that fits together pretty well and even a beginner could do a nice job on it. It's also a little different from your usual Zeros and Tonys that you see on the modeling tables too. Recommended.


Asahi Journal Vol.1 No. 4                Thanks JV!

Aces Of The Rising Sun 1937-1945 Osprey Publishing

August 2004

Jon Hudak

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