|KIT:||Hasegawa 1/48 Kawanishi N1K1-Ja 'Shiden'|
Development of what would ultimately become the “Shiden” (Violet Lightning) began in 1940, when the Japanese Navy - faced with the possibility of a war in the Pacific - issued a requirement for a floatplane fighter capable of defending advanced bases before airfields had been constructed, with a performance equal to that of known land-based opponents. Kawanishi began development of what was initially known as the 15-shit floatplane fighter in December 1940. The first prototype of the N1K1 “Kyofu” did not fly until August 1942, by which time the floatplane fighter requirement was being fulfilled by the A6M2-N Zero floatplane, and the need for floatplane fighters had been made less important by the fact the Japanese were no longer expanding their bases.
What was needed was a land-based high-altitude interceptor of advanced performance. In November 1942, it was suggested that a land-based fighter could be developed from the “Kyofu.” Kawanishi substituted the 1,900 h.p. Nakajima NK9H “Homare” for the 1,400 h.p. “Kasei-64" engine used on the floatplane. Unfortunately, this engine was not yet fully developed and suffered numerous teething troubles. Work on the Mitsubishi J3K1 land-based interceptor was suspended in favor of the new N1K1-J. Known as the X-1, the first prototype was completed nine months later in July 1943. One of the most difficult problems confronting the conversion had been the development of a landing gear that could fit the mid-wing design while accommodating a large-diameter propellor and leaving room in the wings for armament. The ingenious system that was adopted used double-retraction, i.e., the landing gear was lowered and then extended, contracting back as they were retracted into the gear wells.
An outstanding feature of the new fighter was its maneuverability, which stemmed from the adoption of the “combat flap” system developed for the floatplane. These surfaces changed their angle automatically, thus supplying additional lift with changes in “G” force during maneuvers.
Three further prototypes were completed that same month, and the success of the flight tests led to a large production order for the N1K1-J Model 11 Shiden. This was basically a production version of the prototype, armed with 4 cannon in the wings and in gondolas, and two 7.7mm machine guns in the fuselage. The N1K1Ja dropped the fuselage-mounted machine guns, limiting armament to the four cannon in and under the wings. The N1K1Jb moved all four cannon into the wing and was further distinguished by a square-tipped vertical fin and rudder. The Shiden 11 had a top speed of 362 m.p.h. at 17,715 feet and a service ceiling of 39,700 feet with a range of 888 miles. Production at the Naruo factory began in August 1943, with 70 produced that year and 471 in 1944 before production ceased in favor of the N1K2-J that December. One Shiden was produced at Himeji in December 1943, 353 came off the line in 1944, with a further 112 between January and June 1945 when production ceased due to destruction of the line by B-29s.
Entering service in early 1944, the Shiden 11 soon earned a reputation as an exceptional fighter in the hands of a capable pilot, and was considered more than a match for the Hellcat. The Shiden was first met in numbers over Guam, Formosa and the Philippines during the carrier raids in the summer of 1944. 100 Shidens of the 341st Air Group arrived in the Philippines on October 20, 1944, but were soon rendered useless by lack of spares for airplanes not lost in combat.
Unfortunately for the Shiden, the Homare engine it used was unreliable, and the wheel brakes were so bad that aircraft were frequently landed on grass alongside a runway to shorten the landing run.
Shiden 11s gave a good account of themselves during the Okinawa campaign when their range allowed them to fly from Kyushu to Okinawa with useful combat time over the island. The Japanese reported one battle in late April when 34 Shidens met 70 American fighters and shot down or damaged 20 of these for a loss of 12 Shidens. Fortunately for the U.S., it took a good pilot to get the best out of the N1K1-J, and by that time the Japanese had few pilots of that quality left.
This is the third N1K1-Ja to be released in 1/48 scale. The first was the Otaki kit released in the early 1970s which can still be found and with a bit or work to improve the cockpit can still produce a good-looking model. Tamiya released an N1K1-Ja in 1994 which is still available and also makes up into a good-looking model.
This kit from Hasegawa is a follow-up to their N1K2-Ja and N1K2-Jb kits released in 2000 and 2002 respectively. These are highly-accurate kits and designed for ease of assembly. Comparing what is in the box of this kit with my built-up Hasegawa N1K2-Ja and my Tamiya N1K1-Ja, I think this kit provides greater detail accuracy than the Tamiya kit, at a price that is approximately the same. Decals are included for two operational aircraft and the production prototype, and are the new-style kit decals from Hasegawa with the correct colors.
As a side note, the kit includes the square-tipped vertical fin of the N1K1-Jb, and the lower wing surface has a plug which can be replaced by one with the two ammo chutes for the later version with all four cannon mounted in the wings. This certainly means that this will be a future release, and will allow modelers to make all four versions of the Shiden eventually.
For those who enjoy modeling Japanese aircraft, this is an excellent model of an important fighter, with excellent surface detail and a cockpit detailed enough that a resin replacement is not needed. Definitely recommended.
Kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan. www.hlj.com
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