Fine Molds 1/48 Mitsubishi Ka-14 '9-shi'

KIT #: FG 7
PRICE: 3,000 yen from Hobby Link Japan
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Kevin Thompson


 In 1927, Jiro Horikoshi was hired at the Nagoya Aircraft Plant of Mitsubishi as an airframe parts designer, stress analyst, and performed many other duties before being promoted to chief designer in 1932. By the time of his promotion, he was barely 30 years old, a young engineer who was studying aircraft engineering from all other aircraft-producing nations, and was full of new and fresh ideas. It was at this time that Japan was beginning to develop its own identity as an aircraft-producing nation.

 His first design was the “Fighter Prototype 7”, which was initiated by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in 1932. At a time when biplanes were the technology of the day, Horikoshi decided to use the low-wing monoplane concept, as aircraft speeds were ever-increasing, and monoplanes were becoming the new format for fighter design.

 The “prototype 7” was a short-lived project however, the stubby and overweight monoplane design not fulfilling performance criteria and expectations, and as a result, only two were produced, with the IJN never accepting it into production. From the “prototype 7” project, Horikoshi did, however, gain a lot of knowledge to be applied to future designs.

 In 1934, the IJN issued the “9-shi” specification, for a fighter capable of flying from aircraft carriers. This design was known as the “prototype 9”, and also had the in-house designation of Ka-14. The criteria were tough to achieve, in terms of range, speed and weight, particularly with the state of aircraft engine development in Japan during the mid-1930s.

 Horikoshi’s team went to work with all the lessons learned from the prototype 7 project, and designed a very slender fuselage with an inverted-gull elliptical wing, provision for two 7.7mm machine guns in the upper forward fuselage, and fixed landing gear with streamlined fairings, even on the small tail wheel. The prototype was a graceful and elegant design. Power came from the Nakajima Kotobuki nine-cylinder radial of 550 horsepower, driving a two-bladed propeller.

 As an option, and possibly to simplify production, Horikoshi designed a second Ka-14 prototype without the inverted-gull wing, using a more conventional flat center wing section with dihedral on the outboard wing sections, and slightly longer main gear legs. When the time came to test the aircraft, the painstaking work of Horikoshi’s team paid off. The prototype was first flown in 1935. The aircraft was lighter than original estimates, with speed and maneuverability being outstanding during flight test.

Many of the ‘old school” of Japanese Naval pilots were skeptical of monoplane designs, with their heavier wing loadings, but realizing the ever-changing world of fighter tactics, eventually accepted the design, and the range and speed of the new fighter was well above anything prior to it. There were some minor issues to work out, as with any new design, but the IJN accepted the aircraft, and it was put into production (with the more conventional, non-gull wing) as the “Type 96 Carrier Fighter” also known as the A5M.

 Over 1,000 A5M fighters were produced in four basic sub-types, and this aircraft is historical in being the world’s first all-metal, monoplane carrier fighter. At the time, the US Navy was using Boeing F4B and Curtiss F11C fighters off of their carriers, these still being fabric-covered biplanes. It wasn’t until 1940 when the Brewster F2A Buffalo (and a year later, the Grumman F4F Wildcat) became the US Navy’s first all-metal monoplane carrier fighters.

The A5M gave a good account of itself in China, where it was clearly superior to anything the Chinese Air Force had at the time. The A5M was eventually given the identification nickname of “Claude” by the Allies, and continued to serve as a fighter-trainer in Japan throughout the war.

In 1938, the IJN had issued a new specification for a carrier-based fighter, known as “12-shi”. And once again, Horikoshi and the Mitsubishi team came up with a winning design that met or exceeded all performance specifications. It first flew in April, 1939, and was subsequently accepted into service the following year with the Imperial Japanese Navy as the “Type 0 Carrier Fighter”. 

The aircraft became what was known by western nations as the “Zero”. Over 10,000 were built, and the rest is history.

Horikoshi also worked on two subsequent fighter designs after the Zero. The first was the J2M “Raiden”, which served as a land-based interceptor for the last year of the Pacific War, and the A7M “Reppu” which would have been bigger and more powerful than the US Navy’s F6F Hellcat, but the Reppu’s sluggish development meant that it came very late in the war, and never entered series production.

In 2013, Studio Ghibli released an animated movie about Jiro Horikoshi’s life, entitled “Tachinu Wind” (“The Wind Rises”). I have not seen the full movie, but have seen about ten minutes of various trailer footage. The film focuses on his young life as a boy, and his enduring a terrible earthquake and economic poverty that plagued 1920s Japan. Then it progresses into his life as an engineer. The gull-winged Ka-14 is featured in the movie, as is the Zero later on. Hopefully I will soon get to see the entire movie (with subtitles, of course). (Editor's note: I have seen this movie and it is one of Hayo Miyazaki's best and unfortunately, his last. It is best described as a docu-drama.)


 Over the years, the A5M “Claude” has been kitted in various scales, including 1/72, 1/48 and 1/32. The first really definitive kits of the A5M were made by Fine Molds in the 1990s. Three versions were released, the A5M1, A5M2a (early version) and the later A5M2b. These kits were, if memory serves, Fine Molds’ first-ever releases, and were multimedia, with white metal engine, propeller and other small parts. The kits were, however, very pricey at the time (around $60), and today can be quite difficult to find. Fine Molds has since switched to an all-styrene format in recent years. Classic Airframes produced two 1/48 kits as well, the A5M4 and the A5M4-K two-seat trainer, though they can be a bit of a challenge and require a higher level of modeling skills.

 It must be noted here that the A5M was a production, in-service naval carrier fighter, and that this kit is of the prototype aircraft which is completely different from the production machines (no two parts are alike). This is the only kit of the Ka-14 prototype.

 Fine Molds has made two kits of aircraft featured in “The Wind Rises”. One is a bird-like airplane based on a glider model Horikoshi had built earlier, and this kit of the Ka-14 prototype. The kit’s box art features Anime images of Horikoshi and three images of the airplane itself, with somewhat of a cartoon feel to the plane’s proportions. The box art gives a first impression of this being a toy, and not an accurate model. Then the box is opened and all doubts are removed. The box top is a cartoon, but the kit inside is serious.

 The kit consists of 55 parts molded in a light beige color, with poli-cap for the propeller shaft and a clear windscreen. Molding quality is exquisite and crisp, with engraved panel lines and fabric effect very nicely done. Cockpit and engine detail are fabulous, but not overly fiddly. Decal sheet is simple with six hinomarus, two propeller tip markings, and an instrument panel decal. For a subject such as this (an open-cockpit, fixed gear single-engine fighter), it has just the right amount of parts. Fine Molds has, since its inception, made high-quality (though sometimes pricey) kits of some lesser-known Japanese aircraft types. It must also be mentioned here that Fine Molds kits are intended for the Japanese domestic market, and feature very little English in the instruction steps, and none at all in the history notes.


First order of business is the cockpit and gun assembly, which in itself is a mini-kit. Seventeen pieces total, including cockpit floor, seat and seat support structure, rear bulkhead, stick, rudder pedals, front bulkhead, instrument panel, oxygen bottles, machine guns and gun mount bulkhead/firewall, and side wall assemblies with stringer and rib detail All are beautifully molded and fit together perfectly.

 The majority of the cockpit was painted in Tamiya “IJN Interior Green, with the gun bulkhead in “Aotake”, the blue-green metallic primer seen on many Japanese aircraft. The machine guns were painted flat black, as were some cockpit details. There is an option in the instrument panel for either the decal or the raised-surface panel itself which can be highlighted as the modeler wishes. Because of its size, the decal option was used.

 Mounting the completed cockpit and gun assembly into the fuselage is an easy, precise fit, as is joining the fuselage halves together. Next step is upper gun cover panel, headrest fairing and rudder, the latter of which can be posed to the side if the modeler wishes. A great portion of the cockpit and gun structure will not be seen once assembled, but the fun of building it first gives the modeler a good since of how the real plane is built.

 Wings and horizontal stabs went on next, and again, are an excellent, drama-free fit. I cannot overemphasize how perfectly all parts fit to one another; wing root to fuselage joint requires no sanding or filling. In fact, the kit needed no filler anywhere. Basic airframe is now completed, with just a light bit of sanding of the seams with 320 and then 400, and that’s all that was needed. Aileron actuators were added after sanding was finished, and the basic airframe is ready for painting.

 The engine and cowling assembly is beautifully engineered, with a total of thirteen parts, including crankcase and cylinders, pushrod tubes, crankcase hub, intake manifold, exhaust collector ring, cowl halves, and exhaust pipes. Detail, fit and alignment on all these parts is positive and no-nonsense. This is by far the most precise-fitting radial engine and cowl that I have ever experienced. Cylinders painted in Tamiya Steel, pushrods and intake painted in Aluminum, crankcase hub is in airframe color, and exhaust ring and pipes done in a rust mix of Tamiya Dark Earth and Steel. The cowling is Tamiya Semi-Gloss Black. Engine and cowl assembly is now complete.

 Next step was assembling the main gear legs. No magic here, just a tire and wheel sandwiched between the two streamlined fairings. Tire painted flat black with an aluminum hub prior to installation. When dry, the gear fairing seams need just a little bit of sanding to smooth out nicely. Now it’s time for the paint shop.


 In Jiro Horikoshi’s book “Eagles Of Mitsubishi”, he makes reference to the completed prototype Ka-14 having a “quilted appearance” to the aluminum skin due to unskillful installation of the flush rivets. So the irregularities were filled with putty and smooth-sanded, and the aircraft was painted in ‘Navy Ash Green” and then polished. The Navy color that Horikoshi refers to is what we know as IJN Grey, Tamiya color XF-12. The tail was painted in red, along with the tail wheel, and wingtips were semi-gloss black. The red tail tradition would continue on production, in-service A5Ms for several years.

 On the model, the red tail was painted first, using Tamiya X-7. After that had dried, the tail was masked and then the black wingtips were painted. After the wingtips had dried, they were masked off and the airframe was shot in several light coats of Tamiya XF-12 IJN Grey. Once that had dried, all the masking was removed and the entire airframe got a coat of Testors Glosscote to give it a semi-gloss sheen.

 Decals are well-printed, and went on with no problems. As stated previously, the Ka-14’s markings are simple; hinomarus in six positions, and no tail numbers or any other markings. One curious note about the kit is that the positioning of the hinomarus on the painting guide are a bit different than those in actual photos of the real aircraft. Check your references for correct positioning. After decals had set (no setting solution needed), the airframe got another coat of Glosscote.


Fitted the main gear assemblies and tail wheel in place, and sighted head-on for alignment. The windshield was masked and painted, then installed using white glue. The telescopic gun sight was painted flat black and installed, followed by the pitot tube, painted in aluminum and fitted to the left wing.

 The engine and cowl were fitted to the fuselage, and again, fit is superb. The propeller was painted silver, tip stripe decals added, and pressed into the engine. The model is now completed.


 The Ka-14 was a very graceful and elegant design, and is historically significant in being the father of the world’s first all-metal monoplane naval carrier fighter. It has a certain appeal from any angle, and the inverted gull wing is unique to this aircraft only. Rare and lesser-known subjects are always welcome to me, and I am grateful that Fine Molds exists to do these types of kits.

 The kit itself is an absolute masterpiece of engineering and tooling quality, and goes together with zero hassle. This kit is as close to perfection as anything I’ve ever experienced, and because of its simplicity, can be done over a weekend. For all the reasons listed above, the kit was a joy to build. Highly recommended if you can find one (this review kit may be the only one in the U.S. at present; I have seen them listed on eBay, but the sellers are all in Japan. If we could get Fine Molds to scale up their 1/72 Ki-61-II kit to 1/48, I would really be beside myself!


 Eagles of Mitsubishi” by Jiro Horikoshi (translated by Shojiro Shindo and Harold N. Wantiez), University of Washington Press, 1981 and 1992

  Mitsubishi A5M Claude” by Tadeusz Januszewski

Mushroom Model Magazine Special no. 6107, Mushroom Model Publications, 2003 

Kevin Thompson

June 2014

 Special Thanks to Tom Cleaver for the review kit

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