Wingsy Kits 1/48 A5M2a 'Claude'

KIT #: D5-01
PRICE: 6600 yen SRP (about $56 at today's exhange rate)
DECALS: Four options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: New tool kit (2016)


One wonders why it is that fighter pilots, who operate some of the most advanced aerial technology available, are often so technologically conservative. Rather than leap forward, they are generally dragged kicking and screaming into every advance made in the art of fighter aircraft design. Nowhere was this more true than in the transition from the biplane to the monoplane. As early as 1916, Bristol had produced the M.1C "Bullet," 20 mph faster than the new German fighter designs that would destroy in less than six weeks of operations over the Somme the RFC's hard won air supremacy on the Western Front, and put the service through such meat grinders as "Bloody April," due to the overwhelming supremacy of the German Albatros over its opponents. RFC reluctance to operate a monoplane due to pre war accidents that seemed to stress lack of structural strength in the monoplane design led directly to these near catastrophic losses.

By the 1930s it was clear that if the fighter was to retain its supremacy over its enemy, the bomber, that new technology would have to be embraced; the fighting biplane of the First World War style had simply run out of further opportunity for development and improvement. Fighter pilots, used to the high g maneuvering of a biplane, believed they would be at a disadvantage flying a monoplane. Thus, many of the early specifications for monoplane fighters required the airplane to exhibit a performance more akin to that achievable with a biplane, rather than stress the strengths of the monoplane and modify fighting tactics accordingly.

In 1935, Jiro Horikoshi of Mitsubishi was given the task of meeting the Imperial Japanese Navy's imaginative 9 Shi requirements, which had been created by LCDR Hideo Sawai. What was revolutionary about this development was that it did not call for a "carrier fighter"   which all agreed would never meet the performance of its land based opponents   but a fighter per se, with maximum performance. LCDR Sawai believed that carrier compatibility could be created once the fighter existed.

Horikoshi’s Ki.14 design, which first flew in 1936, met the requirements through the most rigid weight consciousness ever applied to a Mitsubishi project, using the most advanced aerodynamic principles and construction methods. The airplane actually came out weighing less than planned, and was the lightest fighter of its type anywhere in the world. Horikoshi had achieved an airplane with the performance of a monoplane, and the maneuverability of a biplane, albeit by limiting future growth of the design due to the weight consciousness in its development. Despite the light weight, Mitsubishi was proud to proclaim that throughout its entire service, no A5M was ever lost due to structural failure.

The Ki.14 was pitted against the Nakajima A4N biplane fighter, and no less an authority than legendary fighter pilot Minoru Genda declared the biplane the better fighter. However, when the rules were changed to allow climb and dive tactics as well as traditional dogfighting maneuvers, the monoplane completely outperformed the biplane, which could not match it in the vertical plane.

After these tests, even the diehard Genda became a supporter. In September 1936, the Ki.14 passed all service trials and was accepted as the Type 96 Carrier Fighter, Model 1, or A5M1. Armament consisted of two 7.62mm machine guns with 500 rpg, and maximum speed was 252 mph. At the time, it was the most advanced carrier-based fighter in the world.

Performance had been degraded below that demonstrated by the prototype due to the use of the 580 h.p. Kotobuki 2 KAI-ko engine. After the production of 77 A5M1s, Mitsubishi sought to restore performance through the adoption of the 690 h.p. Kotobuki 2 KAI-3ko engine using a 3-bladed prop, which resulted in a top speed of 265 mph. With a deeper dorsal spine and a different cowling, the designation changed to A5M2ko (A5M2a), and production began in March 1937 as the Type 96 Model 2.

The “China Incident” began on July 7, 1937, which lent urgency to the equipment of operational units with the new fighter, which were first assigned to the 13th Kokutai. The quality of the A5M2a was clearly demonstrated on its first mission, September 19, 1937, in an attack against Chinese airfields around Shanghai. 18 A5Ms led by Lt. Shichiro Yamashita met over 50 Curtiss Hawk IIIs and Boeing 281s (export versions of the P 26) in the course of two missions that day. The Japanese claimed 26 of the defending fighters without loss! For the first time, a Japanese airplane that was superior to its Western contemporaries was in service. This would be clearly demonstrated in the battles over Nanking in November and December, 1937, when the A5Ms met the I 152 and I 16 in combat, flown by Soviet “volunteers,” and claimed 38 of the Soviet fighters for no loss in their first encounter with the I-152. While there was little to choose between the I-152 and the A5M in terms of aircraft performance, the Japanese pilots held an edge due to superior training, while the armored Soviet fighter was a more difficult “kill” for the lightly-armed A5M. When the I-16 was encountered, the A5M proved to have superior maneuverability in both the vertical and horizontal plane.

The first losses were sustained in February 1938, when four A5ms were shot down during an air battle that saw 8 I-152s and 8 I-16s go down over Hankow. During the spring and summer of 1938, A5Ms were increasingly involved in combat against both Soviet and Chinese opponents, and continued to demonstrate the superiority of Japanese pilot training. The first pilot to become an “ace” (defined as 10 victories by the IJN) was Warrant Officer Kiyozumi Koga, in March 1938. Tetsuo Iwamoto began a career that would see him become the top-scoring A5M pilot of the China war, scoring five victories in his first combat on February 25, 1938, over Nanchang.

The A5M2otsu (A5M2b)entered production in the summer of 1938, using the Kotobuki 3 engine in a modified cowling, with an enclosed cockpit canopy. The tradition-minded pilots did not see the new development as an improvement, since it was heavier and had a slower rate of climb, and they believed the enclosed canopy impaired their vision in combat. The canopy was dropped and the windshield was extended to create a semi-enclosed cockpit in the late production A5M2otsu, which appeared in September 1938.

The “definitive” A4M4 entered production in late 1938, being primarily distinguished from the A5M2otsu by provision of a standard radio. By that time, however, Chinese aerial opposition was vastly reduced from what it had been a year previously. Nevertheless, in early 1939, the A5M4 fought some of the last Soviet units over Hankow, and emerged the winner in these battles, too.

The fighting in China produced seven A5M aces, with Tetsuo Iwamoto the leader with 14 victories. Number 7, Petty officer Sadaaki Akamatsu scored 11. Both of these pilots would be among the top scorers of the coming Pacific War. Saburo Sakai also scored 4 victories flying the A5M during the China war, bringing him to notice as the top ace he would become.

By late 1939, the Japanese Navy had largely withdrawn from the Chinese war, and was involved in preparation for the coming Pacific War. The limitations of the A5M were such that a new design was called for, the 14 Shi fighter. Basing the design on the proven characteristics of stringent weight control and maximum usage of modern design technique learned with the A5M, Horikoshi created his masterpiece, the A6M Type 0 fighter.

The A5M4 would see combat against the US Navy when the Enterprise and Yorktown raided the Marshall Islands in February 1942, where they claimed 17 Navy bombers shot down with four losses to Wildcat escorts. A5M4s also formed the original fighter group assigned to Rabaul in March 1942, while the light carrier Ryujo operated A5M4s throughout the campaign in the Philippines, and the light carrier Shoho had A5M4s aboard as late as the Battle of the Coral Sea, where two A5M4s and three A6Ms destroyed three of the attacking TBD Devastators on May 7, 1942. By the end of 1942, there were no A5Ms in operational use.


For an airplane as important to Japanese aviation history as the A5M, modelers have been badly served in getting good kits. There was a very old Japanese kit in the 1960s which was in 1/50 scale and had moveable control surfaces. There was nothing else in 1/48 injection molded kit form until Fine Molds came out with their very expensive models in the early 1990s. US$70 for a kit was a bit much, and the models never sold well. (As a note, Fine Molds retooled the kit in 2016 and your editor got a 1/48 Fine Molds Claude for $27 plus shipping three months ago). There was also a Japanese cast resin "garage kit" by T.C. Berg, which had nice surface detail but required a modeler to drill out the interior to create a cockpit. Additionally, Eagles Talon did a vacuform A5M4 in 1/48, but it was not one of their better creations.

Classic Airframes' A5M4 was the first really good kit of this airplane, and still makes into a good model if you find it at dealer’s tables. The kit comes on two sprues of light grey plastic, with a bag of resin for the engine and cockpit interior, and provides decals for two A5M4s aboard Soryu in 1939. Surface detailing is inscribed and petite, with good fabric representation.

This new 1/48 kit by Wingsy Kits is a step up from these previous kits in all ways. Wingsy is from the Ukraine and first announced this kit on their website a year ago. The wait has been worth it, since the kit is thoroughly world-class in execution.

The kit has an significant amount of detail, with a fully-developed cockpit and a very nice engine. What is really outstanding is the surface detail. This is very petite, with full riveting, and is of similar quality to that found on the Eduard Spitfires and Bf-109s.



Construction is straightforward, with the kit being quite simple overall. The cockpit is catered for with injection-molded sidewalls, fore and aft bulkheads, floor, seat, controls and instrument panel. I painted the cockpit with Tamiya “Mitsubishi Cockpit Green” and then assembled it. There are photoetch bits for levers and such, but the cockpit opening is small enough one can dispense with these without harming the overall look of the model. The seat does not have the lightening holes; I took a few minutes and made them with a #11 X-acto blade. Photoetch seatbelts are provided. Overall, the cockpit on this 1/48 kit is as detailed as the cockpit in the 1/32 Special Hobby kit.

Fit overall is superb. All parts fit very precisely, which means you want to be certain you have cleaned off any sprue nubs from removing the parts from the sprue tree. I assembled the model as two sub-assemblies - fuselage and wing - then joined them and attached the horizontal stabilizers and fixed landing gear. The four-part cowling fits closely around the engine. I attached it to the rest of the model before painting.


The A5M is one of those Japanese airplanes that looks much different than modelers had been led to believe over the years. The airplane was the first all metal airplane the Imperial Navy took to sea, and they quickly learned what happens to unprotected aluminum in a saltwater environment. The solution was to paint the airplanes with a protective coat called "Ame Iro," one of those clear Japanese colors like the interior blues and greens. In this case, the paint is a clear lacquer with a slight yellowish tinge. Exactly how yellowish is not known; when one looks at black and white photos of A5Ms, a good argument can be made that they are really silver. As have other modelers, I concluded after looking at the available photos that the Ame Iro was most likely a very thin clear finish that has a light yellowish tinge that may be more prominent with weathering, which is why it is easy to miss.

I painted the red areas first, applying a white base coat then a coat of Tamiya Gloss Red. When this was dry, I masked off the tail and the landing gear and applied a primer coat of gloss black to the rest of the model. When that was dry I masked off the cowling and applied Vallejo “White Aluminum.” I then applied a coat of Micro Gloss, to which I had added a brushful of Tamiya Clear Yellow. The result is a light yellow tinge to the aluminum that can just be noticed in good light.

The decals went down under Solvaset, but they are a bit stiff. I needed repeated applications to get the decals to settle over the very petite surface detail, but ultimately all was well.

I unmasked the windscreen, then attached the prop and the drop tank. I did not weather the model further as these airplanes were very well-maintained during their service.



I’ve always liked the A5M “Claude”, and this kit makes up into a very nice model of this important Japanese fighter. I would go so far as to say it is the best model of the Claude in any scale. Wingsy is to be congratulated for creating a first kit that is competitive with best manufacturers out there. Owner/Designer Vitally Barannik says that the company plans to bring out kits of “under-represented” Japanese aircraft. Based on the quality exhibited here, those who like Japanese airplanes will be very happy in the coming years. The model overall is a very easy project for those with limited time to pursue the hobby. Very highly recommended.

Tom Cleaver

22 December 2016


 Thanks to Wingsy Kits for the review sample.

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