Fujimi 1/72 Ki-55 'Ida'

KIT #: 7A-A1
PRICE: 200 yen when new. Can be found on the 'used kit' market
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: Released in 1983

HISTORY

Tachikawa's Ki-55 is basically a 'de-militarized' version of their Ki-36 light bomber. All of the offensive armament, bomb racks and the lower gear spats were removed from the Ki-36 and a second set of controls added to the back seat to make the Ki-55. In all other respects, the airframe is identical to the Ki-36.

The reason for this was that the Ki-36 proved to be an extremely tractable aircraft with almost no vices (other than being a tad slow). As the Japanese were in need of an advanced trainer, the choice was obvious. Since most of the development was already done, the plane was quickly put into production by both Tachikawa and Kawasaki as the Type 99 advanced trainer. It was operated by both Army training schools and by those flight schools under contract to the Army. The type was also used by the various Japanese 'satellite' countries, such as Thailand, Manchukuo, and Cochin China. It was also used post-war by the Indonesians in their war against the Dutch as there were several training schools in the Dutch East Indies during the war. To my knowledge, Indonesia has the only extant example of this type.

THE KIT

If you are into easy to build models and bright plastic, then this is a kit for you. In nearly all respects, it is the same kit as the Ki-36, however, it has swapped out the spatted wheels for the open ones as shown on the box art. The parts are very well molded and are nicely engraved. Fabric representation on the control surfaces is well done. A false engine front is provided as a full engine really isn't needed. The clear bits are well molded and quite transparent. The canopy can only be built in the closed position; no real problem as the cockpit is rather minimal, a trait common on today's 1/72 kits as well as ones like this molded in 1983. I'm unsure if there are any aftermarket bits for it and would be surprised if Eduard didn't at least do an etched brass interior for it.

Instructions are quite simple and mostly in Japanese. They do instruct the builder to drill a hole in the back for the extra control stick, but mention nothing about filling in the lower observation windows (which were not included in the Ki-55 trainer). I guess you could just install them and paint over them, but most of us will fill in the joins. Construction should proceed quite quickly as the number of parts is small. Decals are for three aircraft, all of them painted overall trainer orange with "cocoa brown" cowling and upper gear covers. I'm not really too sure about that brown color, but with so little reference on the type, I'd tend to go with the instructions. Same thing regarding the "navy blue" interior. The only difference between the three aircraft is the character decal that goes on the cowling. In all respects they are the same. An adventurous modeler will try to scrounge some markings to do a Thai, Manchukuo, Cochin Chinese, or Indonesian aircraft. The kit decals themselves are typical of Japanese kit decals of the time being rather thick and with ivory vice white markings. Despite being nearly 30 years old, I'm sure they will work. Besides, one has little other choice!

CONSTRUCTION

This kit was bought already started for the princely sum of $2. By already started, it means that the wings were glued together. First thing I did was the install the lower windows and fill in around them and fill in the holes for the lower wing bomb racks. Then the engine and cowling were assembled. This consists of the engine front, a forward cowling ring and two cowling sides. There are sink marks on the cowling sides that will need to be filled.

Turning to the interior, the generic seats and control columns were cemented to the floor piece. There is no additional interior detail to worry about aside from the two instrument panels. These are minimal with the front panel being a small half panel that glues to the left side of the fuselage. The rear instrument panel for the instructor is attached to the seat back of the forward seat. While all this was drying, I took the opportunity to glue the gear halves together. Most Ki-55s did not have the wheel pants of the Ki-36 in order to ease maintenance.

Returning to the interior. I had pretty much all the parts glued in place so now it was time to paint the interior. According to the folks at J-aircraft, these planes had an interior color that varied from navy blue to something closer to a blue grey. Not having a handy tinlet of Tachikawa interior blue, I used some Xtracolor Mirage F.1 blue that seemed to be a good compromise. It was sprayed straight from the tinlet and this was all left to dry.

I next painted the instrument panels black and the seat backs and cushions with Panzer Aces track color. Then strips of Tamiya tape were used to represent seat belts. Instruments were dry brushed with white and the interior cemented in place. Fuselage halves were closed and the wing cemented in place. The fit is just superb. One often forgets how well these older Fujimi kits can be. I know I used to build a lot of them 25 or so years ago and it seems I'd be wise to re-visit some of my favorites.

I used some filler on the fuselage seams and then attached the tail planes. When all that was sanded down, I glued on the clear bits that I'd masked with Tamiya tape. It was then time for some paint.

COLORS & MARKINGS

Nice thing about this kit is that it is mostly an overall color and what isn't orange can be painted away from the airframe. Some reasearch turned up that these planes were not really an orange, but more of an orange-yellow. Consulting J-Aircraft, I found that the color is best mixed. With Tamiya paint it is 95% yellow and 5% red. This is really close to the orange-yellow that some paint their 'yellow wings' USAAC aircraft. Anyway, that is what I did. I found out that it is really hard to cover the orange plastic with this paint and put on far more coats than I would have liked. As you can see from the photo, the color used is considerably lighter than the plastic.

Now for decals. The kit decals have been around a LONG time and when I went to apply the roundels, I had trouble. First, I soaked them for what seemed an age but was probably only a half hour. When I finally got them to move, they disintegrated. Much foul language followed as I started looking for replacements. Hinomarus are not a very common thing and while I found lots of sheets of 1/72 US, German, British and Russian insignia, no Japanese. I finally hit on an old sheet of markings for an even older Hasegawa 1/72 Ki-27. These roundels were about the right size so using very hot water, I dunked the roundels. They were also reticent to depart from the backing. Taking my scalpel, I managed to slice under the decal and get it free from the backing. Seriously.

These then were placed on the model and fit very well. The unit kanji markings from the Fujimi sheet, however, came free with no fuss. Go figure. Then the decals were sealed in place with Future clear gloss and later the entire airframe was sprayed with a matte clear gloss.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

I then continued to attach bits, The landing gear were painted and placed into the appropriate recesses. I also installed the engine as well as gluing in the prop and the prop hub. There is a small exhaust pipe that fits to the underside of the fuselage behind the cowling. In the cowling are two more exhaust ports. The landing light area was painted Ice Blue and the masking removed from the clear bits. I added some exhaust staining and that was pretty much it.

CONCLUSIONS

 

Typical for me, this took a couple of weeks to build, but I know that others could do so in half the time. The kit decals were an odd mix of very usable and impossible, so perhaps the red ink in the Hinomarus is to blame for this. It is a kit I've wanted to build for a very long time, but just never got around to it. It is also the first new kit in my 1/72 Ki- collection in several years. It looks nice and is one that is very much recommended to builders of all skill levels.

September 2011

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