Sword 1/72 Ki-102 'Randy'
KIT #: 72102
PRICE: $28.00 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler
NOTES: Short run kit


   (Since this is such a poorly-documented aircraft in Western sources I'll write a bit more than usual)

  If ever there was an airplane whose history summarizes the chaos throughout the Japanese military's high command in the last years of World War II, it is this one.

  The Randy began life in 1942 as the Imperial Japanese Army sought to improve the highly maneuverable but slow and offensively pathetic Ki-45 Toryu--the design was in fact initially called the "Ki-45 KAI II". Soon, however, the Army began a two-year saga of indecision and waste, changing its mind repeatedly on such things as crew accommodation, engines, and even service role, a process leading to the Ki-96 single-seat fighter, before the Army changed its mind again and decided that they wanted a two-seater after all--but then as a ground-attack aircraft! The wings and tail of the Ki-96 were retained for this final redesign, which was finished by January 1944. The first three prototypes rolled out of the Gifu plant over the following spring. These appeared as a slightly larger Toryu with a square tail, the offensive armament deficiency corrected with a package of two 20mm cannons and a third of no less than 57mm in bore (firing a 3-pound shell) fed by a 16-round magazine. A set of bomb racks could be fitted under the fuselage about level with the wing leading edge, and a 12.7mm machine gun operated by the aft crewmember covered the rear quarter.

  Parallel to this, Kawasaki's drafting and prototyping shops had responded to all the Army's convulsions quite deftly, and by now had become so accustomed to the IJAAF's vacillating that they proactively planned three separate versions of the new Ki-102 in anticipation of the service's needs, the -Ko supercharged high-altitude day interceptor; the prototyped -Otsu for ground attack; and -Hei night fighter, the first major design change. Soon, at the Army's urging, a pressurized high-altitude day interceptor, the Ki-108, was added to this development schedule, along with a smaller, stripped down and unnamed/undesignated day fighter which sacrificed everything for speed. In short, even as the base Ki-102b/Otsu began trickling into production in December 1944, its parent company's efforts were being dissipated into developing the aircraft into no less than FIVE versions, three of them substantially different.

  The design flew really well right off the drawing board, the only problems being marked yaw instability on takeoff/landing and the ferocious recoil of that 57mm blunderbuss. The former was temporarily remedied by fitting a long tail wheel leg to reduce the ground angle: a 1-meter fuselage stretch was supposed to be the permanent solution but the pressing need for aircraft prevented this from being implemented on the assembly line. The latter was presumably solved by telling pilots to man up and deal with it.

   By now, however, a new enemy--literally, and to the production effort--had appeared: the B-29. USAAF bombing led to production being relocated no less than three times. Nonetheless, this football of an aircraft managed to enter mass series, with over 200 of the -Otsu being built and 20 or 30 of the high altitude -Ko (modified from Otsu airframes). Two prototypes of the -Hei night fighter were almost finished when damaged beyond repair by--you guessed it--yet another B-29 raid. Through the chaos, the Randy managed to actually enter frontline service in substantial numbers, with several tactical-fighter units reequipping on the type before war's end. 

   For decades, all that was known in the West about this "action" were spare, cryptic remarks by aviation titan-historians Rene Francillon and Bill Gunston in their works amounting to "the Ki-102 was mostly held in reserve in Japan in anticipation for the home islands invasion, but a few saw limited action over Okinawa where the type became known as 'Randy' to the Allies". No evidence or substantiation is provided for this, nor do either quote their sources. Francillon does includes images of a Ki-102 photographed in 1945 among several other captured Japanese Army aircraft allegedly at Clark Field in the Philippines (Francillon, pages 219 & 234). The vegetation and structures visible do strongly suggest a setting outside the Home Islands. Still, it's obscured, with the tell-tale vertical tail invisible in the brush: it may simply be an all-green Ki-45.

   Recorded more specifically is the Ki-102's service over the Home Islands, drawn primarily from an article in the incomparable French periodical Avions (Issue #140, Nov. 2004) which itself drew from Japanese sources. Because I don't speak/read a syllable of French, I resorted to Google Translate (and my own knowledge of the way human languages work) to get the gist of the text. I used this material along with some corroboration from other references in English for the following:

   The 3rd and 75th Sentais were the first recipients of the Ki-102. Both were Ki-48 Lily units which had been decimated in the Philippines in the fall of 1944, their remnants ordered back to Japan immediately afterward to reequip on the new fighter. These two groups were stationed on Noshiro and Hachinohe, respectively, to await the anticipated Allied invasion of Japan. A Ki-45 Sentai, the 45th, was also recalled from the Philippines for similar duty but was still in training on their new airplane at Hokota when the war ended. A fourth group (the 28th) equipped with the Ki-46 III-Kai was given a few of the Ki-102 Ko and Otsu for operational evaluation. The squadron flew several interceptions against B-29s with unconfirmed results during April 1945.

   A fifth "unit", actually the IJAAF test center at Fusa (near Tokyo), had also received a mixed bag of Ki-102 -Ko and -Otsu for operational evaluation, with two of its pilots gaining concrete results. Given a supercharged -Ko, Nomonohan-veteran 51-kill ace Maj. Yasuhiko Kuroe flew several missions against B-29s between December 1944 and March of 1945. The first were flown without incident, but in March he finally made contact with a Superfortress formation at 34,000' over Tanashi and made several passes, trading shots with the American gunners until finally his right engine was damaged and he was forced to return to base. Later that month, Kuroe finally scored hits on a B-29, which began to burn and descend before he was again forced to break the fight. He was later formally credited with the shootdown. Some sources credit Kuroe with two kills (Sakaida, P.33) on these missions. 

   In June, Lt. Miyoshi Shimamura departed Fusa in an -Otsu, holding in hand a test card for airborne evaluation of the 57mm gun. By accident, he ran across another B-29 formation at 26,000'. Lining up on one unfortunate member of it, a single burst from all three guns sent the mighty bomber into a spin in which it disintegrated. 

   So--two or three kills and several probables for all that effort. Without a doubt, the Randy would have been a major presence over the invasion beaches had the Allies stormed Kyushu in November 1945 as planned, but history obviously went elsewhere. No example of the Ki-102 survives today, even though one each of the -Ko and -Otsu versions were brought back to the United States for evaluation following the war. There is still the Smithsonian's Ki-45, whose fuselage sits on a cart in the Udvar-Hazy center at this writing, looking like a frozen brook trout, while aviation geeks puzzle online whether or not the museum has the rest of the aircraft squirreled away somewhere like it did with the B-26Flak Bait.


   The Ki-102 in 1/72: despite the fact that this is a genuine WWII operational type and one with quite a bit of visual appeal, it has been mostly ignored by kit manufacturers. For decades there was only the KPL kit from the '70s: this was one of the first vac-forms I attempted. I didn't finish it but gained some new skills, namely identifying when a subject is under-scale and methods to correct that. A Czechmaster special order resin kit next came out in 1995 through Aviation Usk, but I never laid eyes on it owing to its $38 price tag being too rich for my bohemian blood at the time. Pavla came out with the best-known kit a year later, an early short-run injected w/photoetched parts which even included a complete 57mm cannon, but the finished model sported a nose too pointy, cockpit too narrow, engine nacelles and cowls way too large, and all parts having that blah too-rounded look so characteristic of short-run kits from that period. 

   Despite its brief service history, this is one of my favorite WWII airplanes--it has to my eyes the best lines of any twin-engine piston fighter, ever. As soon as I saw this one forecast, I champed at the bit to get one. So did everyone else, apparently, because within days of this kit flowing from the distributors all were gone! Not having a hobby shop within a ninety-minute drive from my home anyway I patiently awaited a copy from the third shipment to a prominent online retailer.
   Not much to tell about the contents, just good first impressions. Shiny parts on two dark gray sprues and another four on a clear one. A combination of very fine raised and recessed detail as appropriate, all very consistent. 20mm cannon troughs are way too shallow and indistinct, probably a molding limitation. Good, clear instructions and decals for three finishing options.

   I began with my usual short-run parts prep: first testing the canopies' fit against the fuselage. They are a little too large, but the cure is simply a 1/32" shim in the spine between the front and rear cockpits and same in front of the pilot's windshield to fix it. There is a vacuform canopy for this kit from "AP Modely" which probably resolves the issue as well.  I also cut out the section specified in the instructions where the rear canopy segment revolved to expose the rear gun. A test assembly of the main parts then followed to reveal an otherwise generally good fit. Just a little had to be taken off the horizontal joint where the forward fuselage meets the lower wing part, and the locating tabs (doing more harm than good) were cut off the stabilizers and their roots filed flat. All mating surfaces were given a light sanding and I took about ten minutes with a Permagrit sander to grind down the wing trailing edges to better thinness, a problem on all short-run kits.

   Major cockpit components could then fitted. I made some changes here: 1) cut away the 'dashboard' under the windshield and detailed the back of the now-exposed instrument panel to match the one known cockpit photo, 2) sanded the pilot's armor and seat to more realistic thinness, 3) added distinctive bracing structure under the rear canopy section (like the Ki-61's), since photos seem to indicate this change was made sometime after the first few prototypes, 4) cut off the top of the solid bulkhead forward of the rear cockpit and fitted fuselage fuel tank detail, as I considered this a more likely configuration, and 5) sprinkled in some finer components such as seatbelts, levers, and other little do-dads following interior photos of the better-documented Ki-45. The interior was painted khaki, weathered, and the canopies glued on.

   General construction as laid out by Sword is logical enough and goes really quickly, my only major deviation being to attach the landing gear parts 8 & 9 to the well roof parts 51 & 46, attaching these assemblies with the forward well walls 57 & 40 to the wing lower half. This kept the remaining landing gear parts off and out of the way until main assembly was complete. Though not signaled as such, parts 8 & 9 are in fact 'handed', with teeny mounting lugs that should point inward. Doing so will strengthen the finished assembly a little. 

   The main wing part was glued on, followed by the top halves. A little bit of filling was required on the lower fuselage, and after sanding this and restoring the panel lines those shallow 20mm cannon troughs were drilled out. Horizontal stabilizers were attached.

   Assembling the engine cowls required tedious removal of the raised ejector towers inside the cowling halves. Propellers are designed to simply be glued on, so I spent some time on the drill press to get the props mounted on steel shafts which were then inserted into a hole drilled into the engines. The fit of the finished engine cowl assemblies on to the wing is a little imprecise; check alignment in all three axes before setting it up to cure. Lack of care here will result in engines canted upward.

   Small parts were finally attached. I replaced the pitot tube with telescoped brass for better thinness and strength. Also, though it's a small part, knowing that it would be a focal point on the finished model I took the time to give the cannon's muzzle brake a bit of extra attention (and yes, that's muzzle B-R-A-K-E. A "muzzle break" is damage that puts the weapon out of action). The bore was drilled out on a carefully-centered pilot hole, and four more smaller holes were drilled around the circumference for the brake venting. 

  The result looked really neat, and feeling pleased with myself, I failed to notice that I'd inadvertently created a weakened and teeny structure on the nose of the model. This was predictably smashed when I brushed an arm past it during painting prep. Quality time was then spent shaping a replacement from aluminum tube chucked into my Dremel.

  The two small intakes prominent at the leading edges of the wing root aren't depicted. I caught this omission at the last moment and drilled them in through the primer coat.


   The kit provides markings and full color two-views for three documented operational machines in IJAAF green-over-grey (or, conjecturally, brown-over-grey). Photographs show other aircraft in an overall green
, often without unit markings or even a single visible hinomaru in some cases. Boring!!! I decided to do something different...

   Following the first three prototypes, the twenty-odd Ki-102s of the preproduction batch were delivered in natural metal. About a dozen were photographed like this around Fusa after the end of the war with visible production numbers 5, 9, 10 (or 19?), 12, and 18. I theorized that with the production schedule as recorded above, the first examples delivered to the 3rd Sentai probably came from this batch, and for a variety of reasons probably remained unpainted as they went into service. Armed with this hypothesis, I was off to the paint shop, eager to try out my newly-acquired Alclad II products.

   These humbled me at first with spatter and cracking. After some careful repair and re-spray, I had a nice natural metal finish with some masking and further spray giving me the desired dissimilar paneling effect. Model Master Aluminum was brush painted on all the control surfaces representing doped fabric, to complete the effect, and black anti-glare panels masked and sprayed. The excellent decals were applied over single drops of setting solution.

   I didn't apply a lot of weathering, other than that appropriate to a test machine dripping oil just sitting there and being scuffed up as mechanics climb about, assembling and disassembling, to learn their new equipment. Photos show little in the way of exhaust staining or the usual operational 'grub'; I don't think the scarcity of fuel in 1945 Japan allowed these aircraft to be flown much.

   Great product. This would be an excellent choice for a new builder's first multi-engine limited-run experience after a dozen or so long-run and a couple simpler short-run kits.

   Now, Sword, how about finally giving the modelling community a good Ki-21 Sally to succeed those awful, inaccurate Revell and MPM kits? Anyone?
    (sound of crickets)

  Pretty scant in English, not much better in other languages. As mentioned in the text the
 Avions article is by far the best single source of information that I know of, as it contains a detailed, accurate set of 5-view drawings in approximate 1/72, the one interior shot (of the instrument panel), some systems drawings, all the in-service photos (none of which are posted online at this writing), plus a complete development and combat account...albeit in French. The Francillon book has a good developmental overview. Better references might be available in the vast depths of Japanese-language modellers' references other than the Bunrin-do title below, but I've been in this game longer than the average bear and haven't seen any sign of them. The rest of the references were used mostly to corroborate the Avions account and provide some additional order-of-battle information. I referred to photographs of the Smithsonian's Ki-45 to help fill the blank spaces of the interior.

Michel Ledet and K. Osuo: "L'Ultime Chasseur Lourd: Kawasaki Ki-102." Avions, Lela Presse, November 2004
Francillon, Rene J:
 Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. Naval Institute Press, 1970 
Baker, Ian K:
 Japanese Army Aircraft Colours and Markings in the Pacific War...and Before. Private Publication, 1992
Author Unstated:
 Army Experimental Fighters. Famous Airplanes of the World, Bunrin-Do, September 1990
Sakaida, Henry:
 Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45. Osprey Publishing, 1999
Thorpe, Donald:
 Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings, World War II. Aero Publishing, 1968

Ryan Grosswiler

19 October 2017

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