Hasegawa 1/72 J7W1 Shinden

KIT #: D20
PRICE: $15.00 at the time
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler


Still strange to our eyes, the canard is actually the most efficient fixed-wing aircraft configuration. For a variety of reasons: your horizontal 'tail' surface is generating much less induced drag, there is better maneuverability at high angles of attack, and stall characteristics are much more benign. Faster, quicker, and safer, in short. Both the Wright Brothers, Alberto Santos-Dumont, and others selected that configuration for their pioneering aircraft. However, Louis Bleriot blew this emerging trend out of the water with his XI monoplane, the aircraft type which by its popularity and feats firmly established the familiar tractor-engine, wings-first, cruciform-tailplane-second airframe layout as the accepted Conventional Aircraft Configuration, becoming the norm by about 1912.

Fast forward to 1943. A young Japanese Navy captain by the name of Masayoshi Tsuruno, sensing the slip of his nation's technological edge in an increasingly costly war, conceptualized an all-new single-engine fighter in the revived canard layout, a great leap forward to boldly reassert Japanese air supremacy. Tsuruno's ideas were considered promising enough that three proof-of-concept gliders were built to explore them. These tests were so successful that the third glider was actually fitted with a small engine for powered flights, and design of a full-sized interceptor fighter was begun before even these tests were completed.

The definitive design was drawn up around the 2130 hp Mitsubishi Ha-30 radial engine buried behind the pilot and the armament of 4x 30mm Type 5 cannon grouped in the nose to provide devastating concentration of fire. Eventual conversion to turbine power was contemplated all along. Even with the use of a six-bladed propeller, the ground clearance required at takeoff rotation nonetheless necessitated a very high, stalky landing gear arrangement, resulting in a cockpit sill fully 10 feet off the ground. 

The first prototype was completed in the spring of 1945 and a second not long after that, but flight was delayed by cooling problems with the buried engine and waiting for some final components, plus a prop strike during the high-speed taxi tests. Capt. Tsuruno himself finally took his inspiration up for a test-hop on 3 August 1945, with two more short sorties over the next week totaling about 45 minutes. Nothing is recorded in English about the Shinden's demonstrated performance or handling during these flights, except for serious vibrations from the prop shaft and propeller blades, and a marked tendency to yaw during takeoff acceleration--both of which would have been absolved in the jet version. Good or bad, flight test results were made moot by larger events going on simultaneously. One of the prototypes (the first or second; sources differ) was taken to the USA and readied for further tests which never occurred.

Postwar, the canard concept was forgotten for a while, surfacing from time to time in supersonic form, primarily in the XB-70 and Sukhoi T-4 bomber prototypes, plus the highly successful SAAB Viggen fighter. It would be the latter which inspired a young engineer named Burt Rutan to design a light canard aircraft, simple, safe and extraordinarily efficient, suitable for construction by the amateur in his garage. This one design triggered the homebuilt aircraft trend-explosion of the Seventies, which in turn finally established the canard as permanent fixture in the skies.




 That jet-fighter nose and canopy, nicely proportioned swept wings, turbine-like prop back there, plus the way it seems to stand a mile off the ground on that gawky landing gear all add up to making this aircraft surely one of WWII's Top Five Coolest Prototypes, flavored with the mystery of What Might Have This Airplane Been? As a result, this aircraft type which only made three short flights has been astoundingly well-served in plastic. Hasegawa's nice 1/48th rendition has been available since the '70s, while Zoukei-Mura recently released a 1/32 kit with stunning detail inside and out, pantographed in 1/48. In 1/72, Tamiya had one from about 1965, not a bad kit, but decidedly unrefined in detail. Hasegawa released the one reviewed here in the mid-'90s to bring this fascinating aircraft to today's standards for the small-scale crowd. 

   Predictable Hasegawa fare here: nice, petite recessed panel lines on parts carried on two longish grey sprues, with a single piece canopy (clear and free from distortion) on a third. Disappointingly, the decals on my sample were totally destroyed by chemical/environmental factors in the intervening years since purchase (most likely Hasegawa's production process of the time, as the sheet of an even older bagged Ki-44 also stored in the Shinden's box was unaffected) and found flaking away from the sheet when I pulled the kit from storage to look it over.



  Easy, and I'd intended this to be a fun, totally out-of-the-box quick build.

   However, the dead-as-a-doornail decal sheet meant that I couldn't use the kit instrument panel decal, which led to a scratch built instrument panel, which led to more interior detailing, and pretty soon I was replacing the kit's nice injected canopy with a Falcon vac-formed one (from Set # 25), slid open to show all that work, with careful painting and weathering to set it off. So much for that quick build! Sometimes I'm just a rat in a maze...

   This detour passed, the nose wheel well was glued in, fuselage halves joined, and lead buckshot fused into the extreme nose to keep the finished model in a three-point attitude. The rest was just simple assembly. Be careful attaching the spinner backing (Part D14); it's easy to get it reversed. No disaster if you do, but the finished prop/spinner assembly will stick out a bit too much and feature an odd, fluted look. The prop shaft was slightly squashed with a gentle squeeze from a pair of small pliers to achieve a press-fit.

   Fit is good but not excellent, and a lick of filler and sanding/rescribing is needed here and there. The biggest concern is the fit of the wing assembly to the fuselage: the wing is about .5mm too deep for the corresponding receptacle in the fuselage, and I opted for the discrepancy to occur on the underside of the model to make correction (more filling/sanding/rescribing) much easier. It's really such a small step that most modellers will wisely choose to simply ignore it.

  Wanting to depict an unarmed prototype airframe, I also shaped and cemented four simple blanking plates for the cannon ports,  sanding them lightly when cured for a refined, contoured look. The supplied VHF antennas were omitted as period photos show them absent. Landing gear parts were cleaned up for separate painting.


Lacking decals, I made lemonade out of lemons to use this as an opportunity for my very first ever all masked and airbrushed scheme! Following the usual IJN Grey on bottom IJN Green up top, circles were cut from Tamiya tape using my marvelous new DSPIAE Stepless Circle Cutter, and then the no-step and warning stripes with more bits of same. Masking markings only took about an hour. A quick pass with flat white was followed with insignia red and the no-decals problem was behind me. 

That landing gear is really wobbly and will fold up beneath the finished product if you're not careful. Especially the mains. Contemplating flooding their bases with J&B Weld, I ended up simply inverting the model with the gear tacked in place at the correct angle and applying multiple liberal brushings of MEK, thoroughly melting the joining plastic, and letting it cure overnight. It's all good now.



The DOA decals and wing fit problem aside, this was an enjoyable project and I like the look of it standing tall among my other WWII single-engine types. Get one of the newer releases if you want a useable set of markings.

The Shinden's popularity in plastic is not matched by reference material! Maybe pay a visit to the surviving prototype in the Smithsonian's big building at Dulles airport...
Francillon, Rene J. Japanese aircraft of the Pacific War. Naval Institute Press, 1987  
Mikesh, Robert C. Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-45. Monogram Aviation Publications, 2000 

 Ryan Grosswiler

 10 April 2018

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