Kawanishi N1KJ

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Kawanishi N1K-J "Shiden-Kai"
File:Kawanishi N1K2-J.jpg
Kawanishi N1K2-J "Shiden-Kai"
Description
Role Land-based fighter
Crew 1
First Flight December 27, 1942
Entered Service
Manufacturer Kawanishi
Dimensions
Length 30 ft 7 in 9.3 m
Wingspan 39 ft 4 in 12.0 m
Height 13 ft 0 in 3.9 m
Wing area 253 ft² 23.5 m²
Weights
Empty 5,855 lb 2,656 kg
Loaded 8,820 lb 4,000 kg
Maximum takeoff 10,710 lb 4,860 kg
Powerplant
Engine Nakajima NK9H Homare
Power 1990 hp 1480 kW
Performance
Maximum speed 369 mph 594 km/h
Combat range 1,066 miles 1,716 km
Ferry range miles km
Service ceiling 35,500 ft 10,800 m
Rate of climb ft/min m/min
Wing loading lb/ft² kg/m²
Power/Mass 0.226 hp/lb 0.305 kW/kg
Avionics
Avionics
Armament
Guns 4 × 20 mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon in wings
Bombs 2 × 300 kg bombs

The Kawanishi N1K-J "Shiden" (紫電 "Violet Lightning") was a land-based version of the company's N1K "Kyofu" seaplane fighter aircraft. Assigned the Allied codename George, the N1K-J was considered by both its pilots and opponents to be one of the finest land-based fighters flown by the Japanese during World War II. The N1K-J outmatched the F6F Hellcat and was a match for such aircraft as the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang. Despite such ability, it was produced too late and in insufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the war.

Kawanishi's N1K was built as a floatplane fighter to support forward offensive operations where no airstrips were available, but by 1943 when the aircraft entered service, Japan was firmly on the defensive, and there was no need for the N1K. They were used defensively anyway, but were no match for US Navy carrier fighters.

The requirement to carry a bulky, heavy float was what crippled the N1K against modern American fighters. Kawanishi engineers, however, had proposed in late 1941 that the N1K would produce a formidable land-based fighter too, and a land-based version was produced as a private venture by the company. This flew on December 27, 1942, powered by a Nakajima Homare radial engine, replacing the less powerful Mitsubishi Kasei of the N1K. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and this and the large propeller necessitated long, stalky landing gear. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically based on acceleration, freeing up the pilot from having to do this and reducing the chance of stalling in combat.

The Nakajima Homare was powerful but had been rushed into production before it was really ready, and was troublesome, but apart from engine problems the flight-test program showed that the aircraft was promising. Prototypes were evaluated by the Navy, and since the plane was faster than the Mitsubishi A6M5 "Reisen" and had a much longer range than the Mitsubishi J2M2 "Raiden", it was ordered into production as the N1K1-J, the -J indicating a land-based fighter modification of the original floatplane fighter.

The aircraft entered service in early 1944 and proved highly effective against American fighters. It proved less effective in terms of reliability and availability; the complicated undercarriage suffered frequent failures and the engine was plagued by frequent failure and difficult maintenance.

N1K1-J aircraft were used very effectively over Formosa, the Philippines and later Okinawa. Before production was switched to the improved N1K2-J, 1007 aircraft were produced, including prototypes.

The N1K2-J was a complete redesign to address the N1K1-J's major defects, primarily the mid-mounted wing and long landing gear. The wings were moved to a low position, which permitted the use of conventional landing gear legs, the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole aircraft was made much simpler to produce and to use fewer critical materials in short supply. The Homare engine was retained, since there was no alternative even though its reliability problems had not been fully corrected. A prototype flew on December 31, 1943 and was rushed into production after Navy trials in April. The aircraft was named the "Shiden-Kai" (紫電改), Kai standing for Modified.

Problems resulted in very few aircraft being produced, but the Shiden-Kai proved to be one of the best fighters fielded by either side. It proved lethal against the F6F Hellcat, and a match for the later P-51 Mustang. As a bomber interceptor it was less successful, because of a poor rate of climb and poor engine performance at high altitude.

Because of production difficulties and damage caused by B-29 Superfortress raids on Japanese factories, only 415 planes were produced.

At least three aircraft survive in American museums. One is at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida; the second is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, while the third is owned by the National Air and Space Museum but was restored by the Champlin Fighter Museum at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona in return for the right to display the aircraft at Falcon Field for 10 years after restoration.

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