Known to very few, the Second World War was more than a few Super Powers at loggerheads. It was more of the most powerful countries showcasing their military advancements on a worldwide stage in the hopes of being crowned as the country with the best, most advanced ordnance.
It was a time when a single, seemingly insignificant invention was enough to change the tide of the war as every country in the fight was evenly matched. Japan was among the countries regarded as the best of the best when it came to technological advancement, together with Germany. They not only had the expertise but also had the human resources to design, develop, and use their new-age weaponry.
Despite having some of the best machine guns, bombs, and tanks of that era, one particular entity stood out from the rest – the Japanese fighter aircraft. Between 1935 and 1945, the Japanese military selected the best high-tech companies such as Mitsubishi and Nakajima Aircraft Company, tasking them with the development of the best fighter aircraft prototypes of that time.
As a result, well over 48 different fighter plane models were developed in just under a decade, some of which were abandoned as prototypes. Below are eight of the most famous Japanese fighter planes of WW2 that dominated the World War II Era:
1. Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa
The Nakajima Ki-43, or the Hayabusa, was a tactical Japanese fighter plane designed by Hideo Itokawa. The single-engine was fight sanctioned in October of 1941, roughly two years after the first flight in January of 1939 was successful. The Hayabusa was designed to be subtle, which explains why it had a much lighter build.
Apart from being good at performing butterfly maneuvers, the Hayabusa also came retrofitted with the brand-new Nakajima Ha-25 engine complete with a two-blade propeller. This remarkable single-engine could crank enough horsepower to propel the Nakajima Ki-43 to speeds of up to 495 km/h, making the land-based light aircraft even more deadly.
The Hayabusa was also fitted with two cowling machine guns that worked in synchrony. One was the 7.7 mm machine gun, and the other was a 12.7 mm Ho-103 machine gun; both of them devastating in their own right. In 1942, the engine was later upgraded to a Nakajima Ha-115 2-stage supercharged engine for the new Nakajima Ki-43-II model.
This new engine came with a built-in three-blade propeller. The elusive land craft was a favorite for most kamikaze missions conducted by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, Manchukuo Air Force, and The Royal Thai Air Force. Before the Nakajima Ki-43’s official retirement in 1945, about 5,919 of them had been manufactured.
2. Nakajima Ki-27
The Nakajima Ki-27 was an all-time favorite for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, especially for their China, India, and Burma war. The Yasushi Koyama designed monoplane was a low-wing, which was an improved version of the previously decommissioned Army Type 95 Fighter Plane.
Dubbed the Army Type 97 Fighter, the Nakajima Ki-27 came with a plethora of upgrades that did just enough to impress the army officials. The improvement was in the form of an air-cooled radial engine, which had a rather ingenious way of eliminating the overheating problem. The Nakajima Ki-27’s landing gear was fixed.
The latter was a visible correction after the army officials had declined an earlier prototype with retractable landing gear, terming it as too complicated for warfare. The Army Type 97 Fighter’s body was streamlined with the trailing edge tapered. It also had straight wings with leading edges, which later became the fighter aircraft’s trademark.
The Nakajima Ki-27 fighter aircraft was officially retired in 1945 when WWII came to a close. By then, the Japanese army had commissioned Nakajima Aircraft Company to assemble about 3,368 Nakajima Ki-27 aircraft. The primary users of this fighter plane included the Royal Thai Air Force, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, the Manchukuo Air Force, and of course, the Reformed Government of the Republic of China.
3. Mitsubishi J2M
Designed by Jiro Horikoshi, who is also credited with the designing of the A6M Zero, the Mitsubishi J2M absolutely no issue conquering the great attitude. The J2M’s frame was sleek, streamlined, and sturdy, which made gliding and maneuvering through the air at high speeds feel like child’s play. This explains why the Mitsubishi J2M was mostly used as a local-defense interceptor fighter plane by the Japanese in the second world war.
The craft packed a robust Mitsubishi Kasei Engine hidden behind a long cowling. A skillfully designed fan was connected to a propeller with an extension shaft. This made the cooling of the powerful engine quite effortless. The J2M4 model 34 was the next version of the J2M to be developed. Introduced in 1944, the J2M4 model 34 came with an improved 1,420 horsepower Kasei 23c turbo supercharger engine.
The “Jack,” as the allied forces referred to the Mitsubishi J2M, was officially retired in August 1945, only three years after its initial introduction to the World War II. Mitsubishi had manufactured about 671 of this remarkable land-based fighter aircraft. Unfortunately, the production had to be shut down due to the many complications that arose from the engine. The Imperial Japanese Navy predominantly used the J2M.
4. Nakajima J1N1 Gekko
The Nakajima J1N1, also known as the Gekko, was famous for its efficiency during the kamikaze as well as night fighting missions. The latter was because of its sleek design. The fact that a couple of superior machineguns flanked the Gekko may have also played a role. One of these machineguns was a 20 mm type 99 cannon. The rest were six 7.7 mm type aircraft machineguns.
The Gekko was initially build to accommodate a crew of three. The team aboard the Gekko was tasked with being on the lookout for enemy fighter planes. They were also expected to handle the devastating machineguns in case of an encounter with the enemy.
Four of the massive 7.7 mm type aircraft machineguns were mounted at the rare of the aircraft, which made the Gekko a little sluggish during the missions. The sluggishness compelled the development of the newer model, the J1N1-C, or the Navy Type 2 Reconnaissance Plane as the navy fondly referred to the new and improved model.
The J1N1-C was fitted with two robust Nakajima Sakae 21/22, 14-cylinder radial engines capable of cranking an impressive 1,130 horsepower (843 kW). By the time the Nakajima J1N1 was officially retired in 1945, the Nakajima Aircraft Company, working alongside Mitsubishi, had already manufactured 479 of them. These crafts were mainly used by the Imperial Japanese Navy mostly for reconnaissance purposes.
5. Mitsubishi J8M1
The Mitsubishi J8M1 was a joint project between the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (JNAF) and the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (JAAF). The glider had an engine that closely resembled the Walter HWK 509A save for a few modifications. Another impressive feature of the Mitsubishi J8M1 was its light frame. In total, the aircraft only weighed 400 kilograms, meaning it could carry out the missions with incredible stealth.
The main spar of this futuristic glider was fashioned out of plywood, which contributed to the drastic reduction of the total weight of the tremendous J8M1 plane. The vertical tail was also fashioned out of wood for the very same reasons. The bulletproof glass in the cockpit was also allotted. This was done in a bid to reduce the weight of the Mitsubishi J8M1 further.
The designers also designed the aircraft to carry less fuel as well as ammunition. Only seven Mitsubishi J8M1s were built between 1944 and 1945 before the project was officially retired. However, there were at least 60 training versions of the J8M1, including the MXY-9, MXY-8, Ku-13, and Ki-13. Maeda, Yokosuka, and Yokoi developed these training versions. The IJA Air Service primarily used this remarkably fierce interceptor.
6. Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”
The A6M is yet another brainchild of the well-regarded Mitsubishi Aircraft Company. Introduced in 1st July 1940, the Type 0 Carrier Fighter was heralded as the best of its kind when it officially made its debut on the war front. Thanks to its scrupulous frame complete with streamlined features, the Zero could maneuver with both ease and grace, making it hard for the allied forces to shoot it down.
Its no wonder the Zero was quick to achieve its impressive pre-1942 twelve to one kill ratio. Unfortunately for the A6M, the allied forces were ready to adapt, coming up with better technology that toppled the Zero, putting an end to its two-year reign. In addition to that, the fact that the A6M lacked hydraulic flaps resulted in a plethora of maneuvering issues, especially when flying at high speeds.
Also, the lack of rudder rendering may have contributed to the A6M’s long-range fighter’s short run. The Zero was officially retired in 1945 when World War II came to a close. By that time, Mitsubishi Aircraft Company had already built 10,939 A6M long-range fighter aircraft. The A6M was mostly used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service between 1940 and 1945.
7. Nakajima Ki-84
The Hayate was first introduced into the war front in November of 1944, a year before WWII came to an official close. This fighter plane was built for speed, which made it easy to maneuver when under heavy fire. The army type 4 fighter was flanked with four machineguns: two 20 mm cannons and two 30 mm cannons.
The Ki-84 had an upgraded armor, which made up for the weakness the K-83 had shown. The cantilever low-wing monoplane’s frame was all metal. The latter ensured that the pilot was safe and secure. The fighter was also flanked with two additional 12.5 mm machinegun. The plane also had a 65 mm armor glass canopy for the pilot’s protection.
The Hayate was fitted with a 35.8-liter displacement, Ha-45 Homare air-cooled 18-cylinder radial engine. Before its official retirement in August of 1945, Nakajima Aircraft Company had manufactured about 3,514 Nakajima Ki-84s. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service was the primary user of this craft. The Nakajima Ki-84 variant was the Nakajima Ki-116.
8. Kawasaki Ki-61
The Kawasaki Ki-61 was primarily used by the Imperial Japanese Air Service between 1942 and1945. Takeo Doi designed the Ki-61 under the aegis of Kawasaki Kokuki Kogyo K.K. Company. The Hien came as an improvement for the Kawasaki Ki-60, which reportedly had a few issues.
This Japanese fighter plane had a robust metallic frame, which meant it was meant for defending at low to medium altitudes. The fighter plane had a semi-monocoque fuselage, fabric-covered ailerons, and three-spar wings. The rudders and elevators were also covered with fabric. The Hien only had a single seat for the pilot.
The Kawasaki Ki-61 was primarily used by the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service, and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Before it was officially retired, the Kawasaki Kokuki Kogyo K.K. Company had manufactured about 3,078 Kawasaki Ki-61 fighter aircraft.