by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
historyImperial Japan’s compact Ki-44 (Japanese Army designation "Army Type 2 Fighter") “Shoki” (“Demon Queller”: a very popular character in Japanese folk mythology, Shoki the Demon Queller) was designed as Japan’s first interceptor fighter by Nakajima Aircraft Company in 1939. The concept called for a heavily armed high-speed fighter with a high rate of climb. Maneuverability was a secondary concern. No small radial engine of sufficient power was available so Nakajima designed the small Shoki around a huge bomber engine, the 1,250 Hp Ha-41 14-cylinder radial. It was eventually replaced with the 1,520 Hp HA-109. The Type 2 had a relatively small wing, hence a high wing loading. This allowed high performance but at the price of a challenging landing speed. The Shoki was unpopular with Japanese pilots who were accustom to the docile, extremely maneuverable Ki-27 and Ki-43. Nakajima inconsequentially improved low-speed handling with their “butterfly” flaps. Originally armed with four machine guns, a pair of 7.7mm Type 89s and two 12.7mm Ho-103s, the standard became four Ho-103s. Many were built with a quartet of 20mm cannon. Small numbers were produced with 37mm or 40mm cannons replacing the wing machine guns. Pilot armor and self-sealing fuel tanks were installed. Nakajima built 1,225 Ki-44 aircraft. Two were brought to the U.S. aboard the USS Barnes but there is no record of them after 1948. None survive today although there are relics from Shoki s/n 2171, the data plate and an original-paint skin fragment.
The Ki-44 entered action over Indochina in December 1941, nine pre-production aircraft serving with an experimental unit that became the 47th Chutai. Shokis were occasional combatants against the Flying Tigers into early 1942. Lessons learned lead to improvements to the Ki-44. Production Ki-44s were often encountered by the 14th Air Force and were a serious threat to their P-40s, Shoki's high speed and climb allowing dive-and-zoom tactics. While the Tojo was not maneuverable by Japanese standards, they were still able to outmaneuver most Allied types. The butterfly flaps were also combat flaps, designed to be lowered as needed during dogfighting via a switch on the control stick. With these, Tojos were able to outmaneuver even the P-51 Mustang in some flight regimes. US Navy pilots thought the Shoki was designed to counter the Hellcat. Tojos were based at many high value sites such as Balikpapan and Hong Kong, and were reported at Rabual (notably by VF-17 ace Ira Kepford during his harrowing wave-top escape on Feb. 19, 1944.) Shokis are best known for home defense over Japan intercepting B-29 raids, as they were one of a few Japanese fighters capable of reaching the altitude of the Superfortess.
found in the boxHasegawa’s superb kit contains 141 parts of gray styrene, 14 clear parts, four polly caps, and a decal sheet to build this model. Hasegawa also includes a sheet advertising ModelArt’s profile of the Shoki. I appreciate that Hasegawa numbers almost every piece on the 16 sprues with a different number: only the three propeller blades and the 10 navigation light lenses share the same numbers. There are a few kit pieces that are unused for this version of the Ki-44, including the early windscreen for a telescopic gunsight. While the sprues are sealed in plastic bags, some bags contain more than one sprue. This does not seem like a problem, but some parts appear to be scuffed by other sprues.
Surface detail is beautiful with engraved subtle rivet and fastener detail, and fine raised hinges where appropriate. Control surface fabric texture is nonexistent. Rib reinforcing tape is molded as raised strips. The profile of the model appears to be very accurate, as do the dimensions.
Assembly appears straightforward.
No mold marks or ejection pin marks will bedevil you. Those present should not be seen after assembly. No flash nor seam lines are noticeable on the aircraft. The pilot parts have a slight edge.
Hasegawa’s wonderful interior presents little need for super detailing except for the nose gun compartment: the access hatches forward the cockpit are molded open with separate panels, allowing for detailing within. There is no structural detail inside the cowl but the big radial does not leave much room to see anything. The engine could use detailing with wiring.
An incredibly detailed multipart pilot figure is included with the choice of a low- and high-altitude head.
DetailsNo wing machine guns are included but the nose Ho-103s are. Access panels for each are separate, but there is no further detail for the cavernous space. The gear doors have good detailing on their interiors. The flap interior lightening holes are simulated with indentions; one should drill these out.
Hasegawa provides a five-part 14-cylinder HA-109. The cowl flaps can be positioned open or closed. They appear too thick.
You build the cockpit with 32 parts: floor, firewall, rudder pedals, excellent representation of the instrument panel, seat, seat mount and rear structure, control stick, throttle controls, handles, reflector gunsight, and various other components. The instrument panels feature sharply molded bezel, numeric, switch and bulb detailing. Unfortunately, no seat belts are provided, and the seat lightening holes are represented by indentions; one should drill these out.
Each drop tank is built with seven pieces. Each main landing gear is made up of 15 parts including linkage and covers. The wing gun ejector chute panels are separate.
The canopy is crystal clear with no distortion or blemishes marring it, the framing is subtle. A closed canopy just cannot do justice to the great cockpit detail! The other clear parts are lenses for the gunsight, landing and navigation lights.
The propellers are individually molded. Each has a pin to properly set the pitch.
Decals, painting and markingsThe large decal sheet is well-printed, crisp and thin. You have three natural metal schemes to choose from, including the famous 1945 mount of W.O. Kashiwa of the 70th Flight Regiment. His markings include six ornate symbols for B-29 kills. Other aircraft choices: 1945 70th Flight Regiment Shoki of Captain Kasihwa with his ornate markings B-29 kills, and third is the 1944 47th Flight Regiment Tojo of Capt. Narimasu. The remaining decals are for stenciling, wingroot walk areas, instrument panels, home defense bands, a two part anti-glare panel, and six decals per wing for the leading edge ID strips.
The only paints referenced are GSI Creos Aqueous Hobby Color, and Mr. Color.
summaryAnother of Hasegawa’s typically excellent offerings. Extra parts suggest different versions of the aircraft will be released. An impressive decal sheet. Crisp molding and fidelity of detail promise an excellent model. This wonderful kit has a few minor concerns that do not detract from its overall excellence: the flap interior and seat lightening holes are not molded open, and there is no detail inside the forward fuselage if one intends to leave the access hatches loose. This first injection 1/32 Ki-44 is an exciting offering. Silver Shokis in their bright markings are always striking. Any of the aircraft markings will certainly create an eye catching model.
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