by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
Kawasaki Ki-61-I Hien (Tony) ‘68th Flight Regiment’
Beautiful and graceful, the Ki-61 (Japanese Army designation "Army Type 3 Fighter") Hien (Swallow) was designed for air superiority by Takeo Doi as one of two designs by Kawasaki to be built around the Ha-40 inline engine, the Daimler-Benz DB 601A manufactured under licenced by Kawasaki. Unlike the Luftwaffe DB 601A, the Ha-40 was optimized for low to medium altitudes. Flown in comparisons with a Ki-43, a pre-production Ki-44, a captured Soviet LaGG-3, a Bf 109E-3 and a captured American P-40E, the Hien proved to be the fastest and outmaneuvered all except the Ki-43. Ki-61 had self-sealing fuel tanks, an armored windshield and some token armor plate behind the pilot.
Kawasaki built 3,159 Ki-61 aircraft. Of these, only a few partial airframes survive today, and a single complete Hien at the Chiran Peace Museum.
The new Ki-61 Hien fighter entered combat for first time in spring 1943 over New Guinea with a special training unit, the 23rd Chutai. The only mass-produced inline Japanese fighter, the Allies believed it to be of German or Italian origin: the resemblance to the Italian Macchi C.202 Folgore and Fiat G.55 Centauro led to its code name of "Tony.” Lightly-armed (compared to Western fighters), Tony initially packed a pair of 12.7 mm caliber Ho-103 machine guns staggered just above and behind the engine, and a 7.7 mm caliber Type 89 machine gun in each wing. While these had a high rate of fire, they had a limited ammunition supply. Later Kai (“modified” or “version”) were better armed with a quartet of Ho-103, and eventually a pair of 20 mm Ho-5 cannon (license-built German-made Mauser MG 151/20.) The first Hien combat unit is the kit’s subject, the 68th Flight Regiment. Pilots of obsolescent early Allied fighters did not welcome the appearance of a fast, nimble fighter capable of diving fast (thus negating the usual Allied fighter pilot’s best escape tactic), able to absorb battle damage. Though effective against those types, Tony brought early-war performance to skies increasingly haunted by superior mid-war Allied fighters. The 68th was called Japan’s “hard luck Sentai.” Its Kawasakis were wiped out, the surviving personnel fighting as infantry in New Guinea. Japan’s Swallow was not a sitting duck, but it had a tough time–when it could fly. The sophisticated Ha-40 engine proved to be an unreliable powerplant. Many grounded Hiens were ground into the ground by bombing and strafing. A more powerful engine based on the DB-605, the Ha-140, improved performance but not reliability. In the end, Tonys flew against 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 157 parts of gray styrene, 13 clear parts, 4 polly caps and a decal sheet to build this model. I appreciate that Hasegawa numbers almost every piece on the 11 sprues with a different number: I only count 3three twin parts on sprue G, and two on the clear sprue. Hasegawa includes a few parts to allow you the choice of building the Ki-61-I Koh or a Ki-61-I Hei. There are a few kit pieces that are unused for this model of the Ki-61; one can only wonder how many other versions of the Tony will be issued. Perhaps the Ki-100?
Surface detail is stunning with engraved subtle rivet and fastener detail, and fine raised hinges where appropriate. Control surface fabric texture is nonexistent, nor is any sag between the ribs. Rib reinforcing tape is molded as raised strips. The accuracy of the kit profile appears almost perfect, as do the dimensions. The canopy hood has the authentic hump not found on most Hien models.
No mold marks or ejection pin marks will bedevil you. Those present should not be seen after assembly. No flash, few seam lines. There is latitude for super detailing, but Hasegawa’s wonderful interior has little need for it.
Assembly appears straightforward. The wings attach to the fuselage via a main spar assembly.
An incredibly detailed multipart pilot figure is included with two choices of heads.
DetailsPhotos of prototype landing gear detail are hard to find but the struts appear accurate. The gear doors have good detailing on their insides.
No machine guns are offered. The nose Ho-103s extended into the cockpit and the butts are provided, accurately molded staggered. Two different machine gun access panel sets (both upper and lower wings) are in the kit: those for the original 7.7 mm machine guns of the Ki-61-I Koh, and for the 20 mm weapons of the subsequent Hei. The upper wing engraved detail around these machine gun access panels are for neither of those. The instructions show which lines to fill in to simulate the access panels for the 7.7 mm machine guns. Longer barrels for the wing Ho-5 are also included. Depending on the version, you are guided to fill some fuselage ports.
Separate boarding steps and handles are supplied.
Tailwheel parts are included to build the Ki-61-I Koh with a fully-retractable tailwheel, or the fixed tailwheel Hei.
You build the cockpit with 32 parts: floor, firewall, rudder pedals, separate sidewall pieces, the control console (levers for emergency hydraulics, flaps, landing gear, gun charger, and radiator), an excellent representation of the instrument panel, bulkhead, seat, control stick, throttle controls, valve handles, gunsight, and various other components. My prized Monogram Close-Up 14: Japanese Cockpit Interiors, Part 1, shows the Tony cockpit full of bulky boxes and stalky levers.
The canopy framing is subtle. No distortion or blemishes mar it. Praiseworthy, the top of the hood has the slight bulge ignored by most Hien kits, as noted above. Happily, there is a choice of mounting it open: clear as the canopy parts are, a closed canopy just could not do justice to the great cockpit detail! The other clear parts are lenses for the gunsight, landing light, and navigation lights.
The propellers are individually molded. Each has a pin to properly set the pitch.
Decals, painting and markingsThe well-printed decals are crisp and thin. Some researchers may question the Hinomaru color. You have five marking schemes to choose from, including the famous mount of Maj. Teruhiko Kobayashi, commander of the 244 Sentai. These include his ten B-29 and two F6F kills. However, the red horizontal fuselage stripes should be blue, as should be the wing command stripes that are neither provided nor shown in the instructions. Other aircraft choices are two green on aluminum “ribbon” or “wave mirror” Hiens, 68th and 105th Sentais, and a pair of overall green aircraft of the 19th and 56th Sentais. The fuselage band for the 68th Swallow is printed with the rough field-applied border. Stenciling and decals simulating the non-skid wingroot walk areas is provided.
The only paints referenced are GSI Creos Aqueous Hobby Color, and Mr. Color.
summaryHasegawa’s typical excellent model with Hasegawa’s semi-modular system for subsequent different versions. The Ki-61-I joined the fight in 1943 (except for prototypes which reportedly attacked the Doolittle Raiders in April 1942) and fought the rest of the war. Hasegawa provides you with a choice of two versions to build. Crisp molding and fidelity of detail promises an excellent model. The pioneer Ki-61 68th Flight Regiment, with its popular camouflage and markings, offers the opportunity to build an eye-catching model.
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