Friday, June 15, 2012

Flashback Friday 6/15: Kawanishi N1K-J

     This week's Flashback Friday looks at the Kawanishi N1K-J fighter called "Strong Wind" by the Japanese, known to Allied forces as "George". The Kawanishi N1K was unique among Japanese fighters in that it had self-sealing fuel tanks, a great deal of armor (by Japanese standards), and could fight an F6F Hellcat to a draw.
     The George began life as the Kawanishi N1K (known to the allies as the "Rex"), a floatplane fighter meant for defending the extremities of Japan's then-large empire. However, by the time the N1K was introduced, Japan was on the defensive and no longer needed a new floatplane fighter.  However, the suggestion was made by Kawanishi to remove the floats and make the N1K a land based fighter, and thus the N1K-J was born.
     The N1K-J, known as the George, entered service in 1943, and was arguably the best fighter of the Pacific War. The N1K-J was armed with 2 7.7mm machine guns in the nose, and 4 20mm cannons in the wing, later versions of the  N1K-J also had bomb racks capable of holding 250kg of ordnance each. The N1K-J had a top speed of almost 600km/h and a range of 1400km. 
      The N1K-J had a production run of only 1435 airframes, production was hampered by B-29s bombing the factories where they were produced. However, the aircraft that made it to the front lines were issued to the elite of the Japanese Navy. An example of this is the 343 Air Group which was formed Christmas Day 1944, fought in at least 15 major battles to the end of the war. the 343 Air group shot down somewhere in the range of 3-5 dozen Allied aircraft, but due to discrepancies between American and Japanese sources the number is not certain. 
     As of 2011 at least 3 N1K-Js survive in American museums, at the National Air & Space Museum, National Museum of Naval Aviation, and the National Museum of the USAF. The N1K-J was the best Japanese fighter produced during WWII hands down, beating the Zero, Tony, and others by a wide margin. However, like many other promising Axis designs it thankfully entered the war to late to have a major effect, and production was hampered by American bombing raids. Like so many other designs it makes you think how the Pacific War might have been fought differently had it been introduced earlier.

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