|The Falcons Of Freeman Field
Testing Japan's Eleventh Hour Entrants
by Jack Dean
Photo at Freeman Field
Located in the fertile farmland of Indiana, Freeman Field became the Air
Force's special testing ground for captured enemy aircraft. To be sure,
other facilities, both at home and overseas, also evaluated captured enemy
equipment. In the case of Japanese planes, the first was at San Diego. A
short time later, testing was removed to Anacostia Naval Air Station, near
Washington, D.C. But as more and more Japanese aircraft were brought back
from preliminary tests, usually performed in Australia, Freeman Field was
expanded to handle the rapidly increasing influx, many of which were new
and exotic to technical intelligence officers and mechanics who had been
led to believe that every other Japanese aircraft was either a Zero
fighter or a clumsy, heavily spatted bomber. By the end of WW II, every
Japanese and German type had passed through Freeman Field, and for as long
as two years after the close of WW II, these aircraft were still being
evaluated, tabulated and chronicled.
In fact, so many enemy types were in
the air, that had they not known better, former service pilots would have
sworn that the Japanese were again attacking the U.S. Unfortunately, far
too many of them were also destroyed, although a few were stored for later
museum and display purposes. Here then is a survey of what Allied
Technical Intelligence discovered about Japan's late war aerial threat. A
threat that might have very well materialized into a grim reality, were it
not for the development of America's heavy, long range bomber, the B-29.
While the Japanese Navy was having Mitsubishi design a naval interceptor,
the Army, while giving the go-ahead for lull protection of Nakajima's Ki
43 Oscar, a classic dogfighting aircraft, also had that same company come
up with their concept of an interceptor for defense against bombers. The
result was the Ki 44 Shoki (Demon) codenamed Tojo. A typical Nakajima
product, but with maneuverability sacrificed for climb and speed, its
fuselage was altered to accommodate a brutish engine which, in the last Ki
44-III model, had an output of 2000 hp. for take off. Bomber busting was
the task of this pugnacious-looking bird and its 40mm cannon, one of which
is shown projecting from the right wind leading edge, was tailormade for
When Japan entered WW II against the United States, her Air Forces
possessed the best naval fighter in being, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the
best torpedo bomber, the Nakajima B5N2 Kate, a solid, long ranging twin
engined naval bomber, the Mitsubishi G4M2 Betty, and a host of
satisfactory auxiliary naval types, but Japan's Imperial Army Air Force,
was not so advanced. Its most numerous fighter, the Ki-43 Oscar, while one
of the most maneuverable aircraft ever conceived, suffered from lack of
speed, lack of armament and a near total lack of pilot protection. Despite
considerable revamping throughout the war, these problems were never fully
solved and Japan was forced to rely on newer replacement types then on the
drawing boards or under construction.
Unfortunately for the
Japanese war planners, while they had shown the foresight to undertake the
design and construction of improved replacements, they had overlooked the
possibility that these replacement aircraft would have to be built under
other than ideal conditions. Raw materials, gasoline and other vital
ingredients so crucial to running a successful aviation industry, quickly
became scarce or disappeared altogether. Industries were short of skilled
labor, with many factory assembly lines being manned by women with no
previous training. Then, too, a multiplicity of designs, many of them
deadend and wasteful, added a further strain to Japan's already
overburdened technological resources, and the coup de grace came in 1944,
when her production facilities were burned up from the air in a series of
heavy bombing raids which caused more destruction than the nuclear
bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With stockpiles of raw materials practically denuded; with her work force
decimated and her major assembly plants a shambles, it was a wonder that
Japan produced any new designs of consequence during the period 1943-45,
but she did, and many of her eleventh hour engines of war were not only
remarkable in their being produced at all, but surpassed, in several
respects, the best the United States — its arsenals safe from attack —
When the U.S. entered the war with Japan late in 1941, our production
facilities were just gearing up for mass delivery. As such, we were forced
to fight the first six months to one year with designs which had been
originated in the mid and late 30s. At the same time, the Japanese were
already operating equipment which had been tested a year or two later.
Although their planes were not as sophisticated and did not provide for
much pilot or crew safety, they performed much better than our own, and
because they outnumbered us in the Pacific, the Japanese Naval and Army
Air Forces ran wild for the first six months. After a period of
indecisiveness, when the balance seesawed first one way, then another, it
became apparent by the beginning of 1943 that Japan's arsenals would be
hard put to match those of the U.S., to say nothing of outstripping her
more powerful enemy. By the end of 1943, it was a foregone conclusion that
Japan would lose the war. The only question was . . . could she conclude a
peace treaty that would leave her home islands intact.
Having lost control of the seas, the Japanese, by 1943, were already
concentrating on production for home defense against aerial attack. To
give their planners credit, the Army had foreseen this possibility and, in
1939, when the Nakajima Ki 43 was accepted for production, Nakajima was
given a contract for an interceptor, the Ki 44, which would trade
maneuverability, the heretofore primary Japanese fighter prerequisite, for
speed and climb. By the end of 1942 the Ki 44 (Tojo) began to reach
Japanese Army Air Force units. Despite the fact that it was restricted in
its aerobatics, particularly at high speeds, service pilots liked its
heavy armament, its rate of climb and diving speed, and if one had to get
very close to insure hitting the target, the Ki 44's 40mm cannon proved
highly successful against heavy American bombers such as the B-29.
In building the Ki 44, Nakajima had, in fact, again altered their basic
fighter design of 1936, the Ki 27 Nate, which, together with the
Mitsubishi A5M Claude, were Japan's first low-wing monoplane fighters.
While the Claude was to be eventually eclipsed by the A6M Zero, a totally
new design, Nakajima was to refine their Nate for nearly a decade,
gradually improving it over the years. If one takes Severky's P-35 fighter
as the first of the line and ends with the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt, by
filling in the intervening changes with the P-43 Lancer, and the P-47B
Razorback, a similar parallel development can be traced in this country.
Within two years of the rather pugnacious-looking Ki 27 Nate's debut, a
slimmer successor, its fuselage silhouette generally drawn out, appeared.
This was Nakajima's Ki 43, Oscar. More powerful and faster, with a cleaner
canopy design, the longer fuselage of the Ki43, still retained the wings
of the Ki 27. With the introduction of the Ki44, in 1942, a still more
powerful engine dictated a thicker fuselage, while speed considerations
changed the shape of the wings, but the Ki 44 retained a distinct
resemblance to the Ki 43. By 1944, yet-another Nakajima fighter arrived on
the scene to once again alter, but not appreciably change, the basic
concept. Resembling a beefed up Ki 43, but without the Ki 44's rotund
fuselage, and featuring wings and tail group very similar to those of the
Ki 43 Oscar, the Ki 84 Gale was, perhaps, the finest Japanese fighter of
WW II. Certainly, it saw the most combat of those types introduced late in
the war. Designed in 1942, debuting in 1944, the Ki 84 was fast enough at
392 mph, possessed of exceptional range, 1,053 miles, heavy armament, two
12.7mm machine guns and a pair of 20mm cannons, afforded protection for
the pilot, was very maneuverable, and for emergencies, was capable of 427
mph for short periods.
Well designed and brilliantly conceived, the career of the Gale notonly
exhibited the competence of native Japanese technology and creative
genius, but also demonstrates how resourceful, even if handicapped,
Japan's wartime industries were by 1944. With aluminum in short supply,
plans to manufacture the Ki 84 from wood were made, the plywood skin to be
heavily lacquered to insure a smooth finish. Other variants were to be
built partly of steel (cockpit sections, ribs, bulk-heads) and partly from
wood, with sheet steel skinning. Although production Gales were plagued by
inferior workmanship, due to the fact that unskilled workers, many of them
teenagers, were putting them together, Nakajima still managed to deliver
3,382 production Ki 84s in only 17 months, a rather amazing accomplishment
when one considers the heavy B-29 raids and the need for the dispersal of
factories through-out the home islands.
Meanwhile, as the Japanese Army was revamping its fighter strength,
switching to interceptors, the Japanese Navy, after being forced to
continue with improved models of the basic Zero, was also looking for a
new fighter. Designed by Jiro Horikoshi's Zero team, the Mitsubishi J2M
Jack, languished on the drawing boards for nearly a year, while its
creators refined the Zero. When introduced in 1942, the Jack, with its
laminar-flow wing, the first on a Japanese aircraft, proved stable and
steep climbing, but engine trouble hampered full scale production and
although it was possibly the best bomber destroyer the Japanese possessed,
it lost nearly two years due to design lag. (See Oct Wings, 1973).
As a result, the hardpressed Japanese Navy turned to Kawanishi to provide
it with an alternative to the Zero. Kawanishi had developed the N1K1
floatplane fighter, codenamed Rex. Extremely advanced, it had been built
in very limited numbers, but Kawanishi had other ideas for their design.
If the A6M Zero could be turned into the A6M-N Rufe float plane fighter by
Mitsubishi, why couldn't the Rex be converted into an orthodox fighter
like the Zero? In December, 1941, Kawanishi presented this proposal and in
only seven months, the new landplane fighter was flown.
Although only 1,400 N1K1-Js were built, codenamed George, due mainly to
landing gear and engine problems, the George was probably the fastest, and
most maneuverable Japanese naval fighter of the war. In the hands of a
veteran pilot it was a formidable adversary, particularly the later models
with four 20mm wing cannon. It possessed good range (1,375 miles) and
although maximum speed was under 370 mph. its handling was sterling.
Because the power of its Homare 21 engine fell off rapidly at high
altitudes, it was of little use against high flying B-29s, but against
F6Fs and F4Us in middle and low altitude dogfights, it was spectacular. In
February 1945, a lone Japanese ace, Warrant Officer Kinsuke Muto, engaged
a dozen F6F Hellcats, single-handed, while flying a George. He destroyed
four and forced the others to break off.
These last minute heroics, however, were the beginning of the end of
Japan's aviation industry. While her newer fighters proved too little and
too late, Japan persisted in building twin-engined fighters such as the Ki
44 Nick, which, despite improvements, still was basically an obsolete
heavy fighter on the order of the German Me 110, one that could not
maneuver with its single-seat counterparts. The naval air program also
continued down the same engineering cul de sac. As the war news became
grimmer, Japan introduced yet another three man torpedo and/or dive
bomber. Also doubling as reconnaissance machines, these newcomers, such as
the Yokosuka D4Y Judy, were generally slower than enemy fighters and, due
to a lack of escorts, suffered heavily, even though they had a top speed
of 350 mph.
They were also assigned to carriers which, by the fall of 1944, had ceased
to exist. Their bomb loads were comparatively light and, when compared to
American successors to the veteran Douglas SBD, such as the BTD-1 and
XSB2D-1, which were abandoned in favor of the single-seat AD Skyraider,
were inferior in every respect. Yet they continued to be produced. Had
they been in service in 1942, the tide of battle in the Pacific might have
been reversed. However, the same could be said of American types like the
P-38, P-51 and Skyraider.
In the final reckoning, Japan's war planners had been correct in their
belief that Japan's technology would be able to keep pace with that of the
leading aircraft manufacturing nations of the world. What they did not
allow for, was the consequence of their combat forces being unable to
maintain control of those raw material producing areas seized during the
first months of the war. Add to this the unrelenting strategic bombing
raids conducted by the U.S. during 1944-1945, which all but totally
destroyed their war-making potential, and you have the real reason why the
best known Japanese combat types were those dating from the time of Pearl
Harbor. Thus, many of the Falcons of Freeman Field were forced to show off
their skills, over the peaceful Indiana countryside, instead of the
Pacific. And judging by their performance, it was probably a good thing
that they did.
In flight over Southern Indiana
Kawasaki's Ki 45 Toryu
(Dragon Slayer) codenamed Nick, represented an old design that survived on
the Japanese Army Air Force rolls, mainly because its robust airframe
could be put to a number of tasks, which had been unforeseen when Nick was
designed in 1937. The U.S. and Britain learned early in WW II that
twin-engined, multi-seat fighters and attack planes could not compete with
single-engined fighters and, moreover, were not worth producing, unless
they could carry substantial bomb loads. The British Mosquito was the only
exception, but even that exception could carry prodigious weights at
speed. The Nick's bomb carrying capability was not much better than a Zero
fighter's. It was not particularly fast, ranging between 300 and 330 mph.
in its various models. However, it did have room in its fuselage for heavy
armament and when the B-29 bombers began coming over Japan at night, it
was the only night interceptor available with a service ceiling over
30,000 ft. and a range of over 1,000 miles.
It could also accommodate
radar and, as a result, the night fighting role was thrust upon it. As an
attack bomber it was a dud, but as a nightfighter, it proved a welcome
surprise, much like the German Me 110. It is shown here being evaluated
after the war and, below, during its combat life, with twin 20mm cannon
installed to fire upward into the bellies of marauding B-29s. The Necks
type starter arrangement in the last photo was typical of all Japanese
Army types which were conceived during the period of 1937-1941. The last
meaningful fighter interceptions of the war were conducted in a Nick by
Goldin Isamu Kashide, who watched the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
At Freeman Field
Indiana's White River below
Probably not at Freeman Field
Probably not at Freeman Field
NAKAJIMA KI 44II SHOKI (TOJO)
Speed: 376 mph at 17,000 ft.
Service Ceiling: 36,000 ft.
Range, clean, at fast cruise: 565 miles
Armament: Two 12.7mm machine guns, two 40mm wing cannon
Ki 43 Oscar
Development of Ki 44
Shoki (Tojo) interceptor (top) from basic lines of Ki 43 Oscar (middle
photos) bears striking parallel to lineage of our own P-35/P-47
Thunderbolt, and took place roughly during the same time frame. Larger
Nakajima 14 cylinder radial, provided 50 percent more power to what was
basically the same airframe, thus the enlarged and more rotund forward
cowling, which in profile reminds one of the early P-43 Lancer. Although
Tojo was not particularly maneuverable, when compared to orthodox Japanese
fighters, it was the best climbing plane in the Army Air Force and its
heavy armament made it that arm's most efficient bomber attacker, provided
it could get close enough to fire the 20 rounds from its two 40mm, low
velocity cannon. Two aircraft at bottom of page are training Ki 44s with
old style tubular gunsight. In combat, a reflector sight was employed.
At Freeman Field
At Freeman Field
At Freeman Field
May be at Freeman
Field. The B-32 was known to have been at Freeman
If the Ki-44 was an
interim Nakajima design to supply an interceptor for the Japanese Air
Force, the Ki-85 Hayate or Gale, was the best Japanese fighter plane of
the war and a true all around performer, ranking with the P-51 Mustang.
Debuting in the spring of 1944, first in China and then in the
Philippines, the Frank, as it was codenamed, fought a brilliant delaying
action. Although vastly outnumbered in the Philippine campaign, more Ki
84s were lost to faulty hydraulic systems than to enemy air action. With a
top emergency speed exceeding 400 mph., good armor plate, and up to four
20mm cannon, the Hayate also was possessed of exceptional range (over
1,000 miles) and could climb to 16,500 ft. in just under six minutes.
Photo at top of page shows a captured Frank being tested by the Technical
Air Intelligence Unit, Southwest Pacific Area. At middle left is one of
the first Service Test batch at the factory. Next to it is a newly
captured Frank, with a B-32 Convair Dominator behind it, while at the
bottom is a lovingly restored Ki 84-la, which once belonged to the
Ontario, California, Air Museum.
1. Nakajima B6N2 Jill.
Although a satisfactory performer, Jill's size and high landing speed
limited it to use on large carriers only. Although very similar to its
predecessor, Kate, two years of teething trouble delayed Jill's combat
debut until mid 1943, by which time attack aviation had gone far beyond
its limited state of the art.
2 & 3. Two views of Jill, both showing its most vulnerable aspects.
Four-bladed prop chewing into opponents, was its only means of frontal
defense, since Jill had no forward firing armament. Although a ventral gun
was installed on some models to fire to the rear, direct attacks from
underneath could also be made with impunity, and with disastrous results,
when wingroot tanks were exposed, as in this photo.
Aichi-Yokosuka D4Y3 Judy, also known as Judy 33, in flight over
Freeman Field. Although fast, with a top
speed of 360 mph., the Judy was badly handled during her first important
combat debut at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June, 1944. Caught far
from the target carriers by energetic swarms of patrolling Hellcats, which
swept aside the Judy's escorts, she was shot down in droves.
5. Big and commodious, yet weighing just over 5,500 lbs. empty, Judy had
phenomenal range, nearly 2,400 miles in the liquid-cooled engined D4Y1,
1,800 miles in the -3 radial engined version, with tanks. Nevertheless,
bomber was obsolete. Her payload was light: 700 lbs. She carried three
crew members; she could not protect herself from attack, and represented
the type of plane U.S. Navy planners had abandoned by 1942.
Over Freeman Field
At Freeman Field
At Freeman Field
6. Fast, maneuverable,
fully protected and heavily armed, the NIKI Kawanishi Shiden (Violet
Lightning) codenamed George, was the best Japanese naval fighter of the
war. Almost as maneuverable as the Zero, it was much faster, carried four
20mm cannon, and did not fall apart or explode after one or two strikes.
7. In one of WW II's most unlikely non-sequitors, George was developed
from a fine, but superfluous floatplane fighter, Kawanishi's N1K Kyofu
(Mighty Wind) codenamed Rex. It had been designed to provide air cover for
Japanese landing forces, but although fast (300 mph. at 18,000 ft.) a
floatplane fighter was no match for single engined enemy fighters
operating without the drag from one large main, and two outboard floats.
8. Thus, when the A6M Zero began to approach the end of its stretch, it
was decided, in an alternate type of solution, to reconfigure the Rex into
a landplane fighter. Within seven months, the X-1 prototype (shown here)
rolled off assembly lines, its distinguishing feature the absence of an
airscoop below the cowling.
9. The prototype appeared in December, 1942. By the time protection
aircraft had their bugs worked out, it was late 1943. Never intended to
fly from a carrier deck, the commitment of the Japanese Navy to the
building of 1,435 Georges, admitted that it would now go over to the
defensive. Troubles with the Nakajima Homare engine delayed really full
scale production, and when these were finally ironed out, B-29 raids
crippled the two major plants turning out the Shiden. For the U.S. it
proved a blessing. With a speed of 370 mph. capable of hauling 2,000 lb.
of bombs, or rockets, a battery of wing cannon, and brilliant handling
qualities, the N1K1 shown here at the Air Force Museum, was a deadly
Successor to the B5N
Kate, was Nakajima's B6N Jill. Basically the same aircraft, but with a
much more powerful engine, Jill may have been 50 mph faster, but with puny
defensive armament, she was a set up for Hellcat and Corsair fighters.
Designed in 1939, the aircraft did not go aboard carriers until 1943 due
to a rash of landing accidents involving weak arresting hooks.
Greatly influenced by the
U.S. Army's A-18 twin engined attack plane,
Kawasaki Ki 45 Nick, a two-seat, heavy attack fighter was in production
for more than five years, after a long and frustrating testing phase.
Designed in 1937 as an answer to France's Potez 63 series and Germany's
110, Nick ended the war as a heavily armed nightfighter against B-29s.
At Freeman Field
One of Japan's fastest
attack aircraft, the carrier based D4Y Judy, designed by Yokosuka Naval
Air Factory, but built by Aichi, was the successor to Aichi's own Val dive
bomber. With a top speed of 350 mph. in the D4Y3 model shown here, Judy
was a swift striking machine, but a low normal bomb load of only 685 Ibs,
light armament, and lack of fighter protection hampered its career, which
began inauspiciously when two pre-production inline engined D4Y1-Cs went
down with the carrier Soryu at Midway.
Mitsubishi's J2M Jack,
was Imperial Navy's first try at a modern, land based interceptor that
sacrificed some maneuverability for climb and speed. An adjunct, rather
than a replacement for the Zero, it lost a great deal of time between
design and production, and illustrated quite unequivocally, that Japan
realized, as early as 1940, that it might be forced to fight a defensive