Mitsubishi Ki-61 Hein was the only liquid cooled fighter the JAAF had in inventory during WWII. It was made by Kawasaki, the
Hein (“Swallow”) was thought to be a German or Italian made plane. However, it was an all Japanese design except for the license-built version of the German Daimler Benz DB 601A engine. Between August of 1942 and August of 1945, four main versions of the aircraft totaling 3,078 units were built. The Ki-61 had continued problems with the engine and the production line.
The design began once the Daimler engine rights were secured in April 1940. Two projects were initiated, the heavy Ki-60 fighter and the lighter Ki-61. Reports from Europe indicated that liquid-cooled engines were far superior than air-cooled engines, so the JAAF signed off on the project, with the Ki-61 the only one going forward. It had similar lines to the Bf.109 and the M.C.202, similar to better performance (368 m.p.h. at 15,948 ft), well protected and armed with 4 machine guns. Tests in the summer of ‘42’ against a Bf.109E, Ki-43-II, Ki-44-I and a captured P-40E proved the Ki-61 to be superior.
Units started receiving them in February 1943 and going operational in the Philippines in May. The “Tony” so named by the allies, proved more then a match for existing allied aircraft, particularly for its good protective armor, high speed in dives and heavy armament.
The KAIc deployed in January ‘44’ had stronger structure and heavier armament. The so-called Achilles’ heel, was the engine, a Kawasaki Ha-40 12-cylinder V liquid-cooled 1175h.p, as it was subject to constant breakdowns and was difficult to tune. The best version was the Ki-61-II KAI, appearing in September of ‘44’ powered by a 1500-h.p. engine.
The later stages of the war the JAAF desperately needed another high-performance fighter. The Ki-100 was derived directly from the Ki-61 Hein, so in November 1944, Ki-61-II KAI bodies were converted over to the Ki-100, a story for another article. A total of 3,078 Ki-61 versions were built.
images below to see larger images
Sentai was the basic operational unit of the JAAF. Composed of 3 or more Chutais
(Squadrons), comprising between 27 and 49 aircraft. Each Chutai had about 16
aircraft with pilots, plus maintenance and repair personal. A Sentai would have
about 400 officers and men.
244th was established in April of 1942, reorganized from the 144th Sentai.
Aircraft flown by the group were the Ki-27, Ki-61 and Ki-100. They operated in
Japan proper only, and were disbanded at the end of the war in Yokaichi, Shiga
Prefecture. The unit had nine (9) Bukosho recipients including the youngest
sentai commander, Maj. Teruhiko Kobayashi, at age 24. Upon his arrival he stated
to his pilots, “Commanding a fighter unit should be done from the air. Follow
me”! The 244th Sentai also had an air-to-air B-29 ramming unit, formed in
October of 1944, called “Shinten Seiku Tai”.
The famous emblem was introduced when the unit converted from the Ki-27 to the
Ki-61, about the summer of 1943. Variations did occur with the “4 and star”
in white, blue or yellow. No special markings for the commander or Chutai color.
The red tail was the symbol of the “Shinten” squadron, Kobayashi painted his
HQ Shotai Hein tail red to symbolize their determination and to boost moral
during the Empire Capital Defense duty.
This was the most famous home defense unit of the war, claiming 73 B-29’s shot
down and another 92 damaged. The exploits of this unit were published in daily
newspapers, Kobayashi’s fame continued to grow. Even to the point of
disobeying direct flying orders by taking off to pursue F6F Hellcats, at this
time unit was flying the Ki-100, instead of waiting for the incoming B-29’s.
His court martial papers were drawn up, which had serious consequences. However,
the newspapers touted the units’ rout of the Hellcats 10 shot down! it was
actually 2 for 2, the Emperor responded approvingly and the charges quietly
disappeared. Post war Japanese historians credited him with 10 B-29’s and two
fighters, Japanese historian Takashi Sakurai extensive investigation shows he
actually shot down 3 B-29’s and 2 F6F Hellcats.
Kobayashi joined the Self-Defense Air Force after the war. June 4th, 1957, he
ordered his subordinate to eject from a T-33 as it had developed technical
problems and was flying in bad weather. He crashed short of the runway at
Hamamatsu Air Base and was killed. He remained a Japanese hero to the end.
The last pictures (above) give you a relative size of the “Tony” as compared to a
“Mustang”. This is a VII Fighter Command “Sundowner”, #531 “NIP NOCKER”
from the 457th FS/506th FG, Iwo Jima.
Kit: Hasegawa 1/48 Ki-61 Type 3.
Decals: AeroMaster 48-116 “Kawasaki Tony Ki-61-I Pt1”.
Aircraft: This depicts aircraft #57 a Ki-61 I Tei of the 244th ACR, 2nd Chutai in 1945,
located at Chofu airbase.
A) Tamiya TS-17 Aluminum spray
B) Testers Flat white spray for the Hinomaru’s areas.
C) Tamiya TS-29 Semi-gloss black for glare panel.
D) Tamiya TS-47 Chrome Yellow spray for the leading wing edges.
E) Hand painted the camouflage blotches using Tamiya XF-13
F) Propeller is Model Color 70486 Mahogany Brown
1. Osprey Aviation Elite – B-29 Hunters of the
JAAF, by Koji Takaki and Henry Sakaida,
2. Osprey Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937 – 1945, by Henry Sakaida,
3. Rand McNally World War II Airplanes Vol. 2 by Enzio Angelucci and Paolo
4. Life Like decals #48-005, 244th Sentai Pt 3.
5. AeroMaster 48-116 “Kawasaki Tony Ki-61-I Pt1”.
Thanks to Steve for maintaining this fine site.
Mark L. Rossmann