Profile Publications No. 82 The Mitsubishi Ki-46

Tlie Mitsubishi Ki-46 An Army Type 100 Model 2 Command Reconnaissance aircraft o f the 2nd Cluttai, S Ist Sentai, in /light over China. (Photo: courtesy Aireview) Due to the vast distances separating Japanese airfields from the bases of its potential enemies, the Japanese Army Air Force had a standing requirement for a fast long-range reconnaissance aircraft. In the mid­ thirties, this requirement had been met by a single- engined monoplane with trousered undercarriage, the Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Plane or Mitsubishi Ki-15, later named“ Babs” by the Allies, which, initiated in December 1935, became opera­tional in May 1937. The outstanding performance of this aircraft was revealed to the Western world when, between 6th and 9th April 1937, at the occasion of the Coronation of H.M .King George VI, the second prototype was flown from Tachikawa to London covering 9,542 miles in 94 hours 17 minutes 56 seconds, the actual flying time being 51 hours 17 minutes 23 seconds and the average speed being 101-2 m.p.h. (according to the Federation Aeromuitique Inter­nationale which homologated this record). This air­craft, registered J-BAAI and named Kamikaze (Divine Wind), had been bought by Asahi Shimbum, one of the leading Japanese newspapers, which entrusted it to Masaaki Iinuma, pilot, and Kcnji Tsukagoshi, flight mechanic and navigator. Although the range per­formance of the Ki-15-I was quite outstanding (1,500 miles) its maximum speed of 298 m.p.h. was obviously too low if the aircraft was to avoid interception by the modern monoplanes then entering service with the air forces of the Western Powers. While the Ki-15 was undergoing flight trials and initial service operations, Major Fujita and Engs. Ando and Tanaka of the Technical Branch of the JAAF Headquarters were already studying the requirements for a future Ki-15 replacement. Towards the end of 1937, having defined the problems to be solved, they were authorised to approach the staff of Mitsubishi Jukogyo K.K. (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co.), which was responsible for the aeronautical activities of the powerful Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (Combine), to initiate the project. On 12th December 1937, a specification for a high-speed, long-range, reconnais­sance aircraft known as the Ki-46 was issued to Mitsubishi. The JA A F wanted an aircraft able to collect intelligence data and photographs without being detected, as it was intended to use this aircraft during peacetime for unauthorised overflights of potential enemy territory. Actually, the war broke out too soon for this aircraft to be operated as such but it was to be used extensively throughout the 1941-45 conflict. The JA A F specified that the aircraft was to cruise for six hours at a speed of 250 m.p.h. between 13,125 ft. and 19,685 ft. and to have a maximum speed of 373 m.p.h. at 13,125 ft. It was to be powered by one or two 790-h.p. Kawasaki Ha-20b, 950-h.p. Nakajima Ha-25, or 850-h.p. Mitsubishi Ha-26 engines and the defensive armament was limited to one 7-7-mm. Type 89 flexible machine gun with 216 rounds in the rear cockpit. All other usual requirements were waived to help Mitsubishi meet the stringent speed and range specifications. Earlier in the same year Mitsubishi, Nakajima and Kawasaki had been instructed by JAAF Headquarters to initiate design studies for twin-engined, two-seat, long-range fighters, these projects being respectively assigned the designations Ki-39, Ki-37 and Ki-38. Mitsubishi's engineering stall’ being fully committed to other pressing projects, the Ki-39 did not progress further than the initial design stage and the JAAF Headquarters allowed the Company to withdraw from this competition. While working on the Ki-39. Mitsu­bishi had studied the possibility of adapting this design for long-range missions, the project being known as the Ki-40, but further studies were sus­pended at the time of the Ki-39’s cancellation. How­ever, the work done on the Ki-39 and the Ki-40 was to serve as a basis for the Ki-46 design study. Captwed Ki-46-11 in the markings o f the Technical Air Intelli­gence Centie. (Photo: via the author) 3
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