Kawanishi N1K

The N1K series started as a floatplane fighter but was developed into one of the Japanese Navy’s most effective land-based interceptor fighters, capable of challenging Boeing B-29 bombers at altitude over Japan in the final year of the war.  The N1K1 floatplane, named the Kyofu (“strong wind”), first flew May 6, 1942, and was a good fighter for what it was, but the Pacific war never yielded many tactical situations where a float fighter would be of much use.  On December 27, 1942, a minimally modified land-based version, which had been contemplated from the outset, was flown, the N1K1-J Shiden (“Violet Lightning”); this was followed on December 31, 1943, by the much more refined N1K2-J Shiden-Kai (“kai” meaning modified).  Apart from an insufficiently developed and unreliable engine, the N1K2-J was the equal of any Allied fighter deployed in the Pacific, but Japan’s industrial and logistical problems were such that only 1,532 of all N1K variants could be produced:  97 N1K1 seaplanes, 1,007 N1K1-Js, and 406 N1K2-Js.  Most of the N1K2-Js were retained for home defense where some units, notably the 343rd Kokutai in which many of the remaining experienced pilots who had not been expended in battles and Kamikaze attacks were concentrated, constituted formidable and elite fighting units.

One N1K-1 floatplane and four N1K2-J fighters survive today.  All are located in the U.S. and are captured aircraft evaluated during the war except for one of the N1K2-Js, recovered from the ocean and restored for display in Japan.

N1K2-J 5312

The National Museum of the USAF displays this Shiden-Kai.  Over the years it has worn the markings of the 343rd Kokutai and, following a second restoration completed in 2008, now the markings of the Yokosuka Kokutai evaluation unit.

N1K2-J, National Air & Space Museum

This is the National Air & Space Museum‘s N1K2-J.

N1K2-J, National Naval Aviation Museum

The National Naval Aviation Museum has this Shiden-Kai.


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