Tamiya 1/48 Ki-61-Id 'Hien'

KIT #: 61115
PRICE: 3000 yen SRP (mine was 2500 yen)
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: New tool (2016)


The first prototype of the San-shiki-Sentohki ichi gata ("Type 3 Fighter, Model 1", the official IJAAF designation) first flew in December 1941 at Kagamigahara Airfield. Although test pilots were enthusiastic about its self-sealing fuel tanks, upgraded armament, and good dive performance, the wing loading of 146.3 kg/m (30 lb/ft) at an all-up weight of 2,950 kg (6,500 lb) was viewed with scepticism by many of the senior officers of the Koku Hombu, who still believed in the light, highly manoeuvrable, lightly armed fighter epitomised by the then new Nakajima Ki-43-I-Hei which had a wing loading of 92.6 kg/m (19 lb/ft) (and even that was considered borderline compared to the earlier Ki-27).

To address these concerns, Kawasaki staged a fly-off between two Ki-61 prototypes and the Nakajima Ki-43-I, a pre-production Nakajima Ki-44-I, a Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Goudkov LaGG-3 (flown to Manchuria by a defector), a Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3, and a captured Curtiss P-40E Warhawk. The Ki-61 proved the fastest of all the aircraft and was inferior only to the Ki-43 in manoeuvrability.

The Ki-61 was the last of the fighters powered by the DB-601 or its foreign derivatives, and it was soon overshadowed by fighters with more powerful engines. By the time it first flew in December 1941, one year after the Macchi C.202's first flight and three years after the first Bf 109E, the engine was already underpowered compared to the new 1,120 kW (1,500 hp) inline or 1,491 kW (2,000 hp) radial engines being developed (and already nearing the mass-production stage) to power the next generation of combat aircraft such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Moreover, the inline Ha-40 engine proved to be an unreliable powerplant.

The DB-601 engine required precise and sophisticated manufacturing; the Ha-40 was lighter by roughly 30 kg (70 lb) and required even higher manufacturing standards. Reaching these standards proved difficult for Japanese manufacturers, an issue further complicated by the variable quality of materials, fuel, and the lubricants needed to run a sensitive, high-performance engine. The Japanese equivalent of the more powerful DB-605 engine was the Ha-140, which was fitted onto the Type 3 to produce the Ki-61-II high-altitude interceptor.

Ki-61-I-Tei Fighter variant (this kit) had two Japanese 20 mm Ho-5 cannon in the wings and two synchronized 12.7 mm (.50 in) Ho-103 machine guns above the engine. The Tamiya history states that the cannon were located in the nose requiring a 20cm lengthening of the forward fuselage.


The kit consists of three grey sprues and two clear. The smaller of the grey sprues contains the engine parts, which may lead Tamiya to do a boxing without it. Two clear sprues are also a bit odd, but one of those is a full left side fuselage. Tamiya seems to have a fondness for doing things like this and thanks to the interior detailing provided, one could easily build a 'see through' version to show off the interior and engine detail.

The cockpit is superbly detailed with a full set of controls as well as the gun ammo cans and what looks like an oil tank that fits behind the instrument panel. A plate with the breeches of the nose guns fits atop the ammo bins. There are two head rest options, one without the armor plating. A pilot figure is also included as is a decal for the seat belt. Apparently the IJAAF did not use a shoulder harness. Note that the interior colors are listed as a panzer tan as are the gear wells and inside of the gear doors. I have seen period color photos of Ki-61s where the gear wells and at least the inner doors were unpainted. The kit includes a rather complete engine so that those using the clear fuselage will have something to see. This also includes the engine mounts. It is not super detailed, but enough for most of us. The upper engine cowling is listed as not glued on. For those who don't want the engine, you at least have to use the block as a mounting point for the prop. Exhaust are a separate piece and mounted from the outside.

There are two different interior pieces that fit behind the pilot. One is for having the canopy open and the other closed. There are also separate interior wall pieces for each option. Tamiya provides a separate windscreen and for the closed position, the canopy and rear quarter windows are a single pice. Note that the interior fit in the fuselage after it has been closed.

Wings are a single lower piece with separate upper sections. Aside from the gun openings and the landing lights, this is a pretty basic construct. No lowered flaps with this one. Tailplanes are a single piece on each side and the rudder is separate piece. The Tony has the engine radiator and oil cooler in the same construct that you get both a front and a rear piece. The air intake grille is made up of eight pieces. The coolant door is molded in the up position. For things under wings, you basically have drop tanks and their racks. The holes for these are already opened up in the lower wing. To top things off, Tamiya provides a set of canopy masks. I think this is a great idea and would like to see other kit makers pick up on this.  

The Tamiya instruction sheet is superbly done and uses Tamiya paint references. There are detail drawings where needed and the instructions also show the removal of sprue attachment points, something I've not seen in any other instruction sheets. Two markings options are provided. One is the box art plane of Shunzo Takashima based at Chofu in May 1945. The second is a mostly unpainted metal plane  with a red tail section as flown by Teruhiko Kobayashi from Chofu in February 1945. Both planes are with the 244th Sentai and you will need to paint the tail section as well as the nose anti-glare panel. The decal sheet includes a seat belt and the yellow wing ID markings.


This one certainly eclipses the Hasegawa kit, but it should, being a couple of decades newer. The Hasegawa kit is still a fine one and should not be tossed just because a newer kit has come out, but if you don't have a Ki-61 in your stable or just have to have the latest and greatest, then this is it.

A bit off the subject, perhaps, but I find it interesting that Tamiya can produce such a high quality kit with all these extras for pretty much the same price as Airfix's P-40B/C. I am not sure why this is the case, but perhaps Airfix would benefit from hiring Tamiya kit engineers for future projects.



January 2017

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