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1/32 Hasegawa Kawanishi N1K2-J SHIDENKAI (George)


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1/32 Hasegawa Kawanishi N1K2-J SHIDENKAI (George)


Catalog # ST33

Price: 4300¥

Available from most hobby shops and online hobby retailers.




The Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden (紫電 "Violet Lightning") was an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service land-based version of the N1K. Assigned the Allied codename "George", the N1K-J was considered by both its pilots and opponents to be one of the finest land-based fighters flown by the Japanese during World War II.

The N1K possessed a heavy armament and, unusual for a Japanese fighter, could absorb considerable battle damage. The N1K-J evenly matched the F6F Hellcat and was a better match than the A6M Zero for such aircraft as the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang. Despite such capability, it was produced too late and in insufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the war.

Kawanishi's N1K was originally built as a floatplane fighter to support forward offensive operations where no airstrips were available, but by 1943 when the aircraft entered service, Japan was firmly on the defensive, and there was no more need for a fighter to fulfill this role.

The requirement to carry a bulky, heavy float essentially crippled the N1K against contemporary American fighters. Kawanishi engineers, however, had proposed in late 1941 that the N1K would be the basis of a formidable land-based fighter too, and a land-based version was produced as a private venture by the company. This version flew on 27 December 1942, powered by a Nakajima NK9A Homare 11 radial engine, replacing the less powerful Mitsubishi MK4C Kasei 13 of the N1K. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and combined with the large propeller necessitated a long, stalky main landing gear. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically based on acceleration, freeing up the pilot from having to do this and reducing the chance of stalling in combat. The N1K did have a vice: If handled roughly, it could easily enter an unrecoverable spin. Its flight characteristics were treacherous and required an experienced pilot.


The Nakajima Homare was powerful, but had been rushed into production before it was sufficiently developed, and proved troublesome. Another problem was that, due to poor heat treatment of the wheels, their failure upon landing would often result in the landing gear being simply ripped off. It was reported that more "Georges" were lost to this than to Allied forces. Apart from engine problems and the landing gear the flight test program showed that the aircraft was promising. Prototypes were evaluated by the Navy, and since the aircraft was faster than the Zero and had a much longer range than the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden, it was ordered into production as the N1K1-J, the -J indicating a land-based fighter modification of the original floatplane fighter.


The N1K1 entered service in early 1944 and proved highly effective against American fighters. The Kawanishi was among the few Japanese fighters that could stand up to the best enemy types, including Hellcats and Corsairs. In the hands of aces, the Shiden could even outfly its American opponents. In February 1945, Lieutenant Kaneyoshi Muto, flying a N1K2-J as part of a group of at least 10 expert Japanese pilots, faced seven U.S. Navy Hellcats of VF-82 in the sky over Japan. His group shot down four Hellcats with no loss to themselves. After the action, reporters fabricated a story in which Muto was the sole airman facing 12 enemy aircraft. However, a close friend of Lieutenant Kaneyoshi Muto, ace pilot Saburo Sakai, states in his autobiography that the one versus twelve combat did take place, but with Muto at the controls of a Zero fighter.


Despite their formidability, Shidens were often mechanically unreliable. The engine was difficult to maintain and, like the complicated undercarriage, plagued by frequent failures. Nevertheless, N1K1-J aircraft were used very effectively over Formosa, the Philippines and later, Okinawa. Before production was switched to the improved N1K2-J, 1,007 aircraft were produced, including prototypes.

Only four days after the Shiden's first test flight, a complete redesign was begun, the N1K2-J. The new design addressed the N1K1-J's major defects, primarily the mid-mounted wing and long landing gear. The wings were moved to a low position, which permitted the use of shorter, conventional undercarriage, the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole aircraft was made much simpler to produce, with over a third of the parts of the Shiden. Construction materials involved the use of non-critical materials. The redesign was approximately 250 kg (550 lb) lighter, faster and more reliable than the previous N1K1 version. Since there was no alternative, the Homare engine was retained, even though its reliability problems had not been fully corrected. A prototype flew on 1 January 1944 and after completing Navy trials in April, the N1K2-J was rushed into production. The variant was named the "Shiden-Kai" (紫電改), Kai standing for Modified.






I’ll begin this review by stating that I am not an expert on this or any other Japanese aircraft (but I did sleep in a Holiday inn last night).  If you’re looking for a review from a card carrying subject matter expert on the George, move along, nothing to see here.  I am however a fan of WW2 aircraft and while I can’t comment on subtle nuances that may have been hit or missed upon, I’ll try to give you a fair assessment of what’s in the box.  As far as measurement, shape and outlines what I will say is that Hasegawa generally has very good reputation for getting those things right.  Not perfect by any means but as a rule their kits are well researched and accurate enough to make most of us happy.  Hasegawa usually maintains a slow and steady pace for new releases and this is the successor to the well received Raiden that was released a couple of years back.  This aircraft is also available from Tomy in 1/32, I haven’t seen it but from what I understand it’s a reasonably good kit, even if a bit long in the tooth.  So let’s what have in the box.


The box is typical Hasegawa, sturdy enough to stack without collapsing.  Hoshino-san has treated us to another piece of lovely box art portraying a Shidenkai in flight above the cloud layer.  Four bags contain the plastic parts with the clear parts being packaged separately.  The instructions and decal sheet round out the package.  The twelve light gray sprues and one clear are free of flash and ejector pin marks are located primarily in inconspicuous areas.








The fuselage consists of two sections, the main section and a tail plug.  Surface detail is what we’ve come to expect from Hasegawa, subtle and beautifully rendered, with finely done panel lines and selected rivet detail.  This aircraft was constructed with a series of horizontal panels that looks very interesting, this should be a neat effect, particularly after painting and when a panel line wash is applied.  Detail on the tail plug looks very nice as well, with the stitching being very prototypical Hasegawa




The engine cowl is molded as a one piece assembly.












The Homare Model 21 radial engine is exceptionally well done.  Take a look at the exhaust ring, that’s right hollowed out/recessed ends!  Really a welcome touch from having to do this manually or buying aftermarket resin.  The whole engine features crisp detail, a shame that like almost all other radial engine aircraft it will be all but invisible once the cowl is installed.










The wings are just as nicely done as the fuselage, the maintenance covers for the wing mounted cannons look really nice.  As is the case with several other Hasegawa kits, there’s inserts for the lower portion of the wings.  I’m not a big fan of this concept since it’s a chore to blend them in with the rest of the wing without obliterating the surrounding detail.  Of course this hints that we may be treated to a different variant of the aircraft down the road which is always a good thing!




The horizontal stabs feature the same restrained stitching as the rudder.  These are molded in the neutral position as is the case with the ailerons, the landing flaps however are capable of being positioned deployed.


Landing Gear:










The wheel bays are nicely detailed, featuring some wiring and other molded in detail.  The brake line on the gear strut is particularly nicely done.  The tail wheel has got to qualify as the most undersize assembly I have ever seen on a WW2 aircraft!












The cockpit detail looks absolutely superb.  The IP features finely rendered dials which should look great when carefully painted or alternatively a decal is provided.  The sidewalls are also feature really nicely done details.  By now you've probably noticed that the cockpit is a modular insert like Revell uses for their new 109 series.  This is a great idea since aftermarket resin manufacturers can produce truly "no cut" replacements that will simply slide into position.  No grinding away surface detail or the like, really a great idea!  That being said I think this cockpit will look really good almost right out of the box.  Perhaps a photo-etch seat with those ever present lightening holes and a nice set of seatbelts and I think you'll have a great looking front office.  A nicely done pilot figure is also provided in the kit.


Clear Parts:




The clear parts are nicely done, reasonably thin and distortion free.  The canopy is done in three sections which allows for posing in the open and closed position.  To support this, two rear sections are provided depending on what position you want to display the canopy in.




Markings are provided for two aircraft:


A.  343rd Naval Flying Group, 301st Fighter Squadron flown by Squadron Leader Lt. Naoshi Kanno from  Matsuyama Airfield, April 1945.

B.  343rd Naval Flying Group, 407th Fighter Squadron flown by Warrant Officer Kouji Ohara  from  Matsuyama Airfield, April 1945.


The IJN did typically did not feature the colorful and unique markings that IJA aircraft did.  They were typically more understated and these two aircraft are no exception.  The fuselage stripes and numbers will help to liven them up a bit though and both appear to be attractive paint schemes.


The decals feature sharp printing and although a little thicker than you may be used to working with, Hasegawa decals usually settle down very nicely when soaked in hot water and with some application of decal solvent.  The decal sheet also features insignia for the pilot figure which is a nice touch.






The instructions are presented in a 12 page A4 booklet.  These are typical Hasegawa, clear and concise.  Color call outs are provided for Mr. Color paints.


So what do we think?


Hasegawa has given us a real gem here.  The kit appears to be superbly done in all facets.  Obviously this kit will be of great interest to Japanese aircraft fans but should appeal to anyone with an interest in WW2 warbirds as well, it’s a keeper!


Very Highly Recommended


Review copy courtesy of jolly old St. Nick!


Mike O.

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