The war in Europe had alerted the Japanese Army to the possible need for heavier fighters comparable to the latest European designs. In February 1940,Kawasaki received development contracts for two new fighter designs under the designations Ki-60 and Ki-61. Both were to use the German DB 601 engine that Kawasaki had obtained the rights to in 1937. The first prototype of the Ki-60 first flew in March 1941 and though it had a top speed of 350 m.p.h. the Japanese Army made no serious plans to introduce a heavy fighter. As a result the Ki-60 was abandoned in favor of the Ki-61. In parallel with the fighter Kawasaki had been at work on a power plant derived from the DB 601, the Ha.40, which was lighter in weight and produced 1,175 h.p. It was installed in the Ki-61, the first prototype of which was completed in December 1941. The kI-61 achieved a speed of 368 m.p.h., a performance never to be achieved in production models until the introduction of the Ki-61-II in 1943. In 1942 a Bf 109E and a captured Curtiss P-40E were flown in comparative tests with the Ki-61 and it proved superior to both the American and German types.
Production of the Ki-61 had already been initiated by that time, the type being accepted by the Japanese Army as the Ki-61-I and named Hein. The Ha.40 engine had also entered production and the first production Hein was completed in August 1942 and was delivered to the J.A.A.F. in the same month. The initial production models carried an armament of two 7.7-mm machine guns in the fuselage and two 12.7-mm machine guns in the wings. It embarked on its operational career in April 1943 in New Guinea where the code name "Tony" was applied by Allied forces as they thought at first the aircraft was of Italian design. It was quickly determined that the Hein was under armed and was modified to carry two 20-mm Mauser cannons in the wings in place of the 12.7-mm machine guns and continued in production as the Ki-61-Ia.
The Hein proved to be the finest all round fighters of the J.A.A.F.. and one respected by the Allied pilots opposing it. It's maximum speed of 348 m.p.h. was adequate to meet most demands made of it and its diving characteristics were far superior to other Japanese fighters, as evidenced by the fact that it could hold its own in a dive against heavier American fighters. Allied pilots reported that the defensive tactics employed by Hein pilots were difficult to counter as the aircraft seldom offered itself as a good target. armor protection for the pilot and fuel was provided in later models primarily for psychological reasons fostering the aggressive employment of the Hein by its pilots. However the Ha.40 engine proved to be an unreliable engine which varied greatly in rated power between individual models owing to lack of quality control in production. The Ki-61 went on to be developed though further variants with improved power plants but the Ki-61-I is the subject of this kit so I'm going to stop here.
The Hasegawa kit comes in a medium large top open box with Hasegawa's signature artwork on the top. Inside the box is one large bag with all of the parts molded in light gray and a second bag with the clear parts. This kit was released around 2007 so it is pretty much state of the art molding wise with fine recessed panel lines and rivet detail. There is some raised detail such as hinges and access panels and other items that are appropriate. I found no surface defects on any of the main airframe parts. The control surfaces are all molded in the neutral position and the fabric detail is represented by rib tapes without the usually scalloped sagging fabric effect use too often. The molding was sharp and clean and one must look hard to find any flash. There are some light ejector pin marks on the insides of the landing gear doors but they will mostly be covered by the main struts and due to other raised detail in the area, would be hard to clean up with out collateral damage. Two sided parts have small parting lines that should clean up easily. The cockpit has a level of detail that should satisfy most. A nicely detailed pilot is provided with separate heads, one with and one without an oxygen mask. The tires are weighted and the kit provides two drop tanks. The propeller has separate blades that are keyed to get the angles correct. The wing to fuselage assembly utilizes a heavy spar which should insure a solid mounting and correct dihedral. Apparently there is an extra access panel molded in the top of each wing that wasn't used on this version and there is a small addendum sheet in the box telling you to fill the panel lines for this and shave off the associated hinge detail. The kit contains 151 parts according to the box which no doubt includes one or two parts you won't end up using. See photos below.
The clear parts are not as thin as some but are nice and clear with little distortion in them. Both a closed one piece canopy and a three part open canopy are included. Also included are navigation and landing light lenses and clear parts for the reflector gun sight. See below.
The decals provide marking for three aircraft. These are the newer style Hasegawa decals with white that is actually white and not cream colored. They are nicely printed and in register. They look a bit on the thick side to me but they should be opaque anyway. There are a fair amount of stencils supplied as well as kill markings, instrument panel decals and decals for the radiator screens. See below.
The instructions consist of a twelve page A4 sized booklet that is stapled together. page one has history and aircraft specifications in English and Japanese, page two has a parts map and paint chart with Gunze numbers and generic color names. Pages three through eight are the assembly instructions, pages nine through eleven are painting and marking instructions and page twelve has basic assembly and decal application notes and the usual safety and health notices.
After Market Goodies
I stated earlier that the cockpit detail would satisfy most but I decided to splurge anyway as seat belts are need and a thin metal seat almost always looks better than the molded plastic part. This is the Eduard set # 32591. I'm always torn on Hasegawa kits because that have such nice raise detail on the instrument panels and the PE tend to be so one dimensional. Unfortunately my painting skills are such that the prepainted PE looks so much better than my paint work that I end up using them anyway. At least with this set I have a choice. It also contains a few other parts that should enhance the already nice cockpit. See below.
A search at Sprue Brothers or squadron will bring up some additional items.
This is a really nice kit, well detailed right from the box and by all accounts easy to build. Recommended for all but rank beginners.
Links to kit build or reviews
Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War by R.J. Francillon