The Nakajima Kikka
Gulf game has a number of fine Japanese aircraft
that never actually entered combat, some of which we’ve
seen in an
earlier installment. One of the most interesting of these
is sure to be the Japanese jet bomber and its near-sister,
the jet fighter.
Japanese interest in jet combat aircraft intensified in
September 1944, when the Japanese air attaché in Berlin
forwarded a number of detailed reports on the German Me262
jet program. The naval staff directed Nakajima to design a
similar jet bomber, with faily modest requirements of speed,
range and bomb load.
American engineers inspect a very lonely Kikka after the war.
A direct copy of the Me262, the Ki201 “Karyu,”
(“Fiery Dragon”) began development work at Nakajima
as well, but this project did not have official sanction.
The Kikka (“Orange Blossom”), designed by Kazuo
Ohno and Kenichi Matsumura, was smaller and less capable than
the Me262, but within Nakajima’s capabilities to design
and produce. A pair of disassembled Me262 fighters left Germany
in March 1945 aboard the submarine U-234 for Japan, but the
U-boat and its cargo surrendered to the U.S. Navy on 13 May
1945, after Germany capitulated. Thus Ohno and Matsumura’s
plane, while superficially very similar to the Me262, was
pretty much an original design.
The plane needed to use a minimum of skilled labor and strategic
materials, have folding wings to allow it to be hidden in
caves, and take off from a very short runway (no more than
1,150 feet). The Japanese design team met these objectives
in rapid order, but Japanese industry could not at first supply
workable jet engines. The first pair of engines specified
for the plane, Tsu-11 turbojets based on an Italian Campini
design, only produced 441 pounds of thrust each (by contrast,
the Junkers Jumo 004B engines that powered the Me262 put out
1,980 pounds apiece).
Japanese-designed Ne-12 turbojets could put out 750 pounds,
but this still left the Kikka far short of meeting its requirements
and the Navy began to lose interest. But the embassy in Berlin
came up with photographs of a cutaway model of the BMW 003B
engine that powered the Heinkel 162 single-engine jet fighter.
The Japanese copy, designated Ne-20, delivered 1,047 pounds
(vs. 1,830 for the German original) but that was enough to
bring the Kikka up to spec. Though the Ne-20 was not nearly
as good an engine as the original, building a working jet
engine of any sort just by looking at a photograph was a serious
Another view of the Kikka.
The first Kikka was ready for flight in August 1945, with Navy Lt. Cdr. Susumu
Tanaoka serving as test pilot. To make the short take-off
possible (felt necessary because of heavy American bombing
then smashing all Japanese airfields), the Kikka would use
a pair of “rocket bottles” to give 992 pounds
of extra thrust each. These would drop away right after take-off.
The first flight, on 7 August 1945, went well. The next went
poorly when ground crew mounted the rcket bottles at the wrong
angle, damaging the plane. The first prototype was put aside,
but before the second could be made ready for a test flight
Japan surrendered. Anywhere from a dozen to 45 pre-series
Kikkas were in various states of construction (the numbers
vary by source, probably depending on how parts for unassembled
Kikkas are counted), but only the first flew under Japanese
As an attack bomber, the Kikka was to have a top speed of
440 miles per hour; only slightly faster than the best Japanese
piston-engined aircraft and considerably slower than the fastest
American fighter to see action over Japan, the P-51H Mustang.
Range was specified as only 127 miles, with a bomb load of
1,100 pounds; the final product greatly exceeded this with
an estimated range of 586 miles. The Navy did not see short
range as a problem; the Kikka would dart out of its mountain
bases, strike American ships offshore, and dart back again.
The Kikka carried no armament other than its bomb load.
A fighter version, which did not leave the drawing board (but
of course made it into our game) would have had two 30mm cannon.
With a pair of Ne-130 engines delivering 1,980 pounds each,
it likely would have developed much greater speed (the Me262
A1a reached 540 miles per hour with similar engine power).
It’s not likely that this wonder weapon would have had
much of an effect on the war’s outcome. Japan faced
the same problems in this regard as Nazi Germany, only moreso:
a shortage of fuel and skilled pilots. Germany produced over
1,400 Me262 jets and only put a hundred or so into action.
Japan had no hope of matching that performance, and had even
fewer pilots to man the cockpits.
Maintenance would have been another problem; the Germans lost
dozens of their jets to engine failures and landing-gear collapse.
With no service data, it’s impossible to say if the
Japanese engines would have done any better, but given their
origins as copies made from photographs, the odds are they
would have been even more prone to break down with heavy use.
Gulf has three Kikka aircraft counters, two bombers
and one fighter. They’re powerful craft, but not particularly
better than the good American conventional fighters like the
P-51D, P-47D or F4U.
This piece originally appeared in August 2005.
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