Nakajima Ki-43

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The Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied codename: “Oscar”) was the main fighter of the Japanese Army Air Force in World War II. Built by the Nakajima Aircraft Company, it was the Army equivalent of the Mitsubishi Zero, which it resembled greatly. The Oscar was more maneuverable than the Zero, but wasn’t as well armed, having only two machine guns. Like the Zero, it also lacked armor or self-sealing fuel tanks, the designers having sacrificed them for agility. Upgrades in later models included a more powerful engine, some armor protection, and two 20 mm cannons to replace the machine guns. Production began in 1941, and over 5900 Ki-43s were produced in total.[1]

When the Pacific war broke out, the Oscar was still new. Most Army units were still equipped with Ki-27 "Nate". The process of re-equipment happened quickly however, and soon the Oscar was the mainstay Army fighter on all fronts of the Pacific and Asia. It was the most numerous fighter in areas where the Army was more active, such as Burma and China (among the plane's early opponents were the Flying Tigers),[2] but was also commonly encountered in New Guinea, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. As was the case with the Zero, the maneuverability of the Oscar made it a formidible opponent, until the Allies developed tactics that neutralized this advantage. Although newer fighters (some built by the Nakajima company) supplanted it in service, the Ki-43 was used in combat up to the end of the war.

Some Hayabusas saw action in the first days of the First Indochina War, being flown by the French air force against Viet Minh guerrillas.[3]

References

  1. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, by Bill Gunston, Salamander Military Press, 1990
  2. The World’s Greatest Fighters: From 1914 to the Present Day, by Robert Jackson, Chartwell Books, 2005
  3. COIN: French Counter-Insurgency Aircraft, 1946-1965

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