Warbirds Online features one of the rarer types of Japanese aircraft surviving from WWII the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (“Peregrine Falcon”). The Ki-43 was a single-engine land-based tactical fighter used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War 11. Total production amounted to 5,919 aircraft and it was well regarded by its pilots and the allied airmen who flew against it.
It was even lighter than the Zero fighter, with essentially the same engine and was extremely maneuverable. Despite considerable success early in the war the type was rapidly overtaken by allied aircraft technology and was no match for later allied types such as the P51D, Corsair and Hellcat. The Japanese also had difficulties in maintaining sufficient experienced pilots to fly its aircraft.
There are very few survivors of the type, with 7 known aircraft and several partial airframes in existence as well as 3 or 4 replicas constructed from original identities in the USA. In Australia, at least 4 Ki-43’s have been imported over the years. The most complete and famous of the aircraft is Ki-43-I Oscar Manufacture Number 750.
Manufactured in 1942 by Nakajima at Ota Japan and she operated in PNG from 1942 until 1945 when she was badly damaged in a landing accident at Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea (PNG) but was repaired and then discovered by allied forces and eventually allocated to the Australian War Memorial. In 1953 the aircraft was sold on to Australian collector Bob Curtiss then again sold to Sid Marshall in 1962 and was placed on display at his collection at Bankstown. In 1980, the Oscar passed on to Jack Davidson and was stored at The Oaks NSW before being resold to Col Pay in 1985. The restoration was commenced by Col Pay, but in 1994 the aircraft was resold to The Alpine Fighter collection in NZ who completed its restoration even briefly hopping the aircraft into the air in 1996 at Wanaka. In 1999 the Oscar was sold to its present owner Paul Allen and resides in Seattle at the Flying Heritage Collection and although not flown, is believed capable of flight.
Three other Oscars were recovered from PNG and passed to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in the 1980’s. These included Ki-43-II Oscar Manufacture Number 5465 which is on display in two locations – the AWM itself displays the engine and rear fuselage whilst the bulk of the aircraft is at the AWM Trealor Technology Centre in the ACT. Two other wrecks held by the AWM were traded at some stage with one going to the UK and it’s believed the other one is in the USA. All 3 of these aircraft were much damaged wrecks but considered restorable.
Warbirds Online was lucky to have visited these aircraft at a number of locations in Australia over many years and are pleased to present these images from our collection.
Whilst there is not at present a complete aircraft on display in Australia, there is potential to restore the AWM aircraft or one may be sourced overseas for restoration. We can but hope. In the meantime we can view the Paul Allen machine with its very strong Australian connection as the “One that got away”.
© John Parker 2016