|Manufacturer||Nakajima Aircraft Company|
|First flight||May 1941|
|Primary user||Imperial Japanese Navy|
|Produced||from 1942 to 1944|
The Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (月光 "Moonlight") is a twin-engine aircraft used by the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II and was used for reconnaissance, night fighter, and kamikaze missions. The first flight took place in May 1941. It was given the Allied reporting name "Irving", since the earlier reconnaissance version the J1N1-C, was mistaken for a fighter.
Design and development
In mid-1938 the Japanese Imperial Navy requested a twin-engine fighter designed to escort the principal bomber used at the time, Mitsubishi G3M "Nell". The operating range of the standard Navy fighter, the Mitsubishi A5M "Claude", was only 1,200 km (750 mi), insufficient compared with the 4,400 km (2,730 mi) of the G3M. Moreover, at the time, the potential of the "Zero", then still under development, remained to be evaluated, stressing the need for a long-range escort fighter, much as the Luftwaffe had done with the Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer, introduced the year before.
In March 1939, Mitsubishi and Nakajima began the development of a project 13-Shi. The prototype left the factory in March 1941 equipped with two 843 kW (1,130 hp) Nakajima Sakae 21/22, 14-cylinder radial engines. There was a crew of three, and the aircraft was armed with a 20 mm Type 99 cannon and six 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97 aircraft machine guns. Four of these machine guns were mounted in two rear-mounted powered turrets, the weight of which reduced the performance of the aircraft considerably. Because of the sluggish handling, being used as an escort fighter had to be abandoned. Instead, production was authorized for a lighter reconnaissance variant, the J1N1-C, also known by the Navy designation Navy Type 2 Reconnaissance Plane. One early variant, the J1N1-F, had a spherical turret with one 20 mm Type 99 Model 1 cannon mounted immediately behind the pilot.
In early 1943, Commander Yasuna Kozono（小園 安名 of the 251st Kōkūtai in Rabaul came up with the idea of installing 20 mm cannons, firing upwards at a 30-degree angle in the fuselage. Against orders of central command, which was skeptical of his idea, he tested his idea on a J1N1-C as a night fighter. The field-modified J1N1-C KAI shot down two B-17s of 43rd Bomb Group attacking air bases around Rabaul on 21 May 1943.
The Navy took immediate notice and placed orders with Nakajima for the newly designated J1N1-S nightfighter design. This model was christened the Model 11 Gekko (月光, "Moonlight"). It had a crew of two, eliminating the navigator position. Like the KAI, it had twin 20 mm Type 99 Model 1 cannon firing upward in a 30° upward angle, but added a second pair firing downward at a forward 30° angle, allowing attacks from above or below. This arrangement was effective against B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and B-24 Liberators, which usually had Sperry ball turrets for ventral defense. The Gekko's existence was not quickly understood by the Allies, who assumed the Japanese did not have the technology for night fighter designs. Early versions had nose searchlights in place of radar. Later models, the J1N1-Sa Model 11a, omitted the two downward-firing guns and added another 20 mm cannon to face upward as with the other two. Other variants without nose antennae or searchlight added a 20 mm cannon to the nose.
The J1N1-S was used against B-29 Superfortresses in Japan, though the lack of good radar and insufficient high-altitude performance handicapped it, since usually only one pass could be made against the higher-speed B-29s. However, some skillful pilots had spectacular successes, such as Lieutenant Sachio Endo, who was credited with destroying eight B-29s and damaging another eight before he was shot down by a B-29 crew, Shigetoshi Kudo (nine victories), Shiro Kuratori (six victories), and Juzo Kuramoto (eight victories); the last two claimed five B-29s during the night of 25–26 May 1945. Another Gekko crew shot down five B-29's in one night, but these successes were rare. Many Gekkos were also shot down or destroyed on the ground. A number of Gekkos were relegated to kamikaze attacks, using 250 kg (550 lb) bombs attached to the wings.
- J1N1 : Prototype.
- J1N1-C : Long-range reconnaissance aircraft.
- J1N1-C KAI :Night Fighter converted from J1N-C
- J1N1-R : Later redesignated J1N1-F.
- J1N1-S : Night fighter aircraft.
- J1N1-Sa :Night Fighter same as above except with an extra 20mm gun.
Only one J1N1-S Gekko survives today. Following the occupation of the home islands, U.S. forces gathered 145 interesting Japanese aircraft and sent them to the United States aboard three aircraft carriers. Four Gekkos were in this group: three captured at Atsugi and one from Yokosuka. Serial Number 7334, the aircraft from Yokosuka, was given Foreign Equipment number FE 3031 (later changed to T2-N700). Records show that after arriving aboard the USS Barnes, air intelligence officials assigned Gekko 7334 to Langley Field, Virginia, on 8 December 1945. The airplane was moved to the Air Materiel Depot at Middletown, Pennsylvania, on 23 January 1946.
The Maintenance Division at Middletown prepared the Gekko for flight tests, overhauling the plane's engines (the same make/model as the Zero had used) and replacing the oxygen system, radios, and some flight instruments with American equipment. Mechanics completed this work by 9 April. The Navy transferred Gekko 7334 to the Army in early June, and an army pilot flew the Gekko on 15 June 1946, for about 35 minutes. At least one other test flight took place before the Army Air Forces flew the fighter to an empty former Douglas C-54 factory at Park Ridge, Illinois, for storage. The remaining three Gekkos were scrapped.
In 1949, the Gekko was given to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum, but remained in storage at Park Ridge, Illinois. The collection of museum aircraft at Park Ridge numbered more than 60 airplanes when the war in Korea forced the United States Air Force to move it to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland. Gekko 7334 was dumped outside the restoration facility in a large shipping crate in 1953 where it remained until building space became available in 1974. In 1979, NASM staff selected Gekko 7334 for restoration.
Following restoration of the museum's Mitsubishi Zero in 1976, the Gekko became the second Japanese aircraft to receive the skilled attentions of NASM restoration craftsmen. The airframe was found to be seriously corroded from having remained outside for twenty years. At that time, it was the largest and most complex aircraft restoration project the NASM had ever undertaken. Work started on 7 September 1979, and ended 14 December 1983, following 17,000 hours of meticulous, dedicated labor. Today, Gekko 7334 is fully restored and on display in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Data from Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War
- Crew: 2
- Length: 12.77 m (41 ft 11 in)
- Wingspan: 16.98 m (55 ft 9 in)
- Height: 4.562 m (15 ft 0 in)
- Wing area: 40 m2 (430 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 4,480 kg (9,877 lb)
- Gross weight: 7,010 kg (15,454 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 8,184 kg (18,043 lb)
- Fuel capacity: 1,700 l (373.9 imp gal)
- Powerplant: 2 × Nakajima NK1F Sakae 21 14-cyl. two-row air-cooled radial piston engine, 840 kW (1,130 hp) each take-off rating
- 820.3 kW (1,100 hp) at 2,850 m (9,350 ft)
- 730.8 kW (980 hp) at 6,000 m (19,685 ft)
- Propellers: 3-bladed un-handed metal constant-speed propellers
- Maximum speed: 507 km/h; 315 mph (274 kn) at 5,840 m (19,160 ft)
- Cruise speed: 333 km/h; 207 mph (180 kn) at 4,000 m (13,123 ft)
- Range: 2,545 km; 1,581 mi (1,374 nmi)
- Ferry range: 3,778 km; 2,348 mi (2,040 nmi)
- Rate of climb: 8.7 m/s (1,710 ft/min)
- Time to altitude: 5,000 m (16,404 ft) in 9 minutes 35 seconds
- Wing loading: 175.3 kg/m2 (35.9 lb/sq ft)
- Power/mass: 0.27 kW/kg (0.125 hp/lb)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Bristol Beaufighter
- De Havilland Mosquito
- Kawasaki Ki-45
- Messerschmitt Bf 110
- Mitsubishi Ki-46
- Northrop P-61 Black Widow
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nakajima J1N.|
- Francillon, René J. (1970). Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War (1st ed.). London: Putnam & Company Ltd. ISBN 0370000331.
- Francillon, René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970 (2nd edition 1979). ISBN 0-370-30251-6.
- Green, William. Warplanes of the Second World War, Volume Three: Fighters. London: Macdonald & Co.(Publishers) Ltd., 1961. ISBN 978-0-356-01447-0.