Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mitsubishi Ki-109

The Mitsubishi Ki-109 with nose-mounted 75 mm Type 88 cannon.
Early in the war when Japanese fighter pilots were in control of the skies, the few Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses available in the Southwest Pacific area were the only Allied aircraft to challenge their superiority effectively. As the war developed in favour of the Allies, the longer-ranging Consolidated B-24 Liberators, better suited to the island-hopping war, replaced the B-17s. But for the Japanese the problem of attempting to destroy high flying, well protected and formidably armed bombers remained the same. The Koku Hombu were also aware of the US development of a still more formidable four-engined bomber, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and by 1943 they were feverishly studying every means of defence against this feared enemy aircraft.

In early 1943 the Mitsubishi Ki-67 heavy bomber then undergoing flight trials had proved that despite its size and weight it was fast and remarkably manoeuvrable. Consequently in November 1943, officers of the Rikugun Kokugijutsu Kenkyujo (Army Aerotechnical Research Institute) at Tachikawa suggested that the Ki-67 be used as the basis for a hunter-killer aircraft. The project received the designation Ki-109 and two versions were to be built: the Ki-109a, the killer was to mount in the rear fuselage two obliquely-firing 37 mm (1.46 in) Ho-203 cannon while the Ki-109b, the hunter, was to be equipped with radar and a 400 mm searchlight. However, soon thereafter, the project was re-directed at the instigation of Maj Sakamoto who suggested that a standard 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 88 anti-aircraft cannon be mounted in the nose of a standard Ki-67. It was hoped that with this large cannon the aircraft would be able to fire on the B-29s while staying well out of range of their defensive armament. As the Koku Hombu anticipated that, initially at least, B-29s would have to operated without fighter escort, the project was found sound and feasible and, accordingly, Mitsubishi were instructed in January 1944 to begin designing the aircraft, which retained the Ki-109 designation.

Modification of the Ki-67 to mount a 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 88 (Ho-401) cannon in the nose was entrusted to a team led by Engineer Ozawa and the first prototype was completed in August 1944, two months after the B-29s had made their first bombing raid over Japan. Except for its nose, in the lower part of which was mounted the Type 88 (Ho-401) cannon, the Ki-109 prototype was identical to the Ki-67 and retained the waist gun positions and dorsal and tail turrets of the bomber. Ground and inflight test firings of the heavy gun were affected by Maj Makiura of the Rikugun Kokugijutsu Kenkyujo and was sufficiently successful to warrant the placing of an initial order for 44 aircraft. The first twenty-four were each to be powered by two Mitsubishi Ha-104 radials rated at 1,900 hp for take-off, 1,810 hp at 2,200 m (7,220 ft) and 1,610 hp at 6,00 m (20,015 ft) but subsequent aircraft were to receive a pair of Mitsubishi Ha-104 Ru radials fitted with Ru-3 exhaust-driven turbosuperchargers and rated at 1,900 hp for take-off and 1,810 hp at 7,360 m (24,150 ft) to improve performance at the cruising altitude of the B-29s. These engines were actually tested on the second Ki-109 prototype, but no production aircraft were powered by Ha-104 Ru engines. Another attempt to im prove climbing speed was made when a solid propellent rocket battery was installed in the rear bomb-bay of the first prototype but this scheme was abandoned.

Starting with the third Ki-109, the dorsal turret and lateral blisters were dispensed with and no bomb-bay fitted. Fifteen shells were carried for the 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 88 cannon which was hand-loaded by the co-pilot, and the sole defensive armament consisted of a flexible 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Type 1 machine-gun in the tail turret. The rest of the airframe and the powerplant were identical to those of the Ki-67. Despite the lack of high-altitude performance the Ki-109 was pressed into service with the 107th Sentai but, by the time enough aircraft were on hand, the B-29s had switched to low-altitude night operations.

Unit Allocated
107th Sentai.

Technical Data
Manufacturer: Mitsubishi Jukogyo KK (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co Ltd).
Type: Twin-engined heavy interceptor.
Crew (4): Pilot, co-pilot and radio-operator in forward cabin and gunner in rear turret.
Powerplant: Two Army Type 4 (Mitsubishi Ha-104) eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial engines. driving four-blade constant-speed metal propellers.
Armament: One forward-firing 75 mm (2.95 in) Type 88 cannon and flexible one 12.7 mm (0.5 in) Type 1 machine-gun in the tail turret.
Dimensions: Span 22.5 m (73 ft 9 13/16 in); length 17.95 m ( 58 ft 10 11/16 in); height 5.8 m (19 ft 1 1/32 in); wing area 63.85 sq m (708.801 sq ft).
Weights: Empty 7,424 kg (16,367 lb); loaded 10,800 kg (23,810 lb); wing loading 164 kg/sq m (33.6 lb/sq ft); power loading 2.8 kg/hp (6.3 lb/hp).
Performance: Maximum speed 550 km/h (342 mph) at 6,090 m (19,980 ft); range 2,200 km (1,367 miles).
Production: A total of 22 Ki-109s were built by Mitsubishi Jukogyo KK between August 1944 and March 1945.


  1. "The project received the designation Ki-109 and two versions were to be built: the Ki-109a, the killer was to mount in the rear fuselage two obliquely-firing 37 mm (1.46 in) Ho-203 cannon while the Ki-109b, the hunter, was to be equipped with radar and a 400 mm searchlight."

    Reading that, I presume that the role of the Ki-109b was to find and highlight with the searchlight the B-29's, with the Ki-109a shooting the B-29 down? The Ki-109b would seem to be the weak link in the system - if the Ki-109b was shot down, would the crew of the Ki-109a then have to visually locate the B-29 in order to shoot it down?

  2. I would say so. Ki-109: Night fighter prototypes. Ki-67-I modified for night fighting for operating in pairs, the Ki-109a with a radar/reflector (similar to the Douglas Havoc II "Turbinlite" concept, only using invisible radio beams rather than a powerful searchlight) for radar transmission and detection and the Ki-109b, armed with twin 37 mm Ho-203 cannon in an upward-firing Schrage Musik-style fixed dorsal mount (as the single Ho-203 autocannon in the Mitsubishi Ki-46-III KAI was) to destroy the objective. Only a project.

    The Turbinlite was put into service but was next to useless. If it did switch its light onto an enemy bomber the accompanying fighter pilots were often blinded by the light.