Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mitsubishi Aircraft

Ki-67-I Unit: 110th sentai Serial: 508

Japanese aircraft manufacturer. The Mitsubishi industrial complex originated during Japan’s period of modernization following the restoration of the Japanese Meiji emperor in 1868.By the turn of the century, Mitsubishi was a large shipbuilding and shipping company. The Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Ltd., at its Oh-e-machi plant in the southern section of the port of Nagoya, produced Renault 70-hp aircraft engines as early as 1916. The following year, France licensed the company to manufacture the Hispano- Suiza engine. Mitsubishi aircraft interests date from 1918, when Dr. Kumezo Ito went to France to study aircraft manufacture in World War I. In May 1920, the Mitsubishi Nainenki Seizo KK (Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Company, Ltd.) was separated from the shipbuilding operations and began manufacturing aircraft engines at its Nagoya plant.

During these early years, Mitsubishi filled an army order for its Type Ko 1 trainer based on the Nieuport 81 design and later the Type Ki 1 after the Hanriot HD-14 trainer. Upon securing a navy contract to produce carrier-borne aircraft, an engineering team under the direction of British engineer Herbert Smith, formerly of Sopwith Aviation of Great Britain, designed and produced planes for the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army. The company became solidly established as an aircraft manufacturer, and its designs reflected the British influence for more than a decade.

The company changed its name to the Mitsubishi Kokuki KK (Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, Ltd.) on 1 May 1928 and founded an engineering branch in Tokyo as Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho (Tokyo Engineering Works). The continued growth of ship, engine, airframe, and engineering divisions led to their amalgamation in 1934 under a reorganized company named Mitsubishi Jukogyo KK (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Company, Ltd). In the period 1935–1940 Mitsubishi continued to expand aircraft and engine manufacturing facilities at the Nagoya Aircraft Works, located at the growing Oh-e-machi complex built on a dredged landfill in Nagoya Harbor.

By 1938, Mitsubishi’s continued growth and production, including its expanded facilities at Nagoya (where 14-cylinder radial air-cooled Kinsei aircraft engines were manufactured), made Mitsubishi a leading contender in aircraft production with its rival Nakajima, which was founded by the Mitsui combine and produced more total units.

The growing ambition and power of army and navy militarists sought to create an aircraft industry that could be self-sufficient and based upon Japanese-designed airframes and engines. In order to become independent of foreign sources for machine tools, in January 1939 Mitsubishi opened a special plant at Hiroshima dedicated to machine tool production. The Japanese government sought to maintain secrecy concerning the growth of its aircraft development and production and restricted the Japanese press in referring to Mitsubishi’s aircraft manufacturing activity.

By 1940, Mitsubishi operated six airframe and 11 engine plants at manufacturing sites in Nagoya and other areas. The proliferation of designs and variants resulted in Mitsubishi’s growing reputation as maker of some of the finest combat airplanes of the period and as one of Japan’s leading aircraft and engine manufacturers, producing military aircraft for the navy and army and civilian aircraft in separate divisions of the company.

Throughout World War II, Mitsubishi played an important role in supplying Japan’s armed forces with air assets for decisive battles. The company became the most significant aircraft producer in total weight produced; it was also the largest engine producer, making 38 percent of all Japanese combat aircraft engines in World War II. Figures from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey suggest that Japan’s aircraft production peaked in 1944 with 28,180 aircraft. Japan produced some 50,000 fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft and nearly 70,000 aircraft of all types between 1941 and 1945, of which Mitsubishi produced 23 percent; Nakajima, its largest competitor, produced 37 percent.

Despite Japan’s steadfast efforts, aircraft production declined sharply after 1944 due to the combined efforts of the U.S. Navy, which destroyed Japan’s merchant fleets, and the aerial assault of U.S. B-29 bombers. The achievements of Japan’s aircraft manufacturers during the period 1937–1945 had the effect of disproving the prevailing view in the West that the Japanese were capable of producing only poor-performing aircraft that would be mere imitations of obsolete Western designs. Many of Japan’s aircraft in the early years of World War II were of exceptional quality and were surpassed by few contemporary machines.

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