Revell | 1/32 N1K1-Ja Shiden 11
Reviewed by Fred Boucher
Legend and History
A legend in model aircraft lore is the story of George, Jack and Tony Revell, a trio of 1/32 Imperial Japanese fighters: "George," the Kawanishi N1K1-Ja Shiden (Violet Lightning), "Tony", the Kawasaki Ki-61-I Kai Hein (Swallow), and "Jack", the Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden (Thunderbolt). Revell created and released these for the Japanese market via their Revell-Japan subsidiary in the early 1970s. After several production runs the trio’s molds were shipped (by ship) to another Revell subsidiary. The ship sank, the molds lost at sea! We can only hope they are enjoying Model Valhalla with the Aurora molds bought by Monogram and destroyed in a train wreck.
Revell also issued two other 1/32 World War Two Japanese fighters, a Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero, and a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa "Oscar". Neither is considered remarkable.
Graceful as a sumo wrestler, the N1K1-J Shiden was a private development by Kawanishi of their air superiority floatplane fighter, the N1K Kyofu (Strong Wind) "Rex", into a land-based interceptor. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically. It is widely considered the best Imperial Navy fighter of the war. Built around the powerful 1,990 hp (1,480 kW) Nakajima Homare NK9H radial engine, extremely maneuverable, packing devastating firepower ( up to two Type 97 7.7 mm machine guns and four Type 99 20 mm cannons) and able to withstand heavy damage, Shiden was as threatening as its thunderstorm allegory...
...when it could fly. Shiden’s Homare NK9H was unreliable. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and this and the large propeller necessitated long, stalky landing gear. The gear was complex and prone to failure–before flight and (particularly distressing) upon landing!
Just four days after the Shiden's first test flight a redesign was begun to remedy defects, primarily repositioning the wings to the bottom of the fuselage, solving the long, complex landing gear issue; the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole airframe was made much simpler to produce by some 18,000 (!) parts. The troublesome Homare engine was retained because there was no real alternative. Thus came to being the redesignated N1K2-J Shiden-Kai, ‘Kai’ standing for Modified.
Shidens entered combat for first time in spring 1944. They proved to be excellent dogfighters at low to medium altitudes. N1K-J fighters were mainly used by few units including the elite IJN 343rd Air Group (343 Kokutai), Japan’s "Squadron of Experts" similar to Germany’s JV-44, and commanded by Minoru Genda. 343rd Kokutai pilot Kaneyoshi Muto reputedly shot down, by himself, four Hellcats in one dogfight. Had reliable Shidens been available, the Allies would have had a tougher time over the Pacific. However, the powerful Homare rapidly lost performance in the rarified air of the B-29's domain, thus George was not useful at the high altitudes the war was moving into.
Like lightning, Shiden was a beautifully dangerous flash, then gone. Production problems slowed production and air raids ended it with only 1,435 built. Unknown numbers failed to get airborne. Impressive as Shiden was, those that got into action only brought obsolescent pre-1942 low to medium altitude performance into an arena moving higher and faster and only eclipsed by the dawning jet age. Shidens that did engage the enemy eventually ended in the shattering boom of thunder that follows all lightning.
Found in The Box
A remarkable kit but I question this model's pedigree. The box, instruction sheet and decal sheet all include Takara. I do not know if Takara was Revell's subsidiary. Also, the date on the box is 1983. I do not know when the ship sank. Finally, there are molding qualities of this kit that dramatically differ from the Revell Jack and Tony: those kits' surface detail is engraved with subtle recessed rivet and fastener details. This kit features subtle rivet and fastener detail that is raised! Perhaps the Shiden was not flush-riveted? Also, the surface has a very slight texture whereas the Raiden and Hein are smooth. That aside, ninety-nine parts of light gray styrene, seven clear parts and a decal sheet make up this model. While advertised as a N1K1-Ja Model 11, the model cowl has the troughs for the nose guns. These were on the N1K1-J, but deleted from the N1K1-Ja Model 11a.
Molding quality is very good with almost no mold marks or ejection pin marks to bedevil you. Many parts have very slight flash. Test fitting is very good. There is a great deal of latitude for detailing. This kit was a transition between the model as a toy, and as a historical miniature.
The landing gear does not retract like earlier toy-models. Detail in the wheel wells is the main spar and very light structural moldings on the inside of the wing. The landing gear looks fairly good but basic. The gear doors have slight detailing on their insides, though marred by ejection pin marks. The kit begs for extra detailing.
You build the ten-piece cockpit with a floor featuring separate rudder pedals, basic representation of an instrument panel, bulkhead, seat, seat supports, control stick and gunsight. Inside the fuselage halves are shallow molded sidewall details. Not up to today’s standards, but a good start.
The three-piece canopy is fairly clear with some distortion, and the framing seems properly sized. The other clear parts are lenses for the gunsight and navigation lights.
Ten parts build the well detailed Nakajima Homare NK9H radial engine, eighteen if you count the separate exhaust pipes. The cowling panel interiors are devoid of detail. The propellers are individually molded. They have pins to properly set their pitch.
A pilot figure is included but it is not worth photographing.
The decals are well printed and fairly thin. Some researchers question the Hinomaru color. You have five marking schemes to choose from, 201st and 341st Kokutai, two unknown units (the instructions are in Japanese), and a captured Shiden of the South West Pacific Area Technical Air Intelligence Unit.
Acclaimed as one of old Revell's best efforts, you can build an impressive Shiden. The size of the model and impressive engine afford immense potential for super-detailing.
Be warned, it is a rare kit and will probably be expensive. Mine cost $90 including postage.
© Fred Boucher 2008
This review was published on Saturday, July 02 2011; Last modified on Wednesday, May 18 2016