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Number 1 Shimbun

Record-Breaking Flight Japan-To-Europe

No1-2018-08 07

Record-Breaking Flight Japan-To-Europe

The Original Kamikaze Story – Supported by Asahi Shimbun

by GEOFFREY TUDOR

Visitors to this year’s Farnborough Air Show in the UK – the biggest air display in the world in 2018 – will have seen the historic, record-breaking demonstration flights of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), the first time a Japanese civil aircraft has ever appeared at an international air event since the 1930’s.

Unfortunately the appearance of this attractive little 90-seat passenger jet was marred by a towing accident, which put a hole in the aircraft’s nose cone. A replacement was swiftly flown in but the incident was the latest in a series of mishaps that have plagued the makers, Mitsubishi Aircraft, since they launched the new airliner project in 2008.

Few people at Farnborough this year realized this was not the first Japanese aircraft to be demonstrated in the UK. The first was an early version of another Mitsubishi, the KI-15, a long-range, high-speed reconnaissance machine developed by the company in the mid 1930’s.

In 1937, the Asahi Shimbun, then as now one of Japan’s leading newspapers and a great promoter of civil aviation, acquired one of the Mitsubishi KI-15 prototype single engine airplanes, gave it the lucky name, Kamikaze-go and flew it to the United Kingdom. The record-breaking flight was a gesture of Japanese goodwill for the coronation of the new British monarch, King George VI, and to promote Japan-Europe friendship. “Go” is a suffix used to identify Jap- anese aircraft, just as “maru” is used to name Japanese ships.
Despite the aircraft’s name, it had no connection with the suicidal waves of warplanes unleashed in 1945 by the Japanese military in desperate attempts to stem the tide of war.

Kamikaze, meaning “divine wind,” was the name given to a typhoon that saved Japan from Mongol invasion in 1281. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, had arrived on Kyushu’s northern shore to establish a bridgehead in preparation for invading Japan – only to be defeated by the god-sent weather, which smashed the invasion fleet into matchwood.

A kamikaze, it could be said, was a good thing to have around as long as it was on your side. It was, all in all, a very auspicious name for an airplane at that time.

Leaving Tachikawa Aerodrome in western Tokyo on April 6, 1937, the Kamikaze-go headed for London’s Croydon Airport, then the aerial gateway to the British capital. It arrived there, after a 15,357-kilometer flight, in a total of 94 hours, 17 minutes and 56 seconds.

Actual time in the air of the media-sponsored flight was 51 hours, 17 minutes and 23 seconds and the average speed was 160.8 kilometers per hour. The route taken was Tokyo-Taipei-Ha-noi-Vientiane-Calcutta-Karachi-Basra-Baghdad-Athens-Rome-Paris-London. 

The flight attracted huge attention world-wide, as no one had yet succeeded in establishing a successful east-west flight linking Japan and Europe, or vice versa. It made foreign aircraft manufacturers and airlines take note of the high level of technology achieved by Japan’s budding aero-industry and was an eyebrow raiser among the military aviation planners of the major global powers.

Not only was it the first all-Japanese built aircraft to fly from Japan to Europe – it was the first aircraft of any type or origin to make the record-breaking journey.

A key driver in aircraft development in Japan at this time was the need to design and build longrange transport types to link Japan’s main islands with its colonial territories in Manchuria, Taipei, Korea and the South Pacific mandate.

Included in the requirement were long-range military aircraft such as bombers and fighters capable of operating in transoceanic environments where land-based facilities such as run- ways were few and far between.

Meanwhile, hailed as heroes in Japan and Europe, the two-man crew of the Kamikaze-go, pilot Masaaki Iinuma (26) and navigator Kenji Tsukagoshi (37), found themselves the center of attention. A trip to Paris saw the pioneering aviators both awarded with the Legion d’Hon- neur and their epic flight was the first Federa- tion Aeronautic Internationale (FAI) record to be won by Japanese.

While in London, they helped with the filming of a documentary of King George’s coronation and also gave joyrides to Japanese royals Prince and Princess Chichibu, younger brother and sister in law of the Japanese emperor, who were in London for the UK royal wedding festivities.

After a busy month, the Kamikaze-go set off from Croydon to return to Japan, retracing its route across the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India and Asia to Japan, arriving in Osaka May 20 and at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport the following day.

From here, Iinuma and Tsukagoshi, their places in Japanese aviation history assured, fly into history. Test pilot Iinuma joined the military only to be killed in action near Phnom Penh in December 1941.

Tsukagoshi continued to work on aircraft testing and development. In 1943, while attempting to fly another prototype aircraft, the Tachikawa Ki-77 from Singapore to Germany, he disappeared over the Indian Ocean and was never seen again.

 

Published in: August 2018

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