Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (Irving) Reconnaissance Aircraft / Night-Fighter / Heavy Fighter
The Nakajima J1N1 Gekko served several roles in the Imperial Japanese Navy of World War 2 including reconnaissance, night-fighter, and kamikaze strikes.
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Many of the participating air powers of World War 2 (1939-1945) adopted twin-engine "heavy fighter" designs intended to provide greater range than that of a single-engine fighters of the period while proving capable of carrying greater armament loads. In this way, these designs could be used to counter enemy fighters one-on-one, escort allied bombers, or intercept incoming enemy bombers as required. The Germans had already found success with their twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the British with their de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito. For the Empire of Japan, the Nakajima J1N1 "Gekko" (translating to "Moonlight") stood out as a fine twin engine heavy fighter example that went on to find several uses during the conflict. Its initial service tenure was as a three-man long-endurance reconnaissance platform until it became a short-term success as a night fighter when properly equipped and its crew reduced. By the end of the war, the role of the Gekko was reduced to bomb-laden suicide aircraft for kamikaze attacks against the Allies in the Pacific theater.
Origins of the Gekko were in a 1938 IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) requirement for a twin-engine heavy fighter suitable for long endurance sorties as escorts for bomber aircraft. Success shown by the German Bf 110 design furthered thinking into a twin-engine heavy type for the needed operational ranges and armament suite. The Nakajima Aircraft Company went ahead with a prototype fitting Sakae series radial engines to low-wing monoplane wings along a smooth fuselage. Its crew numbered three and the undercarriage was the "tail dragger" arrangement. The tail unit utilized a single vertical tail fin and low-mounted horizontal planes. Armament became 1 x 20mm Type 99 cannon with 2 x 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns. A turret fitting an additional 4 x 7.7mm machine guns was also featured. The aircraft was designated J1N1.
In testing, the prototype failed to impress as an escort platform and modified for the reconnaissance role instead as the J1N1-C. Service entry, although slow, began in April 1942 and first actions against Allied forces was over the Solomon Islands to which the type was then given the codename of "Irving" by the enemy. The J1N1-C gave good service in its intended role for the interim as the Japanese still maintained the advantage in the Pacific theater.