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Mitsubishi A5M (Claude) Carrier-borne Fighter Aircraft (1937)

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 3/21/2014

The Mitsubishi A5M was the precursor Japanese Navy monoplane to the fabled A6M Zero series.

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The Mitsubishi A5M (code-named "Claude" by the Allies) became the world's first shipborne monoplane fighter aircraft when it was inducted into service with the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1937. The system served in some capacity up until the end of the war in the summer of 1945 and saw some 1,094 total examples produced in that span. The system was developed into further variants that included the unsuccessful Ki-18 and the experimental Ki-33 but was best known as the official springboard for the fabulous A6M "Zero" design still to come.

Development

The Imperial Japanese Navy delivered a new fighter specification in 1934 calling for an impressive aircraft system capable of 220 miles-per-hour top speed with an excellent climb-rate (interestingly the specification did not include a requirement for ship-borne operations). Though the Mitsubishi and Nakajima firms both produced designs, it was the Mitsubishi firm that got the nod to further their development. The Mitsubishi product became the Ka-14 prototype - of which six total were built, differing in selected powerplants and some design elements - a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction. First flight of the first prototype (this powered by a Nakajima Kotobuki 5 series radial piston engine of 600 horsepower) was on February 4th, 1935 and sported inverted gull wings which posed some handling issues. The second prototype, featuring a new conventional wing design, became the production A5M after flight testing exceeded all specification expectations (hitting speeds of 280 miles per hour, well above that as required in the initial specification). The revised Ka-14 fitted the Nakajima Kotobuki 2 KAI I engine of 585 horsepower. The system became operational in the Imperial Japanese Navy ranks in the early part of 1937 as the A5M1. Production was handled by Mitsubishi, Watanabe and the Naval Ohmura Arsenal.

A5M Walk-Around

To save on weight, the undercarriage featured two fixed main landing gears housed in streamlined fairings. The aerodynamic fuselage was of a tubular shape covered over in flush-riveted aluminum skin and tapering off into the empennage all the while sporting a small cross-section. Wings were low-fitted to the front of the airframe and featured rounded wingtips. The pilot sat well-forward in the design, just aft of the engine compartment, in an open-air cockpit covered only by a windscreen to his front and a raised fuselage spine to his rear. This being a navy aircraft, the A5M was fitted with an arrestor hook and could also sport a centerline fuel drop tank for increased range over water. The design was capped off by a conventional empennage with applicable tail surfaces. Armament was adequate for the time of the A5M's inception into service, this being a pair of 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns fitted into the fuselage. Other than that, Claude has little else to offer in terms of offensive punch.


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Specifications for the
Mitsubishi A5M (Claude)
Carrier-borne Fighter Aircraft


Focus Model: Mitsubishi A5M4 (Claude)
Country of Origin: Imperial Japan
Manufacturer: Mitsubishi - Japan
Initial Year of Service: 1937
Production: 1,094


Crew: 1


Length: 24.77ft (7.55m)
Width: 36.09ft (11.00m)
Height: 10.50ft (3.20m)
Weight (Empty): 2,681lbs (1,216kg)
Weight (MTOW): 3,763lbs (1,707kg)


Powerplant: 1 x Nakajima Kotobuki 41 (Bristol Jupiter) 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 710hp.


Maximum Speed: 273mph (440kmh; 238kts)
Maximum Range: 746miles (1,200km)
Service Ceiling: 32,808ft (10,000m; 6.2miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,790 feet per minute (850m/min)


Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
2 x 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns in upper engine sides of fuselage.

OPTIONAL:
2 x 66lb bombs underwing


Variants:
Ka-14 - Prototype Model Designation of which 6 examples were produced.


A5M1 - Fitted with Kotobuki 2 KAI series engine of 850 horsepower; Japanese Navy production model.

A5M2/2a - Increase Powerplant Output; based on the A5M1 model series.

A5M2b - Fitted with Kotobuki 3 series engines of 640 horsepower.

A5M3a - Prototype Models fitted with Hispano-Suiza 12Xcrs series engines of 601 horsepower.

A5M4 - Based on the A5M2b; enclosed cockpit; fitted with Kotobuki 41 KAI series engines.

A5M4-K - Two-Seat Trainer based on the A5M4 model; 103 examples produced.

Ki-18 - Based on the A5M; fitted with Kotobuki 5 series engine of 550 horsepower; single prototype example.

Ki-33 - Based on the Ki-18 model; enclosed cockpit; only two examples produced.


Operators:
Imperial Japan