The Mitsubishi concern returned with an all-new design that held some basic similarities to the Ki-15 in that it used two crew and held low-set monoplane wings. The new aircraft sported a well rounded fuselage with each wing fitting a streamlined engine nacelle powering three-bladed propellers. The fuselage design tapered off into the empennage which was capped by a single - rather cropped - vertical tail fin with applicable tailplanes. The crewed would sit in two segregated cockpits - the pilot in a forward compartment and the observer/rear gunner in a rear compartment ahead of the tail. To fulfill the long-range requirement, fuel was stored in multiple locations about the design including a large storage tank fitted between the forward and aft cockpits. Mitsubishi-brand radial piston engines were fitted into specially-designed streamlined nacelles that complimented the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft. Armament consisted of only a single self-defense Type 89 machine gun set in a rear-firing position to help protect the aircraft's vulnerable "six". Construction of a prototype ensued and produced the "Ki-46" designation.
First flight of the Ki-46 was recorded on November of 1939 which proved her engines lacked the required output power and overall speed envisioned by the IJAAF. Worked continued on the type and a new Mitsubishi powerplant (Ha.26-I radial of 900 horsepower) was fitted while the IJAAF - satisfied with the aircraft's short-term outlook - ordered serial production of the Ki-46. The newer Ki-46-I reconnaissance version was introduced in July of 1941 and immediately made its mark in service to the IJAAF. 34 examples of this type were completed before manufacture switched to the definitive Ki-46-II refined production form of which 1,093 examples were completed.
First combat operations for the Ki-46 saw her acting over both Manchukuo and China before branching out further into the Pacific. Within time, the aircraft proved a regular sight in the skies across other territories for, from the outset, the Ki-46 was an excellent performing aircraft highly suitable for the fast, high-level reconnaissance role originally envisioned. Its inherent speed made her virtually immune to ground-based fire and assault from enemy interceptors. Such dominance allowed a certain feeling of superiority for the IJAAF and this was used to a grand advantage for as long as this dominance lasted. The Ki-46 would go on to become one of the best reconnaissance aircraft of the war.
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