Kawasaki Ki-96 Heavy Fighter Prototype
Only three prototypes of the Kawasaki Ki-96 twin-engined heavy fighter were ever completed before the end of World War 2.
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After witnessing the successes encountered by the German Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine, two-seat heavy fighter over Europe, the Empire of Japan requested similar designs. Kawasaki delivered their Ki-48 "Sokei" as a light fast bomber in 1940 and this was then followed by the excellent Ki-45 "Toryu" in 1941. While limited in several areas, the Ki-48 gave good service through to the end of the war and the Ki-45 ended the conflict as the best twin-engine heavy fighters of World War 2.
As the Ki-45 began to prove itself in practical combat heading into 1942, Kawasaki undertook a private venture to deliver an improved replacement beginning in August. The new design incorporated the basic features of the Ki-45 including its two-seat crew placement, streamlined fuselage with single vertical tail fin and twin-engine configuration. The cockpit was set well forward in the design aft of a short nose cone. The fuselage was tapered heading towards the fin and horizontal tailplanes were affixed low on the rudder. Engines were of the air-cooled radial type, each driving three-bladed propellers. The undercarriage was wholly retractable and consisted of two single-wheeled main legs under each engine nacelle and a single-wheeled tail leg - also retractable. Power was served through 2 x Mitsubishi Ha.112-II series 14-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engines developing 1,500 horsepower each - an improvement over the Ha.102 radials of 1,050 horsepower each featured in the Ki-45. Performance indicated a maximum speed of 373 miles per hour with a range out to 995 miles and service ceiling of 37,700 feet. The aircraft recorded a climb rate of 16,400 feet in six minutes which gave it strong interception qualities. Armament was 1 x 37mm Ho-203 cannon supplemented by 2 x 20mm Ho-5 cannons. The aircraft was assigned the company model designation of Ki-96 and classified as a heavy fighter in the same vein as the German Bf 110 - intended to fulfill the same battlefield function.
After presenting their product to authorities, the type was given attention though under the request that the design be converted to a single-seat heavy fighter form, perhaps to shore up a dwindling stock of qualified pilots. Changes were quickly made and the form was completed for showing and first flew in September of 1943. However, the conversion was not entirely finished for the prototype still exhibited the full-length two-seat canopy for the now-single-seat cockpit. Nevertheless, performance was retained and the type proved important enough to the Japanese scope that development progressed. An additional two prototypes followed, though these were completed from the outset with their single-seat canopy covers which presented more of the finalized Ki-96 form.
For whatever reason, Japanese authorities returned to Kawasaki and ordered the design to be reverted back to its two-seat fighter form, presenting a major delay to the program. By this time, the situation across Japan and its territorial holdings had deteriorated to the point that development of the Ki-96 was halted altogether. The project netted just the three prototypes and no preproduction or production quality forms followed. The war ended in August after the Allied atomic bomb drops on Japan and a formal surrender followed in September, brining about the formal end of World War 2.
The Ki-102 was another possible Ki-45 replacement which did manage to see 238 production forms completed. It was of a similar twin-engine, two-crew design and classified as a heavy fighter and produced in three distinct versions - fighter, ground attack and night fighter. The line was introduced in 1944 and saw action through to the end of the war in 1945. The Ki-102 held origins in the incomplete Ki-96 design and is detailed elsewhere on this site