The unorthodox Kyushu J7W Shinden ("Magnificent Lightning") was a "wonder-weapon" of the Empire of Japan in the closing months of World War 2. It utilized a "canard configuration" and was intended as a high-speed, high-agility interceptor developed specifically to counter the B-29 Superfortress scourge devastating Japanese infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities. Though flown, only two were ever constructed before the end of the war signified the end of the Shinden legacy. As such, the little interceptor was never made operational for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was, however, the only canard configuration aircraft to be ordered in quantity production during the war.
The Canard Concept - Nothing New Under the Sun
The canard concept was trialled by a variety of manufacturers around the globe during the war. Most notably was perhaps the American Curtiss XP-55 Ascender first flying in 1943. Like the Shinden, the Curtiss design fitted the powerplant to the rear of the short and slim fuselage, had swept-back wings and was built in a handful of examples (3) before the project was cancelled. Only one of the three Ascenders survived without accident. Regardless, the two aircraft essentially shared many common design principles.
The J7W idea was devised by Captain Massaoki Tsuruno and, from the outset, envisioned as a jet-powered interceptor to be its culminating form. As turbojet technology everywhere was trying to progress under wartime constraints, the idea would have to wait. Nevertheless, Tsuruno's idea was presented to the First Naval Air Technical Arsenal in April of 1943 and accepted for development. Three evaluation glider models were developed and constructed under the collective designation of MXY6. These systems proved vital in validating the handling capabilities of a canard-based design and one was even fitted with a single Ha-90 series 4-cylinder 22 horsepower air-cooled engine. Testing started sometime in 1943 and proved the design sound. In June of 1944, the construction of the first JW1 prototype began at Kyushu Aircraft Company facilities. Within a short 10 month period, the Shinden prototype was completed in April of 1945 and first flight was achieved on August 3rd, 1945. A second prototype entered construction but was never to fly. The first prototype took to the air two more times and netted a total of just 45 minutes flight time. A quantitative production contract was signed with high expectations. However, the deteriorating condition in the Japanese mainland and the American atomic bombs dropping on two major Japanese cities - Hiroshima and Nagasaki - on August 6th and August 9th - ended all hope for the Shinden. The Empire's war effort concluded on August 28th, the Allied occupation of the Japanese mainland.
Kyushu J7W1 Shinden Walk-Around
The fuselage was relatively conventional, featuring a long nose assembly and the cockpit fitted at center mass. The forward fuselage held a pair of small canard wings acting as the airframe's stabilizers. The engine was fitted to the extreme aft of the fuselage housing as a "pusher" arrangement and powered a four-bladed propeller system. The engine was aspirated via intakes immediately aft and to the sides of the cockpit. The wings were low-mounted assemblies with swept-back features while containing vertical surfaces acting as the airplane's rudders. Diminutive wheels were added to the rudder bases to protect them during ground actions. Armament was contained in a central battery fitted to the long nose housing. Armament would have been an arrangement of 4 x 30mm Type 5 series cannons. The undercarriage was something of a conventional tricycle design albeit with very tall landing gear legs. The front was supported by a single-wheeled leg retracting forwards into the fuselage while the main body was support by a pair of single-wheeled landing gear legs retracting inwards towards fuselage centerline. In all, the Shinden maintained a most unique design with promising specifications to back it up.
The 4 x 30mm cannon armament would have made an imprint on the invading B-29 Superfortress crews for the British, Germans, Soviets and Japanese were quick to find out the importance of cannon armament in their fighter aircraft in respect to bringing down larger aircraft. A concentrated blast from these four Type 5 cannons would have surely caused significant damage to the internal workings of the four-engined, wholly-pressurized and technologically-advanced bombers of the United States Army Air Force.
Estimated performance specifications placed the J7W1 in the upper registers of fighter performance during the war. Top speed would have been 469 miles per hour while range was a respectable 531 miles. Service ceiling was reported to be in the vicinity of 39,360 feet. As a quick responding interceptor, the J7W1 would have made use of its 2,460 feet-per-minute climb rate. Power was to be supplied from a single Mitsubishi Ha-43 12 series engine delivering some 2,130 horsepower to the 8,019lb frame and powering a unique six-bladed propelled system. When fully-loaded, the J7W1 weighed in at 11,663lbs.
As an aside, the Imperial Japanese Navy made use of the letter "J" in their designations while the letter "W" stood for the Watanabe factory. A jet-powered version of the J7W existed as a "paper" airplane but never acted upon. This model would have fallen under the designation of "J7W2 Shinden Kai" and fitted an Ne-130 series axial-flow turbojet providing 1,984lbs of thrust.
Like the Curtiss XP-55 Ascender, one J7W1 prototype was shipped to storage at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. while the second one was known to be scrapped. The Ascender, however, now remains on long-term loan to the Air Zoo of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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