Requiring a carrier-capable, long-range over-water performer for the reconnaissance role, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) of World War 2 (1939-1945) invested in the development and subsequent procurement of a new type of combat aircraft - the C6N "Saiun" ("Painted/Iridescent Cloud") from the Nakajima Aircraft Company. The aircraft had origins in a 1942 requirement and flew for the first time, in prototype form, on May 15th, 1943. Series service began during August 1944 and this effort led to serial production run of 463 total units before the capitulation of the Empire of Japan (and the formal end of World War 2) during August of 1945.
The original requirement sought a performance-minded type capable of sustained 400 miles-per-hour that could range out to 2,875 miles. This resulted in the Nakajima "N-50" tandem-twin-engine proposal which eventually morphed into a more traditional design arrangement to benefit from the still-in-development Nakajima "Homare" radial of 2,000 horsepower. Despite its potential on paper, the engine was actually less than advertised, resulting in a key focus on airframe weight-savings elsewhere in the Nakajima design to compensate.
On the whole, the aircraft was given a highly conventional design form that included a nose-mounted engine placement, in line seating for the multi-person crew, and a single-finned tail unit. The mainplanes were low-mounted along the sides of the very slim fuselage and fitted slightly ahead of midships. The undercarriage was retractable and of the "tail dragger" arrangement for ground-running. One of the more distinguishing physical qualities of the aircraft was its long-running "greenhouse-style" canopy which covered all three crewmen - the cockpit section ran nearly half the full length of the entire aircraft.
The engine at the focus of the design was the in-house NK9B "Homare 11", an 18-cylinder air-cooled, radial piston powerplant driving a three- or four-bladed propeller unit at the nose. Outputting 1,991 horsepower, this powerplant attempted to provide the streamlined and lightweight frame with exceptional straightline speed - speed becoming the primary means of survival for the C6N as only a single 7.92mm Type 1 machine gun would be carried on a flexible mounting at the rear cockpit for self-defense.
Initial operational versions were designated "C6N1" and initial results were quite impressive as the lightweight aircraft could often outpace pursuers sent to greet it - even the fastest American Navy types such as the Grumman F6F "Hellcat". Despite its development as a carrier-capable reconnaissance aircraft, losses for the Japanese by the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945 meant that C6Ns were generally operated from land bases for the remainder of the war.
The "C6N1-1" was proposed as a projected torpedo bomber, retaining its crew of three, but the need for such a flying weapon waned as Japanese losses mounted across Asia and the Pacific. The "C6N1-S" was a dedicated night-fighter (converted from the existing C6N1 stock) which reduced the operating crew to two, included applicable night-fighting equipment, and carried 1 x 30mm Type 5 or 2 x 20mm Type 99-1 automatic cannons in an obliquely-angled mounting (this weapon arrangement allowed the attacker to move under enemy bombers and unleash a lethal shot of cannon fire into the vulnerable belly through the upward-angled guns). However, Japan's radar network reduced the overall effectiveness of this much-needed bomber deterrent and the night-fighter form's value was extremely limited.
At least five other test projects related to the C6N emerged including the "Model 12" with its turbocharged Homare engine and four-bladed propeller unit, two prototypes being completed from the C6N1 stock. The "Saiun Kai 1" was a proposed, twin-cannon-armed high-altitude night-fighter that went nowhere. The "Saiun Kai 2" was to house the Mitsubishi Ha 43-11 Ru turbocharged engine of 2,200 horsepower but only a single prototype was partially completed before the end. The "Saiun Kai 3" was another proposed torpedo bomber form and the "Saiun Kai 4" was to rely heavily on wood in its construction due to resource shortages in the Japanese war effort.
The C6N was never exported and saw retirement as soon as the war ended in 1945. All examples in existence were either test units or operated under the IJN banner across general air groups and some three kamikaze squadrons.
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Nakajima Aircraft Company - Japanese Empire Manufacturer(s)
1 x 7.92mm Type 1 series machine gun atop a flexible mounting at rear cockpit.
C6N ("Saiun" / "Myrt") - Base Series Designation.
C6N1 Experimental Type 17 - Prototype and pre-series aircraft of 1943; four-bladed propellers.
C6N1 Saiun Model 11 - Base production model; three-bladed propellers; NK9H 21 engine.
C6N1 Saiun Model 21 - Proposed torpedo bomber.
C6N1 Saiun Model 11NF - Night-fighter variant converted from C6N1 stock; limited availability and effectiveness; cannon armament.
C6N2 Saiun Model 12 - Test aircraft of February 1945; with turbocharged NK9K-L 24 Ru engine of 1,980 horsepower; two prototypes from C6N1 stock.
C6N3 Saiun Kai 1 - Test aircraft; proposed high-altitude night-fighter; based in C6N2; 2 x 20mm automatic cannon armament; not built.
C6N4 Saiun Kai 2 - Test aircraft; turbocharged Ha 43-11 Ru engine of 2,200 horsepower; based in C6N1; partially completed before war's end.
C6N5 Saiun Kai 3 - Test aircraft; proposed torpedo bomber variant; not built.
C6N6 Saiun Kai 4 - Test aircraft; proposed economical wood-heavy variant; not built.
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