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Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud)


Carrierborne Reconnaissance Aircraft


Imperial Japan | 1944



"The Nakajima C6N was developed as a reconnaissance platform for the IJN during World War 2 - fewer than 500 were built before the end."



Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/21/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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.

Because of the underperforming Homare, Nakajima worked in another twenty-three prototypes to follow the original in an attempt to iron out standing issues and to hasten overall development. Despite this, the engine never lived up to expectations and this additional work ultimately delayed the aircraft's arrival into wartime service by some margin.

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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.

As an interesting aside, and despite the inherent speed of the aircraft, the C6N series has the distinction of becoming the last aircraft to be destroyed in the whole of World War 2 - this unfortunate C6N1 example falling victim to Lieutenant Commander Reidy of the United States Navy on August 15th, 1945.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Nakajima C6N Carrierborne Reconnaissance Aircraft.
1 x Nakajima NK9B Homare 11 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine developing 1,991 horsepower driving four-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
Propulsion
379 mph
610 kph | 329 kts
Max Speed
34,449 ft
10,500 m | 7 miles
Service Ceiling
3,293 miles
5,300 km | 2,862 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Structure
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Nakajima C6N Carrierborne Reconnaissance Aircraft.
3
(MANNED)
Crew
36.1 ft
11.00 m
O/A Length
41.0 ft
(12.50 m)
O/A Width
13.0 ft
(3.95 m)
O/A Height
6,614 lb
(3,000 kg)
Empty Weight
11,684 lb
(5,300 kg)
MTOW
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
RANGE
ALT
SPEED
Armament
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud) Carrierborne Reconnaissance Aircraft .
1 x 7.92mm Type 1 series machine gun atop a flexible mounting at rear cockpit.
Variants
Notable series variants as part of the Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud) family line.
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.
Operators
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 463 Units

Contractor(s): Nakajima Aircraft Company - Japanese Empire
National flag of modern Japan

[ Imperial Japan ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 400mph
Lo: 200mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (379mph).

Graph Average of 300 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
463
36183
44000
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
Sub
Trans
Super
Hyper
HiHyper
ReEntry
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
EarlyYrs
WWI
Interwar
WWII
ColdWar
Postwar
Modern
Future
1 / 1
Image of the Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud)
Image from the Public Domain.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
MARITIME / NAVY
RECONNAISSANCE
Recognition
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Nakajima C6N Saiun (Painted Cloud) Carrierborne Reconnaissance Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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