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The story of the Nakajima Kikka, the Japanese Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe that never was

The Kikka successfully performed its first and only test flight, which lasted just 20 minutes, on Aug. 7, 1945 from Kisarazu Naval Air Base, the aircraft using rocket-assisted takeoff gear to help it get airborne.

Following the demonstration of the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (“Swallow”) to members of the Japanese military in 1944, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force (IJNAF) requested that Nakajima undertake the development of a similar turbojet-powered type to serve as a high-speed attack fighter. As told by Mark Chambers in his book Wings of the Rising Sun, the IJNAF stipulated that the new machine had to be easy to produce, with wings that could be folded to ensure that aircraft could be hidden from Allied aerial attacks in caves and tunnels. Prominent Nakajima aircraft designers Kazuo Ohno and Kenichi Matsumura duly conceived a fighter that looked very much like a scaled-down Me 262, but with straight instead of moderately swept wings.

Initially, the aircraft was to be powered by two 441lb thrust Tsu-11 Campini-type engines, but these were quickly replaced by more powerful 750lb thrust Ishikawajima Ne-12s. When these engines also proved incapable of producing sufficient thrust, Ishikawajima set about building copies of the BMW 003 fitted to the Me 262 based on detailed photographs obtained by IJNAF engineer Cdr Eichi Iwaya. Designated the Ne-20, the axial flow turbojet was rated at 1,047lb thrust. By then christened Kikka (“Orange Blossom”), the fighter was capable of a top speed of 432mph at 32,800ft. Armed with two 30mm Type 5 cannon, it could also carry either a 1,102Ib or 1,764lb bomb.

The Kikka successfully performed its first and only test flight, which lasted just 20 minutes, on Aug. 7, 1945 from Kisarazu Naval Air Base, the aircraft using rocket-assisted takeoff gear to help it get airborne. Japan surrendered shortly thereafter, thus preventing additional flight testing. A second prototype was nearing completion at war’s end, and American forces discovered around 23 Kikkas under construction at Nakajima’s main factory building in Koizumi, in Gunma Prefecture, and at a site on Kyushu Island.

Kikka airframes 3, 4 and 5, as well as several Ne-20 engines, were shipped to America in late 1945, where they underwent technical evaluation. The second Kikka prototype, complete with two Ne-20 turbojet engines, was also transported to the US, and it underwent limited ground testing at “Pax River” in 1946. An additional pair of Ne-20s were sent to the Chrysler Corporation that same year, and the company managed to assemble one working powerplant by combining parts from both turbojets. This was run for 11 hours and 46 minutes, and the official Chrysler Ne-20 Turbojet Report, entitled “Japanese NE-20 turbo jet engine. Construction and performance.” is presently on display at the Tokyo National Science Museum.

Although two of the four Kikkas sent to America were scrapped, the remaining pair were placed in long-term storage at NAS Norfolk from the late 1940s. Both aircraft were moved to “Silver Hill” in September 1960, and the fuselage and center wing section of one of the airframes was put on static display — minus its engines — in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in March 2016. The second Kikka remains in storage. Ne-20 turbojet engines are also currently on display at the Tokyo Science Museum and the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

Wings of the Rising Sun is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Nakajima Kikka in the restoration hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Washington, D.C. on Jul. 15, 2012.

Photo credit: unknown

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