Mitsubishi Ki-15 / C5M BABS
|RECONNAISSANCE||Virtual Aircraft Museum / Japan / Mitsubishi|
In July 1935 the Imperial Japanese Army drew up its specification for a new two-seat reconnaissance aircraft, and Mitsubishi responded with a cantilever low-wing monoplane, the Mitsubishi Ki-15. Service testing was completed without difficulty and the type was ordered into production under the official designation Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Plane Model 1. In May 1937, a year after the first flight, delivery of production aircraft to the army began.
Just before that, however, military observers in the west should have gained some premonition of Japan's growing capability in aircraft design when the second (civil) prototype was used to establish a new record flight time between Japan and England. The army's Ki-15-I had been received in time to make a significant impact at the beginning of the war with China, the type's high speed giving it freedom of the skies until China introduced the Soviet Polikarpov I-16. However, plans had already been made to upgrade performance of the Ki-15-I, this being achieved by installing the 671kW, smaller-diameter Mitsubishi Ha-26-I engine, its incorporation providing an opportunity to overcome what had been the major shortcoming of the type, a poor forward field of view past the large-diameter Nakajima engine. The improved version entered production for the army in September 1939 as the Ki- 15-II, but before that the Japanese navy, impressed by the performance of this aircraft, ordered 20 examples of the Ki-15-II under the official designation Navy Type 98 Reconnaissance Plane Model 1, Mitsubishi designation C5M1. The navy acquired subsequently 30 C5M2 aircraft that were generally similar except for installation of the more powerful 708kW Nakajima Sakae (prosperity) 12 engine. When production ended almost 500 of all versions had been built, the majority being in first-line service when the Pacific war started. Given the Allied codename 'Babs', the type was relegated to second-line roles in early 1943, but many survived to be used in kamikaze attacks at the war's end.