The formidable Mitsubishi Ki-83
キ83 (Ki 83)
Produced by a team under Tomio Kubo, who also designed the superlative Mitsubishi Ki-46, the Ki-83 could have been the finest twin-engined fighter of the war. As things turned out it became an obscure footnote in aviation history.
The result of an Imperial Army specification calling for a high altitude, long-range heavy fighter the aircraft that emerged from Mitsubishi’s experimental workshop was possibly the most aerodynamically clean radial engined aircraft ever built and possessed spectacular performance. As well as recording the highest speed attained by any Japanese aircraft built during the war, the Ki-83 was blessed with remarkable agility for such a large aircraft and was fully aerobatic at high speeds. It is recorded to have been capable of executing a 2200 feet loop at 400 mph in 31 seconds. Compared to its direct US equivalent, the F7F Tigercat which also failed to see meaningful service during the war*, the Ki-83 had the same range but was faster and more manoeuvrable. Armament comprised the potent combination of two 30-mm and two 20-mm cannon, all firing through the nose. Unfortunately for this superlative warplane, its timing was appalling.
First flown in November 1944, tests were often interrupted by American air raids and of the four prototypes known to have been completed, three were damaged or destroyed by bombing. The crippling raids by B-29 Superfortresses were also the reason that the Ki-83 never entered production: despite the enthusiasm of both the Army and Navy, by the time it was flying all aircraft manufacturing was focused on interceptors to combat the B-29 and the Ki-83 never received a production order. After the war the sole surviving prototype was evaluated in the US and received glowing praise. With the higher octane fuel available in America the Ki-83 ultimately recorded a speed of 473 mph. Despite being earmarked for preservation the only Ki-83 to survive the war and arguably the finest wartime fighter produced in Japan was last recorded at Orchard Field Airport in Illinois in 1949. It is presumed to have been scrapped there in 1950.
*The first operational F7F sorties took place on 14 August 1945, the war ended the following day.
From this angle the small window in the fuselage for the optional second crew member is visible just above the tailplane. The outlet at the rear of the nacelle is the turbocharger exhaust.