Mitsubishi J2M3 Jack

The Jack was a capable interceptor designed to bring down heavy bombers.

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Join me for a brief look at an atypical Japanese fighter.

Early in the war the Japanese Navy discerned that they may eventually need to defend against heavy aircraft like the B-17. So the order went out for a pure interceptor that would be fast, with a high rate of climb and heavy firepower. This would be a next generation aircraft built around a newer 1400 HP engine.

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The J2M used a radial engine with a tight aerodynamic cowling. The engine was cooled through a fan at the opening, similar to a Fw190. The armament is two 20 mm cannon in each wing.

The winning design came from Jiro Horikoshi, the same designer who had delivered the A6M Zero. On paper it was a very promising aircraft, but there were issues that lengthened its development.  Many of these were the normal sort of things any design goes through, but significantly, the Mitsubishi Kasei engine was very unreliable.  The Japanese also failed to get an adequate supercharger for this engine, which meant it would fall short against B-29s and other very high flying types.

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The wings are fairly compact; that is good for speed, not so good for maneuverability.

The wings are fairly compact; that is good for speed, not so good for maneuverability.

But it did meet design goals and proved effective when it saw action.  Ultimately the type’s biggest shortcoming was just the overall shortage of skilled pilots Japan was faced with in the later part of the war.  It saw service from the Marianas campaign to the end of the war.

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The Jack also highlights some of the Japanese struggle with more advanced technologies.  It was clearly an improved type compared to much of what Japan started the war with.  But Japanese engines advanced from about 1000 HP at the start of the war, to 1400 HP for this advanced type.  While US aircraft designers went from from having about 1200 HP for their early war designs to over 2000 HP for their late war types.  Basically, American advances in this area were well beyond the Japanese.  This does not translate into a horribly deficient aircraft.  But it does mean the Japanese went from having fully competitive aircraft at the start of the war (arguably superior, they got extraordinary performance from the available engines) to being at a bit of a disadvantage.  A J2M could do many things better than a Zero, but it only achieved partial parity with a Hellcat or Thunderbolt.

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This is the Hasegawa kit with Aeromaster decals. It is an aircraft based in Japan during the last year of the war for homeland defense.

Mitsubishi fighters.  Here the Jack is shown with a late-war Zero, both aircraft served in homeland defense.

Mitsubishi fighters. Here the Jack is shown with a late-war Zero, both aircraft served in homeland defense.

A J2M with two of its late war opponents.  Its clearly smaller than the American fighters.

A J2M with two of its late war opponents. Its clearly smaller than the American fighters.

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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10 Responses to Mitsubishi J2M3 Jack

  1. jfwknifton says:

    A very interesting article, and a wonderful standard of model building. Metal left bare by what may be mechanics’ boots is one thing, but what appears to be smears on the aircraft windscreen, that is just unbelievable!

  2. Theresa says:

    Its design shows the economic constraints the Japanese Empire was under in the latter part of the war, Again too little too late.

  3. I’ve always liked the Jack. It looks like a sausage with wings. Great job!

  4. Another beautiful example of an extremely capable but rarely discussed fighter aircraft Dave. Your Japanese collection is truly superb. The finish is impressive and it is refreshing to see the J2M3 done to such a high standard. Thank you for sharing this wonderful example with us all. Rich.

  5. Ernie Davis says:

    Interesting build Dave. This is one I’ve never heard of, but then my focus had usually been the European theater.

    I also enjoy the thoroughness of your research into how why a plane was a success or not often depended on things like a Merlin engine being tried, or an underpowered rotary engine, or in the case of the B29 a finicky one or even the quality of the gas available could make a huge impact, or huge hurdles on the impact of a particular plane.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks Ernie. I think it’s the big picture stuff that is always most interesting to me, or sometimes the details that impact the big picture. Trying to figure out how they all intersect (!) keeps this stuff endlessly interesting!

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