A rare Imperial Japanese Army training plane from the Pacific War that was recovered from the bottom of a lake in northern Japan went on display in Tokyo where it was built on October 27.
The Ki-54 aircraft, a Type 1 twin-engine advanced trainer, was recovered from Lake Towadako, which straddles Aomori and Akita prefectures, a decade ago.
It will be on display in Tachikawa, west Tokyo, where its manufacturing plant was located, until October 30. Visitors can view the vintage aircraft for free.
The plane is the only one of its kind existing in Japan. Although badly damaged, visitors can see almost the entire fuselage, including the cockpit and both wings.
“(The plane) shows the high standards of Japan’s technological capabilities at the time. We hope people will take an interest in it as an industrial heritage,” said an official involved with the exhibit.
Tachihi Holdings Co.’s predecessor, Tachikawa Aircraft Co., which was commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Army to design the aircraft, manufactured 1,342 of the trainers from 1941 until just before the end of World War II.
The plane was about 12 meters long and could carry six to seven passengers.
They were mainly used for piloting, bombing, strafing and radio communications training. The Ki-54 offered excellent durability and visibility from the cockpit and had a range of approximately 960 kilometers.
They were used to transport supplies and personnel and would have carried officers at the command level.
“Such aircraft were produced in just over a year of the design period. It’s thanks to extremely talented engineers,” said Satoru Shinohe, chairman of Olympos Co., a manufacturer of small planes, based in Ome, west of Tokyo.
MOST OF THE 1,342 AIRCRAFT LOST IN THE WAR
On the opening day of the Tokyo expo on October 27, about 20 to 30 people, including aircraft enthusiasts, showed up to view the training aircraft.
They stared in wonder at his size and were busy taking pictures.
A 24-year-old woman who works for a company in Tachikawa said, “It’s beyond my imagination that there was such a large aircraft at that time.”
Many of the 1,342 Ki-54s were shot down over the Pacific Ocean and other locations. A few that survived and remained in Japan after the war were seized by American forces and destroyed.
The aircraft on display was en route from Akita Prefecture in the fall of 1943 when it suffered engine failure and was forced to ditch in Lake Towadako. Three of the four passengers, including young soldiers, died and one was saved by a local resident.
In 2010, the plane was found after more than 65 years under the surface of the lake.
Exploration by an underwater research company revealed that the plane was at the bottom at a depth of 57 meters and had retained most of its original shape.
The aircraft did not crash into the water but sank after the pilot made a forced landing on the lake.
Luckily the water temperature in the lake was low and there were only a few organisms like plankton eating away at the metal.
Although the plane suffered significant damage from the water landing and other factors, it was pulled out of the water in 2012 without collapsing from corrosion.
According to Tachihi Holdings, only fuselages of the same aircraft model remained in China and Australia. The recovered aircraft is the only one whose entire structure is intact.
The Ki-54 has been on display at the Misawa Aviation and Science Museum in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture for some time and was recognized as Important Aviation Heritage by the Japan Aeronautical Association in 2016.
Later, the museum suggested that the aircraft be returned to its birthplace, and the Tachihi Holdings party accepted the transport to acknowledge the company’s history.
Shinohe, familiar with aviation craftsmanship, fully cooperated in transporting the aircraft over a 700 km route by a 10-ton truck. In November 2020, the plane returned to a warehouse owned by Tachihi in his birthplace.
This is the second time the Ki-54 has been shown to the public. The first time, part of the fuselage was covered with a wooden frame from the outside to prevent it from collapsing.
But this time, only the nose of the aircraft needs to be supported by a metal rod to facilitate viewing of the entire fuselage.
The Tachikawa Aircraft nameplate and inscriptions painted at the time of its manufacture are still visible. Visitors can touch the fuselage and look inside the plane.
The trainer will be on display at Building No. 5 of Tachihi Real Estate South District in Tachikawa from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Oct. 30. No reservation is required.
“I hope people will put aside their preconceptions about the aircraft as an Imperial Japanese Army aircraft and take this opportunity to rediscover its value as an industrial heritage that shows the high level of technology of aircraft development in Japan at that time,” Shinohe said. .