Japanese Shipboard Fighter A5M2
by Nikolai Kruglov
Samolety Mira (Airplanes of the World) No. 1-2 January-February 1997
transl. By George Mellinger, Twin Cities Aero Historians
Prior to the start of the Great Patriotic War, several examples of foreign aviation technology ended up in the Soviet Union.  Aircraft were purchased from the USA, Germany and France.  Trophy machines were acquired in Spain, Mongolia, The Baltic region and China.  Among the various flyable aircraft was a single shipboard fighter A5M2 (Type 96), produced by the Japanese firm Mitsubishi.
The prototype of the fighter with an inverted gull wing, designated Ka-14 completed its first flight on 4 February 1935, flown by the pilot Kagamigahara.  The second prototype was built without a bent wing.
In 1936 the aircraft began series production under the designation A5M1 with the motor “Kotobuki-2" KAI-2 with 585 horsepower.  By the start of the following year the first machines had already appeared in service.
Modernization of the fighter proceeded on the basis mounting a more powerful motor.  In 1937 there appeared the modified A5M2a and A5Mb, at first with the “Kotobuki-2" KAI-3, and then with the “Kotobuki-3", with 610 and 640 horsepower respectively.  Production of the most numerous variant - the A5M4 began in 1938, and on the base of this aircraft was developed the trainer A5M4-K.
Our aviators first encountered the A5M2 at the time of the conflict at the Khalkin Gol River.  According to official sources, at the start of the attack the Japanese had there 25  I-96 and I-97 (Soviet designation) fighters.  This, to all appearances was the first instance of using shipboard fighters in an army theater of operations.
Soviet fighter pilots taking part in these operations noted the high maneuverability of the Japanese.  Thus, for example, hero of the Soviet Union G. N. Zakharov[1] wrote “the machine is very light, maneuverable, and in the hands of a good pilot presents itself as a very serious opponent.”hero of the Soviet Union B. A. Smirnov[2] had almost the identical opinion, commenting that “the Japanese aircraft I-96 has a light weight and possesses good vertical and horizontal maneuverability..”
In 1939 one of these machines turned up in the USSR.  Despite the fact that the USSR had no aircraft carriers (they remained projects), and the A5M2 appeared obsolescent, it was thoroughly studied and tested by the test pilots of the NII VVS (Scientific Research Institute of the Air Forces).
The Japanese did not attempt to show off their military technology, and our specialists, evidently from the external similarity of the A5M2 and Ki-27, at first concluded that the same firm, Nakajima was credited in soviet indices with the fighter Type I-96.
Engineer M. I. Tarakanovskii and pilot A. G. Kubyshkin directed the flight tests.  Among the pilots flying was P. M. Stefanovskii.  Performance figures obtained in the course of testing seemed somewhat lessened because the motor collected from three crash sites, did not produce the necessary power.  In part, the maximum speed appeared lowered by 2-30 Km/h.  In the general opinion of the test pilots, the I-96 was extraordinarily simple to control and was suitable for pilots of average ability, which could not be said about the I-16.  The good maneuverability of the I-96 (turning time - 15 seconds) was the result of low wing loading; 96.4 kg/m2 against 108 kg/m2 for the I-16 Type 5.
The construction of the I-96 was all metal, low winged, with a Kotobuki-3 motor with a flying and  nominal horsepower of 610 and 540 depending on the propellor blades set for ground taxiing.  The motor was enclosed in an NACA cowling.
The wing was of a caisson  type, consisting of central section and two outer panels.  The relatively thick profile was 16.5%.  The ailerons were of he “Fraiz” type, with landing tabs.  At the tip of the centroplan was the oil reservoir with a capacity of 36.5 liters.
The fuselage was semi-monocoque with an open pilot’s cabin, in front of which was located a plexiglass windscreen.  Under the fuselage were attachment points for a supplementary fuel tank.
The tail unit consists of a horizontal tail unit and stabilizer and elevators.  On the right elevator was a trimmer.   The elevators were covered with linen and had weight balances.
The vertical empennage consisted of a fin integrally constructed with the fuselage and a rudder of the came sort of construction as the elevators, but without the trimmer and weight balances.
The controls for the ailerons were rigid levers, the rudders and trimmers cable, and the landing flaps hydraulic.  For the protection of the pilot in the event of a nose-over, in the rear of the cockpit was a device which extended from the fuselage when the landing flaps were lowered.
The landing gear was non-retractable, with wheel size of 650x125 mm. Enclosed in fairings.  Shock absorbers at the base of the struts used air and oil.  The gear struts were self-steerable without pneumatics.  In the event of forced landing in the water, the fuselage had an inflatable rubber bladder which guaranteed the aircraft’s ability to float.
Armament consisted of two synchronized Vickers 7.7mm with an ammunition reserve of 800 rounds.  And a bomb which could be carried under the wing.  The gunsight was an optical Curtin type.
In addition to the standard flight navigation equipment, the aircraft had lighting equipment for night flying and oxygen apparatus with a reserve capacity of 3.6 liters.
One may note several aspects of the aerodynamic theory of the aircraft....As is known, the parameter determining the maneuverability of aircraft in the horizontal plane is the wing loading.  The greater it is, the greater the turning radius.  And on the I-96 it was lower than on the I-16.
The value of the specific weight and engine power  influences vertical maneuverability.  The greater it is, the less the vertical speed, and consequently the less the gain of speed through combat maneuvering.  And in this respect the I-96 was worse than the I-16.  From analysis of the information above, it is possible to give estimates of both monoplanes.
To acquaint the readers in detail with the A5M2 fighter, this discovered large collection of photographs are published for the first time.
Basic characteristics of fighters
A5M2 (I-96)
I-16 Type 5
Kotobuki 3
Kotobuki 41
Horsepower, hp
Wingspan, m.
Length, m.
Height, m.
Wing area, m2
Normal flight weight, kg
Empty weight, kg
Weight of fuel, kg
Wing loading, kg/m2
Weight/power ratio kg/hp
Maximum speed, km/h
– ground level
– at altitude
Climb in minutes
– 3000 m
– 5000 m
Turning time, seconds
Practical ceiling, m.
Range, km
* Data from foreign publications.

[1]Translator’s note: Georgii Zakharov scored 6 kills in Spain and 3 in China.  During WWII he commanded the 303 IAD, scoring another 10 victories against the Germans.  His Yak-3 is famous to modelers, featuring red Army “Saint Georgii” slaying a Goebbels-headed serpent.
[2]Boris Smirnov scored 5 victories in Spain, He flew at Khalkin Gol and again in WW II where he commanded an air division, but it is unknown whether he scored any further victories in either of these conflicts.
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