The history of the Ki-27 goes back to 1934, when the Army announced a competition for a new fighter. The Kawasaki Aircraft Company won the competition with its Ki-10 biplane, but Nakajima’s failed entry eventually became the Ki-27, which the Army showed a renewed interest in the next year. The first flight of the new fighter was in October of 1936, and it began its operational service in early 1938. The Nate had an impressive production run, with over 3300 units built in all.
The trademark feature of the fighter was maneuverability. It was one of the most maneuverable monoplanes ever made, more so even than the Zero or Oscar. Top speed was good: 280 mph, provided by a 710-hp air-cooled engine. The Nate was armed with two fuselage-mounted machine guns and could carry 220 pounds of bombs. Like its Navy counterpart, the Claude, it had fixed landing gear, and like most Japanese planes of the time, it was lightly armored and could not take much battle damage.
The Ki-27 served in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and was the fighter type most commonly encountered by the Flying Tigers. Ki-27s based in Manchuria and northern China fought the Soviet air force as well, in a series of border incidents in 1938 and 1939. Nates could generally hold their own against Soviet fighters, although their inferior armament was a disadvantage (most Soviet fighters at the time carried four machine guns). By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Ki-27 was out-dated and in the process of being replaced by the Oscar. However, it still saw extensive service in the first year of the war, notably in the campaigns in Burma and the Philippines. The later years of the war saw it relegated to the training role, although a few were used as kamikazes in the last desperate months.
- Complete book of World War II Combat Aircraft, by Enzo Angelucci and Paolo Matricardi, VMB Publishers, 2006
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, by Bill Gunston, Salamander Military Press, 1990
- The World’s Greatest Fighters: From 1914 to the Present Day, by Robert Jackson, Chartwell Books, 2005