High Flying Hickory
Scale Aircraft Modelling|October 2021
Harvey Low builds a 1/72 trainer kit with attitude.
Harvey Low

Tachikawa Ki-54 Hei/‘Hickory’

Kit No: SH72270

Scale: 1/72

Type: Injection Moulded Plastic

Manufacturer: Special Hobby www.specialhobby.eu

Japanese World War II aficionados, or anyone interested in obscure aircraft, will love this new release of the Tachikawa Ki-54 in 1/72 scale. Code-named ‘Hickory’ by the Allies, the Ki54 was an army training and liaison aircraft that entered service in 1941 as the Army Type 1 Advanced Trainer. Similar in size to a Lockheed 10 Electra or Avro Anson, it was powered by two nine-cylinder Hitachi Ha-13 engines (which also powered the Ki-9 Spruce and Ki-79 Manshu). It was considered the most advanced trainer in the Army Airforce and is, in my opinion, a very attractive bird. Although it saw much use during the war, little is known about this aircraft even though there are three surviving examples; the most recent one being one recovered from a freshwater lake in Japan in 2012.

There were four main variants: the Ki-54a koh – an unarmed trainer for pilots, navigators and bombardiers; the Ki-54b otsu – an armed trainer with two dome turrets for 7.7mm guns and, on some aircraft, a long canopy for the instructor to move between the domes; the Ki-54c hei – the unarmed eight-passenger transport/communications version (which this kit portrays); and the Ki-54d tei – a maritime reconnaissance version with anti-submarine weapons and depth charges, for which no references or photos exist that I know of.

A reliable workhorse during the war, it continued to see use post-war with the occupying Allies, the French, both Nationalist and Communist Chinese, and the North Koreans. Kora Models have in fact already announced markings for Chinese Liberation and North Korean Air forces. There are no comprehensive references on this aircraft at the time of this article. Indeed, I know of only one reference that might be useful for a modeller, with some useful exterior and interior renderings, and information in Japanese produced shortly after the Ki-54 was salvaged in 2012 (see references below).

Special Hobby’s kit comes sturdily packaged with nice touches like separately bagged clear parts and decals and features beautiful box-art. The colour instructions are of exceptional quality, easy to follow, and printed beautifully on glossy paper. My only quibble would have been to add a head-on view to assist in proper wing/stabiliser dihedral. The decals for the four options look great with no registration issues and appear accurate in colouring. The choice of markings is interesting as it includes the one salvaged in 2012, now displayed in unrestored condition at the Misawa Aviation Museum. Another decal option gives the white cross ‘surrender markings’, which many manufacturers typically do not offer. The instructions refer to both the Gunze line of acrylics starting with ‘H’, and the Mr Hobby lacquers starting with ‘C’. Both are accurate enough for this aircraft.

Before this model, there were only two kits of this aircraft: a 1/72 resin kit by A-V, which isn’t worth the effort it requires now and one in 1/144 by A&W Models from Japan. This is a little gem if you can find one. This Special Hobby kit is the ‘C’ or hei variant, with another version (ref. SH72445) being the ‘B’ otsu variant. It’s worth noting that if you build either the koh or otsu versions, the fuselage undersides had four bomb aiming windows that this version does not. These other versions had racks for ten small 15kg practice bombs, but no photos exist of their details.

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