The Kawanishi N1K Kyofu (Mighty Wind) was a floatplane fighter designed to support amphibious assaults in areas out of the range of land-based or carrier aircraft. It arrived too late to serve in its intended role, but was then converted into the N1K1-J and N1K2-J land based fighters, which were produced in large numbers.
In 1940 the Japanese navy decided that it needed a fighter aircraft capable of supported amphibious operations in the sort of isolated location that was common across the vast areas of the Pacific, distant from any Japanese airfields and in areas that weren't important enough to receive the attention of the powerful carrier force. The answer was to produce a floatplane fighter that could operate from any suitable expanse of water. Two projects were initiated. Nakajima were ordered to produce a floatplane version of the Zero, the A6M2-N, while Kawanishi were asked to produce a dedicated floatplane fighter, the N1K.
Kawanishi were already working on an advanced single float single engined aircraft, the E15K1 Shiun, a two-man reconnaissance aircraft. The N1K inherited the 1,460hp Mitsubishi MK4D Kasei 14 engine, initially powering contra-rotating propellers, and also the retractable stabilizing floats of the E15K1. The jettisonable main float of the E15K1 was not suggested for the N1K. The retractable stabilizers were also abandoned during the design phase after they caused endless problems on the E15K1 project.
The first prototype made its maiden flight on 6 May 1942, still with the contra-rotating propellers. These caused a great deal of problems of their own and were replaced on the second prototype by a single propeller driven by a more powerful Kasei 13 engine. As expected the powerful engine produced a lot of torque when on the water, making the aircraft difficult to handle until it was in the air. Once it was airborne the N1K was a great success, and it was ordered into production as the Navy Fighter Seaplane Kyofu (mighty wind) Model 11.
Production aircraft began to appear in the spring of 1943, but by this point the Japanese were on the defensive, and were no longer carrying out successful amphibious landings against limited opposition. Only 97 aircraft were completed before production came to an end in March 1944, and those aircraft only saw service in the defensive role. The more powerful N1K2, with a 1,900hp Mitsubishi MK4R Kasei 23 engine was never built.
The N1K1 saw combat on Borneo, where it was based at Balikpapan, and during the defence of Japan, where it served with the Otsu Kokutai from a base on Lake Biwa. In a somewhat ironic twist the excellent performance of the N1K1 was recognised by the Japanese navy and a land based version was requested. The resulting N1K-J Shiden was the Japanese navy's best interceptor in the later years of the war and was produced in quite large numbers.
Engine: Mitsubishi MK4C Kasei 13
Power: 1,460hp at take-off, 1,420hp at 6,560ft, 1,300hp at 19,685ft
Wing span: 39ft 4 7/16in
Length: 34ft 8 7/8in
Height: 15ft 7in
Empty Weight: 6,067lb
Loaded Weight: 7,716lb
Max Speed: 304mph at 18,700ft
Cruising Speed: 230mph at 6,560ft
Service Ceiling: 34,645ft
Range: 656 miles (normal)
Armament: Two fuselage mounted 7.7mm machine guns and two wing mounted 20mm cannon
Bomb-load: Two 66lb bombs