The Mitsubishi Ki-15 (雁金, Karigane, English: Wild Goose) Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance aircraft (九七式司令部偵察機, Kyunana-shiki sireibu teisatsuki) was a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and a light attack bomber of the Second Sino-Japanese War and Pacific War. It began as a fast civilian mail-plane. It was a single-engine, low-wing, cantilever monoplane with a fixed tailwheel undercarriage; it carried a crew of two. It served with both the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy (as the C5M). During World War II it was code-named "Babs" by the Allies.

Ki-15 Karigane
Mitsubishi Ki-15-I (Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance aircraft)
Role Military reconnaissance aircraft, light bomber
Manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
First flight May 1936
Introduction May 1937
Retired 1945 (Japan)
1951 (China)
Primary users IJA Air Force
IJN Air Service
Number built approx. 500

Design and development edit

The Ki-15 was designed by the Mitsubishi corporation to meet an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force requirement of 1935 for a two-seat, high-speed reconnaissance aircraft.[1] The resulting aircraft was a low-wing cantilever monoplane with a fixed, spatted undercarriage, similar to other all-metal stressed-skin monoplanes developed elsewhere in 1930s, such as the Heinkel He 70 and the Northrop Alpha. Power was by a single Nakajima Ha-8 radial engine, giving 560 kW (750 hp) at 4,000 m (13,120 ft). The first prototype flew in May 1936, with testing proving successful, the aircraft meeting all performance requirements, reaching a speed of 481 km/h (299 mph) and showing good handling characteristics.[2]

Service testing was completed without difficulty and the type was ordered into production under the official designation Army Type 97 Command ReconnaissanceAircraft Model 1. In May 1937, a year after the first flight, delivery of the first of 437 production aircraft to the army began.[1]

Operational history edit

The Ki-15-I was almost immediately placed into operational service at the beginning of the war with China in 1937. The aircraft proved useful in the early period of the Second Sino-Japanese War and performed missions deep into Chinese strategic rear areas, as far as reaching Lanzhou, and in particular serving as pre-strike guide and post-strike observation during the years-long Battle of Chongqing-Chengdu.[3] Its high speed gave it a distinct advantage until the Chinese Air Force acquired Soviet-made Polikarpov I-16 Type 17 fighters; a Ki-15 was shot down along with three bombers by I-16 Type 17 fighters of the 24th PS, 4th PG over Liangshan Airbase on 20 May 1940.[4] It was used for level bombing, close support and photo reconnaissance before being eventually replaced by the Mitsubishi Ki-30.

Plans were already in hand to improve the Ki-15-I, and in September 1939 the Ki-15-II was put into production with the 671 kW (900 hp) Mitsubishi Ha-26-1; the smaller diameter of this both reduced drag and overcame one of the major shortcomings of the initial version: poor forward field of view past the large-diameter of the initial Nakajima Kotobuki engine. The improved version entered production in September 1939 as the Ki-15-II.

The Japanese Navy, impressed by the performance of this aircraft, ordered 20 examples of the Ki-15-II under the designation “Navy Type 98 Reconnaissance Aircraft Model 1," or Mitsubishi designation C5M1, even before the Army. The Navy subsequently acquired 30 C5M2 aircraft which had an even more powerful 708 kW (949 hp) Nakajima Sakae 12 engine. They were used for reconnaissance duties. In further development, the army also experimented with an even more powerful engine with 783 kW (1,050 hp) Mitsubishi 102 radial in the Ki-15-III which did not enter production.

When production ended, approximately 500 examples of all versions of the Ki-15 had been built, the majority in front-line service when the Pacific War began. By 1943, the Ki-15 had been relegated to second-line roles, but numbers were expended in kamikaze attacks in the closing stages of World War II.

World record flight to Europe and other civilian use edit

Mitsubishi Ki-15 Karigane aircraft, (registration J-BAAI) sponsored by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun

Despite the relatively weak engine (by later standards) and fixed undercarriage, the Ki-15 was remarkably fast. During the initial flight testing, the Asahi newspaper Asahi Shimbun obtained permission to purchase the second prototype. The aircraft was given the designation Karigane (Wild Goose), flying on 19 March 1937,[5] being named Kamikaze and registered as J-BAAI. It was the first Japanese-built airplane to fly to Europe and caused a sensation in 1937 by making the flight between Tokyo and London, for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, between 6 April 1937 and 9 April 1937 in a flight time of 51 hours, 17 minutes and 23 seconds, a world record at the time.[6] Following the success of the Japan-England flight, a small number of Ki-15s were sold to civil customers. One of the early production aircraft was named "Asakaze" (J-BAAL) and was also used by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper; others were used by various civilian operators as mail-planes.

Variants edit

  • Karigane I : Prototype version for civilian use
  • Ki-15-I (Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Aircraft Model 1) : Initial production variant for the Japanese Army, with Nakajima Ha-8 (Army Type 94) 640 hp at take-off, 900 hp at 11,810 ft (3,600 m)
  • Ki-15-II (Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Model 2) : Improved Army production version with smaller, more powerful engine 14-cylinder Mitsubishi Ha-25-I (Army Type 99 Model 1), with 850 hp at take-off, 900 hp at 11,810 ft. This gave an increased maximum speed of 317 mph at 14,205 ft (510 km/h at 4,300 m), roughly comparable with fighters like Hawker Hurricane or the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa. Rate of climb was even more improved: 16,405 ft (5,000 m) in 6 min 49 sec (6,83 min), and was achieved despite the increase in weight (empty, normal, max: 3,510 vs 3,084 lb, normal 4,826 vs 4,482 and max 5,470 vs 5,071 lb). Maiden flight in June 1938, production started in September 1939[7]
  • Ki-15-III  : Proposed upgraded version; did not enter production. It had the Mitsubishi Ha-102 engine (1,080 hp (810 kW) at take-off, 1,055 hp (787 kW) at 9,185 ft (2,800 m) and 950 hp (710 kW) at 19,030 ft (5,800 m)), with a top speed of 329 mph (530 km/h), roughly the same as Ki-46 "Dinah". The latter was expected to be far better in other ways (endurance, two engines, etc.) so this Ki-15 version never went into production
  • C5M1 (Navy Type 98 Reconnaissance Aircraft Model I) : Improved version of Ki-15-I for the Japanese Navy
  • C5M2 (Navy Type 98 Reconnaissance Aircraft Model 2) : Upgraded version of C5M1 with more powerful engine for the Japanese Navy

Operators edit

  People's Republic of China
  • People's Liberation Army Air Force operated an unknown number of captured aircraft. A number of abandoned Ki-15s were captured near Harbin in June 1946, and by 1948, they were completely repaired and entered service as trainers. The last two Ki-15 retired in 1951.

Specifications (Ki-15-I) edit

3-view drawing of the Mitsubishi Ki-15

Data from The Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II,[8] Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War[9]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 8.7 m (28 ft 7 in)
  • Wingspan: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)
  • Height: 3.35 m (11 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 20.36 m2 (219.2 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 1,400 kg (3,086 lb)
  • Gross weight: 2,033 kg (4,482 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 2,300 kg (5,071 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Nakajima Ha8 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 477 kW (640 hp)
  • Propellers: 2-bladed variable-pitch propeller


  • Maximum speed: 480 km/h (300 mph, 260 kn) at 4,000 m (13,123 ft)
  • Cruise speed: 320 km/h (200 mph, 170 kn) at 5,000 m (16,404 ft)
  • Range: 2,400 km (1,500 mi, 1,300 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 11,400 m (37,400 ft)
  • Time to altitude: 5,000 m (16,404 ft) in 8 minutes 27 seconds


  • Guns: 1 x 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Type 89 machine gun, flexible mounting
  • Bombs: 250 kg (551 lb) of bombs

See also edit

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists

References edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ a b Francillon 1979, p. 149.
  2. ^ Francillon 1979, pp. 149–150.
  3. ^ Matt, PE (2015-05-26). "Mitsubishi Ki-15 Type 97 / C5M Type 98 "Babs"". Pacific Eagles. Retrieved 2020-11-12. The Ki-15 and the C5M both acted as long range reconnaissance aircraft and occasional light attack; their most significant role was pre- and post-strike observers for heavy bomber raids on Chongqing and Chengdu
  4. ^ "当年设施简陋的梁山机场,没想到却是中国空军保卫重庆的第一道空中防线! - 上游新闻·汇聚向上的力量". Retrieved 2020-11-12. 「敌机"七架"遭我击落」:"5•20" 梁山空战,我空军击落日机7架,这是当时新闻媒体报道的数字,难免有些夸大。根据南京的中国第二历史档案馆保存的《空军战斗要报》记载:此役,我空军一共击落敌轰炸机3架、侦察机1架。其大致情况如下...
  5. ^ Francillon 1979, pp. 150–151.
  6. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 150.
  7. ^ History of war article
  8. ^ Mondey 1996, p. 206.
  9. ^ Francillon 1979, pp. 154–155.

Bibliography edit

External links edit