The fault is mine, really, as I tend to keep things in Pioneers of Aviation at around WWI and earlier.
I know, I know… who is interested in old aeroplanes that had less horsepower than one’s current lawnmower? For myself, it is a way to provide a background for a set of 50 trading cards that were produced back in 1910 on the subject of aviation.
I have a set, and was intrigued by information on the back of each card… wanting to know more. Because I’m a curious sort.
From time to time, some of you indulge me in my other pursuits and how they crossover to our main focus here of a database of all things Japanese.
So, while humbly suggesting you also take a read of my Pioneers of Aviation blog, let’s take a look at Japan’s first aeroplane (purchased) and its first pilot.
You’ll note I use the archaic aeroplane spelling as opposed to the more accepted ‘airplane’, but what the heck - we are talking about something that occurred over 100 years ago.
Japan’s very first Japanese-designed and manufactured aeroplane was the Kaishiki No. 1 (kaishiichigouki, 会式一号機), pusher aeroplane (propeller is behind the pilot, pushing the craft, as opposed to the puller type we commonly have nowadays that leads the aircraft) which was designed and flown by Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi (surname first), back on October 13, 1911 at Tokorozawa in Saitama-ken (Saitama Prefecture).
It’s a beautiful aircraft looking similar to Henri Farman’s excellent long-distance aircraft the Farman III biplane. See HERE for my just published write up on that plane.
The motor and propeller came from France, but everything else came from or was built in Japan.
The aircraft's frame was mostly made from hinoki (Japanese cypress), and was covered by two layers of silk glued together with sounds like liquid rubber.
All attachment fittings, bracing wires and turn buckles were purchased from iron works companies or bought from local hardware shops.
Differences from the Farman III design included a reduced wing area, which gave it more speed.
The aerofoil had a larger front curve which was thought to provide better lift. Other differences between the Kaishiki No. 1 and the Farman III include the fact that ailerons were on the upper wing only, and the tail was simplified by having a single horizontal tail surface.
As well, the engine and propeller were mounted higher than in the original design, and therefore the undercarriage could be shortened. A windshield was added for the pilot.
When the aeroplane was constructed, it was called the Tokugawa Type, but was later officially identified as Kaishiki No.1 Aeroplane.
The aeroplane was moved to the Army facility and flying field at Tokorozawa where it made its first flight on October 13, 1911, piloted by Captain Tokugawa.
A later test flight on October 25, 1911 achieved an altitude of 50 meters (164 feet), reaching a top speed of 72 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour).
Further testing had it reach 85 meters (278 feet) in altitude and flying a grand distance of 1,600 meters (1 mile).
Continued testing convinced the flight crew that the propeller ground clearance wasn't high enough, as the blades would hit the grass below, slowing it down, causing the Kaishiki No. 1 to lose power.
Actually, it was only AFTER the providing greater clearance that the aircraft was given the Kaishiki No.1 moniker.
More changes ensued, including changeable landing skids in case one broke; twin rudders replaced by a single and larger rudder which was part of the advantage of the gained from the propeller slipstream meaning improved directional control.
Longer interplane struts on the aircraft were added to provide more spacing between the two wings.
One other interesting alteration from the Kaishiki's original design was the removal of the pilot windshield... while it did provide protection from bug's flying in the pilot's mouth while screaming for joy as he flies through the air, the team felt that pilot needed to feel the air so as to get a better sense of the aeroplane's speed.
If you look at darn near every aeroplane of the day, very, very few utilized a windshield or windscreen of any kind.
Now... after writing all of this about the Kaishiki No. 1 and its maiden flight on October 13, 1911, was it really the first Japanese-built aeroplane to fly in Japan?
Didn't the Nahara No. 2 aeroplane fly to an altitude of four meters for a distance of 60 meters months earlier on May 5, 1911 at Tokorozawa?
Yes it did (I think)... but upon landing, the undercarriage broke. Apparently rules for aviation achievement included having to fly at a certain height, for a certain distance and finish with a safe landing.
To be fair, I can find no record of the Narahara No. 2 aeroplane on the Internet... and what I do know about it, I read a long time ago... so... let's just go with Japan's first officially-recognized Japanese built and flow plane, the Kaishiki No. 1.
Kaishiki No.1 Specs:
- Crew: 2;
- Length: 11.5 meters (37 feet 9 inches);
- Upper wingspan: 10.5 meters (34 feet 5 inches);
- Lower wingspan: 8.0 meters (26 feet 3 inches);
- Height: 3.90 meters (12 feet 10 inches);
- Wing area: 41.0 square meters (441 square feet);
- Empty weight: 450 kilograms (992 pounds);
- Gross weight: 550 kilograms (1,213 pounds);
- Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine, 50 horsepower;
- Propellers: 2-bladed wooden Chauvière
- Maximum speed: 72 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour);
- Endurance: 3 hours