Salvaged WWII-era airplane returns to Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Ki-54 trainer aircraft salvaged from Towada Lake

A World War II trainer aircraft, the only remaining plane of its kind, was returned to Tachikawa, Tokyo, where it was manufactured about 80 years ago.

The airplane is a twin-engine Type 1 advanced trainer model built by Tachikawa Aircraft Co. for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

The aircraft is to be exhibited in building No. 5 of Tachihi Real Estate’s south campus in Tachikawa from Nov. 25-28. The exhibition is a rare opportunity for the public to see a plane that is an important part of aviation history.

The all-metal aircraft is about 12 meters long, with a wingspan of about 18 meters.

Also called the Ki-54, the plane was used for a wide range of training activities to improve a crew’s skills, from piloting and navigating to shooting the guns and taking aerial photographs.

Courtesy of Tachihi Holdings Co.
This photo shows a Ki-54 when the planes were in use.

The airplane is owned by Tachikawa-based Tachihi Holdings Co., which mainly runs real estate rental businesses. According to Tachihi Holdings, development of the Ki-54 began in 1939, and Tachikawa Aircraft Co., a predecessor of the company, manufactured 1,342 of the planes until the end of the war.

The manufacturer introduced various advanced technologies in the Ki-54, including retractable landing gear.

The airplane on display took off from Noshiro airfield in Akita Prefecture on Sept. 27, 1943, bound for Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture.

The plane experienced engine trouble during the flight, and sunk after crash-landing on Lake Towada, which is on the border of Akita and Aomori prefectures.

In the 1990s, records were found indicating the plane had sunk, and the aircraft was discovered in 2010 via research on geographical shapes of the bottom of the lake.

Volunteers from an Aomori Prefecture aviation association salvaged the plane in 2012, and the aircraft was exhibited at the Misawa Aviation & Science Museum, which is run by the Aomori prefectural government.

The association donated the plane to Tachihi Holdings when the museum was refurbishing.

The plane is in good condition because it was not exposed to ultraviolet light and salt while in the freshwater lake for so long.

In 2016, the Tokyo-based Japan Aeronautic Association designated the aircraft as an important part of aviation heritage.

Olympos Ltd., a company that develops aircraft and is based in Ome, Tokyo, was tasked with transporting and exhibiting the Ki-54.

“If the plane had fallen in the sea, its shape wouldn’t have been preserved. There’s no other case in which a crashed plane remains in such good condition,” said Olympos President Satoru Shinohe. “The advanced technology of the time is clearly seen, and the plane has great historical value.”

The fuselage ruptured as the plane was being salvaged, and it is exhibited so visitors can see the aircraft’s interior. Also, the sections have not been reassembled. They are lined up to match the plane’s structure, so visitors can view the remaining pieces from various angles.

“This aircraft is proof that this area, with Tachikawa Aircraft at the center, was at the forefront of the most advanced science and technology at the time,” a Tachihi Holdings official said. “We want visitors to experience this history through the exhibition.