Japanese collector restoring rare WWII plane


Nobuo Harada, a collector of World War II-era Japanese aircraft, is working to rebuild a rare Ki-43 Hayabusa fighter from components recovered overseas in the hope of keeping wartime memories alive.

No examples of the Hayabusa (Falcon), flown by the Imperial Japanese Army, can be found in Japan.

“Stories of the war will be forgotten in 30 years. It’s now or never,” said Harada, 76, curator of the Zero Fighter Museum, a part of the Kawaguchiko Automobile Museum in Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture.

The Hayabusa, developed by Nakajima Aircraft Co., was the army’s main fighter plane during the war and Japan’s first with retractable landing gear. To the Allies it was called the Oscar.

There were 5,700 produced, second only to the Zero flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Only four Hayabusa are known to exist, two in the U.S.

At age 7, Harada’s Tokyo home was destroyed during a U.S. air raid.

Harada began collecting wartime fighter planes while working in trading. He learned that parts of a Hayabusa captured by the Royal Australian Air Force in New Guinea in January 1945 had been stored in a British museum since around 1990, and he managed to buy them.

The main components, including the engine, fuselage, main wing and tail section, arrived in Japan in July.

“We plan to break the parts down, restore them and rebuild the plane. We hope to finish in five years,” Harada said.

Three engineers will undertake the restoration work along with engine repairs. They will spend all next year reassembling the tail and rear part of the fuselage. Rebuilding the wings and the front section, including the cockpit, will take four years.

The tail unit of the Hayabusa went on display this year.

The Zero Fighter Museum is open only in August. More women visited the museum this year than in the past, probably inspired by the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”). The movie is a fictional account of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero.

“They (fighters including the Hayabusa) are important industrial heritage artifacts, but Japan has no large-scale museums dedicated to such assets,” Harada said. “There are few records about the Hayabusa available. We’d like to hear from anyone who has any.”