CONTINUED FROM PART 1
In May 1938, the long-range prototype plane named Koken-ki established the then world record of 11,651 km (7,240 miles.) The legendary Koken-ki became the only aircraft made in Japan to have been certified
as a record holder by the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale.)
After the altitude part of the project somehow failed, the head of the ARI thought Mineo was the right person to put in charge of the velocity part. He worked on that project virtually single-handed. He set the goal at 800-850 km per hour (497-528 mi/hr) because the German fighter plane Messerschmitt Me 209 V1 had already marked 755 km per hour (469 mi/hr) in 1939. In December 1943, his test machine codenamed Ki-78 could fly at the speed of 699.9 km per hour (435 mi/hr,) which fell short of reaching the ultimate goal. Yet this was when the alltime Japan record was established as far as propeller-driven airplanes are concerned.
By that time, Japan's Imperial Army had been quickly losing ground to the Allied Powers. Generals decided that they couldn't afford to let the velocity pursuit continue, and ordered the institute to write it off right away. The insane decision made the past ARI projects all go straight down the drain. Nobody thought about following up these projects by reducing production costs and improving fuel-efficiency, steerability and combat capability in order to make the two prototype machines actually deployable.
Instead, the ARI researchers were told to concentrate on suicide machines. Among other flying objects meant for suicide attacks, the Imperial Army placed its high hopes on a machine codenamed Ouka, or cherry blossom. Ouka, nicknamed Baka, or idiot, on the part of the Allied Powers, was developed in 1944 by some of Mineo's colleagues. It could fly a level flight at the speed of 648 km per hour (403 mi/hr) but its flight range was a mere 37 km (23 miles.) However, this did not constitute any problem because Ouka was actually a manned, air-to-ship guided missile to be carried to the vicinity of the target by another plane. Moreover, its sortie was always a one-way trip.
Mineo was frustrated by the defeatist way of thinking on the part of the military government. But even before that, my father had been at odds with the ARI management which had succumbed to the pressure from the Imperial Army so easily. (There was no air force in wartime Japan.)
Back in April 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle raided Japan's major cities for the first time. This was only a prelude to the daily incineration of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and many other cities by B-29 Superfortress bombers, which started in late 1944. Japan's casualties were minimal. Nevertheless, the Doolittle Raid dramatically turned the tide for the Allied Powers. At that time, Mineo contributed an article to a popular monthly in which he warned that the war would be unwinnable if the Imperial Army didn't wake up to the reality that gaining command of the skies was key to winning a warfare of the 20th century. This magazine was interdicted immediately, but the author of the article was not arrested. He knew that the military headquarters could not afford to put him in jail.
The B-29 bomber could fly a range of 5,200 km (3,231 miles) at a maximum altitude of 10,200 km (6,338 miles) and the cruising velocity of 350 km per hour (218 mi/hr.) Everyday we heard anti-aircraft artilleries fired at the large formations of the bombers but not a single shell could reach the stratospheric altitude. Amid the overwhelming roar from the bombers, Japan's artilleries sounded as weak as tuberculous patients in a coughing fit.
My father looked simply enchanted by the sight. He loved anything that could fly high, fast or long, be it a German fighter, a U.S. bomber or just an eagle. He was frantically taking pictures of the American bombers, but his problem was that they were almost invisible to the naked eye. He had to settle for dozens of pictures of streams of white contrails.
General Douglas MacArthur imposed a total ban on the development and manufacturing of aircraft as soon as he was enthroned as the Second Emperor. Mineo had to convert to automobile engineering but he once again played a pivotal role there in building the foundation of Japan's car industry. As early as the 1960s, he was studying the feasibility of hydrogen-powered vehicles, but nobody has ever thought about capitalizing on his green ideas because all the material he left behind has been lost by now. I'll explain why in the next piece.
TO BE CONTINUED TO PART 2.2