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Weapons of World War Two

The Attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 1941)

Aichi D3A Val

Version depicted: D3A1

Aichi D3A1 Val

The morning of the 7th December 1941 a piercing howl arrived to the ears of the military personnel based in Pearl Harbor who were preparing to spend a quiet Sunday. Apart from the momentary surprise caused by the unexpected noise, almost nobody turned the head to see who the unknown disturber was. There was someone pleased who noticed that the maneuvers which seemed to be in progress were especially realist; there was someone annoyed who thought that the pilots would do better by showing off their braveness farther away; and there was someone who, looking up and seeing the red discs in the wings of the aircraft, thought that a Soviet aircraft was announcing the arrival of a Soviet aircraft carrier. The awakening of all of these delusions was rather unpleasant but very clear: the aircraft was a Japanese one and the United States had just entered the war. The weapon which had started the conflict in the Pacific, like the pistol of the starting judge in a race, was an aircraft about which the Allies had already heard something and which they feared: the Aichi D3A, which would be promptly identified by the codename "Val". Its origin dates back to the summer of 1936, when the Japanese Navy had requested a type of dive bomber for being embarked on aircraft carriers. Three well known companies, Aichi, Nakajima and Mitsubishi, had started the works, and the project which had won the contest had been that from Aichi. So, in January 1938 the tests of the prototype started. This one was a monoplane aircraft of low wing and entirely metallic construction. The landing gear was a fixed and fully faired one. The wings had a characteristic elliptical shape, and they were similar to those of the German aircraft Heinkel He 70. This was obviously due to the intense data exchanges between Germany and Japan. Two robust aerodynamical brakes, built by following the model of those applied under the wings of the German dive bomber Junkers Ju 87, along with the function to which the Val was intended and the physiognomy given by the landing gear, the brakes and the canopy of the cockpit, caused the aircraft to be called "the Stuka of the Pacific". Actually, apart from some slight external similarities, the Val had nothing from the Stuka. Built with a semi-shell with a coating of light alloy, the aircraft did not have the heaviness of its German counterpart. But in any case it showed itself as very robust and maneuverable, and it was without any doubt the best Japanese dive bomber, so much that it remained in production until the end of the war, despite its already outdated design. Singular, if not baffling, was the location of the fuel tanks, which allowed a good operational range. One of them was placed just beneath the feet of the pilot and, as the rest of the aircraft, it was not protected by any armor. The armament comprised two fixed 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed in the nose above the engine, besides an orientable one for the telegraphist-machine gunner. The aircraft could transport one 250-kilogram bomb under the fuselage, plus other smaller ones for a total of up to 120 kilograms under the wings. The end of the career of this good aircraft was that shared by all of the Japanese aircraft which were in condition of flying at the end of the war. The Val, which had sunk more Allied ships than any other airplane, was used as a suicide aircraft, albeit it was an easy prey for the enemy fighter aircraft. Despite this, there was no lack of volunteers for flying it.

Aichi D3A1 Val
Designer: Engineer Tokuhishiro Goake

First flight: January 1938 (D3A1); June 1942 (D3A2)

Wingspan: 14.36 meters

Wing area: 34.90 square meters

Length: 10.19 meters

Height: 3.84 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 3650/2408 kilograms (D3A1); 3800/2570 kilograms (D3A2)

Payload/Crew: 1242 kilograms/2 (D3A1); 1230 kilograms/2 (D3A2)

Engine: Mitsubishi MK8 Kinsei 43 of 1000 horsepower (D3A1); Mitsubishi MK8 Kinsei 54 of 1300 horsepower (D3A2)

Time to reach 3000 meters of altitude: 6 minutes 27 seconds (D3A1); 5 minutes 48 seconds (D3A2)

Cruising speed: 296 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed: 386 kilometers/hour at 3000 meters (D3A1); 430 kilometers/hour at 6200 meters (D3A2)

Service ceiling: 9300 meters (D3A1); 10500 meters (D3A2)

Defensive armament: Three 7.7-millimeter machine guns

Drop armament: 370 kilograms of bombs

Operational range: 1473 kilometers (D3A1); 1353 kilometers (D3A2)

Also in Weapons of World War Two

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