With no independent air force the Imperial Japanese Navy ran its own air service during World War II, which not surprisingly spent most of its time in operations to support the naval arm both at sea and on land. Indeed while you might think of aircraft carriers when thinking of this force, in fact large numbers served on land bases, and those that flew or worked on the carriers were considered an elite. Japan’s war of conquest in China had occupied much of the 1930s, but was mostly a land campaign. Once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and thence Asian possessions of the British, Dutch, Americans and others, the Navy and its air service found much more work to do of course, and fought the Allies tenaciously despite slowly running out of resources as their adversaries grew in strength.
The uniforms and equipment of the naval air service differed in only small ways from that of the army version, and most would be impossible to detect on figures of this scale. The top two rows above show the pilots in this set, all of whom are wearing flight suits, although it is not possible to tell whether these are the summer or winter versions. Nevertheless all the pockets and other discernible features are accurate, and the leather helmets and goggles look fine too. All wear a standard type 97 harness which obscures the trunk, but some may be wearing a life jacket as well (hard to see for sure), which would be a normal precaution if operating over water as these men often were. Some of the helmets are untied, or with the flaps tied back, which looks great. The short boots and leather gauntlets of specific naval style complete the look of the pilots, although many also wore a silk scarf and some here, especially the running man, display this. Everything here is correct.
There are fewer ground crew figures in this set than the complementary Army Aviation set, but again we find a nice collection of men in working clothes and certainly very informal. Ground crew wore normal Navy uniforms, and all the clothing here looks good, but in this set there are some figures in tropical gear and some that look well wrapped up against the rain or the cold, so seems to cover a broader range.
The top four figures are all pilots on the ground. The first is, er, standing, while the second waves to someone. The third is a particularly nice and realistic running man, while the fourth sits on a stool considering what might well be a map. Row two has four men all sitting in the cockpit, and while naturally there is much less scope for pose variety with such figures we liked all of them. The ground crew on the bottom row are really nice, with a variety of working poses that speak of men doing their job calmly and efficiently. There are no separate pieces in this set, so everyone, including the man holding the chock, comes in one piece yet looks great and not at all flat. Most are obviously working on an aircraft, but the man with the raised flag could be doing one of several things – our first thought was of a flight officer on a carrier raising a red flag to abort a landing. In truth we have nothing but praise for all the poses in this set, which are entirely believable and appropriate.
The sculpting is excellent too. There is good detail in all the areas where it is needed, so nice little touches like the timepieces round some of the pilot’s necks are clear yet not too large. The faces too are very nice, and while we were initially surprised to see one of the ground crew with a beard we understand this did happen on occasion, and again it is nicely rendered here. We found no flash anywhere on our samples, so a very good job has been made of the production process too, which we always like to see on well sculpted figures.
A couple of extra points to note. First, the three standing pilots all have the parachute seat pack attached to their harness in the correct place, because this formed part of the seat when in the aircraft. The pilot sitting on the stool has naturally dispensed with this item, and the men in the cockpit also do without since it would in effect be part of the seat of the plane at this stage. Sources seem to disagree over exactly how common parachutes were. Certainly they were available, but many pilots chose not to carry or use them if it meant they might be captured instead of killed (considered a disgrace). In all likelihood the chances of carrying a parachute probably depended on whether they were going to be flying over enemy territory or not. Second, one of the seated pilots has an oxygen mask, which looks to be nicely done too. Although not actually on his face, so he is not in flight, this would indicate this this man is ready for some high altitude flying.
The inclusion of pilots both in the aircraft and out of it means this set has many possible uses, and the selection of ground crew figures is terrific too. Of course there are many poses that could have been chosen, but we really liked all those here, and we were also impressed by the good sculpting and excellent natural posture of the figures. Good production values too mean this is an excellent depiction of what is quite a tricky subject, so we have here another in the recent series of high quality sets from RedBox.