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Weapons of World War Two

Aichi D3A1 Val

Aichi D3A1 Val

The morning of that 7th December 1941 a piercing howl arrived to the ears of the military personnel based in Pearl Harbor, which were about to spend a quiet Sunday. Apart from the momentary surprise caused by the unexpected noise, almost nobody turned the head to see who was the unknown disturber. There was who, pleasantly, noticed that the maneuvers that seemed to be in progress were specially realist; there was who, annoyed, thought that the pilots should better give their demonstration of braveness far away; and who, raising the eyes and seeing the red discs in the aircraft wings, thought that it was a Soviet aircraft announcing the arrival of a Soviet aircraft carrier.

The awakening of all of those illusions was rather unpleasant but very clear: the aircraft was Japanese and the United States had just entered war. The weapon that had started the conflict in the Pacific, like the pistol of the starter in a race, was an aircraft of which the Allies had already heard with time and fear: the Aichi D3A, which promptly would be 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 in aircraft carriers. Three well known companies, Aichi, Nakajima and Mitsubishi, had started the works, and the winning project had been the one from Aichi.

So, in January 1938 started the tests of the prototype. This was a low-wing monoplane aircraft of entirely metallic construction. The landing gear was fixed and fully faired. The wings had a characteristic elliptical shape, being similar to those of the German aircraft Heinkel He 70. Obviously this was due to the intense data exchanges between Germany and Japan. Two robust aerodynamical brakes, built following the model of those applied under the wings of the German Junkers Ju 87, made that adding the function to which the Val was destined together with the physiognomy given by the landing gear, the brakes and the canopy of the cockpit, the aircraft were denominated "the Stuka of the Pacific".

Actually, apart from some slight external similarities, the Val had nothing from the Stuka. Built in semishell with 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 doubt the best Japanese dive bomber, so much that it remained in production until the end of the war, despite of its already outdated formula. Singular, if not baffling, was the placement of the fuel tanks, which allowed a good operational range. One of them was just beneath the feet of the pilot, and it was not protected as the rest of the aircraft by any armor.

The armament provided two fixed 7.7-millimeter machine guns installed on the nose above the engine, plus an orientable one for the telegraphist-machine gunner. Under the fuselaje it could transport one 250-kilogram bomb, plus other smaller ones under the wings up to 120 kilograms. The end of the career of this good aircraft was the one that had all 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 suicide aircraft, albeit it was easy prey for the enemy fighters. Despite of this, there was no lack of volunteers for it.

Aichi D3A1 Val
Projectist: 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:

Torpednijkater G5B-24J LiberatorJagdpanzer Hetzer