Ki-61 I 'Tony' Revealed in Detail
Photos by Ron Cole c. 1989 @ Weeks Air Museum, Florida
I first started looking for this aircraft in 1985 - when I was a wee boy of 15. Then, it was
rumored to be located at Chino Airport in California. If it was, nobody there dared to speak
of it while I visited, and my search continued. I was a member of David Aiken's Japanese
Information Clearinghouse (JIC) in those days, and nobody seemed to know whatever had
happened to this famous "Darby Tony." It was so-named as it had been first photographed
by Charles Darby and published in his illustrious Pacific Aircraft Wrecks book.
A couple of years later, Kermit Weeks acquired the aircraft and put in on display in a hanger
with some other great rarities.
After having spent so many years dreaming of photographing the Darby Tony - I was not shy
about getting to know her inside and out once I had the chance. This determination, which
I've noted in similar stories about other aircraft encounters, was met with extreme intolerance
by the museum's volunteer staff. One fellow threatened to take my camera away, and I shot
back a retort likening him to a Castro thug, or something like that (we were near Miami, after
all). Oh well, such encounters became the story of my life, but I digress.
The point is: Through the high drama of the rocky experience, I got my pictures, saved my
camera, escaped Weeks with only minor injuries - and can now share these images with my
brethren enthusiasts via this website.
This Ki-61 is widely considered to be the best preserved aircraft wreck ever recovered from the South Pacific. Upon its discovery, it still
retained its armament and belts of machine gun ammunition were strung out upon its wings. Having come down wheels up in a marsh,
damage to the airframe was minimal, and its remote location had protected it from the ravages of local grass fires. These pictures reveal
that while some further fading of the original paint has occurred since the 1970's, the colors are still remarkably intact.
The condition of the cockpit was a mixed bag: no instrument panel, but other major
components were in place. As the Ki-61 was designed to be 'modular,' to come apart in a
few complete sections, the cockpit floor was integral with the lower wings and
under-section of the fuselage (like a plastic model). Note that the rudder peddles (at right)
are a component of the main fuselage section, and are not attached to the floor as in other
Left: The right side of the cockpit
shows the seat bottom (back missing)
and various components. There was no
trace of the so-called 'blue/green'
primer in the cockpit or anywhere else
that I examined.
Above Left: The left side of the cockpit
is replete with original equipment,
including the throttle quadrant. The
tank behind the pilot's seat looks
blackened and burned, but is in reality
coated with a dried-out black rubber
What appears to be light gray in these
images is actually oxidized aluminum.
Steel components stand out in contrast
due to rusting. The original cockpit
color was red/brown hand-applied paint.
Right & Below:
Ah! A picture is worth a thousand words.
There was quite a lot of this original red/brown
primer paint literally slobbered all over the
cockpit area of this Ki-61. Note the evidence
of hand application deliberately around
brackets, but not over data plates. There was
no evidence of any coating under this primer,
and no evidence of it anywhere but in the
Above: Various canopy details. A lot of bare metal, with no overcoat in evidence.
Shots taken through the fuselage access door. "Yer camera falls in
there you're not gettin' it back . . . " - Weeks Volunteer Guy
Above: Area inside the fuselage behind the pilot's seat, directly
across from the access door.
Above/Left: Wide angle down to the tail. All quite shiny natural metal,
this image has been adjusted to cut down on flash glare (so it looks a
bit flat). Black box located just right of the access door.
Left: Looking up into the area behind the 'razorback' canopy.
Above and Right:
These four images reveal the inside of the engine cowling, forward of (and
including) the firewall - minus the engine.
This area was painted white - of all the odd things, or perhaps a very light gray. In
several places the number '379' was stenciled in black over the white paint. The
reddish stains appeared to be from rusted steel components - not evidence of
any primer coat akin to the cockpit area. All of the cowling access panels are in
place, and these pictures were obtained by shooting through the openings for
the exhaust stacks w/ my camera on a monopole (an often employed tool).
After Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida - and Weeks' museum - the hanger that
housed this aircraft lost its roof. Many of the classic airframes inside were severely
damaged. I remember being mortified at the prospect that the Darby Tony was lost,
but its placement up against the far supporting wall protected it from serious damage.
In recent years I've noted that once again there seems to be a lot of rumor and confusion concerning the fate of this bird, I
suppose due at least in part to the fact that it wasn't displayed for a long time after the hurricane. I posted several pictures of it on
www.J-Aircraft.com in response to numerous inquiries. I'd be interested in seeing any photos of this Ki-61 taken recently, as I
still haven't been able to confirm damage it sustained from Andrew - if any. In my opinion it is a true gem of an aircraft in its
unrestored and original state, with a lot to offer those privy to study her in depth.
- Ron Cole