C5M “Babs”, Japanese Reconnaissance Aircraft

Photograph of C5M "Babs"
Wikipedia Commons

Mitsubishi C5M "Babs" (Army: Ki-15)





28'6" by 39'5" by 11'3"
8.69m by 12.01m by 3.43m
Wing area
219 square feet
20.3 square meters


3781-5170 lbs
1715-2345 kg


303 mph at 14,930 feet
488 km/h at 4550 meters

Climb rate

41 feet per second
12.5 m/s


31,430 feet
9579 meters

Power plant

One 940 hp (701 kW) Nakajima Sakae 12 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, driving a three-blade metal propeller.


One flexible rear-firing 7.7mm Type 89 Special machine gun


795 miles at 199 mph
1280 km at 320 km/h


A total of 489 of all variants at Mitsubishi-Nagoya:
439 Ki-15s from 1936-5 to 1940
20 C5M1s in 1938
30 C5M2s in 1940.

The Mitsubishi "Babs" was known as the C5M when flown by the Navy and as the Ki-15 when flown by Army pilots. It was reliable but suffered from appalling forward visibility. Like most Japanese aircraft, it was fragile and lacked self-sealing fuel tanks, and its relatively low speed for a reconnaissance aircraft caused it to be withdrawn from service early in the war. However, it was a C5M2 out of French Indochina that spotted Force Z and sealed its fate.

The aircraft was well-known in the West even before war broke out, since the second prototype was sold to Asahi Shinbun for civilian use and set a speed record in April 1937 during a flight between Japan and England. The design originated in July 1935 with an Army specification for a fast reconnaissance aircraft. The first prototype flew in May 1936 and exceeded all specifications and was pleasant to fly. Its only weaknesses were its poor forward visibility, somewhat longer takeoff and landing runs than desired, and a tendency to lose speed rapidly in turns. The first production aircraft began to be delivered in May 1937.

Prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, "Babs" was used to great effect in China, where Japanese air supremacy meant that it could pretty much go where it wanted and provide the Japanese army with excellent intelligence on Chinese troop movements. Its performance attracted the attention of the Navy, which lacked high performance reconnaissance aircraft, and the Navy ordered fifty aircraft for its own use. The Navy often used the C5M as a guide aircraft for fighter formations flying long distance missions in the Netherlands East Indies during the Centrifugal Offensive. After the C5M was withdrawn from front-line service in the second year of the war, the survivors were used as trainers, and a few were eventually expended as kamikazes.


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