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Built by Nakajima completed in late June 1943. Uncoded serial number 220. Delivered to the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) as Army Type 100 Heavy Bomber / Ki-49-II Donryu "Helen" manufacture number 3220. Painted with green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. The fuselage Hinomaru (Rising Sun) insignia were outlined with a white border. The leading edge of both wings had a yellow identification stripe.
This bomber was flown from Japan via Formosa, Philippines and Netherlands East Indies (NEI) before arriving in New Guinea. Assigned to an unknown Sentai in New Guinea. Likely assigned to the 7th Sentai or 61st Sentai. No known markings or tail number. This aircraft might have been used as a transport or bomber when it last landed at Alexishafen Airfield (No. 1).
Sometime during late 1943, this bomber was disabled or abandoned at the western end of Alexishafen Airfield (No. 1). The nose section just forward of the cockpit was severely damaged by a blast from above, likely the detonation of a parafrag or bomb released by Allied aircraft. The bomber also sustained shrapnel damage to the fuselage. Afterwards, the Japanese likely stripped the damaged bomber for usable parts and salvage pieces.
On April 26, 1944 the Australian Army 30th Battalion captured Alexishafen Airfield. This bomber was among the thirty-six aircraft wrecks surveyed as disabled at both runways. This Helen had the left propeller removed and the nose was damaged by a blast from above. Both engines were missing cowlings and the left wing was partially disassembled from the wing. None of the canopy glass remained in the cockpit, nose or turrets. The exterior paint was weathered from exposure to sunlight and rainfall.
During late April 1944 or early May 1944, a team from Allied Technical Intelligence Unit (ATIU) including U. S. Navy photographers Michael J. Freeman and Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Otto Schmidt investigated and photographed this bomber. One photograph shows Freeman holding a photo slate below the dorsal turret above the fuselage Hinomaru. Another photograph shows Freeman in the cockpit with the right canopy in the open. Both photographs were taken by PhoM3c Otto Schmidt.
Afterwards, this bomber was abandoned but was visited by Allied personnel stationed in the area. During September 1944, Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel likely from the base at Alexishafen were photographed posing atop the fuselage and left engine of this bomber.
Over the decades, the nearby jungle grew up around the aircraft and the skin suffered corrosion during seasonal grass fires, but as late as the middle 1990s traces of the Hinomaru markings and stencils remained visible. The condition of the wreck changed very little in fifty years until the early 1990s. Visitors for over a half century were respectful of the wreck.
This bomber is one of the last known and largely intact Ki-49 Helen wrecks left in the world. Often mistakenly identified as a "Betty Bomber" in tourist literature or by locals or guides. Tourists and visitors often visited and photographed this wreckage, due to the easy accessibility off the North Coast Road.
During the late 1990's, the nose section was broken up, and later removed. The outer wing panels disappeared, and were likely scraped. Another sad happening was a natural happening when a nearby tree fell onto the fuselage, denting the rear fuselage and nearly severing off the tail.
Today, this bomber remains one of the most popular war relics or war sites visited by tourists from nearby Madang. It is likely one of the most photographed war wrecks in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
"Nakajima Ki-49 Serial Numbers" by Jim Long
Rust In Peace (1975) by Bruce Adams pages 32, 57
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks (1979) by Charles Darby pages 62 (lower), 77
National Geographic "Ghosts of War in the South Pacific" April 1988 page 552
Behind Enemy Lines (1997) by Michael J. Freeman page 230–231, 232 (photo), 233 (photo)
Pacific Ghosts CD-ROM (2002) profiles this aircraft
Thanks to Charles Darby for manufacture number
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