The Mitsubishi A6M Rei Sen/ Zero
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The Mitsubishi A6M Rei Sen/ Zero

The Mitsubishi A6M Rei Sen/ Zero, The Most Dreaded Japanese Fighter of World War II

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Achieving popularity more than any Japanese fighter aircraft, the Mitsubishi A6M was a cunning example of Japanese aviation technology which was tested and proven during the attack at Pearl Harbor officially starting World War II in the Pacific. Its first deployment during the Sino-Japanese War in 1940 immediately followed its first flight and ascertained its deadly capabilities. In said conflict it was told to claim 99 Chinese aircraft against 2 aircraft losses of its type on the side of the Japanese. An intelligence report was immediately sent by the chief of The Flying Tigers, a US fighter squadron stationed in China to aid during the Japanese attack. It warned US authorities of the lethal capabilities of Mitsubishi A6Ms but the US in turn failed to come up with the same fighter that could stand in the way of Zero fighters before they finally advanced to wreak havoc at Pearl Harbor a year later.

The Mitsubishi A6M resulted from a fighter requirement of the Imperial Japanese Navy and was designed by Jori Horikoshi. The first flight took off the 1st of April 1940 followed by mass production barely four months later with the first batches immediately deployed and seeing action on the attack on China. Equipped as carrier-borne fighters with wingtips that could be manually folded for easy storage on the ship, more than 400 A6Ms had been delivered to the Japanese Navy during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Powered by a single Nakajima Sakae 31 radial engine with water methanol injection rated at 1,210 hp (890kW) the Japaneze Zero fighter was capable of a maximum speed of 570 km/h (354 mph) making it far advanced than any fighter at the early stages of World War II outmaneuvering enemy fighters on sight. Most US fighters it outclassed in dogfights included the Brewster Buffalo, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the Grumman Wildcat. This capability diminished however as the war progressed where US was able to come up with faster fighters added by a captured Zero after its pilot made an emergency landing which allowed US aircraft designers to look into the heart of this aircraft type exposing its vulnerabilities. Japan was left with the same type in improved versions that barely able to make a difference thus resorting to Kamikaze pilots in the attempts to keep the edge.

An estimated 10,939 Zero fighters were built in combined derivative versions from 1940-1945. Many survivors of the type remained displayed in museums all over Japan, China, Australia and US. A flying type on airshows will still cause dread to some World War II survivors and command respect of a once impressive Japanese airpower.

Basic Performance based on A6M53C:

Maximum Speed: 570 km/h (354 mph)

Operational Ceiling: 11,510 m (37,730 ft)

Range: 1,800 km (1,118 miles)

Armament: two 13mm (.520 in) machine guns on both wings, two 20mm (.787 in) Type 99 cannons on engine cowling and two 60 kg (132 lbs) bombs under the wings.

References: pp. 112-115, Fighter:Technology,Facts,History by Ralf Leinburger

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Comments (9)

A classic!

interesting and informative write.Thanks deep

great write-up

Another first-class presentation of military aviation history. The Zero was a mechanical marvel, a masterpiece of aeronautical engineering.

Thanks for the reactions, everyone.

Definitely a classic aircraft. Good information, Will.

Interesting read as usual. :-)

A history lesson along with interesting aircraft info. Well done!

How aircraft have come on... aren't the oldies the best though?