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Airpower Classics

Artwork by Zaur Eylanbekov

A6M Zero

The Zero was, when it appeared, the worlds best carrier-based ghter. At the outset of the Pacic War, the Japanese Imperial Navy Air Service elded 521. Its performance in the Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack and the months immediately afterward, when it showed phenomenal speed and agility, gave it legendary status. Months later, when a captured Zero was examined, it was evident that the Zero was no miracle weapon but was, rather, the embodiment of intelligent design compromises focused on specic requirements. Its genesis was in 1937. In that year, Tokyo specied that Japans next carrier ghter should have high speed, swift climb, major armament, long range, and excellent maneuverability. Zero designer Jiro Horikoshi fullled all of those requirements in a ghter that combined elegant aerodynamic shape and light weight structure, but he did so by employing every conceivable weight-saving measure. The

airplane had no heavy armor or self-sealing tanks. It was a ghter built for expert pilots, ying offensive missions, but the lack of toughness proved to be a major combat vulnerability. Japan produced more Zeros than any other type of aircraft. It came in nine major variants, used by both carrier-based and land-based forces. It was modied extensively during the war to compete with potent new American aircraft and their well-trained pilots. However, the Zero was essentially obsolete by 1943, and Allied pilots ying Navy F6F Hellcats and USAAF P-38 Lightnings began to score heavily. Still, Zeros fought on to the end, increasingly own by kamikaze pilots. In fact, kamikazes sank the escort carrier St. Lo and damaged three more. For those forced to face these ghters in combat, the Zero was and always will be the very symbol of the Rising Suns airpower. Walter J. Boyne

This aircraft: Japanese Imperial Navy Air Service A6M2 Model 11 #3112 as it looked in 1941 when piloted by Lt. Minoru Suzuki.
Tail fin bears markings for 28 kills by Suzuki and an earlier pilot.

In Brief

Designed by Mitsubishi built by Mitsubishi, Nakajima rst ight April 1, 1939 crew of one number built 10,449 (3,879 by Mitsubishi; 6,570 by Nakajima) Specic to A6M5: one 14 cylinder Nakajima Sakae radial engine typical armament, 7.7 mm and 13.2 mm machine guns in cowling, two wing-mounted 20 mm cannons max speed 351 mph cruise speed 207 mph max range 1,194 mi weight (loaded) 6,025 lb span 36 ft 1 in length 29 ft 11 in height 11 ft 6 in.

Famous Fliers
Many Zero Aces, including: Lt. (j.g.) Tetsuzo Iwamoto (202 victories claimed); CPO Shoichi Sugita (120 claimed ); WO Hiroyoshi Nishizawa (87 claimed); Ens. Saburo Sakai (64 claimed); WO Takeo Okumura (54 claimed). Other notable: Test pilot Katsuzo Shima.

Interesting Facts
Named Type 0 for last digit of Imperial Year 2600, when it entered service built of T-7178 aluminum, top-secret type made for the Zero kamikaze versions carried a 250 kg bomb 79 took part in Pearl Harbor attack called Zeke by Allied intel several on display in Japan, China, Britain, US rst action (1940) came against China, not against US. 96

Early in the war, the Zero ruled the sky. AIR FORCE Magazine / January 2007

Airpower Classics
Artwork by Zaur Eylanbekov

Ki-43 Oscar
The Ki-43 Hayabusa, called Oscar by the World War II Allies, was the primary Imperial Japanese Army Air Force fighter of that conflictthe higher public profile of the Mitsubishi Zero notwithstanding. It was much liked by its pilots, despite inherent weaknesses in its design. It was a tight-turning and swift dogfighter, highly maneuverable, and with an awesome rate of climb. Even so, the Oscars greatest advantage was its extremely long range. The Nakajima-built Oscar derived from the earlier and very successful Nakajima Ki-27. Its designers were tasked with almost the same requirements levied on the Zero. The JAAF wanted an airplane that was faster and longer ranged than the Ki-27, with the same degree of maneuverability. The Nakajima response was to reduce weight and drag, resulting in a clean, all-metal, very lightweight fighter that encountered persistent structural difficulties. Attaining the goals set by the government had induced the designers to cut structural weight to the point that many early Ki-43s experienced wrinkled or collapsed wings during high-speed pullout. Massive rework of airplanes already in the field and a redesigned wing for airplanes going into production partially solved this problem. Still, the airframe of the Hayabusa was never as robust as its American opponents, and was susceptible to destruction from bursts of machine gun fire. The early versions of the fighter did not have rubber-coated self-sealing fuel tanks or armor protection for the pilot. Worse, its armament was limited to variations of two guns mounted in the cowling. This was no match for the concentrated firepower of the typical US fighter. Walter J. Boyne

This aircraft: Japanese Army Air Force Ki-43 Oscar#15as it appeared in late 1943 when flown by
Sgt. Maj. K. Ohtake of the 25th Sentai at Hankow, China.

In Brief

Designed by Nakajima e built by Nakajima, Tachikawa, and Japanese First Army Air Arsenal e first flight January 1939 e crew of one e number built 5,919 e Specific to Ki-43 II: one Ha-115 radial engine e armament two 12.7 mm machine guns; two 250 kg bombs e max speed 329 mph e cruise speed 273 mph e max range 1,990 mi e weight (loaded) 5,710 lb e span 35 ft 6 in e length 29 ft 3 in e height 10 ft 9 in.

Famous Fliers
Top aces: Satoshi Anabuki (39), Isamu Sasaki (38), Yasuhiko Kuroe (30), Chiyoji Saito (28), Goichi Sumino (27), Moritsugu Kanai (26), Isamu Hosono (26), Tomoari Hasegawa (22), Katsuaki Kira (21), Naoharu Shiromoto (21), Saburo Nakamura (20).

Interesting Facts

The Oscar is feted by Japanese schoolgirls. 80

Nicknamed by Japanese as Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) e used after World War II by French air arm against Viet Minh e produced more Japanese aces than any airplane e served as mainstay of Armys large Special Attack (Kamikaze) program e flown (with PLA star) over Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 1, 1949, as Mao Zedong proclaimed Peoples Republic of China e subject of Japanese Army feature film e films song, The Kato Hayabusa Fighter Wing, found on Japanese karaoke menus. AIR FORCE Magazine / August 2010