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A6M2 Zero

Hanging overhead near the Atrium is the Museum's A6M2 Zero. Certainly one of the top World War II fighters, Jiro Horikoshi's Mitsubishi design exceeded the Imperial Japanese Navy's requirements for performance with the prototype A6M1 in April 1939. The production A6M2, introduced to fleet service in July 1940, was highly maneuverable, with an excellent rate of climb and outstanding range, and became the IJN's primary fighter throughout the war with only slight modification. In all, 10,400 were produced.

In May 1937, the innovative Mitsubishi design team led by Chief Engineer Jiro Horikoshi was tasked to produce a carrier fighter. The new aircraft was to replace the Imperial Navy's Mitsubishi A5M (Type 96) fighter, also a Horikoshi design, that had served well in China. Requirements for the new fighter included a top speed of 311 mph at 13,125 ft., climb to 9,000 ft. in 9 minutes and 30 seconds, 1.5 to 2.0 hours endurance at normal rated power, or six to eight hours at economical cruise with drop tank. Armament was to be two 20mm cannons and two 7.7mm machine guns. Other requirements included accommodation for communication/navigation equipment, under-wing bomb racks, a short take-off run, and maneuverability at least equal to the Type 96 fighter. The last requirement was flavored by an ingrained samurai ethos among Japanese military; Japanese pilots sought individual combat against one or more enemies, were excellent dogfighters, but were short on team tactics as practiced by most Western nations. As a result, Horikoshi's design stressed lightness and great climb performance in a high-speed monoplane that retained the agility of a biplane.

The prototype A6M1, first flown in April 1939, failed only to meet top-speed specifications. The power plant was replaced by the Nakajima Sakae 12 engine and equipped with a three-blade propeller. Flight trials of the A6M2 in December 1939 exceed wildest expectations. In July 1940, 15 A6M2s were sent to China for evaluation, entering combat in September, along with a number of production models as reinforcement. In short order, the Type 0 fighter (the "0" indicates the Japanese year of production, from whence the name Zero) destroyed 99 Chinese aircraft with a loss of but two of their own to ground fire in the course of two weeks. Just prior to December 1941, the A6M2 was modified with folding wingtips to accommodate carrier elevators, a reinforced rear wing spar, and incorporation of aileron balance tabs. It was redesignated Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter Model 21. From that point, various models, culminating with the A6M8, served throughout the war. American team tactics, however, combined with more rugged aircraft equipped with self-sealing tanks, heavier armament and pilot armor, rendered the Grumman Wildcat a match for the enemy through 1942. Later, its successor, the superior F6F Hellcat, achieved a 19:1 kill ratio, clearly outperforming the agile Zero.


Specifications

Manufacturer: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Company
Type:Carrier-based fighter
Crew:Pilot
Powerplant: One Nakajima NK1C Sakae 950 hp 14 cylinder air-cooled radial w/ 3-blade propeller
Dimensions:

Length: 29 ft., 8.6 in.
Height: 10 ft.
Wingspan: 39 ft., 4.5 in.
Wing Area: 241.5 sq. ft.

Performance:

Max Speed: 331 mph at 14,900 ft.
Cruise Speed: 207 mph
Climb Rate: 2,600 ft./min.
Ceiling: 32,810 ft.
Range: 1,160 miles

Armament:

Two 7.7mm machine guns in upper fuselage decking, and two in-wing 20mm cannon; two 132 lb. bombs; or one 76.2 Imp gal. drop tank

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