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Mitsubishi A6M Reisen/Zero light fighter


Written by Sakhal

Decades after the attack to Pearl Harbor, the motives that impulsed Japan to such action were still very discussed. The American propaganda had always shown the good ones on a side and the bad ones on the other. But undoubtedly, despite of its imperialistic, expansionist and overly agressive policies, a factor that pushed Japan to take that tremendous step was as well the material necessity of economic survival, to which United States was not totally alien. But, logically, the American propaganda continued lashing out against the agressor, even attempting to ridiculize it. Serious mistake. The Japanese were described as little yellow men, sort of monkeys with spectacles without any wit on them, only able to crudely imitate the products of the western technology. It would suffice the roar of the Japanese engines and guns to smash those ridiculous cliches, but meanwhile these would cause the death of a large number of Allied soldiers. And to avoid this it could have been enough to have paid attention to an aviation officer... Colonel Chennault had delivered to the Pentagon the characteristics of an until then unknown Japanese fighter, which by speed, maneuverability and operational range surpassed any American fighter then in service. The American attitude towards the Japanese and their technology should have been very different, but the report written by Chennault took the usual travels across the hands of the bureaucrats to finally be buried in a sea of paperwork. Certainly the jewel created by Mitsubishi had not received the deserved attention...

Born from a request of a naval fighter in May 1937, the first prototype took off for flight tests in March 1939. The Mitsubishi A6M "Reisen" was a low-winged monoplane of totally metallic structure and fully retractable landing gear. The wings, of trapezoidal shape, combined the advantages of a notable lightness and a robust construction. On the other hand, this constructive concept had been applied to the entirety of the aircraft, making wide use of light alloys and advanced techniques. To save weight, in the early models no protection was provided for the cockpit nor for the fuel tanks, characteristics that were not introduced until the version A6M5, already advanced the war. The engine was initially a Zuisei 13 of 780 horsepower, but soon it would be replaced by the much more powerful Nakajima Sakae 21 of 1130 horsepower, which allowed the A6M5 Reisen to reach a speed of 560 kilometers/hour. The armament, initially rather light, was later notably enhanced, but it would be always relatively inferior to the American one, which had as basic weapon the 12.7-millimeter machine gun, usually in number of six or eight, while the Japanese one was generally based in four weapons, if not less: two 7.7-millimeter machine guns and two 13.2-millimeter machine guns or 20-millimeter cannons. Undisputed master of the skies during the first year of the war in the Pacific, from 1943 onwards the "Zero" - as it was widely and popularly known, being "Zeke" the Allied official denomination - started to be matched and then surpassed by the more powerful fighters introduced by the enemy. It was the beginning of the defeat. The last "Zero" would take part in the tragic kamikaze attacks against the Allied ships, with the crazy fantasy of containing the enemy invasion to later be able to deal a decisive counterattack. But for Japan no more "divine winds" would blow.

A6M1 and A6M2

Synonym of the Japanese air power, the "Zero" remained for decades the most remembered aircraft of that country. The first models operated in the Sino-Japanese War in the autumn of 1940, and despite of their execellent behaviour, their existence went largely unnoticed by the Allies. At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, the A6M2 constituted more than 60 percent of the carrier- borne fighter force of the Imperial Navy, sowing destruction in the Pacific and the Indian oceans. It also took part in the attack to Pearl Harbor and Wake Island, as escort in the bomb attacks against Australia and Ceylon and in the support of the landings in Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia). Its first serious defeat took place during the Battle of Midway, in June 1942, starting from this moment its descent. An exemplar was retrieved intact by the American troops in the Aleutian Islands, which revealed to the Allies the virtues and defects of this famous fighter. Several A6M2 were used after the war by the Thai Air Forces.

The version A6M1 was only a couple of prototypes fitted with the engine Zuisei 13 of 780 horsepower, clearly underpowered for an aircraft intended to dominate the air. The prototype A6M2 was fitted with the engine Sakae 12 of 940 horsepower. The initial series model A6M2 "Reisen" (Navy Carrier-Borne Fighter Type 0, Model 11) had redesigned wing structure; 64 exemplars were built. The A6M2 Model 21 was a modification of the Model 11, with the ends of the wings manually foldable and the last models with counterweights in the ailerons; 740 exemplars were built by Mitsubishi and 6570 (A6M2-A6M7) by Nakajima. There was also a seaplane version (A6M2-N), of which 327 exemplars were built by Nakajima, and a two-seater training version (A6M2-K) without armament in the wings, of which 236 exemplars were built in the Omura Naval Arsenal and 272 by Hitachi.

Mitsubishi A6M Reisen/Zero light fighter

Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen "Zero" (Navy Carrier-Based Fighter Type 0, Model 21) number 08, aboard the aircraft carrier Ryujo, 4th Koku Sentai, attack forces in the Aleutian Islands, June 1942. This particular aircraft was piloted by officer Tadayoski Koga, participating in the attack to Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island, 4th June 1942. After being damaged the conduction system of the hydraulic fluid of the oil pressure gauge by a projectile fired from a PBY Catalina, the pilot tried an emergency landing in Akutan Island, dying in the attempt, being later retrieved the aircraft intact by a team of the United States Navy. The code in the tail indicates: D = 4th Koku Sentai, I = 1st Carrier (Ryujo), -1 = carrier-borne fighter, 08 = number of a particular aircraft.

Specifications for A6M1

Projectist: Engineer Jiro Horikoshi

First flight: March 1939

Wingspan: 12 meters

Length: 9.06 meters

Height: 3.05 meters

Wing area: 22.44 square meters

Weight (empty): 1652 kilograms

Weight (full load): 2343 kilograms

Engine: Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 of 780 horsepower

Maximum speed at an altitude of 3600 meters: 510 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 1820 kilometers

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fore upper part of the fuselage and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings



Specifications for A6M2 Model 21

Entry into service: Autumn 1940

Wingspan: 12 meters

Length: 9.06 meters

Height: 3.05 meters

Wing area: 22.44 square meters

Weight (empty): 1680 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 2796 kilograms

Engine: Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12 of 950 horsepower

Time to reach an altitude of 6000 meters: 7 minutes 27 seconds

Service ceiling: 10000 meters

Maximum speed at an altitude of 4550 meters: 535 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 333 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 3100 kilometers (with external deposits)

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fore upper part of the fuselage and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings

Bombs load: 120 kilograms



A6M3 and A6M4

The A6M3, which entered service in the late spring/early summer of 1942, used a more powerful engine, but at the expense of an increased fuel consumption. Hence, this decrease in operational range caused serious problems in the large travels above the ocean that the A6M3 had to effectuate during the campaign in the Solomon Islands, in the summer of 1942. The Models 22 and 22a eased this problem, but still they were unable to achieve the superiority upon the modern Allied fighters introduced after the conquest of Guadalcanal. Despite its limitations, it remained in service until the end of the war, being quite used in kamikaze missions.

The series model A6M3 "Reisen" (Navy Carrier-Borne Fighter Type 0, Model 32) was a modification of the A6M2, with different engine, redesigned engine cover, shortened wings (foldable ends removed) and reduced fuel capacity; 343 exemplars were built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. The A6M3 Model 22 had the wings like the A6M2 and increased fuel capacity; about three exemplars fitted with 30 -millimeter cannons in the wings. The A6M3 Model 22a was like the A6M3 Model 22 but with two Type 99 Model 2 20-millimeter cannons in the wings (Type 99 Model 1 in the A6M3 Model 22); Mitsubishi and Nakajima produced a total of 560 exemplars of the Models 22 and 22a. The A6M4 were two experimental conversions of A6M2, with superchraged engines Sakae.

Specifications for A6M3 Model 32

First flight: June 1942

Wingspan: 11 meters

Length: 9.06 meters

Height: 3.51 meters

Wing area: 21.53 square meters

Weight (empty): 1807 kilograms

Weight (full load): 2544 kilograms

Engine: Nakajima Sakae 21 of 1130 horsepower

Time to reach 6000 meters altitude: 7 minutes 19 seconds

Service ceiling: 10000 meters

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 meters: 545 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 371 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 2830 kilometers (with external deposits)

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fore upper part of the fuselage and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings

Bombs load: 120 kilograms



Specifications for A6M3 Model 22

Wingspan: 12 meters

Length: 9.06 meters

Height: 3.51 meters

Wing area: 22.44 square meters

Weight (empty): 1863 kilograms

Weight (full load): 2680 kilograms

Engine: Nakajima Sakae 21 of 1130 horsepower

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 meters: 540 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 355 kilometers/hour

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fore upper part of the fuselage and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings

Bombs load: 120 kilograms



A6M5

Due to the failure of the versions A6M4 and A7M, the version A6M5 remained in production during the last two years of the war. It entered service in the autumn of 1943, showing the first models the same defects than their antecessors: inadequate armament and lack of protection for the pilot and fuel tanks. Until the apparition of the heavier model A6M5c, armed with two additional guns, it was not rectified the first deficiency, but in any case the A6M5 were decimated during the Allied attack to Philippines. Later many were used in kamikaze missions. The A6M5d-S (non-official designation) took part in the nocturnal defense of the Japanese metropoli at the end of the war.

The A6M5 "Reisen" (Navy Carrier-Borne Fighter Type 0, Model 52) was a modification of the A6M3 with redesigned wings (foldable ends removed) and individual exhaust tubes; this was the main series model; 747 exemplars were built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. The A6M5a Model 52A was an improved version with modified wings and cannons fed by ammunition belts; built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. The A6M5b Model 52B was a subsequent improvement with armor and one of the 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fuselage replaced by one Type 3 13.2-millimeter machine gun; built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. The A6M5c Model 52C was a heavy fighter with increased fuel capacity and additional armor and armament, also fitted with supports for rockets; 93 exemplars were built by Mitsubishi. The A6M5d-S was a conversion of the A6M5 into night fighters, with a 20-millimeter cannon of oblique trajectory in the rear part of the fuselage. The A6M5-K "Zero-Rensen" Model 22 was an experimental version for a two-seater trainer; only seven exemplars were built by Mitsubishi.

Mitsubishi A6M Reisen/Zero light fighter

The A6M5c was the most powerful version of the "Zero", with increased fuel capacity, additional protection for the pilot and additional armament: two 13.2-millimeter machine guns - installed in the wings next and outer to the two 20-millimeter cannons - and supports for eight air-to-air 10-kilogram rockets.

Mitsubishi A6M Reisen/Zero light fighter


Specifications for A6M5 Model 52

Entry into service: Autumn 1943

Wingspan: 11 meters

Length: 9.12 meters

Height: 3.51 meters

Wing area: 21.30 square meters

Weight (empty): 1876 kilograms

Weight (full load): 2733 kilograms

Engine: Nakajima NK1F Sakae 21 of 1130 horsepower

Time to reach 6000 meters altitude: 7 minutes 1 second

Service ceiling: 11750 meters

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 meters: 565 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 371 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 1922 kilometers

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns in the fore upper part of the fuselage and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings

Bombs load: 120 kilograms



A6M6, A6M7 and A6M8

The A6M6, which was a development of the A6M5c with engine Sakae 31 and water-methanol overpower system, entered service in the late 1944/early 1945, being the last variant of the A6M that entered service. The A6M7 was a dive bomber version that appeared during the last weeks of the war. The A6M8 was the first model propelled by a Mitsubishi engine since the prototypes A6M1, being about to start its mass production (6300 ordered) when the war ended. Along the war in the Pacific, the A6M served onboard all the aircraft carriers of the Imperial Navy, equipping about 30 Kokutais. Total production of the A6M reached about 11283 exemplars. After having been the most important Japanese aircraft, it ended, as the largest part of its congeners, being used for suicide missions.

The A6M6 was a prototype based on the A6M5 with different engine, built by Mitsubishi. The A6M6c Model 53C was the series model, built by Nakajima, fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks in the wings. The A6M7 Model 63 was a dive bomber version fitted with ventral bomb rack (maximum load of 500 kilograms) and auxiliary fuel tanks under the wings, and with reinforced tailplane; built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. The A6M8 Model 64 were two prototypes based on the A6M7 with engine Mitsubishi MK8P Kinsei 62 of 1560 horsepower and without armament on the fuselage.

Specifications for A6M6c

Entry into service: Late 1944/early 1945

Wingspan: 11.6 meters

Length: 9.24 meters

Height: 3.64 meters

Wing area: 21.30 square meters

Weight (empty): 1778 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 2950 kilograms

Engine: Nakajima NK1P Sakae 31 of 1130 horsepower

Initial climb rate: 957 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 10700 meters

Maximum speed at sea level: 465 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 meters: 555 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 325 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range: 1800 kilometers

Armament: One Type 3 13.2-millimeter machine gun in the fore upper part of the fuselage; two Type 3 13.2-millimeter machine guns and two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons in the wings

Bombs load: 120 kilograms plus eight 10-kilogram bombs or two 60-kilogram rockets



Specifications for A6M8

Wingspan: 11 meters

Length: 9.24 meters

Height: 3.64 meters

Wing area: 21.30 square meters

Weight (empty): 2150 kilograms

Weight (full load): 3150 kilograms

Engines: Mitsubishi Kinsei 62 of 1560 horsepower

Time to reach an altitude of 6000 meters: 6 minutes 50 seconds

Service ceiling: 11200 meters

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 meters: 573 kilometers/hour

Armament: Two Type 97 7.7-millimeter machine guns, two Type 3 13.2-millimeter machine guns, two Type 99 20-millimeter cannons

Bombs load: 500 kilograms





Article updated: 2015-07-07

Categories: Aircraft - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-09-16


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