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Mitsubishi A6M Zero file photo [4]

A6M Zero

ManufacturerMitsubishi Heavy Industries
Primary RoleFighter
Maiden Flight1 April 1939


ww2dbaseIn Oct 1937, the Japanese Navy sent out requests for a new advanced naval aircraft to Japanese manufacturing firms Nakajima and Mitsubishi. On 17 Jan 1938, requirements were revealed to representatives of the two firms at Yokosuka, Japan, which called for an aircraft with speed of 500 kilometers per hour at 4,000 meters and a climb to 3,000 meters in altitude in 3.5 minutes. The Nakajima team immediately thought it was impossible to achieve and pulled out of the bidding process. The executives at Mitsubishi, knowing that the firm was already occupied with the navy bomber project, also considered to reject the project, but designer Jiro Horikoshi pressed hard to embark on this task, arguing that his team would be able to achieve the high performance demanded by reducing the weight of the aircraft. After negotiations, the navy dropped the bomber project, and Horikoshi was able to embark on this fighter project.

ww2dbaseThe result was the Type 0 Carrier Fighter (Japanese: Rei-shiki kanjo sentoki, or Reisen for short), the most maneuverable fighter aircraft in aviation history. The Zero fighters were made out of lightweight duralumin alloy for maximum maneuverability. Horikoshi and his team had to make sacrifices to achieve such high performance, especially considering the relatively weak 950 horsepower powerplant. Armor plating and self-sealing fuel tanks, for example, were deleted from the blueprint to save weight. On 23 Mar 1939, a prototype Zero fighter was taken apart, loaded onto two ox carts, and moved about 25 miles to the naval base of Kagamigahara, Japan, where it would take its maiden flight on 1 Apr. The second prototype was delivered on 25 Oct 1939. Production began soon afterwards, with the first production example delivered on 31 Jul 1940.

ww2dbaseMost Japanese Navy pilots immediately found A6M Zero fighters to be the most efficient aircraft they had ever flown. Saburo Sakai later recalled that "[t]he Zero excited me as nothing else had ever done. Even on the ground it had the cleanest lines I had ever seen in an aeroplane. it was a dream to fly."

ww2dbaseZero fighters' first combat mission took place in China on 19 Aug 1940, when 12 of them escorted 54 G3M2 bombers on a bombing mission against the capital city of Chongqing. On 13 Sep 1940, the pilots of the 12th Combined Naval Air Corps shot down 27 Chinese I-15 and I-16 Russian-made fighters while flying a bomber-escort mission. After a year in combat in China, the small number of Zero fighters shot down a total of 44 Chinese aircraft at the loss of only two fighters, and they were lost to anti-aircraft fire rather than in dogfights. This led to the belief that the Zero fighters, in the hands of capable pilots, were nearly invincible. Japanese Navy aviation leadership believed that each Zero fighter would be enough to counter two to five enemy fighters. This belief was shown during the Pearl Harbor strike in Dec 1941, in which only 108 of the 400 Zero fighters available to the Japanese Navy at the time were deployed in the attack; the naval commanders thought 108 were enough to handle American fighters at Pearl Harbor.

ww2dbaseInitially, these commanders were correct, as the American and British had no fighters that could match the Zero fighters' high performance and long range. In the first three months of the Pacific War, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the end of the Dutch East Indies campaign, Zero fighters claimed 471 kills out of 565 of all enemy planes destroyed. They continued to hold a technological advantage over their American counterparts until the introduction of Grumman F6F Hellcat, Vought F4U Corsair, and Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters later in the war.

ww2dbaseZero fighters were typically deployed in three-fighter flights, each called a shotai. Unlike western flights, the Japanese flight leader flew far ahead of the two wingmen, while the wingmen weaved left and right and up and down, covering more blind spots than their western counterparts. When attacking, instead of the entire flight attacking the target, the three Zero fighters would attack in succession, thus never giving the target any chance for a break during the entire attack. When the flight was attacked, however, the shotai, given the distance between the flight leader and the wingmen, was easily broken up, leaving each fighter to fend for itself. Early in the war, when the Zero fighters were by far the most maneuverable fighters, they relied on the maneuverability to recover from the occasions when the flights were broken up.

ww2dbaseDuring the Battle of Midway in Jun 1942, Japan lost four fleet carriers and 234 aircraft. What caused the most harm was the loss of more than ten percent of the navy's experienced fighter pilots. In response, the Japanese Navy recalled many veteran fighter pilots back to Japan to train replacements. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi worked on the next major variant of the Zero fighter, which was revealed in Oct 1942. The powerplant was upgraded to the supercharged Sakae 21 engine, which was rated at 1,130 horsepower, although the armament remained the same; despite the engine upgrade, however, performance remained roughly the same. Meanwhile, Allied fighters continued to improve. In order to counter the fact that Zero fighters were becoming out-classed, the three-fighter shotai was revised to four fighters each, hoping to use new tactics to bring balance to the dogfights, but by then it was already too late to make a difference. Additionally, poor Japanese fuel quality toward the end of the war also plagued the remaining Zero fighters; the fuel was so bad that the Zero fighters often emitted a thin trail of dirty smoke behind them when they were at wide-open-throttle, at times even letting out bright flashes of flames from exhaust ports (interestingly, these fuel issues sometimes led to US pilots believing they had successfully damaged the enemy, which in turn led to inflated kill scores).

ww2dbaseToward the end of the Pacific War, the large numbers of Zero fighters in service and their high maneuverability made them ideal for suicide special attacks, more popularly known to westerners of the day as "kamikaze". Out of the 2,363 Japanese Navy aircraft that participated in special attack missions, 1,189 of them were A6M Zero fighters.

ww2dbaseBy the end of WW2, 10,937 Zero fighters were manufactured. Mitsubishi built only 3,880, while the majority of the remainder were built by Nakajima, the company that declined to bid on the original request for such a fighter.

ww2dbaseAfter the war, most surviving A6M Zero fighters were destroyed. A few of them were sent to the United States for testing. Many of them were abandoned across the various Pacific islands, rusting very quickly in jungle climates. Only about 13 were available for museum display today, such as the Zero fighter on display at Yushukan museum adjacent to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. Only a very small number are in flyable condition today.

Bruce Gamble, Target: Rabaul
Donald Nijboer, Seafire vs A6M Zero
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign

Last Major Revision: Jan 2010

A6M Zero Timeline

17 Jan 1938 Japanese Navy revealed requirements for the next generation of carrier fighters to representatives from Nakajima and Mitsubishi; Nakajima thought the requirements were impossible and dropped out of the race, while Mitsubishi was able to meet the requirements with its prototype A6M Type 0 fighter in 1939.
1 Apr 1939 Prototype A6M Zero fighter took its maiden flight at Kagamigahara airfield, Japan.
25 Oct 1939 Mitsubishi delivered the second Zero fighter prototype to the Japanese Navy for testing.
10 Jul 1940 The Japanese deployed the new A6M Zero fighters against Chinese forces.
31 Jul 1940 Mitsubishi delivered the first production Zero fighter to the Japanese Navy.
19 Aug 1940 Twelve A6M2 Model 11 Zero fighters escorted fifty four G3M2 Type 96 bombers on a mission against the Chinese city of Chongqing; this was the first combat mission of the Zero fighter.
13 Sep 1940 13 Zero fighters escorted bombers on a mission to raid Chongqing, China; the Zero fighters downed 27 of the Chinese I-15 and I-16 Russian-made fighters.
1 Nov 1940 During this month, Japanese Navy began receiving the carrier version of the A6M Zero fighter.
10 Jul 1942 An American PBY Catalina crew spotted the wreck of a Japanese aircraft on Akutan Island, US Territory of Alaska.
11 Jul 1942 US military personnel studied the "Akutan Zero", a Zero fighter that had crashed in the Aleutian Islands.
15 Jul 1942 A salvage crew arrived at Akutan Island, US Territory of Alaska to recover a A6M2 Zero fighter that had crashed there during the Japanese attack in the prior month.


A6M8 Model 64
MachineryOne Mitsubishi MK8P Kinsei 62 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial, rated at 1,560 hp for take-off, 1,340 hp at 2,100 m and 1,180 hp at 5,800 m, driving a three-blade metal propeller
Armament2x wing-mounted 13.2mm Type 3 machine guns; 2x wing-mounted 20mm Type 99 cannon; external stores carried 2x60 kg bombs (1x250kg for suicide missions)
Span21.44 m
Length9.24 m
Height3.64 m
Wing Area21.30 m²
Weight, Empty2,150 kg
Weight, Loaded3,150 kg
Service Ceiling11,200 m

A6M2 Model 21
MachineryOne Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial, rated at 780 hp for take-off and 875 hp at 3,600 m, driving a two- or three-blade metal propeller
Armament2x7.7mm Type 97 machine guns in the upper fuselage decking; 2x20mm wing-mounted Type 99 cannon; external stores carried 2x60 kg bombs (1x250kg for suicide missions)
Span21.44 m
Length9.06 m
Height3.05 m
Wing Area22.40 m²
Weight, Empty1,680 kg
Weight, Loaded2,410 kg
Weight, Maximum2,796 kg
Speed, Maximum533 km/h
Rate of Climb15.70 m/s
Service Ceiling10,000 m
Range, Normal1,600 km
Range, Maximum3,105 km

A6M3 Model 32
MachineryOne Nakajima NK1F Sakae 21 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial, rated at 1,130 hp for take-off, 1,100 hp at 2,850 m and 980 hp at 6,000 m, driving a three-blade metal propeller
Armament2x7.7mm Type 97 machine guns in the upper fuselage decking; 2x wing-mounted 20mm Type 99 cannon; external stores carried 2x60 kg bombs (1x250kg for suicide missions)
Span21.44 m
Length9.06 m
Height3.51 m
Wing Area21.50 m²
Weight, Empty1,807 kg
Weight, Loaded2,544 kg
Service Ceiling11,050 m

A6M5 Model 52
MachineryOne Nakajima NK1F Sakae 21 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial, rated at 1,130 hp for take-off, 1,100 hp at 2,850 m and 980 hp at 6,000 m, driving a three-blade metal propeller
Armament2x7.7mm Type 97 machine-guns in the upper fuselage decking; 2x wing-mounted 20mm Type 99 cannon; night version carried one fuselage-mounted oblique-firing 20 mm Type 99 cannon; external stores carried 2x60 kg bombs (1x250kg for suicide missions)
Span21.44 m
Length9.12 m
Height3.51 m
Wing Area21.30 m²
Weight, Empty1,876 kg
Weight, Loaded2,733 kg
Service Ceiling11,740 m


A6M2, Ki-44, and A5M4 aircraft, date unknownA6M Zero fighters of Japanese Navy Genzan Air Group at Genzan (now Wonsan), Korea, 1940-1941
See all 83 photographs of A6M Zero Fighter

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Hobilar says:
22 Sep 2007 04:05:01 AM

The last paragraph is incorrect. Mitsubishi built 3,879 (3,880)Zeros, Nakajima built 6,215 (6,570), Hitachi built 279 and 21st Naval Dockyard built 236. (Figures in brackets are from a second published source).
2. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
18 Feb 2009 01:58:16 PM

Photo of zero in formation: Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen (Zero Fighter) of the 12th. Rengo Kokutai shortly after the type's entry into service. On 21, July the navy decided to assign fifteen A6M2's to the 12th. Rengo Kokutai (12th Combined Naval Air Corps) for combat in China.
3. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
18 Feb 2009 02:19:02 PM

Zero fighter production: Mitsubishi 3,879, Nakajima 6,570. total production of land based fighter's 10,449. The model A6M2-N and A6M5-K are reported separately, they are: a total of 327 A6M2-N's were built Koizumi by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. between Dec. 1941 and Sept. 1943. A total of 515 A6M2-K and A6M5-K were built as follows. Dai-Nijucichi Kaigun Kokusho at Omura (Sasbo) 236 A6M2-K (Nov. 1943 to Aug. 1945. Hitachi Kokuki K.K. 272 A6M2-K mAY 1944 to Aug. 1945, and 7 A6M5-K mAR. TO aUG. 1945
4. jacob archer age 15 says:
4 May 2009 01:18:44 PM

the altutude is wrong. the A6M2 can climb to 3,000m in 4.5 minutes
5. Steve Voskian says:
19 Aug 2010 06:59:15 PM

The Zero was a good fighter when flown by an experienced pilot against an inferior foe. But it met it's match against well trained American pilots flying F4F,s F6F, Corsairs, Mustangs, etc.
6. Jan Koso says:
19 Aug 2010 07:15:08 PM

When you compromise armour for agility, you will lose when your opponent can take some battle damage and you can not.
7. Leo Grospe says:
19 Aug 2010 07:24:26 PM

its ok to compromise the armour
for the agility of the plane..
the odds are just the same..
either u die or u live
to tell about it..
...its ok to be good and excel at something than to be a jack of trades..

as for the pilots..
many japanese experienced pilots are dead
in the middle stages of the war..
thats why the imperial navy lost big time
in the marianas and the battle of leyte gulf..
it was like a turkey shoot..
8. Chris Sheppard says:
19 Aug 2010 07:46:25 PM

The Japanese and the Germans both failed in the training of pilots to replace those lost, you cannot just "Make" new pilots. In combat, experience is a big factor in survival.
The recovery of the downed Zero in Alaska, the studies of it's strengths and weaknesses aided the US airmen in taking advantage of its weaknesses.
9. Jhun Garcia says:
20 Aug 2010 04:45:03 AM

mitsubishi engine right?
10. Jhun Garcia says:
20 Aug 2010 05:00:34 AM

what's the US counterpart of this aircraft and what engine?
11. Brooks Ashley Rowlett says:
20 Aug 2010 07:07:35 AM

The engine of the Reisen (Type 0) was actually by Nakajima: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakajima_Sakae
which strangely enough was designed after the Japanese aquired a license to the Gnome-Rhone 14K
12. Anonymous says:
12 Jul 2011 01:36:25 PM

Is there any information on the names of the military personnel who were inspecting the crash of this plane? My step father was stationed there during this time and the thirs picture in the set of 3 has a person standing on the aircraft on the right that looks like it could possibly be him. Any info you could help me with would be very appreciated. thanks
13. Ron says:
19 Mar 2012 11:11:24 PM

The Japanese say they could overboost the A6M2 to 345+mpn level speed. This is the reason there was such a discrepancy between US tested examples and those flown by Japanese against the US pilots. When told that our tests showed the F4F-3 egual to the A6M2, the surviving US pilots would reply "NO" in no uncertain terms.
Our test pilots didn't know the boost settings used by the Japanese and got misleading performance on paper which showed both could do 331 mph and climb over 3,000 fpm. Same basically goes for the P-39 and P-40 pilots of 1942. They experienced the Zero 21 keeping in range of them in speed and climb too. Is this why initial climb for the A6M2 ranges from 2700 fpm (in US hands) to 4517 fpm as well? Never mind the Zero's 1/2 turn at 240 mph in 5.62 seconds while its carrying fuel for longer legs than any other fighter at the time! At least they agreed on that part.
I like the roll rate of the clipped A6M3 but the glory days of the Zero were ending.
14. takushi tachibana says:
28 Jul 2013 04:38:53 AM

We have zero fighter's manual.air frame and engin.
These documents is not ten pieaces in japan.Please
buy Thease Document.
15. Kermit says:
25 May 2014 08:07:59 PM

I think 'span' figure is incorrect. 12m for the A6M2 Model 21 but 11m for the clipped wing for the rest.
16. Ron says:
18 Oct 2014 03:32:27 PM

Along with Chris' post, the Axis didn't plan on a long war.
The Zero was up to the task if the war would end as planned within a year, but the Allies had other ideas.

Losing 4 carriers at Midway was a game-changer. All those veteran pilots would be sorely missed while the planes could be replaced. Credit goes mostly to the Dauntless dive bombers. The obsolete Devestator torpedo planes didn't score much but they used up the Zeros, leaving the Dauntless with full reign up high. So the sacrifice worked.

As for the Zero, the Model 22 A6M3 (full span) still held it's own especially with the likes of Nishizawa on the trigger of it's high velocity 20mm Type 99-II cannons.
The A6M5 would have done OK if Jiro and his team had their way and installed the 1500 hp engine intended. But Navy Brass said no, like they knew better. Then they were chastened by the Marianas turkey shoot! But they reversed their decission too late and the A6M8 missed the show. The A6M5 had to make do with the added thrust of the exhaust to keep up with a new generation of US fighters. The injected motor of the A6M6 that the Brass was banking on didn't reach production. The weighed down A6M7 with bomb racks and rocket rails was slower at 340 mph than the latest Oscar Ki 43-IIIa at 358 mph! Of course the Ki 43 still was armed with only two 12.7mm guns while the new Zero may have gotten the fast 750 rpm Type 99-II Mk 5 20mm wing-cannons since both this cannon and the A6M7 were produced from May 1945 onward. It was finally fully armored like the Ki 43. Only 148 A6M7s were built. Some were used as night fighters but the rest were kamakazis. Either way, speed wasn't such a big handicap.
You can't fault Jiro Horikoshi and his design team for an obsolete Zero for the last 2 years of WW 2. In any case the torch had passed to the Kawanishi N1K1-J George fighter for the all-around Navy air superiority contender.
After the fall of the Philippines force of about 70 USN fighters were attacked by a force of only 34 N1K1-J fighters. The Georges lost 12 but claimed 20 US fighters destroyed!
Even if the US losses don't match Japanese claims we know that after this engagement, US pilots had instant respect for the George and it's pilots looked upon F6F Hellcats as relatively easy prey.
17. jmb2fly says:
1 Apr 2015 08:29:42 AM

The Zero was an extraordinary aircraft, but I disagree with some of what is said in this article. Part of the Zero's superiority was the inferior tactics of many of their enemies at the war's beginning. The Flying Tigers in P40-Bs have an impressive air to air combat kill ratio against the Japanese Air Force in 1941 and the first six months of 1942. Although most of the Flying Tigers combats were against older Japanese fighters, the Flying Tiger pilots said that they prefered to fight the Zero's because the older open cockpit fighters they were going against were more manueverable and harder to hit than the Zero's. When the Flying Tigers met Zero's in combat they usually shot them down.....They also refused to fight the Zero in the horizontal plain. They forced them to fight in the vertical plain where the P40-B had the advantage when attacking from above. The USAF adopted much from the Flying Tigers in air combat tactics against the Japanese.
18. dilla5 says:
11 Apr 2015 06:15:42 AM

How many Zero's are left flying now ? are there any based In the UK
19. Anonymous says:
2 Dec 2015 09:26:13 AM

How many are left? Are any purchasable?
20. Anonymous says:
4 Apr 2016 09:09:08 PM

A word should be said here about the A7M Reppu.
Mitsubishi and the IJN began planning for the A6M Zero's replacement in 1940. This later became the A7M Reppu. 1 was produced that survived at the end of the war. So it was way too late.
Mitsubishi was stretched too thin. As soon as Saburo Sakai test flew the A7M2, they should have rammed this plane onto the Zero production lines and immediately stocked the remaining carriers with the 390 mph Reppu. It's automatic combat flaps gave it a 12 second full 360 turn time like the A6M3 Zero! The Zero's glory was fading fast already. The Reppu's new engine should have been produced in more than a singe plant. After all, it was going to also power Ki 84s too since it was reliable. Of course they didn't and the engine factory was put out of action for a spell.

The Reppu could have been a worthy replacement if the Zero production at Mitsubishi were halted after the Reppu test flight was such a success. Japan should have put most of it's resources behind this project before the end of 1944.

The A7M is not so well covered so that's why I mention it here.
The 400 mph (estimated) A7M3 never flew but it's my favorite one with better altitude performance and 6x20mm Type 99-II type 5 fast wing cannons! That would have threatened the B-29.

Then there is the redesigned A7M3-J land based version with 6x30mm Type 5 cannons (2 dorsal). It had a long nose and more wing area. This interceptor version Reppu had the best altitude performance but was scheduled for 1946. It had no folding wings or tailhook ...etc. But the earlier short nose A7M3 climbed better (estimated of course).

It should have gone a few rounds before it retired. But the Navy lived and died with the Zero as a higher priority. In my opinion, Nakajima could have made all the kamikazi Zeros and Mitsubishi should have been freed up for the Reppu. To me this is part of the Zero story.

21. RB says:
30 Jan 2017 09:07:53 PM

The Zero was a hot plane in 1940- 1942. By 1943 the torch should have passed to the N1K1.

The spell was broken. The bulk of the late model Zeros were perhaps the last to get seatback armor of any fighter in WW2!
The A6M5c finally got the armored seat but speed dropped to 335 mph or so! Not good in 1945. To compete with Corsairs, it should have had the
MK9A 2200 hp engine to keep up, but it still had the 1130 hp engine of the A6M3 from late 1942. The A6M8 with 1560 hp wasn't enough and it missed the war. Can you imagine a Reppu engine in the A6M5 and 7? That would go like a Bearcat on fire with double the power of the stock A6M5!
I know the MK9 had vibration and with the turbo, the MK9C version was unreliable. That delayed the Reppu. But the supercharged MK9 was OK and the A6M5 was most prolific in strong numbers. If the MK9 factory had duplicated itself, perhaps the Zero would have more than 335 mph to end the show on. Certainly more than the heavy 390 mph A7M2.
22. TC says:
22 Apr 2017 06:52:27 PM

I have a piece of a wing from a Japanese zero that was shot down outside of our Santo Tomas prison camp in Manila PI, 2-5-45. The identification is imprinted on the wing in Japanese. Can you interpret the markings if I send you a picture?
23. ive flown a s4 Wyvern says:
2 May 2017 10:38:23 AM

when i test flew a A6m in Japan i was amazed at its turn rate it was incredible
especially for how old the plane was
24. Anonymous says:
29 May 2017 04:06:27 AM

the locally famous zero that sat behind the old Rose home on peachtree st in Atlanta is now in a museum in washing state.

I had know about this plane and seen it many times.

the museum is rather rude and acted like a horses *** ..I had offered information about this aircraft...they must assume they know everything. ignorance is bliss...
25. Anonymous says:
26 Oct 2018 11:28:32 AM

this page helped me so much

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More on A6M Zero
Notable Figures:
» Horikoshi, Jiro
» Iwamoto, Tetsuzo
» Kasai, Tomokazu
» Sakai, Saburo
» Sasai, Junichi

Notable Event:
» Attack on Pearl Harbor

Related Books:
» F4F Wildcat vs. A6M Zero-sen
» F6F Hellcat vs A6M Zero-sen
» Seafire vs. A6M Zero: Pacific Theater

Related Documents:
» Carrier Aircraft Specifications
» Interview with Bert Earnest

A6M Zero Fighter Photo Gallery
A6M2, Ki-44, and A5M4 aircraft, date unknownA6M Zero fighters of Japanese Navy Genzan Air Group at Genzan (now Wonsan), Korea, 1940-1941
See all 83 photographs of A6M Zero Fighter

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