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  • Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen (Zero) Carrier-Borne Naval Fighter / Fighter-Bomber

    The Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M Zero carrier-borne fighter became synonymous with the Japanese military commitment over Asia and the Pacific during World War 2.

     Updated: 1/3/2017; Authored By Dan Alex; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Mitsubishi A6M "Rei-sen" was the primary naval fighter of the Japanese Empire heading into World War 2. The aircraft was recognized by its pilots as the "Zero-sen" based on the Imperial Year calendar (1940 at the time). The Allies eventually adopted the "Zero" name as the type's nickname while the official Allied codename for the became "Zeke". The A6M received much attention in the early stages of the war in the Pacific where it became the first naval aircraft to be able to best any of its land-based counterparts through a combination of speed, maneuverability and range. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan produced some 10,939 examples from 1940 on. The series survived the whole of the war up to the Japanese surrender of September 1945, its worth having been proven over five years of conflict.

    Origins of the A6M lay in pre-war 1937 by which time Mitsubishi had just delivered the A5M. The A5M was a monoplane fighter developed for the Imperial Japanese Navy and incorporated a streamlined fuselage, low, forward-set monoplane wings and a single-seat cockpit. While 1,094 of the type were taken into inventory, the type still held some old-fashioned design elements which rendered it an obsolete-appearing aircraft by World War 2 standards. It held an open-air cockpit for the pilot with a raised fuselage spine and fixed, spatted main landing gear legs. Visibility out of the cockpit was poor and armament centered on a pair of 7.7mm Type 89 series machine guns.

    With these limitations in mine, the Imperial Japanese Navy pushed both Mitsubishi and Nakajima for a new carrier-borne naval fighter of greater capability - particularly range to prove important over the vast spans of Pacific Ocean in the upcoming Japanese campaign. Also, the hitting power of the aircraft was to be improved by implementation of cannon armament coupled to machine guns for a formidable one-two punch. Due to the space on Japanese carriers, the aircraft would also have to be relatively compact and feature folding wing assemblies for storage. The IJN sought particular specifications out of their new mount: a maximum speed of 310 miles per hour and a climb rate of 9,850 feet reached in 3.5 minutes.

    Nakajima engineers eventually found the requirements too restrictive and did not submit a formal design, leaving Mitsubishi to head the project. Their design (attributed to Jiro Horikoshi) became a smoothly contoured monoplane wing fighter with a fully-enclosed cockpit and wholly retractable landing gear legs. The engine was fitted to a compartment at the front of the fuselage in the usual way and the wings sat ahead of midships. Visibility was slightly improved over that as found on the A5M as the fuselage spine was lowered into the fuselage shape. The canopy was of greenhouse style and still provided for adequate situational awareness for the pilot. The wingtips could fold upwards for a reduced wingspan in storage. One of the qualities of the Mitsubishi design that would prove both good and bad was its lack of armoring for the major components of the aircraft - cockpit, engine and fuel tanks (as well as self-sealing fuel tanks). While the lack of this armor protection made for a lighter, and therefore more agile, aircraft, it decidedly reduced the survivability of both crewman and airframe in a fight against equal or superior fighters. The Mitsubishi design was also an excellent turning machine, which gave it an edge against contemporaries for a time. Armament was a mix offering of 2 x 20mm cannons in the wings and 2 x 7.7mm machine guns in the engine cowling. Power was from a Nakajima radial piston engine driving a three-bladed propeller.

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    Mitsubishi A6M5 Rei-sen (Zero) Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1940
    Type: Carrier-Borne Naval Fighter / Fighter-Bomber
    National Origin: Imperial Japan
    Manufacturer(s): Mitsubishi Heavy Industries / Nakajima - Japan
    Production Total: 10,938

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 29.72 feet (9.06 meters)
    Width: 36.09 feet (11.00 meters)
    Height: 9.78 feet (2.98 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 4,136 lb (1,876 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 6,025 lb (2,733 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 1 x Nakajima NK1C Sakae 21 14-cylinder two-row radial piston engine developing 1,130 horsepower.

    Maximum Speed: 354 mph (570 kph; 308 knots)
    Maximum Range: 1,193 miles (1,920 km)
    Service Ceiling: 37,730 feet (11,500 meters; 7.15 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,812 feet-per-minute (857 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    2 x 20mm Type 99-1 cannons in wings
    2 x 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns in engine cowling

    2 x 130lb conventional drop bombs
    1 x 550lb bomb (for kamikaze role)

    Global Operators / Customers

    China; Imperial Japan; Indonesia; Taiwan; Thailand

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    A6M1 - Prototype Model Designation fitted with 780hp Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 radial piston engine.

    A6M2 - Initial Production Model Designation fitted with 950hp Nakajima Sakae 12 radial piston engine.

    A6M2-N - Naval Float Version dubbed "Rufe" by Allied forces.

    A6M3 - Fitted with two-stage supercharged Sakae engine; sans folding wingtips.

    A6M5 - Fitted with Sakae 21 radial piston engine; improved exhaust system; multiple subvariants of this model existed.

    A6M6 - Fitted with water-methanol boosted Sakae 31 engine.

    A6M7 - Fighter / Dive-Bomber Hybrid.