Mitsubishi A6M3-22 Reisen (Zero)

Place in history:The Mitsubishi A6M Reisen (nicknamed Zero and Zeke) was rightfully feared by the Allies at the start of the war. With its tight turning radius and tremendous speed, the Zero was able to outmaneuver and out run most Allied fighters. "Never try to turn with a Zero," Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers advised his pilots, "always get above the enemy and try to hit him with the first pass."

Because of the A6Ms exceptional range and performance, it would see action in every naval engagement in the Pacific theater of the war. The Zero became less effective once the Allies began exploiting its weaknesses, notably its lack of armor and self-sealing gas tanks. By 1943, improved American fighters had closed the performance gap. Mitsubishi responded with redesigns of the Zero. The later A6M5 had structural modifications to allow for faster diving speeds and an improved exhaust system that provided increased power.

But improvements to the Zero came too late and Japan's disregard for aircraft armor resulted in pilot losses that outpaced pilot training. Towards the end of the war, the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service was no longer an effective fighting force. Zeros were reduced to serving as escorts for Kamikaze (suicide) planes, and at the end of the war they were used as Kamikaze weapons themselves.

This aircraft: This Zero was one of many Japanese combat planes destroyed by American bombing on Babo Airfield in New Guinea during World War II. In the early 1990s this Zero wreck was discovered and acquired by Bruce Fenstermaker and the Santa Monica Museum of Flying.

Around 1994, three recovered Zeros, including this one, were sent to Russian for restoration. The fighter's salvageable parts were retained, while missing or heavily-damaged components were created by Russian craftsmen in order to make the planes flyable again. By the late 1990s, the trio of aircraft was back in the United States. In order to operate dependably, each aircraft was fitted with a specially-modified Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engine. The engines contained a mixture of components in order to be as compact as possible and fit in a standard A6M cowling.

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