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The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a lightweight fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS) from 1940 to 1945. It was by far the most famous and widely used aircraft in Japanese history. The origin of its official designation was “A” signifying a fighter and “6” signifying for the sixth model built by Mitsubishi “M.”
It is universally known as “Zero” from its Japanese Navy designation, Type “0” Carrier Fighter, taken from the last digit of the Imperial year 2600 (1940) when it entered service. In Japan, it was unofficially referred to as both “Rei-sen” and “Zero-sen;” Japanese pilots most commonly called their plane “Zero-sen.” The official Allied code name was “Zeke” in keeping with the practice of giving boys’ names to Japanese fighters, girls’ names to bombers, bird names to gliders and tree names to trainers.
It was a modern monoplane capable of speeds over 300 miles per hour, yet its low landing speed also made it suitable for carrier operations. Everything about its design and construction emphasized lightness, simplicity and utility. The first Zero was flown in April 1939 and went into regular service with the Japanese Navy in July 1940. A total of 10,449 were produced from 1939 to 1945, more than any other type of Japanese military aircraft. The Zero played an important role in almost every Japanese naval action, from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender in 1945. Even though it was obsolete after 1943, the aircraft continued in production until the end of the war.
Because most of the Japanese carriers had been lost by 1944, the Japanese Navy ordered new Zeros designed with more reliable bomb racks to fulfill the mission of dive bombing and to operate from smaller carriers. The Model 63 with a special bomb rack, reinforced tail plane and 350 liter wing drop tanks were put into production in May 1945. However, with no aircraft carriers available at this time, most surviving Zeros were converted to Kamikaze or suicide attack planes. In the last months of the war, the A6M7 was the final line of defense of the home islands, assuming the additional role of night-fighter.
The Museum’s Zero, built in 1945, was transported from the Yokohama Naval Air Station in Japan at the end of hostilities aboard the carrier USS Wasp, and stored at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. In 1962, it was acquired by the National Air and Space Museum, and then in turn, sent to the Bradley Air Museum in Connecticut for restoration, but storm damage to the museum prevented this. The aircraft was then loaned to the San Diego Aerospace Museum, where it arrived dismantled and in boxes in March 1981. Our volunteer craftsmen spent over 12,000 hours in restoring the plane, which has been on display in the WWII gallery since April 1984. It is on loan from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.