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Most living Americans tend to think of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero as the Japanese plane that walloped the Americans at Pearl Harbor. Okay, well.
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By , the performance of the Zero and the quality of its pilots were on irreversible downward spirals. Particularly damaging was that Japan's experienced pilots died in great numbers relatively early in the war. Conversely, American aircraft and pilots continually improved. The Mitsubishi A6M Zero's final role was a sad one: a kamikaze sacrifice of plane and pilot. Armament: One 7.

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Focke Wulf Fw Our pilots quickly learned how to fight the little devil never turn with it, use slash and dash techniques. More important, the Zero was so successful that Japanese high command saw no reason to plan for a follow-on design. This was to be a fateful decision.

Allied technology moved ever forward, eventually fielding designs that would rewrite the outcome of the war. To get the speed and range demanded by the specifications required building an airframe that weighed 4, pounds empty, about the same weight as an AT-6 Texan, while a Hellcat weighed over twice that. The Japanese high command was also mired down in the belief that aerial combat always came back down to the turning dogfight typical of WW I where a light wing loading was necessary to pull a tight circle.


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However, the very key to its success, its light weight, was also one of the keys to its undoing. To build the airplane that light Horikoshi had to eliminate as much metal as possible. For instance, he made the fuselage formers an integral part of the wing spar and eliminated the center section.

The one-piece wing made it impossible to produce sub components in widely scattered, easily protected cottage industry workshops.


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The Zero was wildly labor intensive, which is why barely 10, Zeros were built during its seven year life span. Nearly every American fighter topped the 10, mark in barely half the time. The super light structure also meant the six. As a result, the Zero was the fastest 1,hp, radial-engine fighter ever produced—but one with a number of single-point-failure locations that, if hit, could bring down the airplane. The Zero was skinned with the lightest-gauge aluminum possible, and when the shadows were right, some photos of Zeros in flight show them seemingly clothed in crinkled tinfoil, especially in the cockpit area.

The single heaviest component of any airframe is the main wing spar.

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A similar alloy was at the same time being experimented with in the U. One major benefit of over the Sumitomo metal was that it was very corrosion-resistant. In many recovered Zero hulks, the main spars have largely turned to powder. This eliminated the weight of fasteners and spar brackets.

Though it might seem that permanently affixed wings would make a Zero difficult to transport, Horikoshi had designed the entire tailcone and empennage to easily unbolt just aft of the cockpit. With everything removed forward of the firewall as well, the wing and cockpit became a single long but light and narrow truckload.

What is forgotten, however, is that virtually no fighters at the time the Zero was introduced had such features. It remained for the Battle of Britain, in the summer of , to demonstrate the need for armor and protected tanks. Little did they know what the Navy and Marines had in store for them. This left Zero pilots unable to warn wingmen of surprise attacks, and they could coordinate their own attacks only with occasional hand signals.

A typical multi-plane Zero attack was a melee of individual aerobatics, and Japanese pilots were in nearly as much danger of midairs with their mates as they were of getting shot at. He was like a kid showing off.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero

He finally flew on my wing and held the stick between his knees. Still grinning, he waved his lunchbox at me and started to eat. American pilots soon learned to dive and turn sharply—especially to the right, which substantial prop-induced torque made particularly difficult for the Zero—when they had a Zero on their tail. So Horikoshi designed an elastic control system, with thin elevator cables that stretched a bit as speed increased and a slightly flexible elevator-control torque tube.

Normally, such a setup would be anathema to an aeronautical engineer, for it encouraged an elevator to flutter as speed increased, but somehow, whether through luck or engineering talent, Horikoshi found a sweet spot where there was no danger of flutter yet elevator control forces remained constant regardless of the airspeed. Zeros were feared in part because of their two heavy wing-mounted 20mm cannons—Swiss Oerlikons built under license by the Japanese.

Japanese hospitality: Oerlikon sent five Swiss engineers to Japan in to help set up production, and the Japanese interned them until Horikoshi suspected that the Zero would yaw appreciably as first one and then the other cannon fired and recoiled, so he specified a fuselage longer than its optimal length, which gave the vertical stabilizer a longer moment arm and thus provided greater longitudinal stability. But the Oerlikons were still problematic.

They had a low rate of fire, limited capacity initially only 60 rounds per gun, later increased to and low muzzle velocity.

A6M Zero – The Deadliest Foe | World of Warplanes

At little more than half the caliber of the American. Shades of the Red Baron. Victory was then nearly inevitable.


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