Profile Publications No. 129 The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen

Two interesting views o f A 6M 2's on the carrier Akagi during the “Hawaiian Operation" o f December 1941. Note the padded bridge-island o f the carrier, and the details o f propeller markings and undercarriage structure visible on the aircraft. (Photos: via R. AWard) Zero taking off from the Akagi for the attack on Pearl Harbour the carrier was Vice-Admiral Nagumo's flagship. Note the pilot has raised his seat for better visibility during take-off. (Photo: via R. toWard) Mitsubishi Jukogyo K.K. (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co., Ltd.) and Nakajima Hikoki K.K. (Nakajima Aircraft Co., Ltd.) their preliminary specification for a 12-Shi Carrier Fighter (I2-Shi indicated that the specification had been issued in 1937, the 12th year of Showa, as the reign of His Imperial Highness HiroHito is known). On 7th July, 1937 hostility flared up anew between Japan and China giving anew urgency to the programme and Mitsubishi decided to suspend work on their projected 11-Shi Carrier Dive Bomber, then almost completed, to concentrate on the more urgent fighter design. This wrecked A6M 2, coded A I-154, was flown at Pearl Harbour by Petty Officer Hirano. It was the first Zero shot down by United States forces in World War 2. (Photo: U.S. Navy Official) To work on this project Mitsubishi assigned a team led by Mr. Jiro Horikoshi, (whose help in the pre­paration o f this Profile is gratefully acknowledged), and including Messrs. Yoshitoshi Sone and Yoshio Yoshikawa (structure), Shotaro Tanaka and Denichiro Inouye (powerplant), Teruo Tojo (stress analysis), Sadahiko Kato, Takeyoshi Moro and Yoshimi Hatakcnaka (landing gear, armament and acces­sories). In October 1937, the Imperial Japanese Navy, in the light of combat reports from China, stiffened up its specification and requirements included: (a) maximum speed 270 knots (311 m.p.h.) at 4,000 m. (13,125 ft.) (h) climbing speed: 3,000 m. (9,840 ft.) in 3 min. 30 sec. (c) endurance: 1-2 to 1-5 hours at normal rated power and 6 to 8 hours at economical cruising speed with drop tanks (d )armament: two 20 mm. cannons and two 7-7 mm. machine guns with provision for two 60 kgs. (132 lb.) bombs and (e) complete radio equipment including direction finder equipment. Performances as well as equipment requirements far exceeded anything previously achie­ved in Japan and the Nakajima and Mitsubishi design teams faced a most difficult task. Following a technical review held at the Naval Aircraft Establishment at Yokosuka on 17th January, 1938, Nakajima decided to pullout of the competition leaving Jiro Horikoshi and his Mitsubishi team to tackle a seemingly im­possible specification. To meet the exacting performance requirements a powerful engine with minimum weight and diameter had to be selected, and as at the time no suitable liquid cooled inline engine was available in Japan, three 14-cylinder air-cooled radials were evaluated: the 875 h.p. Mitsubishi “Zuisei 13”, the 950 h.p. Nakajima “Sakae 12”, and the 1,070 h.p. Mitsubishi“ Kinsei 46”. At first, the “Sakac” did not find much favour with the Mitsubishi team as it was designed by a competitor and Jiro Horikoshi favoured the larger and heavier, but more powerful.“ Kinsei”. However, due to the Navy's insistence on a power loading not exceeding 5-5 lb./h.p., the “Zuisei 13” was finally retained but all through the A6M production life Jiro Horikoshi kept insisting on adopting the “Kinsei” his tenacity being vindicated, albeit too late, when 6,300 “Kinsei 62” powered A6M8’s were ordered. A constant speed three-blade Sumitomo-Hamilton propeller was also recommended and replaced the two-blade variable pitch propeller favoured by the Imperial Japanese Navy early during flight tests. 4
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