Profile Publications No. 129 The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen

* r Line-up o f A6M2's at Rabaul late in 1942. (Photo: via Mont) problems were encountered and the most disturbing difficulty, slight vibrations, was eradicated sixteen days later when the two-blade variable pitch propeller was replaced by a three-blade constant speed unit. Maximum speed recorded on 25th April was 265 knots at 3,000 m. (305 m.p.h. at 12,470 ft.), slightly below requirements, and on 1st May Mitsubishi were instructed by the Navy to use the more powerful Nakajima “Sakae 12” on the third prototype (A6M2) and subsequent aircraft to boost the performance. The “Zuisei” powered A6M1 second prototype was flown for the first time on 18th October and soon performed armament trials during which the doubts about the effectiveness of the 20 mm. cannons built by Dai-Nihon Heiki K.K. (Japan Munitions Co., Ltd.) under Oerlikon licence were dispelled. Two months later it was the turn of the third aircraft, the “Sakae” powered prototype of the A6M2 to enter flight trials and all performance and manoeuvrability require­ments were exceeded. During the first months of 1940, flight tests con­tinued intensively to the entire satisfaction of the Imperial Japanese Navy when, on 11th March, 1940, the second A6MI disintegrated in the air, its pilot losing his life. Despite thorough wind tunnel tests, the cause of the crash could not be ascertained. Nevertheless, production of a pre-production batch continued and the only immediate result of this accident was to delay the combat trials of the aircraft which had been scheduled to start in May 1940 in China. In July the official trials were completed and on the 21st of that month two Hikotais (squadrons), with 15 pre-production A6M2’s on hand and led by Lieutenants Saburo Shindo and Tamotsu Yokohama, left Japan for China where they were attached to the 12th Rengo Kokutai (12th Com­bined Naval Air Corps). The first combat mission on 19th August, 1940, was performed by l2A6M2's escorting fifty G3M2’s on a bomb­ing sortie over Chungking, but no Chinese aircraft wereencountered. Following several inconclusive sorties, the Chinese still avoiding combat, the A6M2's drew their first blood on 13th September, 1940 when thirteen aircraft led by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo surprised a force of twenty-seven Chinese Polikarpov I-15's and 1-16’ s. Within minutes all Chinese aircraft had been destroyed without any Japanese losses. Despite increased activities over China and French Indo-China, the A6M2’s had not suffered a single loss by the end of the year and claimed to have shot down 59 Chinese aircraft. These successes had attracted the attention of Claire E. Chennault, then a retired U.S. Army Air Corps officer, who was re-organizing the demoralized Chinese Air Force. Chennault tried, to no avail, to warn his former colleagues in the U.S.A. but his reports were promptly and conveniently forgotten. Back in Japan, on 31st July, 1940, the A6M2 had been officially adopted as a service aircraft under the production designation Navy Type O Carrier Fighter Model II, this designation giving to the aircraft its nickname Reisen abbreviation for Rei Sentoki or Zero Fighter. Carrier qualification trials had been successfully conducted aboard the “Kaga” and the Reisen was quickly delivered to the major front line units in Japan. During early production life several modifications were introduced, the first of these being a reinforcement of the wing spar introduced on the twenty-second A6M2. As the deck elevators of the Imperial Japanese Navy carriers could not accommodate aircraft exceeding 1 1 m. (36 ft. 1 &in.) in span, the wings of the 65th and subsequent A6M2's were modified, 50 cm. (I ft. 7 !&in.) of each tip folding manually upward, the aircraft being redesig­ nated Navy Type O Carrier Fighter Model 21. The next modification afTected the aileron tab balance which was linked to the landing gear retraction mechanism to improve high-speed control by re­ducing stick forces, this being incorporated on the 192nd A6M2 (Model 21, No. 128). Left: Koga's aircraft, rebuilt and repainted, as it appeared at Orlando, Florida. Note the manually-folded wing-tips. Right: Lt. C.M. Hoffman, U.S. Navy, runs up Koga's aircraft for a flight attest SAN North Island, San Diego, California. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)
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