“These flights covered performance tests such as we do on planes undergoing Navy tests. The very first flight exposed weaknesses of the Zero which our pilots could exploit with proper tactics … immediately apparent was the fact that the ailerons froze up at speeds above 200 knots so that rolling maneuvers at those speeds were slow and required much force on the control stick. It rolled to the left much easier than to the right. Also, its engine cut out under negative acceleration due to its float-type carburetor. We now had the answer for our pilots who were being outmaneuvered and unable to escape a pursuing Zero: Go into a vertical power dive, using negative acceleration if possible to open the range while the Zero’s engine was stopped by the acceleration. At about 200 knots, roll hard right before the Zero pilot could get his sights lined up.”
– Lieutenant Commander Eddie R. Sanders, test pilot for the captured Zero, in his classified report after undergoing flight testing, September-October 1942
In a previous installment of Product Spotlight, we pointed out the obvious disadvantages the Grumman F4F Wildcat possessed against the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero. While tactics were worked out in the short haul to deal with the Zero, it wasn’t until the US actually laid claim to a crash landed Zero that it could move forward and build an aircraft capable of defeating the Zero in a typical one-on-one engagement.
The Akutan Zero, also known as Koga’s Zero and the Aleutian Zero, was a type 0 model 21 Mitsubishi A6M Zero Japanese fighter aircraft that crash-landed on Akutan Island, Alaska Territory, during World War II. It was found intact by the Americans in July 1942 and became the first flyable Zero acquired by the United States during the war. It was repaired and flown by American test pilots. As a result of information gained from these tests, American tacticians were able to devise ways to defeat the Zero, which was the Imperial Japanese Navy’s primary fighter plane throughout the war.
The Akutan Zero has been described as “a prize almost beyond value to the United States”, and “probably one of the greatest prizes of the Pacific War”. Japanese historian Masatake Okumiya stated that the acquisition of the Akutan Zero “was no less serious” than the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway, and that it “did much to hasten Japan’s final defeat”. On the other hand, John Lundstrom is among those who challenge “the contention that it took dissection of Koga’s Zero to create tactics that beat the fabled airplane”.
The Akutan Zero was destroyed in a training accident in 1945. Parts of it are preserved in several museums in the United States.
Hobby Master’s rendition of the Aleutian Zero (HA8804) is expected to take wing in August.