1943 Mitsubishi A6M5 Model 52 Reisen (Zero or Zeke)
s/n 1303 N1303
This Mitsubishi A6M5 Model 52 "Zero" is a time capsule.
The engine appears to be a solid core suitable for a rebuilt to airworthy condition.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is quoted as saying that he would “run wild” against the Americans for perhaps the first year of the war, but that all bets were off subsequently. His concern that the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) would find it difficult to prevail in the later years of a war with the United States was prophetic for the performance of the iconic Japanese warplane – the Zero or Zeke, as it was code named by the Americans.
In the early months of 1942, the incredibly nimble Zero, flown by combat experienced IJN pilots, wreaked havoc on allied air forces throughout the Pacific. This initial superiority began to slip away as …
American tacticians like Chennault and Thach developed attack and defensive schemes which exploited the weaknesses of the Zero;
The lack of protection and inadequate firepower of the Zero became issues; and
Newer American aircraft, like the Hellcat, took away the performance advantage of the Zero.
The Japanese aviation industry was never able to respond effectively to the need for a Zero replacement, so the design was stretched to try to meet the improved American fighters entering service in large numbers throughout 1943. The A6M5 Model 52 was one of the major design improvements and was accepted by the IJN in August 1943. The following features differentiated it from the A6M3 Model 22:
Wings shortened by 19.69 in;
Heavier gauge metal used on wing surfaces;
Rounded wing tips;
Ailerons started outside of wing station 12 and were not squared-off at the end, but tapered to meet the aft curve of the wing tip;
Landing flaps ended at wing station 12;
Individual exhaust stacks exited the cowl in place of the collector system;
Dive speed increased to approximately 410 mph due to some of the above changes.
This new variant was called Rei Shiki Kanjo Sentoki Go Ni Gata (Type Zero Carrier-Based Fighter Model 52) or Rei Sentoki Go Ni Gata (Zero Fighter Model 52). “A6M5” stood for:
A = carrier-based fighter;
6 = 6th carrier-based fighter design;
M = Mitubishi designed;
5 = 5th major variation.
Both Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Company and Nakajima Aircraft Company produced the Model 52 with this aircraft being from Nakajima. This Zero was built presumably at the Nakajima No. 2 Koizumi plant in Gunma Prefecture. Nakajima’s No. 11 Musashi plant in Tokyo Prefecture manufactured the Sakae 21 radial engine that powered the Zero.
Nakajima used a code to protect production data. The Zero is construction number 1303 with the “1” being a false number added when the actual number ends in 00 to 09. Nakajima began building the A6M5 in February 1944, and the Zero was the 228th aircraft out of the 271 produced in March 1944.
After production and flight-testing, the Zero was probably flown to Saipan in the Mariana Islands and assigned to Naval Air Group (NAG) 261 n the 61st Air Flotilla of the First Air Fleet. NAG 261 was formed in June 1943, assigned to the new First Air Fleet in July 1943, and transferred with that Air Fleet to the Mariana Islands in late February 1944. Known as the Tora or Tiger unit, NAG 261 was led by Commander Taketora Ueda while the group leader was Lieutenant Masanobu Ibusuki.
NAG 261 was diverted to the Palau area where it was manhandled during heavy American carrier air raids on Peleliu at the end of March. It is very possible that the Zero was a replacement aircraft assigned while NAG 261 was rebuilding in early April 1944 on Saipan. Also, the Zero might have arrived during a second rebuilding period in early May at Airfield No. 2 on Saipan.
The Zero received the tail code of 61-121 and would have been painted as follows: dark green (FS-34077) upper surfaces; lighter green (FS-24201/26350) lower surfaces; 75 mm white outline (painted over in darker color) around the fuselage hinomaru; 50 mm white outline (painted over in darker color) around the upper wing hinomaru; black cowling; and yellow (FS-33538) wing leading edges and tail markings. The spinner would have been red-brown along with the propeller blades, and the upper/lower paint demarcation line would have gone upwards at the tail to meet the forward edge of the horizontal stabilizer.
There was air action against B-24s bombing Woleai Atoll in April including a major air battle on 23 April in which two B-24s were knocked down by ramming. On 2 June 1944, a large contingent of NAG 261 fighters was sent to Halmahera to operate over Biak. Those that survived returned to Guam and Yap in mid-June. The balance of NAG 261 aircraft remained on Saipan and Yap – it is likely that the Zero was one of these. The invasion of the Mariana Islands and the Battle of the Philippine Sea chewed up the remaining aircraft and pilots of NAG 261 and the unit was disbanded on 10 July 1944, the day after Saipan fell.
It is not known if this Zero was airworthy when captured by the Americans at Aslito airfield on Saipan. However, it was one of many Zeros carried to the United States on the escort carrier USS Copahee for technical evaluation. The carrier left Tanapag Harbor on 8 July and reached San Diego on 28 July where the aircraft were unloaded at NAS San Diego.
The Zero went to the Technical Air Intelligence Center (TAIC) at NAS Anacostia for evaluation. The allies had set up a network of units to analyze captured Japanese equipment, particularly aircraft. There were several of these Technical Air Intelligence Units (TAIU) in the Pacific area including the main one established in Melbourne and then operating from Hangar No. 7 at Eagle Farm in Brisbane from mid-1942. In the summer of 1944, shortly before the capture of the Zeros on Saipan, it was decided to consolidate the analysis of Japanese naval aircraft at Hangar 151 at Anacostia.
It is not clear what evaluations were performed with the Zero, however both British and American pilots flew the aircraft. This Zero became “T.A.I.C. 11” which appeared on the tail of the aircraft with the construction number “1303” on the fuselage just forward of the tail and the words “Technical Air Intelligence Center” just under the cockpit. Contemporary photographs show that it was stripped of all paint during some of the testing.
In October 1945, the Navy put together the “Victory Squadron” as part of its “Navy’s Flying Might” tour in support of the last bond drive. The squadron, made up of Navy aircraft, included the Zero and a Kate torpedo bomber. Lieutenant Commander Willard Ernest Eder, an ace with 6.5 victories and the Navy Cross, commanded the unit.
Lieutenant (jg) W.D. Blocher flew the Zero from Anacostia to NAS Wildwood where the “Victory Squadron” was assembled. The Zero suffered a “nose up” accident with another pilot at the controls while taxiing at White Plains on 20 October 1945 – the scene of the first air show. The technicians at TAIC had to change the engine and propeller while the rest of the tour moved westward. In the course of transiting through NAS Atlanta while seeking to rejoin the tour, the Zero was ground-looped and abandoned.
Veterans of NAS Atlanta remember that Navy Chief Sam Nunn supervised cutting up the aircraft for disposal - probably in 1946. It went into the dump located at the north end of the field next to runway 34. There is no known reason for the quick destruction of the aircraft, however another enlisted man remembers being tasked to retrieve it for an open house at the base.
- I (Roy E. Gallinger) was the one who pulled the Zero scrap from the dump and laid it in the hanger to be shown at an open house. The metal shop laid some sheet metal over it to make it look like a plane then they painted it with the Zero markings. -
It may be that the future owners of the Zero, the Elliotts’, saw the aircraft at this open house on the base in 1946 or 1947. Gallinger further relates that:
Mr. Elliott of the Elliott Museum went through congress or the president and was given title of what was left of the Zero. Mr. Elliott had papers which gave him the Zero I had pulled from the dump and removal by NAS to a suitable location… The engine was not in a running condition, but had some cowl attached to it. On verbal orders I took a crane and a lowboy truck (and) moved it from our dump, where it had been returned after the open house, to an outside lot behind the Elliott Museum on Peachtree St. across from the hospital. Due to the width of the driveway back of the lot it took several attempts to get it in and located as Mr. Elliott wanted it placed just so for viewing. It was a piece of junk with very little of the original fuselage or skin left to work with. NAS had reconstructed (it) to look like the Zero had originally looked from a distance only.
James H. Elliott, Sr. was a colorful character (pioneer Georgia aviator, antique dealer, and appraiser) who opened the Atlanta Museum in the 1930s. He moved the museum to the Rose Mansion at 537 Peachtree Street in 1945 – shortly before acquiring the Zero.
His son, James H. Elliott, Jr, maintained the museum until his death in 1998.” It is not known if the Zero was ever protected while at the Atlanta Museum, but it had certainly deteriorated in the open yard and suffered the effects of weather and vandalism over many years.
In the early 1990s, Don Whittington purchased the Zero and moved it to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It is reported that Whittington intended to restore the Zero, but determined that too much damage had been done to the airframe..
The current owner purchased the aircraft in December 2000 and registered it on 27 August 2001. The registration process was delayed, as it took numerous requests to obtain a statement from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau that the Zero had never been registered.