Anyone who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s learned very quickly that “Made in Japan” meant cheap price and poor quality. Almost everything bought in the five-and-dime stores had that tag. It seemed impossible to purchase anything imported from Japan that would not wear out or break after a very short useful life.
That fact and the secrecy of the Japanese in the years before WW II regarding their military buildup anesthetized all of us regarding their real might. The average American believed that in battle, Japanese military forces would crumble as fast as their products had. We were obviously wrong. They overran country after country and their air forces were superior to anything that could be put against them. Americans learned to respect the term “Jap Zero” as defining the epitome of aerial superiority. Just one day after December 7, 1941, “Made in Japan” had an entirely different meaning.
When I arrived at Grumman on November 11, 1942, and started flying the Wildcat fighter, I was immersed in the life-and-death struggle that the Wildcat, the only U.S. Navy fighter, was having with the Zero. All we heard from the communiqués was that we couldn’t build and deliver the Wildcat fast enough. The story was still very fresh in everyone’s mind how “Grummanites” had volunteered to work around the clock for seven days after the Battle of Midway to deliver the much-needed 39 additional Wildcats to the fleet to replace some of the aircraft lost during that pivotal battle. The reason that Grumman could not deliver more at that time was that we had run out of engines. So, I felt somewhat ambivalent when I had the chance to fly the vaunted Zero in October of 1944 at the Joint Services Fighter Conference at the Patuxent Naval Air Test Center.
Many historians have insisted that the Zero was either a copy of the Vought 143 (which the Japanese had purchased) or the Hughes Racer. They did look similar, but the Zero used a much different design philosophy to get its weight lower than any other fighter of the time. Japanese designers reduced the loads on the structure by designing to very restrictive dive speeds and by dispensing with armor protection and self-sealing tanks. They gained further weight savings by moving the wing-fold point nearly out to the wingtips. But that greatly limited the number of aircraft that could be placed on a carrier owing to the long folded wingspan.
Out of the hangar
My first impression of the Zero was that it looked every bit the fighter. It had very trim lines. Except for the canopy bulge, the engine was the biggest volume in the design, and the slim fuselage behind it made it seem smaller than it was. It was, to my eyes, the best-looking fighter at the ’44 Fighter Conference. It certainly had a magnetic drawing power to fighter pilots because of its reputation for unparalleled agility in dogfights.
During my walk-around, I noticed that there were one-inch bamboo rubbing devices attached to the wheel fairings that the tires picked up, to close the wheel well doors as the gear retracted. The Japanese were certainly using all the endemic materials at hand. Another item I noticed was that the Nakajima Sakae 21 engine had an exact replica of the Pratt & Whitney logo, complete with the eagle, with “Nakajima” in Japanese script, but with the words “Dependability and Reliability” in English. I did feel more at home with the Zero after seeing that mark of excellence.
The Zero was the only aircraft that had a pilot to assist in checkout. Because of the Zero’s rarity, Commander Andrews, the Navy project pilot, would not let a pilot start the engine until he was satisfied with his competence.
We started our cockpit checkout in the cool hangar. As we were talking, the airplane was dragged out into the hot sun. I had previously noted that the fabric was drooping between the ribs of the ailerons, but had forgotten to ask Commander Andrews about it. Soon, there were a lot of audible, metallic scraping noises. Commander Andrews then suggested that the fabric would become taut, and the metallic working would stop after the airplane had become acclimated to the higher temperature outside the hangar. That is the only time I have ever “heard” an engineering weight savings.
This Type 52a Zero did not have self-sealing fuel tanks and pilot armor protection. That was to cost them 145 pounds in the Type 52c, which was just being delivered to Japanese squadrons when the Fighter Conference was going on. That weight penalty, plus others to come—without an increase in horsepower—started an inevitable decline in the Zero’s combat agility.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
April 25, 1967, VA-212 tests the A-4 to the limit
Boeing’s electronic attack weapon
Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3
Authenticated by its log books, an N3N that 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush trained in is preserved and still flying—now owned by Stewart Wells.
Five-Gun Fury .
Lt. Floyd Fulkerson: Wingman to the Aces
Impossible barriers are made to be broken
Few technologies have had such a rapid development and such a powerful impact on mankind as the invention of the airplane.
YELLOW SCORPIONS - P-51 Mustangs rule the skies in China
Using Chinese airfields, the 311th Fighter Group was the first to take World War II to the Japanese. The 311th’s 530th Fighter Squadron, which became known as the “Yellow Scorpions,” was the first squadron based in China. During their combat tour, they flew A-36 dive bombers along with all versions of the P-51 (A, B, C and D). However, it was their expertise with P-51 B and C models that earned them the respect of Japanese pilots.
WACO “Super Sport” S3HD - A Golden Age king
The WACO “Super Sport” S3HD is often referred to as the “King of the WACO biplanes.” Built as only one example, it is the stuff of legends.
SPITFIRE WITH A PUNCH - ROYAL AIR FORCE FIGHTER IN POLISH COLORS
Squadron Leader Clive Rowley, MBE RAF (Ret.), a former officer commanding the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, tells the story behind the latest color scheme for the Flight’s Spitfire Mk XVI TE311.
F-35B LIGHTNING II SEMPER FI
The JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) program is synonymous with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, which ultimately won the competition against Boeing and its X-32. The JSF plan was to have a similar new fighter for the U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy and U.S. allies: Build a bunch and keep the price tag down. It has been a success story since then.
DEFENDER OF THE REICH WW II as seen by a Luftwaffe Ace
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was in rare form, his eyes full of fire as he faced one of the better known of Germany’s aces, Oberst Walther Dahl. “Göring’s reply astonished even me,” Dahl remembered. “In the presence of pilots with heads, arms and legs in plaster, he yelled: ‘You cowards! Now I know why your Geschwader holds the record for parachute jumps: you jump so as not to fight.’
BIGGEST SPACE STATION CROWD IN DECADE AFTER SPACEX ARRIVAL
The International Space Station’s population swelled to 11 on Saturday with the jubilant arrival of SpaceX’s third crew capsule in less than a year.
Let the Games Begin
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics works toward a mid-pandemic strategy.
Happy Hacking Pro Hybrid Type-S Keyboard
$337 for this beauty, but why?
JAPAN SPACE AGENCY CONFIRMS ASTEROID SOIL INSIDE CAPSULE
Japan’s space agency said it has confirmed the presence of black soil samples inside a capsule that the spacecraft Hayabusa2 brought back from a distant asteroid last week.
Capsule With Asteroid Samples Arrives In Japan For Research
Japanese space agency officials were delighted by the return of a small capsule containing asteroid soil samples obtained by their Hayabusa2 spacecraft and were anxiously waiting to look inside after preparations are complete.
Can Nike's Anti-Racism Ads Just Do It in Japan?
Its social justice playbook worked in the U.S. but may not translate to a less diverse nation
Howa XL Lite Chassis Rifle
Shooting a New .223 Remington
Japan's Softbank Back in The Black As Investments Improve
Japanese technology company SoftBank Group Corp. said it bounced back to profitability in the last quarter as its investments improved in value.
Translating Toshiko Hirata's Ars Poetica
AUTOart 1969 Nissan Fairlady Z432
The first specialty Z had the heart of a GT-R