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Japan's Imperial Navy flag

Japan's Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen (zero fighter) fighter
Navy Type 0
Allied code name: Hamp, Zeke


Mitsubishi Type 00, "Zero" fighter:
Japan's Mitsubishi Type 00, "Zero" fighter
Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook

Mitsubishi Type 00, "Zero" fighter:
Japan's Mitsubishi Type 00, "Zero" fighter
Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook

Mitsubishi A6M, "Zero" fighter:


Jiro Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A6M as a replacement for the A5M. The A5M outperformed all of its rivals in China leading to the belief that a highly maneuverable fighter was better.

A requirement for a new fighter was issued on January 17, 1938, to Nakajima and Mitsubishi. Convinced it was impossible to meet the requirements, Nakajima withdrew. The requirements were for a fighter that could go 300 mph at 13,000' and climb to 10,000' in 9 1/2 minutes.

Mitsubishi was developing the 11-Shi bomber at the time and didn't want to divert resources to a new fighter that it too thought was impossible to build. In exchange for letting Mitsubishi drop the 11-Shi project, the Imperial Japanese Navy talked Mitsubishi into developing the "impossible" fighter.

Once testing was complete the Imperial Japanese Navy gave it its designation, the A6M1 Rei Shiki Sento Ki (Type 0 Carrier borne Fighter).

The Zeke name came from the Japanese year 2600 that it was designated.


The first two prototypes had the Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 (875 HP) engine installed. On the third prototype carried the Nakajima Sakae 12 (950 HP) engine. The Sakae 12 was selected and it resulted in the need for making the A6M even lighter so armor plate and self sealing fuel tanks were not included in the initial design.

The engines were very good, but as the war progressed quality declined.


The undercarriage of the A6M was wide and sturdy.

Fuel Tanks

One of the main weaknesses of the A6M Zero was that it didn't have self sealing fuel tanks.

There were three fuel tanks, one in front of the pilot and one in each wingroot.


Another weakness of the A6M Zero is that the pilot had no armor.


In the rear of the fuselage was a canvas floatation bag in the case of a ditching at sea.

The center section was made an integral part of the wing which save weight and aided in maintenance. The front and rear sections of the fuselage were removeable.


To make the A6M as light as possible the wing was developed to be in one piece and made from lightweight Extra-Super Duralumin.

Main Armament

The prototype had two 7.7 mm Type 97 machine guns that were in the top of the fuselage with cocking mechanisms coming out the instrument panel.

Two 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (license built by Dai-Nihon Heiki Company as Type 99s) were in the wings. These were outside the landing gear.

Speed and Range Comparison

Speed and Range Comparison


On March 23, 1939, the first prototype had to be disassembled at the Mitsubishi plant, and transported to the Kagamigahara naval air base on two oxcarts.

The A6M1 prototype first flew on April 1, 1939. The test pilot was Katsuzo Shima. He rolled it down the runway and lifted off a few feet off the ground before settling back onto the runway.

During the testing it was found that there was a vibration in the engine that couldn't be explained. Hirokoshi had the two blade propeller replaced by a constant speed three blade propellar. The 12-Shi was the first Japanese plane to have a constant speed propellar. This was tested on April 17, 1939, and the vibration in the engine was nearly eliminated. This prototype was taken on 119 flights for a total of 43 hours and 26 minutes of air time.

Second Prototype

The second prototype was delivered on October 25, 1939. It had better elevator controls. It went to the Navy's test center at Yokosuka Air Base. Armament trials began a short time afterwards.

On March 11, 1940, the plane had an explosion in flight and unfortunately killed the test pilot.

Third Prototype

The third prototype (designated the A6M2) was fitted with the Sakae 12 engine. It flew on January 18, 1940 for the first time.

Accepted for Service

On July 31, 1940, the A6M was accepted for service with the Navy.


The Zero was the most produced Japanese fighter.

Production Comparison

Production Comparison



The A6M was the first carrier based fighter that could outperform any land based fighter when it first appeared.

The A6M was very maneuverable and had a long range. The Rei-sen was dominant in the Pacific for the first half of 1942. After that the Allied fighters surpassed it in performance.

China Debut

On July 21, 1940, fifteen preproduction models were sent to the 12th Kokutai (air corps) at Hankow. Lt. Tamotsu Yokoyama led the first A6Ms into combat escorting 54 G3M2 Nells to Chungking.

First Battle

During the fourth mission on September 13, 1940, Chinese Air Force I-15s and I-16s intercepted the returning formation. During the battle all 27 Chinese fighters were shot down without a loss to the Japanese.

Pearl Harbor

At Pearl Harbor there were 125 A6Ms used, and nine failed to return.

Midway Pinnacle

The A6Ms were the best fighter in the Pacific through the Battle of Midway. After that the A6Ms were being quickly outperformed by P-38 Lightnings and F6F Hellcats.


  Mitsubishi A6M
Type Fighter
Crew 1
Engine (Type) Nakajima NK1
Cylinders Radial
Cooling Air
Net HP 900
Propeller blades  
Span 37'
Length 28' 4"
Wing area  
Loaded 5,100 lb
Speed 300 mph
Service ceiling  
Range with drop tank 2,000 miles
Nose 2: MG
Wings 2: 20 mm


  1. Aircraft of World War II, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  2. Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Editor: Karen Leverington, 1995
  3. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  4. Seafire vs A6M Zero Pacific Theatre, Donald Nijboer, 2009
  5. A6M Zero in Action, Shigeru Nohara, 1983
  6. Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II, Ikuhiko Hata, Yasuho Izawa, 1989
  7. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  8. Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook, Ensign L. C. Guthman, 1943
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