Zero fighter plane being prepped for its 1st flight since WWII
TOKYO (Tribune News Service) — Almost 70 years after it was flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane is being prepared to take to the skies of Japan again to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II.
Often referred to as the Reisen, or Zero, the plane, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and seeing service from 1940 to 1945, was brought back to Japan last September from the United States where it had been stored.
Currently displayed at the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima prefecture, it has been reassembled, and its engine was tested July 7 with help from U.S. Federal Aviation Administration engineers.
“We hope this will make people reflect on the past and think of their future,” said Hitoshi Okubo, a spokesman for the Tokyo branch of Delaware, U.S.-based Zero Enterprise Inc., which initiated the project to bring the aircraft to Japan.
More than 400 Zero fighters were active in the Pacific and played a significant role in Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
“We wanted to give young people in particular an opportunity to think of the impact of war,” Okubo told The Japan Times on Monday, pointing to the value of the plane as an educational asset.
“There are discussions around Japan’s policies on the right to the collective self-defense . . . but how can we expect young people to voice their opinions about the future if they don’t know their country’s past,” he said.
If the plane is cleared, it will be the first time the reassembled aircraft will fly through Japan’s air space since the war. Another Zero fighter, which was on lease from the U.S., was flown in Japan twice, in 1978 and 1995.
The firm plans to apply to the government for flight approval this week, but its fate remains unclear due to safety concerns, Okubo said. If realized, the plane will be flown by a U.S. pilot since no Japanese has a license to operate a Zero, he added.
The Zero had a maximum speed of 533 kph (331 mph) and a range of 3,105 kilometers (1,929 miles).
This particular plane was found in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s and later restored by collector and current owner Masahide Ishizuka, who bought the plane in 2008.
It is one of six existing Zeros that are capable of flight, five of which remain stored or on display in the United States, according to Zero Enterprise Inc.
Correction: This story was corrected on July 14, 2015, to reflect the fact that this is not the first time that a Zero fighter plane has flown in Japanese air space since the end of World War II.
©2015 the Japan Times (Tokyo)
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