The Zero was the main fighter aircraft of the Japanese Navy throughout the Pacific War. It is considered to have been the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world when it was introduced early in World War II.
The designer sacrificed armour protection for pilots along with self sealing fuel tanks and an array of weight saving measures all in the name of creating a high speed, light weight, long range and highly manoeuvrable aircraft. Known as the ‘Zeke’, it did in fact achieve the designer’s goals. The nimble fighter was armed with two 7.7 mm machine guns and two wing-mounted 20mm cannon. With the use of a streamlined drop tank, the Zero had a range of 3000 km and was well liked by its pilots for of its phenomenal rate of climb and other attributes.
Zeros made short work of the allies’ obsolete fighter aircraft in the early stages of the Pacific campaign and it soon gained a feared reputation as a dangerous and lethal foe. However, as the US gradually brought in more advanced and heavily armed designs such as the F4U Corsair and F6F Grumman Hellcat, the shortcomings in the Zero’s design began to show. Better and more advanced fighters to take on the Zero however were not the sole answer to winning in combat. It took Allied fighter pilots some time to develop tactics that gave them an advantage.
The model exhibited was flown by Lieutenant Shigeru Itaya of the Akagi Carrier Fighter Group. Shigeru Itaya was the Group Leader in the first wave of Zeros along with the bombers and torpedo bombers that attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941.