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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Japanese Zero Fighter Flies Again - Probably

Considering Japan built about 11,000 Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes for WWII, you might think there would still be a few hanging around in museums and private collections.

However, considering that the Allied forces shot down a hell of a lot of the aircraft—it was a very fast plane, but in order to lightweight it, Mitsubishi didn't give it thick armor—I was still surprised to learn that there are only about 10 Zero aircraft still capable of flight.

We are talking about 70-year-old planes used in combat, after all… and infamously, was the preferred plane for pilots involved in kamikaze (divine wind) suicide missions where, after dropping a bomb, shooting all its ammo, the pilot would attempt to dive the plane into Allied ships.

I wasn't there, but I am sure it was just horrible for the people on the ships. 

It was just this sort of Japanese fanaticism that convinced the Allies (led by the Americans) that any sort of land invasion of Japan to end the war was going to be their own version of a suicide mission. It's why it was a no-brainer to drop two atomic bombs, with a third planned and more on the verge of being prepared. Finally… Japan surrendered.

It wasn't just an arbitrary decision to wipe out people with a radioactive heat bomb. But the Japanese, according to the Allies, weren't fighting the war with proper respect, which also made the bombings an easier decision to make. Pearl Harbor and the kamikaze missions alone showed Japanese resolve.

Ah, don't get me started on WWII. I'm just a dumb guy who reads, but never fought in a war.

Let's talk about the Mitsubishi Zero - one in particular.

Owned by Ishizuka Masahide (surname first), 54, a Japanese national living in Rabaul, New Guinea, he is returning a Mitsubishi Type-22 Zero to the skies over Japan.

It's a convoluted story, but not all that long, though I'm sure I can find a way.

The plane was owned by an American, who was selling the plane to a Hokkaido, Japan museum in 2007. The American had owned it since 1970 and spent considerable time and money restoring it to operational condition—it could fly.

Both parties used Ishizuka to broker the deal. He manufactures and sell flight jackets.

In 2008, with the global economy tanking—Japan's too—the museum tried to get out of the deal.

But, contract stipulations meant the museum would be forced to pay huge penalties that it could not afford…. so Isizuka rode up on his white palomino horse and rescued the museum.

Selling off his assets, he paid for the Type 22-Zero and became it's new owner.

How much did he pay? ¥350,000,000… which is only US $3-million. I don't know why I said "only"… probably thinking about what I would do if I won a lottery.

Still… that's a lot of money, and while I am unsure why he did it, the point is for a guy that makes and sells flight jackets, he was still able to raise ¥350,000,000.

Isizuka is now the only Japanese owner of a Mitsubishi Zero WWII fighter plane that flies.

From New Guinea, he launched the Zero Homecoming Project (I believe the English on the website says: "The Zero fighter go back to Japan by the wing." - you can see it stamped on the photo at the very top) … planning to transport the plane back to Japan and once there, flight it over the country.

I don't know about some of you—but I am aware that wartime Japan played a huge negative role for many families… still—but as an aviation enthusiast, WWII amateur historian, and Japan blogger, I think see the Zero fly over Japan would be cool.

I only hope it doesn't stir up any radicals calling for Japan to rise up and reclaim Asia as its own pet (again), or for foreigners to get out of the country, or for the Emperor to regain his godhood. I know that 99.9999 percent of the country wouldn't think that way, but we all know how the media loves to take those 100 malcontents and blow something up into an international incident.

Then, when that happens, where people start putting Japan down, the rest of Japan gets involved, feeling they are being slighted as a whole… and the next thing you know, fecal matter hits the silk fan.

Okay… I'm reasonably sure that won't happen… but it has happened in the past. One of my favorite examples is regarding Japan's insistence that it be allowed to hunt whales as some sort of homage to its past.

Yeah, there was a time when some Japanese people were only able to get protein from whale meat, and did what they had to do, but that was hundreds of years ago. After the world pooh-poohed Japan's recent claim on a heritage right that nobody outside of 100 people cared about, suddenly Japanese people everywhere began to clamor for whale meat that they had never previously eaten, all done to show that it was historically and thus culturally a part of Japan. And that it was tasty, too. It's not. Been there, eaten that. I accidentally purchased a can of it once. I had to blow a ton of dust off the can at the supermarket, implying it wasn't a huge seller back in 1992. But, give the Japanese a cultural cause to rally behind...

Back to the flight of the Zero.

Ishizuka got the plane back to Japan in September of 2014—thanks to ¥23.4-million (US $200,00) donated through the project's website.

After arrival, it was then sent to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya Naval Airbase, in Kagoshima-ken for research purposes.

All's going to plan, right?

Nope. Ishizuka then met Private SNAFU (situation normal all fugged up).

He needed a flight permit.

Ishizuka figured he only had to show documents about the plane's restoration, have it inspected and off it would go into the wild, grey yonder (it was always grey in the three years I lived in Japan).

But… believe it or not… since Japan prime minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) and his government had decided they might like to create a new Japanese Constitution to replace the one the U.S. imposed on it following its defeat in WWII (it was a very good constitution, by the way, providing rights for women, for example)… and maybe Japan could also rid itself of the Allied Forces-imposed declaration that Japan would no longer be allowed to have its own military Army, Air Force or Navy… only allowing it a Self-Defense Force…. since then… the government figured it would be sending a mixed message if it suddenly had a WWII Zero flying over its skies.

I can see their concerns… Japan wants to go back to its gory glory days when the rest of Asia was its comfort woman, not that that actually occurred. Riiiiiight.

That was 2014.

Since then… there hasn't been a huge brouhaha over Japan's right to maintain its own military… in fact, by playing it cool, and still being buddy-buddy to the U.S. who maintain bases on Japanese land—to protect Japan, since it's own Self-Defense unit is lacking in fear-generating power… Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism agreed on December 18, 2015 to allow the Zero to fly again.

It just had to do so within the next month, according to the agreement.

That means that on Wednesday, January 27, 2016… the only Japanese-owned, flyable Mitsubishi Zero WWII fighter will take to the skies… uh… with an American pilot in the cockpit.

That's an interesting concession. Hopefully, the plane isn't loaded with bombs or ammo. Kidding.

The plane will fly above the Kanoya Naval Airbase (鹿屋飛行場, Kanoya Hikōjō) in Kagoshima-ken.

Naturally, access is restricted, but fret not… if you are in the area, the plane will still be visible to those on the ground in the surrounding area.

Plus… I'm sure you'll be able to hear the plane's engine rumble through the sky... this time without generating fear.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Awesome! As an artifact of engineering, the Zero is a beautiful thing though I am more partial to the Nakajima A6M2-N variant.

    1. Yeah, that pontoon plane is awesome, too.
      I had built a Revell model kit back in the 70s with a Zero and a P-51 and used to fly them around while watching Black Sheep Squadron on TV. That was my introduction to WWII.

    2. Brass Hat: Why's he doing a barrel roll on take off! That's not permitted!

      Pappy: His landing gear is busted and that's the only way he has to retract it.

      Ba Ba Baaaa....


    3. I always recall Pappy calling his Japanese arch rival "Riceball". We are poor little lambs, who have lost our way... (now you...) Ba Ba Baaaa.
      Weird how I can recall the words.. the boots running in the sand, but can't recall what I ate for dinner yesterday. I've always been that way.