Earlier today, legendary Reno Air Racing pilot, Skip Holm flew a restored Mitsubishi A6M Zero over Japan. Although it is not the first former WWII-era Japanese aircraft to do so in the intervening seventy odd years since the end of the war, it is the first time a Japanese-owned example has gone aloft in that period, and this may have set a major new precedent in Japanese aviation policy. It should be noted that a couple of American-owned examples have made brief flying tours of Japan; most notably the former Planes of Fame Museum of Flying’s A6M Zero back in 1978 and again in 1995.
The aircraft is owned by Japanese businessman, Masahide Ishizuka, and has been in the country since September, 2014. The aircraft is based upon the remains of a wreck recovered from Babo Island in Indonesia by Bruce Fenstermmaker back in 1991, along with the hulks of a number of other Japanese warplanes. Its restoration took place over many years, beginning in Russia, where the major structural refabrication took place, and ending up in Mojave, California for final fitting and the installation of its powerplant. Little, if any original structure, other than the landing gear, made it into the restoration. Like all but one airworthy Zero, this example has a Pratt&Whitney R-1830 engine instead of the original Sakae.
The aircraft is currently based at Kanoya Maritime Self Defense Base in the Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyushu… a base where wartime zeros once flew. It underwent its first engine runs after reassembly last July, but it took some time before the Japanese civil aviation authority would allow the aircraft to fly. It’s a sensitive subject, obviously, to bring back memories of Japans imperial past, but a thaw in those attitudes seems slowly to be occurring. One has to acknowledge the past, however painful, in order to move forwards, and perhaps that is what is now taking place in Japan.
The new owner commented in a recent interview with AP journalist Miki Toda that “I wanted for the people of Japan and especially young people to know about this Zero airplane, as well as those who are old who remember the past. Each of them should have different thoughts and perspectives on this, but I just want people to know how Japan has developed its technology.”
It will be interesting to see what happens now in the vintage aviation scene in Japan. Perhaps, like Germany over the last few years, there will be a renaissance of sorts which will see more wartime aircraft restored to flight again. It should be a good thing.
Skip Holm’s test flight with the Zero in Japan is seen in the video below.