Aircraft buffs given rare chance to see dismantling of Zero fighter

September 02, 2013

By SHIGEO HIRAI/ Staff Writer

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Prefecture--The Tokorozawa Aviation Museum held a viewing Sept. 1 of the dismantling work on what is believed to be the world's only airworthy Zero fighter still with its original engine in preparation for its return to California.

In December, the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum borrowed the Zero fighter, bearing the identification numbers "61-120," from the Planes of Fame Air Museum in California to commemorate the centennial of the construction of Japan’s first airfield at Tokorozawa in 1911. The special exhibition ended on the last day of August.

On Sept. 1, Planes of Fame mechanics spent about three hours carefully detaching the cables and pipes that connect the engine to the main body. When the engine, known as a Sakae 31 to aviation buffs, emerged, some 180 spectators on hand were eagerly taking photos.

“Japan’s aircraft technologies reached world-class levels during the three decades before and during World War II,” said Kenzo Kamino, the director of the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum. “The dismantling viewing served as a valuable opportunity to showcase a real engine from an iconic Zero fighter.”

Taizo Nakamura, who has replicated and restored instrument panels for Zero fighters, was in attendance to watch the dismantling.

“So many original parts remain in good condition and have actually been used,” he said. “This is great!”

Zero fighters were the mainstay of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Pacific War.

A Model 52, the 61-120 fighter was assembled at Nakajima Aircraft’s Koizumi plant in Gunma Prefecture in 1943. The plane was captured by the U.S. military in Saipan in 1944 with almost no damage.

Number 61-120 was purchased by Planes of Fame and went on display at the museum after the U.S. military finished studying the aircraft. Even today, the plane logs about 15 to 20 hours of annual flying time, according to Planes of Fame officials.

By SHIGEO HIRAI/ Staff Writer
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Aircraft enthusiasts visit the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum in Saitama Prefecture on Sept. 1 to see the dismantling of a Zero fighter. (Toshiyuki Takeya)

Aircraft enthusiasts visit the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum in Saitama Prefecture on Sept. 1 to see the dismantling of a Zero fighter. (Toshiyuki Takeya)

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  • Aircraft enthusiasts visit the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum in Saitama Prefecture on Sept. 1 to see the dismantling of a Zero fighter. (Toshiyuki Takeya)
  • U.S. engineers separate the engine from the body of the Zero fighter as visitors with cameras observe from above. (Toshiyuki Takeya)
  • The engine is being removed from the body of the Zero fighter. (Toshiyuki Takeya)
  • The engine is removed from the body of the Zero fighter. (Toshiyuki Takeya)
  • The front view of the Zero fighter's engine (Toshiyuki Takeya)

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