The newest aircraft to join the MotoArt fleet is a Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero, one of the most iconic aircraft of World War II. More Zeros were produced than any other Japanese wartime plane but many were lost to the war, or succumbed to the elements after landing, or by scrapping, so finding one was a miracle. Much less, an A6M3 Model 32, of which only 343 were made. Read more about the Zero and how #3148 was found.
A6M3 Model 32 Common Type, Public Domain Photo
The Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” was a long range, carrier capable fighter flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. Designated as the Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 carrier fighter, and referred to as the Reisen (zero fighter) by its pilots, the Zero first flew in 1939 and entered service in 1940.
They were designed from a 1937 Navy requirement for a fast, maneuverable long range fighter. The resulting aircraft had the speed and unmatched maneuverability, excellent climb rate, extensive range - but also limited engine power, lack of armor, and self-sealing fuel tanks. Their legend became known after a group of 13 Zeros ambushed a Chinese squadron in 1940; no Zeros were damaged. In the 18 months prior to Pearl Harbor, they shot down 103 Chinese aircraft, with a loss of only 2 Zeros. The Flying Tigers sounded the alarm about these incredible fighters but it wasn’t until Pearl Harbor when the Allies took notice.
Check out this training film, starring Ronald Reagan as a fighter pilot, to teach folks how to spot a Zero, and recognize differences between the U.S. P-40 and the Zero.
The A6M3, Model 32, was thought to be a completely different airplane type by the Allies when they first spotted it. The wings had been redesigned, among other things, and it was given the code name “Hamp”, which was dropped once Allies realized it was another Zero model. It also featured the Nakajima Sakae 21 engine and was designed with an eye on lighter structural weight. Lightening holes were used wherever possible. Protective armor and self sealing tanks were completely eliminated. Speed was increased by only 11 km/h (6.8 mph) compared to previous models, but these changes sacrificed almost 1,000 km (620 miles) in range. Production began in April 1942. By the end of November 1942, 317 had been built and they were being produced at the rate of about 2.2/day. Check out this Model 32 design analysis for the full picture.
Our Zero, # 3148, was born in the height of World War II, with funds gifted from the school children of the Middle Schools of Manchuria. It was delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in 1942 and was assigned to the 252nd Kōkūtai (Navy Air Group) in the Marshall Islands airfield Taroa. History puts 3148 right in the middle of a storied battle for the Japanese-held island of Nauru in 1943, when USAAF Lt. Louis Zamperini’s B-24D was shot at and badly damaged by a group of Zeros. 3148 was, by his own recollection, almost certainly flown by Miyazaki Isamu, an IJNAF ace pilot who fought in most of the South Pacific theaters. However, it was damaged beyond repair, not by combat but by bomb splinters after Taroa was bombed by F6F Hellcats.
The history of 3148 comes alive with artist and aviation enthusiast Ron Cole’s telling - see Tale of a Zero Fighter . Mr. Cole vividly describes the factory where 3148 was manufactured.
In September 1942, within the confines of a dark factory floor, Mitsubishi factory workers in jika-tabi spit-toe sandals were busily applying a thick coat of high-gloss gray paint to their latest pride and joy: one Type O Model 32 ‘Zero’ fighter. At a time when their factory put out an average of only one of these pristine machines per-day, the completion of every Zero was still regarded as very special, even a moment of religious significance, among all of the Japanese who’d played a part in the aircraft’s construction. Some of them had even etched Shinto blessings into its duraluminum structure, or had added an exhortation of best wishes or good luck to its eventual pilot.
Zamperini examines a hole in his B-24D Liberator Super Man made by a 20 mm shell over Nauru. - Public Domain photo
Louis Zamperini (January 26, 1917 to July 2, 2014) was a 1936 Olympic distance runner and a World War II veteran. A Torrance, California local, Zamperini served as a USAAF lieutenant in the Pacific. He was posted to Funafuti, as a bombardier aboard “Super Man”, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator. In April 1943, Super Man took part in a bombing raid against Nauru, most likely encountering #3148 in an attack after the successful mission. Super Man was severely damaged; five of her crew were wounded, one of whom died. Zamperini was credited with administering first aid to the Liberator crew and saving the lives of two on the return flight from the raid.
He was transferred to Hawaii for reassignment after the loss of Super Man, and was then assigned to conduct a search and rescue mission aboard a B-24 “Green Hornet”. On May 27,1943 Green Hornet crashed due to mechanical failure, killing eleven on board. Zamperini was one of three survivors; one died after 33 days at sea. After 47 days adrift at sea, Zamperini and pilot Russell Phillips were taken prisoner once they reached the Marshall Islands. They were held as prisoners of war until August 1945. He had been reported as missing at sea and killed in action, but was given a hero’s welcome once he returned home.
After Taroa was bombed by carrier born Hellcats, it was cut off from its supply chain and all of its aircraft were unserviceable. #3148 remained where it had been destroyed until 1991 when John Sterling recovered #3148 from Taroa Airfield.
Legend Flyers, founded and operated by Bob Hammer, is an aircraft restoration company located at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. They previously resurrected a Messerschmitt Me-262, and have now focused their efforts on restoring #3148. The restoration of #3148 has been documented extensively. Take a look at this episode of Chasing Planes.
MotoArt owner Dave Hall was thrilled when the team was asked to tag the original skin replaced during the restoration. “This Zero has such an amazing story and we are honored to be a part of it,” says Hall.
Once the material was back at MotoArt Studios in Torrance, California, the team went to work not only to create the PlaneTags, but also researching the plane's history and creating the art for the PlaneTags and packaging. Another big part of getting ready for a new release is deciding on the colors and variants. The colors have to be correct!
The Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 32 PlaneTags are stunning. They are a limited edition in a series of 3,500 .
The Zero PlaneTags will be released on Thursday, July 21, 2022 and available at planetags.com and the PlaneTags app.
MotoArt has had the honor of working with so many incredible planes, each with their own diverse and interesting tale. Here are just some of their stories.