A6M5 "Reisen, Zero"
- Shipborne Fighter
Since mid-1942, the Allies went on the offensive, and the Japanese increasingly began to resort to defense. In 1943, new types of high-speed fighters entered service with the American Air Force, in many ways superior to the Zero. In fierce air battles, the main disadvantage of the Japanese aircraft was clearly manifested - low survivability. After a well-aimed hit, the Zero often exploded in the air, and due to the lack of armor protection for the cockpit, many experienced Japanese pilots were wounded or killed. The flight data of the fighter also required improvement, and in August 1943, the designers again upgraded the aircraft.
Starting with the 904th A6MZ aircraft, they began to install a wing of a reduced area (with a span of only 11 meters) and a round tip, the wing skin was reinforced. Removed wing folding mechanism. The wing surface was reduced to 21.3 m2. Thanks to the reinforced plating, the aircraft was able to reach a dive speed of up to 355 knots (657 km / h). The exhaust system has also been revised. Instead of a common heavy exhaust manifold, each pair of cylinders received one tailpipe.
This made it possible to add a few more kilograms of exhaust gas thrust to the propeller thrust, as a result, the aircraft's speed increased to 305 knots (565 km / h) at an altitude of 6,000 meters. The rate of climb of the aircraft also increased. The new aircraft was designated A6M5 model 52 - it was the fastest Zero model. In the area of the nozzles, the fuselage skin had to be reinforced with a steel sheet, since the hot exhaust gases quickly burned through the thin duralumin sheet. A total of 1701 aircraft of this type were built.
The new Zero, designated A6M5 model 52, got a little heavier, but its maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 m reached 565 km / h. This was the maximum speed for a fighter, since all subsequent modifications to the machine led to an increase in its weight and, accordingly, to a decrease in speed.
A6M5a had even more reinforced wing skin and two "Type 99" belt-fed cannons (125 rounds each). A6M5b, in addition, for the first time received the pilot's armor in the form of a 50-mm frontal armored glass canopy. Fuselage gas tanks were protected to some extent with a carbon dioxide fire-fighting system. The power of the armament was increased by replacing one 7.7-mm fuselage machine gun with a 13.2-mm type 3 heavy machine gun. The most powerful firepower among all the Zero variants was the A6M5s, from which the second fuselage 7.7-mm machine gun was also dismantled, and two more 13.2-mm Type 3 machine guns were placed in the wing planes next to the 20-mm cannons. Thus, the aircraft had two 20 mm cannons and three 13.2 mm machine guns. Among other innovations of the A6M5s were the pilot's armored backrest and armored headrest, as well as an additional 140-liter sealed gas tank behind the cockpit. In total, the factories built about 6,000 A6M5 of various modifications.
The A6M5 entered mass production in the fall of 1943, when the Americans were already using the Hellcat carrier-based fighter in the Pacific Ocean. The latter was superior to the upgraded Zero in all respects, except for maneuverability and rate of climb at low altitudes. In air battles, the A6M increasingly became a victim than a hunter.
This was vividly demonstrated by the last major battle of aircraft carriers in the Philippine Sea in June 1944, where the Japanese suffered a crushing defeat, losing 92% of their aircraft (including about 200 A6M5), as well as many experienced pilots. Nevertheless, the production of clearly outdated Zeros continued, and in the last period of the war they were used mainly as fighter-bombers capable of carrying a bomb weighing up to 250 kg. In this form, these aircraft are widely used in kamikaze units.