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Sussing out the 'Chengdu Zero'

In the spring of 1941, the Chinese succeeded in shooting down an A6M Zero fighter over the city of Chengdu, north of Chongqing. From the wreckage, and from interrogating Japanese prisoners, they managed to assemble a very accurate data sheet and three-view drawings of the new and formidable Imperial Japanese Navy fighter. The drawings were given to Major James McHugh, the US naval attache in Chongqine, who passed them on to the Navy Department in Washington. The Marine also gave a copy to Chennault when the latter returned to China in August 1941; Chennault in turn supplied them to the War Department (where they were ignored) and used them in his own training program in Burma.

The drawings had one flaw: the aircraft's tail section had been destroyed, so the Chinese rounded it off like the tail of a Nakajima Ki-27 fighter. Thus, when Chennault sketched the Zero on the blackboard at Toungoo that fall, he actually drew something very like the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa flown by the 64th Sentai of the Japanese army. This no doubt contributed to the Flying Tigers' insistence that they were meeting the Zero in Burma and later in China.

What appears below comes as close as I can to the data sheet as I found it in the Chennault Papers. I have used X where a Chinese character appears in the table.

JAPANESE SEA FIGHTER 0-1 MODEL 1
Engine X KNI - HP 840 - Air-cooled, two row 14 Cylinders

MEASUREMENTS

Span 12 meter / 39.36 feet

Length 8.65 meter / 28.40 feet

Height 2.75 meter / 9.02 feet

Surface Area 23.76 sq meter / 256 sq feet

WEIGHT AND LOAD

Weight, empty 1,684.3 kg / 3,705 lb

Gross weight (normal) 2,334.6 kg / 5,136 lb

Gross weight (overloaded with outer tank) 2,608.6 kg / 5,739 lb

Wing loading (normal) 9.84 kg/sq.m. / 6.12 lb/sq.ft.

Wing loading (overloaded) 3.10 kg/sq.m. / 6.83 lb/sq.ft.

CHARACTERISTICS

Maximum horizontal flying speed (5 m. superpressure HP 925) 505 km/h / 314 [mph]

Maximum horizontal flying speed (max. rated HP 840) 491 km/h / 305 [mph]

Cruising speed (without outer tank) 430 km/h / 267 [mph]

Cruising speed (with outer tank) 420 km/h / 261 [mph]

Cruising height 4,000 meters / 13,120 feet

Cruising range (without outer tank) 1,120 km / 698 miles

Cruising range (with outer tank) 1,940 km / 1,207 miles

Climbing rate at sea level 921 m/min / 3,022 ft/min

Time for climbing to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) 4.3 minutes

Practical ceiling 10,930 meters / 35,860 feet

Landing speed (normal load, using flap) 101 km/h / 62.7 [mph]

Landing speed (overloaded, using flap) 103.3 km/h / 65.5 [mph]

Getting off range [takeoff distance] (normal load) 111 meters / 364 feet

Getting off range (overloaded) 128 meters / 421 feet

These particulars are based upon the results of examinations of the [w]reckages of the enemy plane shot down at Chengtu on May 20, 1941. They are made of actual measurements, except the shape and length of the fuselage and the relative position of the fuselage to the wings, which cannot be ascertained because of lack of parts and are, therefore, estimated by judging the 97 fighter [Nakajima Ki-27] and the two seated "Sen Feng" X

MACHINE GUNNERY

1. 2x7.7[mm] fixed machine guns Type X, each with about 600 rds of buls

2. 2x20mm fixed machine guns, Type X, each with 60 rds of bullets.

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