The Texas Flying Legends Museum has one of only a few flying Japanese Zeros left in the world. Mitsubishi designed the Navy Type Zero Carrier-Based Fighter in 1937 and it became known for its design and production volume during the war. Of course, it is also known for being the symbol of Japanese air power during World War II. The Allies referred to the Zero as “Zeke” and American pilots gained experience fighting them in China with the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers.
A combination of nimbleness and simplicity gave the Zero fighting qualities that no Allied plane could match at the beginning of the war. Lightness, simplicity, ease of maintenance, sensitivity to controls, and extreme maneuverability were the main elements that the designer Jiro Horikoshi built into the Zero. Saburo Sakai, Japan’s highest-scoring surviving World War II ace, with sixty-four kills, believes that if the Zero had not been developed, Japan “would not have decided to start the war.” We understand his comment to indicate that the Zero gave the Japanese a false sense of superiority.
The white circle around the Hinomaru, the rising sun, indicates that this navel plane was manufactured by Nakajima. Its model number is the same as those that attacked Pearl Harbor, but the Last Samurai, an A6M2 Model 21 Zero, was made a bit later. This fighter was one of many that filled the skies over the bloody Solomon Islands. It witnessed the beginning of the end of Japan’s dream of victory. The Battle of Guadalcanal and Santa Cruz resulted in the loss of ships, aircraft, and men from which Japan could not recover. The allied island hopping strategy was met with heavy resistance, displaying some of the largest aerial battles in the Pacific. Warriors and their machines would duel overhead small islands like Bougainville, Rabaul, and Ballale.
The aircraft was resurrected from the island jungles of Ballale in the late 60's. It is a small island south of Bougainville that was used by the Imperial Japanese Naval and Army Air Forces. This aircraft might have been seen by Admiral Yamamoto, if he wasn’t shot down in April of 1943 - since Ballale Island was his destination. It might have been one of the fighters belonging to the 251 or 201 Kokutai (Naval Air Group) stationed at Ballale. It could have been flown by Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, the “Naval Ace of Aces,” who shot down 87 plus allied aircraft. It could also be one of the fighters in a photo taken during the war showing the Japanese pilots on Ballale Island.
But one thing is for sure, a perfectly restored A6M2 Model 21 fighter can be seen - sometimes flying - but usually on display. This Zero, reclaimed and restored by the Blayd Corporation, has been praised by Japanese aeronautical engineers and world experts. It is the only Zero built in exact detail with the exception of its DC-3 engine. It is the Last Samurai that will take to the air with the same performance that allowed it to dominate the skies in the early years of the war. It is living history: an example that reveals the genius of the men who designed it and a tribute to the bravery and skill of the men who fought against it.