By TOSHIYUKI TAKEYA – From an article originally published on www.asahi.com
More than 70 years after the end of World War II, a wartime Zero fighter plane once again soared in the skies over Japan with a Japanese pilot at the controls on June 3. The flight, conducted by Kazuaki Yanagida, 66, was a special demonstration at the two-day Red Bull Air Race 2017, which is continuing in Chiba’s Mihama Ward through June 4. After the end of World War II, Zero planes flew a few times over Japanese airspace. However, all those flights were undertaken with American pilots at the controls.
The aircraft is based upon the remains of a wreck recovered from Babo Island in Indonesia by Bruce Fenstermmaker back in 1991, along with the hulks of a number of other Japanese warplanes. Its restoration took place over many years, beginning in Russia, where the major structural refabrication took place, and ending up in Mojave, California for final fitting and the installation of its powerplant. Little, if any original structure, other than the landing gear, made it into the restoration. Like all but one airworthy Zero, this example has a Pratt&Whitney R-1830 engine instead of the original Sakae.
The Zero aircraft is a Model 22 manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in 1942. Its owner, Masahide Ishizuka, 56, a Japanese entrepreneur, is keeping it in the United States. From about 10 years ago, Ishizuka was engaged in the Zero Homecoming Project, which seeks to fly the aircraft over Japanese airspace. “By preserving it in a flyable condition and flying it in various parts of Japan, I want to make those flights good opportunities to think about peace,” Ishizuka said.
The Zero flies over Tokyo Bay off Chiba on June 3