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Built by Mitsubishi, estimated date of assembly April 1943. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 0 Carrier Fighter Reisen / A6M3 Model 32 manufacture number 3621.
Assigned to 252 Kokutai. Tail code Y2-128. This Zero operated from Taroa Airfield. This Zero was damaged or unserviceable and abandoned at the airfield.
While parked, the Zero was strafed and sustained further damage but survived the war largely intact. Until 1979, this Zero remained in situ at Taroa Airfield. During the late 1970's, Stephen Aiken observed "Y2-128" visible on the tail.
During September 1979, Stephen Aiken inspected this aircraft and decided to salvage it. The aircraft was disassembled with the wings removed. A trailer was installed beneath the aircraft, with two rubber truck tires to allow the aircraft to be towed. When salvaged, the gun site was missing.
During September 1979, loaded aboard a LSU (Landing Ship Utility) and shipped from Taroa Island to Majuro Atoll. Stored behind Kirt Pinho's house and warehouse on the lagoon side of the causeway until December 1979 due to high seas. Afterwards, transported to Saipan and lifted ashore by a crane, then moved by road to Steve Aiken's house near Garapan on Saipan. Aiken paid approximately $8,000 to transport the aircraft from Taroa to Saipan.
Aikin began to externally restore the Zero himself on his property. The majority of this aircraft is made of A6M3 Zero manufacture number 3621. During the restoration, wing tips from an A6M3 Model 32 Zero were incorrectly attached to this aircraft. Presumably, these wing tip were also recovered from wreckage at Taroa Airfield, and were installed because of a lack of available A6M3 Model 22 Zero wing tips. This aircraft was restored with 20mm long barrel cannons. The instrument panel was restored using instruments salvaged from several other Zero wrecks on Taroa. The Zero was painted with dark green upper surfaces and with tail code Y2-128. In total Aiken spent approximately $10,000 restoring the aircraft to static condition.
Justin Taylan adds:
"No known photos show the original tail code on this aircraft prior to restoration. Also, A6M3 Zero 3318 is claimed to have the same code "Y2-128". It is unclear if both aircraft had the same tail code, or if 3318's tail code was used as an identity for this aircraft or vice-versa. There is evidence that Kokutai did issue the same tail codes to different aircraft due to losses or unserviceable aircraft."
During December 1979 until March 1983 this Zero was displayed on his property as a part of the Stephen Aiken Collection. The Zero was stored outdoors on a trailer with both outer wing panels removed on Steve Aiken's property.
During the early 1980s, Aiken attempted to sell this Zero to the Marianas Visitors Bureau, but they didn't have the money or accept his offer. Afterwards, another potential buyer did not materialize.
Learning of the Zero, a non-profit organization based in Fukuoka began fund raising to purchase this aircraft. During late 1982, a Japanese attorney Seiichi Matsumoto approached Aiken and began negotiations to purchase the Zero, eventually buying the aircraft from Aiken for $45,000. During March 1983, the Zero was shipped from Saipan to Japan. On March 5, 1983 this aircraft was unloaded at Hakata port at Fukuoka. The arrival of the Zero was heavily reported in newspapers and television news.
On March 9, 1983 this Zero was transported to Dazaifu Tenman-gū shrine (太宰府天満宮) and the aircraft was placed into a building dubbed "Zero Fighter House". Over 15 days, volunteers worked to re-restore the aircraft, some of the volunteers worked to built the Zero fighter at Mitsubishi during the war. On March 26, 1983 the Zero was officially unveiled for the public in a ceremony.
At Fukuoka, the Zero was restored by Japanese volunteers and assistance from Mitsubishi for static display. The restored Zero was placed on displayed in the markings and configuration of A6M3 Model 32 Zero Tail Y2-128. During the middle 1980s, this Zero was displayed in a hangar in Fukuoka.
Later, this Zero was transported to the Nagoya Airport Aerospace Museum (Aichi Museum of Flight) and displayed for years. Next, displayed at the Tachiarai Peace Memorial Museum. During 2009, this exhibit was renovated with new displays and restoration work done to the aircraft. Restoration work was performed by Mike Maekawa and Taizou Nakamura.
Note, some sources incorrectly list this aircraft as a A6M3 Model 32 Zero
RCAF War Prize Flights, German and Japanese Warbird Survivor page 174, footnote 18
YouTube 零戦 ３２型 と ９８式射爆照準器 by Taizou Nakamura September 13, 2009
３２・２２型タイプ照準器マウント基部 作業工程 by Taizou Nakamura
Steve Aiken's Zero notes by Michael Belles
Marianas Variety News & Views "Zero Altitude" February 4, 1983
Telegram S. Matsumoto to Michael Belles acknowledging arrival of Zero on March 13, 1983
Letter S. Matsumoto to Michael Belles about arrival of Zero April 21, 1983
FASA (Fukuoka Aero-Space Association) newsletter March 1983, pages 1-5
Pacific Daily News "Aiken had one of most explosive jobs" June 29, 1983
"Once, clearing some remote atolls in the Marshalls, Aiken came across a marvelous find, a group of Japanese Zeros quietly rusting away in the jungle. We sir, there aren't very many Zeros left in the Pacific - or in Japan either for that matter. Aiken, with an eye towards the future, conned the chiefs out of the best of the Zeros, and had it shipped to Saipan. He spent most of his time trying to restore that Zero, although it would never fly again. He tried to sell the Zero to the Marianas Visitors Bureau, but they didn't have the money for this prize. I'm sure that a lot of people in the Marianas and the Pacific were unhappy when they heard that he finally sold the Zero to a Japanese businessman (for an estimated $25,000), who dismantled it and took it to Japan. It is said to be worth at least $175,000 today. All the islands should, of course have laws that prevent this sort of thing from happening. There isn't going to be much left to remind us of the war unless such laws are passed."
Marianas Variety News & Views "Demolition expert Aiken dies" June 24, 1983
"While working to clear land mines from the Marshall Island atoll of Wotje [sic] in 1978, Aiken discovered a Japanese Zero fighter plane hidden among the bushes. Aiken got permission from an island chief to take it with him to Saipan, a decision bucked by the TT [Trust Territory] Hi-Com. Aiken spent $8,000 to ship the aging craft to the NMI and another $10,000 to renovate it to its original condition. After attempts to sell the aircraft to the NMI [Northern Mariana Islands] government failed, Aiken sold the Zero to the Fukuoka Air Museum in Japan for $45,000. The plane had since been restored by the Japanese to an estimated value of $175,000... the fact that the Zero could not stay on Saipan were two demoralizing factors which caused him to leave the island [of Saipan] in January of this year ."
Commonwealth Examiner "Steve Aiken passed away in California" June 23, 1983
"Steve's Zero was a popular tourist attraction many tourists would come and see at his house on Saipan when it was here. The Zero is now in Japan. A Marshallese chief, by vote of his people, gave Steve a Zero fighter plane for recognition of his help in making their home a good place to live."
Commonwealth Examiner "Micronesia explosive expert dies" June 24, 1983
"Aiken brought to Saipan a Japanese zero which he restored and displayed as a tourist attraction. The zero was discovered in Toroa in the Marshalls. Prior to his departure, he tried unsuccessfully to sell the zero to the Marianas Visitors Bureau. He later sold it to a Japanese businessman who dismantled it and took it to Japan."
Existe[n]t "Zero Fighter" Sight-Seeing, 2005 page 29 (photo)
Japanese Information Clearinghouse (JIC) Issue 3, Museology page 4
Aichi Museum of Flight - Aircraft Collection: Zero Fighter
Thanks to Michael Belles, Ryan Toews, Kenji Miyazaki Mike Maekawa and Taizou Nakamura for additional information
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