2 November 2010

Yakovlev 11 and replica Mitsubishi A6M Zero

The coolest thing about Festa al Cel is that it's held in Barcelona which means that there are lots of countries' air forces and air museums within close proximity to call on and invite to participate.

The Belgian, French and the Netherlands air forces were well-represented this year; Fundació Parc Aeronàutic de Catalunya Museum based at Sabadell is almost within spitting distance; EADS is across the French/Spanish border at Perpignan, and Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis Air Museum (AJBS) is located just south of Paris.

Along with the American P-51D Mustang that I covered in an earlier post, AJBS also flew in a Russian Yakovlev 11 and a replica Japanese Mitsubishi Zero.

In aviation circles, the Yakovlev is referred to the Russian equivalent of the American T-6 Texan Harvard, and their roles are very similar as both were used as airforce training planes.

Widely used by about 18 countries that were influenced by Russian weaponry and armament, the Yak-11 saw duty from 1947 until 1962. In 1950, a North Korean Yak-11 became the first registered "kill" of the Korean War when it was shot down by a US Airforce F-82 Twin Mustang which is an aircraft also worth researching.

After the Yak-11 was retired from active service, it became a much sought-after machine.  Pilots bought and modified them into high performing aircraft for air races, and warbird enthusiasts purchased them for museum and private collections.  Of the 3,859 built, approximately 120 Yak-11s are still capable of flying today, and most of these reside in Eastern Europe.

There are less than 10 known intact and airworthy Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft left in the world which is a tragedy given the aircraft's history.  Most of these have been modified in some way, using pieces from other aircraft or especially manufactured parts, as well as replacement engines.  Only one aircraft is known to still have the original radial 14-cylinder, 1,200hp Nakajima Sakae 31 engine.

The example from AJBS is not a genuine Zero as it started life as a single-seater American T-6 Texan Harvard.  These were built for movie purposes, and starred in famous movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora! and Pearl Harbor.

Just over 10,000 units were manufactured in a brief period from 1940-1945 which was when Japan used them for WWII and the Pacific War.  They were excellent long-range machines for use off aircraft carriers, and are perhaps best known for their part in the deadly and effective raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in the early morning hours of December 7th 1941.  The Zero's fearsome reputation was sealed when it became the machine for the loyal kamikaze pilots.  The success of the missions depended on the pilots committing suicide as they would steer their aircraft, ( heavily laden with explosives and fuel), into direct impacts with enemy ships - especially aircraft carriers.

Although more Zeros were built than any other Japanese aircraft over WWII, its effectiveness was short-lived as opposing forces quickly developed their own aircraft (P-38 Lightning, Corsair F4U and F6F Hellcat among them) and strategies, to counter-attack the onslaught of the Japanese Air Force.

For more posts on the Barcelona Airshow, click on the Label "Festa al Cel" below.