It was just a single plane. One silly plane. A lone Mitsubishi A6M Zero, one of nearly 11,000 made by Japan during the Second World War. Today, there are a handful of flyable Zeroes in the world, but as far as I know, there exists but one example that still flies with the original engine. These are truly rare birds.
But the Zero I’m thinking of isn’t in a museum. In fact, other than a couple of miscellaneous parts, the subject of Today’s History Lesson no longer exists, having been chopped up in a training accident in 1945. As you might have guessed, I’m referring to Tadayoshi Koga’s aircraft, shot down during a raid on Dutch Harbor in 1942.
Koga crash-landed on Akutan Island, 25 miles from Dutch. The plane flipped onto its back, sustaining minor damage and killing Koga in the process. The plane lay on Akutan for more than a month, until it was discovered by a PBY Catalina pilot. The plane was investigated, recovered, and transported to Dutch. It then became something of an adventure to not only keep the find as much a secret from the Japanese as possible, but also keep souvenir hunters at bay.
Packing the plane for transport from Alaska was also something of a problem due to the fact that the Zero’s wings were integrated right into the fuselage. At the end of the day, Koga’s plane was packed into a rather strange crate and shipped off. It arrived at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, on August 12, 1942. And over the next six weeks (as we know from our time together here), it was there that the plane was repaired, reconditioned, and made flyable.
Recommended Reading: Cracking the Zero Mystery