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Japan's Spitfire rival takes to the skies

Published 28/01/2016

The restored Zero fighter takes to the air (Kyodo News/AP)
The restored Zero fighter takes to the air (Kyodo News/AP)

One of Japan's legendary Second World War Zero fighter planes has made a rare flight over the country.

The restored Zero made a brief flight to and from a naval base in the south, flown by decorated former US Air Force pilot Skip Holm.

Zero fighters were considered one of the most capable wartime fighter planes, rivalling the Spitfire. Their long range allowed them to play a prominent role in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour. Now only a few are still in operating condition.

While rented Zeroes have flown in Japan in the past, this was the first for the widely-used Model 22 of Mitsubishi's A6M fighter with its round wingtips.

The plane, found decaying in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, was owned by an American until Japanese businessman Masahiro Ishizuka purchased it and brought it to Japan in September.

"I wanted for the people of Japan and especially young people to know about this Zero airplane, as well as those who are old who remember the past," he said.

"Each of them should have different thoughts and perspectives on this, but I just want people to know how Japan has developed its technology."

Japanese see the aircraft both as a symbol of their country's technological advance and a reminder of the harrowing history of the war. In the last phase of the fighting, they were used for kamikaze suicide attacks.

Kamikaze pilots used to take off from the same airfield, Kanoya Naval Air Base on the island of Kyushu, as the latest flight.

Under its previous American owner, the plane made an appearance in the Hollywood movie Pearl Harbour and at various events in the United States.

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