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How fast was the Zero?


When American pilots first encountered the Zero, they were stunned. The Zero had nearly complete initial dominance. This dominance is sometimes attributed to the A6M’s high speed. In reality, however, the Zero was rather modest in straight-line speed, with a maximum speed for the A6M2 Model 21 of about 317 mph to 332 mph at the critical altitude of about 16,000 feet. In addition, the Zero was not very good in dives and had severe maneuverability limitations at speeds above about 180 mph. The Zero’s great strengths were really its maneuverability at moderate speed, its incredible combat range, (arguably) its cannon armament, and, at the start of the war with the United States, its combat-experienced pilots.

Figure 1: A6M2 Model 21 at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor

Rated Speeds in General

For aircraft, the “top speed” is measured at the aircraft’s “critical altitude”—the altitude at which level speed is maximum at full military...

Douglas A3D/A-3 Skywarrior

Nuclear Strike, Tanker, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare Aircraft

Figure 1: Our Skywarrior (S/N 144867) in its Original Form

Key Points

Called the A3D Skywarrior from 1956 to 1962. Redesignated the A-3 Skywarrior in 1962.

First intended use: nuclear attack bomber. Later used as tactical strike bomber, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and tanker aircraft.

Called “the Whale,” it was the heaviest aircraft every to take off from an aircraft carrier. However, only slightly heavier than the later F-14.

Served extensively in Vietnam, initially as bombers but later in electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and tanker roles. It was used most heavily as a tanker.

Usually had a crew of three—pilot, bomber/navigator, and rear gunner. Most electronic warfare versions added four electronic warfare specialists, called “crows” or “ravens”

Last used in Desert Strom, 1991.

Served as the basis for the USAF B-66 Destroyer bomber, which replaced the B-26.


Our CH-53D Sea Stallion

CH-53s at a Forward Aerial Refueling Point (FARP)

Pacific Aviation Museum’s newest aircraft is a Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion, S/N 157173. The CH-53 has been the Marines’ heavy lift helicopter since the days of the Vietnam War. Our aircraft was commissioned in December 1969 and quickly went to Vietnam. It crashed on Oct. 30, 1970, but was retrieved and placed back in service. Since then, this bird has served in most major conflicts, most recently in Afghanistan. Until its recent retirement, it belonged to Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron HMH-362 at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. The squadron’s nickname, the “Ugly Angels,” is a comment on the CH-53’s boxy Bulldog appearance. Today, the Marines have transitioned out of most of their CH-53Ds and are trying to extend the lives of the CH-53Es to stay in service until the CH-53Ks arrive sometime around 2018. The CH-53 is the largest helicopter outside Russia, yet Marines have shown that it can be rolled and even looped.


The Control Tower on Ford Island - Building S84 (Article II)


December 2, 2011


Both Tora, Tora, Tora and Pearl Harbor prominently featured the tall red and white control tower on Ford Island. This article looks at the history of the control tower and its recent stabilization.

This is the second in a series of articles on Ford Island as it existed on December 7, 1941. Jumping right to the control tower is taking things a bit out of order. However, with the unveiling of the renovated control tower scheduled for December 7, 2011, it is the right time to look at this historic building.

Building the Operations Building (S84)

The control tower is part of the Operations Building (S84). This was a multipurpose structure built just to the north of the seaplane base hangars. Like many buildings on Ford Island, it

was a brand new building when the attack occurred. In fact, it was not quite finished.

Figure 1 shows the building right after the attack. It is obvious from the figure is that the control tower was not...

Ford Island: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii -  December 7, 1941 (Article I)


Ford Island was the epicenter of the attack on December 7, 1941. Its seaplane base had dozens of long-range PBY patrol bombers capable of locating the Japanese fleet after the attack. Along her coast were moored seven of the Pearl Harbor fleet’s nine battleships. Ford Island is also where the Pacific Fleet’s three carriers would have moored had they been in port that day. The attack destroyed nearly all of the patrol planes. It also disabled the Pacific Fleet’s battleship force, making it impossible for the U.S. to carry the fight to Japan to spoil the Japanese expansion in the Pacific.

Today, Ford Island is still an active military base. However, it is now possible for tourists to visit parts of this historic battlefield. Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor gives visitors access to historic Hangar 37 and Hangar 79 and is in the process of renovating the famous control tower. The museum will eventually expand to include Hangar 54. This is the first in a series of...

Pan Am’s Pacific Clippers

The 1930s were the romantic years of flight. At the beginning of the decade, flying across oceans was a life-risking experience. However, beginning in 1936, Pan Am began to fly across the Pacific. Their aircraft were the beautiful, luxurious, and enormous Clippers. Built by Martin and Boeing, these amazing aircraft flew the rich and famous in style to exotic locations throughout the Pacific. Although Clippers only flew passengers for five years before America was dragged into the war, it is difficult to think of pre-war Hawaii without a Pan Am Clipper flying above the islands.

In 1927, Pan Am began to fly in Central and South America. By the early 1930s, Juan Trippe wanted to create regular mail, cargo, and passenger service to Hawaii and locations deeper in the Pacific. His initial goal was to carry people, cargo, and mail all the way from San Francisco to China. In 1935, the first survey flights gained the company experience for operating the route. October 1935 saw the...

Why did the Japanese Sink the Utah?

Figure 1: USS Utah AG-16

In the first wave of the Pearl Harbor attack, 16 Japanese B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers approached Ford Island from the northwest. The western side of Ford Island is where the Lexington and Saratoga usually moored when they were in port. Although the Japanese knew that these carriers had been out of port, it made sense to send some of their torpedo planes to that side of the island first. If the Kates did not find a carrier or battleship, they could fly past Ford Island, turn around, and attack the battleships that moored on the northeast side of the island. Most did precisely that.

When the Kates reached the western side of the island, however, two crews used their torpedoes to attack the Utah, sinking her and killing 64 of her crewmen, 58 of whom were entombed in the ship when she capsized. This made little sense from a military point of view because the Utah was no longer an active battleship. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 resulted in ship...

The Hard Life of Snake 298

Bell Helicopter delivered our Bell AH-1G Cobra to the Army on October 1967. Its serial number is 66-15298, indicating that it was ordered in 1966. In February 1966, the 298 arrived in Vietnam. Instead of being assigned to a division, it was assigned to a nondivisional company unit, the 235th Aviation Weapons Company, known as the “Delta Devils.” This was the first gunship company in Vietnam to be completely converted to AH-1G Cobras, which quickly became known as “snakes.” There were many similar nondivisional company units. They were attached temporarily to battalions or divisions as needed. For administrative purposes, these companies were “homed” in Aviation Groups. The 235th was homed in the 166th Aviation Group.

Our snake’s time with the 235th was stressful. During her first month in Vietnam, the 298’s base came under mortar fire. As its crew’s rushed to get into the air from a revetment, one of her pilots over-revved the engine. This caused the tail to swing around into...

Revenge of the Pearl Harbor Battleships

October 25, 1944, 0200 hours. It is the final major day of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Six America battleships slowly steam back and forth across the mouth of the Surigao Strait. Five are survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack—West Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Tennessee, and Maryland. Two forces of Japanese battleships, cruisers, and destroyers are steaming north in the strait. The American battleships will “cross their T,” pouring full broadsides into each arriving Japanese ship. The Pearl Harbor battleships are about to have their revenge.

At Pearl Harbor, the “newest” battleship was the West Virginia (BB-48). Built in 1921, she had the advantages of lessons learned in World War II. In addition, she was heavily updated before World War II. After she was built, a moratorium was placed on battleship construction a result of the Washington Naval conference. The U.S. would not begin to build more battleships until the eve of World War II.

West Virginia, 1926. National...

Aerial Bomb Fuzes

When visitors at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor look at the Japanese bomb replicas on our attack wall, they sometimes ask about the little propellers on the bombs. Obviously, these are too small to make the bomb change directions. Some even notice that one of the bombs has two propellers—one on its tip and one at the tail end of the bomb’s body. The answer to the first question is that the propellers are attached to the fuzes that detonate the bomb. The answer to the second is a bit more complicated.

Figure 1: Bombs with Propeller Fuzes

Fuzes have two purposes. The obvious one is to cause the bomb to explode. When the bomb makes impact, the fuze has a spike or electrical circuit that detonates the bomb. If the fuze has a spike, that spike is driven into a small detonation charge that sets off the main bomb charge. An electrical fuze uses a spark to set off the detonation charge. Earlier bombs used pyrotechnic detonation—a flame raced down a detonation line into the...

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