At its launch, the A6M2 model 11 knew no equal.
This single-seater carrier-based fighter was designed to replace the aging A5M. To reduce its weight, duralumin was widely used, and its propeller was made of a lightweight aluminum alloy. The A6M2 did not have high survivability due to its lack of armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, but in the first half of World War II, it had a considerable advantage in maneuverability and speed when compared to the Allies (which had nothing to oppose the Zero until the arrival of aircraft such as the F4U and F6F).
The first prototype of this series, the A6M1, first flew on April 1, 1939. During the test a more powerful engine was proposed, and the Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 (780 hp) was replaced with the Nakajima Sakae 12 (940 hp). After a successful test flight, the new engine was adopted for serial production and the plane was designated the A6M2 Model 11. Its main drawback was that it could not be used on aircraft carriers due to its large wingspan, which was not designed for carrier-based operations. To circumvent this limitation, the A6M2 model 21 was designed with folding 500 mm wing panels.
The Zero had no equal in the sky until the end of 1942, and even when it was finally made obsolete, its production continued until the end of the war, making it the most popular fighter in Japan. Like many other Japanese aircraft, the Zero was used in the last months of the war to attack bombers.
A total of 740 A6M2 model 21s were built in Mitsubishi plants; 326 were built in Nakajima plants.