by: Russ Amott [ ]
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero series is well known, being one of the most iconic fighter planes of WWII. Early variants are well documented and widely discussed, but there seems to be a lack of information on the later variants, particularly the A6M7, the last large scale version to go into production.
The following information, taken primarily from fighter-planes.com and J.aircraft, was about as much as I could glean that wasn't based on gamer speculation. By late 1944, the new Yokosuka D4Y dive bomber was finally available, but there were no large carriers able to handle it's high landing speed or size. A smaller diver bomber was urgently needed and so the Japanese Navy instructed Mitsubishi to design a diver bomber version of the A6M. The previous A6M5 could carry a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb but wasn't designed as a true dive bomber. The new A6M7 was, with the ability to carry a 500 kg (1100 lb) bomb in a reliable release mechanism. The new fighter-bomber kept the armament of the A6M5, with one 13.2 mm machine gun in the cowl and two more in the wings, one per side and pared with a 20mm cannon. To improve range provisions were made to carry a 77 imp. gallon drop tank under each wing. The tail plane was reinforced and strengthened to handle the dive bombing stresses.
The model 62 was apparently intended to carry the Nakajima Sakae 31 engine with methanol-water injection to improve performance at high altitude. The model 63 was with the Sakae 31 but without water-methanol injection. According to J-aircraft, the model 62 never went into production as the water-methanol engine was never able to work. The Sakae 31 had a larger diameter than the previously used Sakae 21, so the A6M7 had a larger diameter cowling. Entering production in May of 1945, it is not known how many were built. One gamer claimed a reference of 490 machines, but without a source.
Performance of the A6M7 was questionable, with some sources stating a maximum speed of 337 mph, and others claiming up to 346 mph, but that would most likely have been with the water-methanol injection. The added weight from structural strengthening would have been another limiting factor for performance. There are claims that the aircraft was expended in the kamikaze role, which is quite probable, but I imagine many would have been held in reserve for the invasion of the Japanese homeland.
Much attention has been placed on Tamiya with recent releases of the A6M2 and A6M5 in 1/32 scale, offering tremendous detail in an all new tooling package. According to the kit genealogy from Scalemates, this new A6M7 from Hasegawa is based on the new tooling A6M5 released in 2016. While not having as many parts as the Tamiya kit, there is still a considerable amount of detail, with separate cockpit walls, well detailed engine and an included pilot figure with three optional heads.
The kit comes in a large box with the contents packaged primarily in two large cellophane bags. The result of this is that the sprues bounce around against each other and I had some parts knocked off in my sample. There were also some surface marks where the sprues had rubbed but no real scratches. The parts were knocked off at the attachment points and there did not appear to be any damage. Parts breakdown allows for the common parts to be re-used for different kits with the new parts being separate. There was some fine flash on a few parts, but nothing major. Also some mold seam lines that may require attention plus the normal ejector pin marks that no kit is free from. I haven't detected any sink marks or other deformities in any of the parts.
The fuselage halves show finely engraved panel lines and nice added details such as the extra heat plates to protect the fuselage from the hot exhaust gasses. Lacking good, clear photos and extensive references has prevented me from determining if the modified tail had any external changes. Otherwise it is the same as in the previous A6M5 kit.
The lower wing has the modified shell ejector ports and an opening for placement of the improved bomb rack. Wheel well detail is basic, but the innards are a separate part for an improved look. The kit includes brake lines for the landing gear and the option of one piece, closed landing gear doors to show an in flight version. If down, there are some minor ejector pin marks on the inner sides of the wheel well covers.
The cockpit comes in a multi part assembly, with the side framing getting levers and some electronics and a new instrument panel for the A6M7 being placed in the kit as part N. The modeler can add their own wiring to liven things up but it will be hard to see on the completed model. Not included is any sort of harness for the seat.
The pilot figure comes with separate legs, arms, torso halves and three different heads-one with an oxygen mask, with an included air line, and two with faces uncovered, wearing the fur lined flying cap. The figure will pretty much fill up the cockpit if used. Detail is decent but gets a little soft on the sides.
The engine comes with separate cylinder banks, push rods and exhaust. Two spinners are included in the kit but only one is marked for use. Again, advanced modelers can add wiring harness to the engine but not a lot will be visible. A new cowling is included, part G. It has the asymmetrical grooves for the machine guns. The right hand side is larger for the 13.2mm machine gun, and the left side, although unused, was left in. The kit instructions do not show to place the machine gun in the cockpit assembly but instructions are online for the A6M5c, which carried the same armament and so, while not convenient, can be found.
The clear parts are quite good, distortion free and undamaged. Two drop tanks and a bomb are also included in the kit.
The decal sheet looks very good, and the decals themselves appear to be in register. A bonus is a series of rank insignia to place on the pilot. Individual dials and small dial clusters are included for the cockpit instruments. Markings for two aircraft, both from the 302nd naval flying group, are included, the first for aircraft 127 and the second for 102.
The instruction booklet has basic information on the front page, mostly about the A6M5 with one short paragraph for the A6M7. There is a paint guide with numbers for GSI Creos aqueous hobby color and Mr Color paint brands, as well as the color name. The instructions are in common line drawing format, with sub assemblies called out in small boxes. A nice touch is an assembly reference chart so you can how parts are supposed to sit, and paint colors are called out during the construction process for each part. The instructions are easy to follow.
Based on the painting guide for the two subject aircraft, both appear to be Nakajima manufactured machines. Nakajima typically painted the fuselage with the demarcation line between the upper and lower fuselage colors gently curving up to the horizontal stabilizers, while Mitsubishi machines had a straight line from the nose to the tail along the bottom of the fuselage. Based on that, the instructions indicate to paint the interior "Mitsubishi green", which is a color similar to US interior green. "Nakajima green" is a lighter color.
This is a very nice looking kit with easy to follow instructions. The issue of whether it is a model 62 or 63 (the museum pieces in Japan and San Diego are referred to online as both model 62 and model 63 frequently, though the San Diego display is referred to on site as a model 63), is open for discussion but the kit contents look good. My main emphasis on this kit will be on the build review, which is already underway. As far as the in box contents are concerned, it looks good. Nice instructions and a good decal assortment should make it a good project for most any modeler and an excellent starting point for the advanced modeler to work with.
Price wise the kit comes in significantly lower than the Tamiya offering but price points varied significantly so show around carefully.
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