This Zero, N7757 is probably best described as a Movie Star. She owes her existence to the 20th Century Fox movie company who in 1968 needed Japanese airplanes for the filming of their epic film, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, which portrays events leading to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. This movie is a dramatization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the series of American blunders that allowed it to happen. 

Japanese “Zero” Replica N7757. Harvard MK-IV Conversion by 20th Century Fox for Tora! Tora! Tora!. Also used in Baa Baa Black Sheep TV Series [Via]

There were no flyable Japanese aircraft in the world, so instead of simply painting ‘meatballs’ on easily accessible aircraft, they decided to spend time and considerable money in modifying airframes. Jack Canary won the contract to provide the Japanese aircraft. The Replica Zeros were based on the SNJ/AT-6 with the most noticeable changes being made to the cockpit area. The rear cockpit was decked over and the canopy was reconfigured to resemble the A6M. The engine cowling was also reshaped and a different spinner was added. 

Zero fighter created by the Cal-Volair Company seen here in its final stages of construction: geared R-1340 engine and cleaned up cowl are quite in evidence. Note the Zero drop tank parts stacked on the floor ready for final assembly [Via]

The main area of change was the cockpit. The two place, fairly large greenhouse canopy had to be altered to match the single seat Zero canopy. To do so the windshield was replaced, as was the upper deck, the rails were raised by a few inches and a new canopy was constructed to resemble that of a Zero. The engine cowling was enlarged, and the carburettor air scoop was repositioned with the oil cooler scoop. Non-adjustable cowl flaps were added, wing-to-fuselage fillets changed to help with the Harvard’s aerodynamic shape, and slots cut into the fuselage sides.  The wing tips were reshaped to look more like the Zero’s shape using fibreglass wing tips. 

They added BT-13 tail wheel assemblies that were also made to retract. The landing gear had doors attached and the leading edge of the wing had a fibreglass addition to cover from the wing root to the wing attach joint. This was done to hide the shape of the landing gear wheel wells. The rudder profile was changed at upper and lower ends with fibreglass add ons. A rather large spinner was put over the propeller hub, and cowling and wing machine guns were added to round out the lethal look.

The cockpit structure on the Zero extends from firewall to aft of the baggage area. Note the deeply faired wing-to-fuselage fillet [Via]

One of the most significant aircraft in the Japanese Navy was the A6M2 Zero, also known as a Zeke, a fighter aircraft whose performance was so superior to anything in the United States inventory, and perhaps the world, that the Japanese Empire was confident they could control the entire Pacific with their air superiority. While over 10,000 Zeros were produced, their losses during the war, and the requirement included in the Japanese Surrender Agreement signed in August 1945 that all of Japan’s offensive weapons be destroyed, made unavailable any authentic Japanese war planes for documentary and film production.

North American T-6 Texan in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' Movie [Via]

20th Century Fox commissioned to have readily available American war birds converted to closely resemble those of the Japanese Navy. N7757 started life as a Harvard Mark IV, a Canadian version of the venerable North American T-6 advanced trainer. The attention to detail in the conversion to an A6M2-21 Zero included the addition of 7.7mm machine guns over the engine cowl, a 20mm canon on each wing, and a cockpit canopy modified to the specifications of the original Zero. Even the detail of adding the three bladed prop, a tail arresting hook, and converting the formerly fixed tail wheel to a fully functional retractable tail wheel were accomplished. The final product so closely resembles the Japanese Zero of WWII, in both size and form, only a trained eye can tell the difference.

North American T-6 Texan in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' Movie [Via]

The footage of the Japanese aircraft taking off for the raid was actually filmed on the USS Yorktown (CVS-10). The film producers leased the ship, and paid Navy personnel to work on the production. Yorktown was scheduled to be decommissioned at some time after the production.  The take off shots were filmed off San Diego. At 06:00 on the day of filming the aircraft were lined up across the flight deck. The ship was turned into the wind as the lead aircraft started his take off roll. 

North American T-6 Texan in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' Movie [Via]

In addition to the film “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, N7757 also appears in the films Midway, and War and Remembrance, and all episodes of the TV series, Baa Baa Black Sheep. Television and video documentary appearances include Yesterdays Warbirds Today, and the Japanese feature production, “Zero”. Until 2004, N7757 remained in California performing her movie/TV star duties appearing at air shows and as part of a flying WWII museum. The Zero also appeared in the 2006 History Channel presentation of the documentary “Days that Shook the World”. It was also the cover photo on the 2nd July 2005 issue of Trade-A-Plane.

The Zero’s most recent film credit was the GPB TV film production documentary of WWII Flying Ace: Robert L. Scott, filmed in 2011, in which Jack flies the Zero against the P40, just as it was in China just prior to WWII.

This plane was recently sold by

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