The Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA has an extraordinary collection of aircraft. Even more extraordinary is that most of their historic planes still fly. One of the crown jewels in their collection is this Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero. It’s the only original Zero in existence that still flies. They flew it this past weekend and I took my son to see it. It was magnificent.
At the start of WWII, the Zero was probably the best fighter plane around. In fact, US Navy pilots were told not to engage in dogfights with the Zero. They were designed to be light, fast, and maneuverable. But it didn’t take long for the US to catch up, building fighter planes like the Hellcat that may not have been as agile, but could take punishment. As you can tell by looking closely at the photos, this Zero doesn’t look as rugged as the American planes that would later take them on and bring them down in huge numbers.
For one thing, they didn’t have resealable fuel tanks, which would become standard on US planes. So whereas a plane like the Hellcat could take several 50 caliber rounds and suffer little damage, one or two well-placed shots could turn the Zero into a fireball. That’s why there are so few left.
Sleek as it looks on the ground, it’s nothing compared to the way it looks in the air. My son and I have gone to many flying events at Planes of Fame and we’ve seen more warbirds fly than I can count. But the Zero looked positively majestic. It seemed to fly effortlessly as a bird.
As graceful as it looked in the sky, it was hard not to think about what it must have been like to hear that exact engine roar overhead 70 years ago as machines like this one and its cousins unleashed their fury upon an unsuspecting Pearl Harbor. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was exquisitely chilling.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. I visited Pearl Harbor a few weeks ago and was, like countless others, moved by the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. But the highlight of the day for me was the U.S.S. Bowfin, a Balao class submarine launched exactly one year after the attack and dubbed “The Pearl Harbor Avenger.”
Forward torpedo tubes on the USS Bowfin
I’m what you might call a casual military history nut. I’ve always found submarines fascinating and wondered what it would be like to live trapped inside a tube deep underwater. I can’t decide whether it would be really cool or really hellish to serve aboard a submarine for months on end. I imagine it’s a mix of both.
Orange-tinted glass and impossibly polished brass
I’ve toured several submarines, but what stands out about the U.S.S. Bowfin is its aesthetically divine interior. If you are at all into the steampunk aesthetic, the Bowfin is a wet dream wonderland.
Don't touch that dial
If you’ve ever been inside a sub, you know that there’s not an inch of wasted space. What amazed me about the Bowfin was that though it is a machine built for a very utilitarian purpose, every instrument, every piece of equipment is a work of art. The craftsmanship is astounding. They certainly don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Walking around inside, it was hard to believe this ship is 70 years old. Not only was it built at a time when things were built to last, but they put a lot of work into the upkeep of the ship. The thing that stood out to me immediately was the shiny, shiny brass. I asked the docent how often they polished it. Every day.
Can you guess which ones have been replaced?
I’ve posted more photos on my Tumblr page and will be adding more in the coming days. Happy Pearl Harbor Day.
Stand Full Flank
Hawaii is a place of impossible beauty. But it is also inextricably linked to Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. If your travels bring you to Oahu, you owe it to yourself to visit Pearl Harbor. It is, to be certain, a must-see.
The conning tower of the WWII submarine, U.S.S. Bowfin.
Personally, the highlight of the Pearl Harbor tour was the U.S.S. Bowfin. I’ll have a more detailed post about and photos of this incredible submarine in the next few days.
Image taken from the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, where the Japanese surrender was signed on September 2, 1945.
Another unmissable stop on the Pearl Harbor tour was the battleship USS Missouri. It was the last battleship manufactured and last battleship decommissioned by the US Navy. The”Big Mo” fought in battles from WWII to the Persian Gulf. She is a testament to naval engineering and utilitarian design.
The U.S.S. Arizona as seen from the memorial at Pearl Harbor.
Of course, no trip to Pearl Harbor is complete without visiting the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. The monument marks the final resting place for more than 1,000 U.S. sailors killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial itself is stoically beautiful and hauntingly unforgettable.