Posted by Lex on December 3, 2010
Courtesy of occasional reader pdxjim, the story of a captured Japanese plane that may have helped to change the outcome of the Pacific War:
“The Zero had superior maneuverability only at the lower speeds used in dogfighting, with short turning radius and excellent aileron control at very low speeds. However, immediately apparent was the fact that the ailerons froze up at speeds above two hundred knots, so that rolling maneuvers at those speeds were slow and required much force on the control stick. It rolled to the left much easier than to the right. Also, its engine cut out under negative acceleration [as when nosing into a dive] due to its float-type carburetor.
“We now had an answer for our pilots who were unable to escape a pursuing Zero. We told them to go into a vertical power dive, using negative acceleration, if possible, to open the range quickly and gain advantageous speed while the Zero’s engine was stopped. At about two hundred knots, we instructed them to roll hard right before the Zero pilot could get his sights lined up.
This recommended tactic was radioed to the fleet after my first flight of Koga’s plane, and soon the welcome answer came back: ‘It works!’”
It was June 1942, seven months into the war, the outcome trembling in the balance. Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga lost oil pressure after a strafing run during the diversionary attack against Dutch Harbor in Alaska. He attempted to ditch his stricken craft on a divert field, but it flipped over in a bog and he was killed. His wingmen circled overhead, wondering whether they ought to strafe the wreck – and possibly kill their injured friend – or hope that he could free himself for a rescue.
On such small decisions can depend the fates of empires.