Once-feared 'Zero' fighter flies again over Japan

Story highlights

  • Restored "Zero" World War II-era fighter plane makes a rare appearance over Japan
  • Officially called the A6M, the Zero was Japan's most feared plane of WW II

(CNN)It was an amazing sight in the skies over the Japanese island of Kyushu on Wednesday.

That small airplane buzzing thousands of feet up was a Japanese Zero, once the most feared fighter plane in the world.
The World War II-era plane made two test flights after a restoration project funded by a Japanese businessman.
    The Zero's air-to-air combat abilities were second to none during much of the war, making it the most famous symbol of Japanese air power.
    Made by Mitsubishi and officially called the "A6M," these killing machines were used in the infamous 1941 attack on the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
    It also was a flying suicide machine.
    Japanese air force Kamikaze pilots flew Zeroes more than any other aircraft, according to the U.S. Air Force Museum. Thousands of Kamikazes intentionally guided their planes into enemy ships during the war.
    During the 71 years after Tokyo's surrender, the sight of a Zero in the sky above Japan has been a very rare thing -- which is what made Wednesday's flight so remarkable. Also, of the 10,815 produced, fewer than 10 surviving Zeroes are still thought to be flyable.
    Mitsubishi is still making planes. The company Wednesday debuted the first Japanese-made passenger jet in a half century.
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    The Zero -- this one a Model 22 -- made its test flight Wednesday from Kanoya Air Base of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force, the same airfield where many Kamikaze pilots began their missions.
    The test flights were piloted by legendary former U.S. Air Force pilot Skip Holm, according a project spokesman.
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    The plane was originally found in Papua, New Guinea, in the 1970s. In 2010, Japanese businessman Masahiro Ishizuka purchased it from an American for about 350 million yen (nearly $3 million), the spokesman said.
    "I wanted for the people of Japan, and especially young people, to know about this Zero airplane, as well as those who are old who remember the past," Ishizuka told reporters Wednesday. "Each of them should have different thoughts and perspectives on this, but I just want people to know how Japan has developed its technology."