Did Northrop and Vought Help Design the Zero

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MIflyer

1st Lieutenant
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May 30, 2011
Cape Canaveral
The first picture below is that of a Vultee P-66. I have always thought that it looked remarkably like a Zero fighter. But as it turns out, it appears that Northrop and Vought had more to do with the A6M, rather than Vultee.

An article in the Winter 1996 issue of Air Power History by Gary W. Boyd asserts that Northrop and Vultee efforts proved to be a vital technology transfer to Japan. Northrop built some of the most advanced aircraft of their time, the Alpha and the Gamma, and it was natural that they would serve as a basis for further development. A fighter was built in 1933 in answer to a USN USN requirment, the Northrop XFT-1, that proved to have some advanced features as well as some very undesirable handling characteristics. The XFT-1 was lost while trying to fly through a storm front on the way back to Los Angeles from DC. The next development was the Northrop 3A. It was quite advanced, featuring a fully retracting main landing gear but had tendency to enter spins. Its last flight was on 5 Jul 1935 when USAC Lt. Frank Scare took off from Mines Field and disappeared over the Pacific.

Northrop gave up and sold the 3A design to Chance Vought in Feb 1936. Vought used the 3A to produce the V-141, powered by the R-1535 engine, in an attempt to enter the USAAC competition that ultimately yielded the P-35 and P-36. The V-141 failed to win an Army contract and Chance Vought further modified the design into the V-143 in hopes of winning overseas contracts. And they had some success this time; the V-143, NR56V, was sold to Japan in 1937 for less than $200K. It would have been the most advanced fighter the Japanese had ever seen and it arrived in plenty of time for it to influence the design of the Type Zero Fighter.

Vought further developed the V-143 into the V-166A and V-166B, which became the F4U Corsair.

So it appears the Zero and the Corsair had the same grandfather.

P-66_9.jpg
Northrop3A-2.jpg
Northrop3A-1.jpg
V-143_0003.jpg
 
Or, alternatively, Jiro Horikoshi was just a great aircraft designer who created one of the best fighter aircraft of the early 1940s without ANY significant contribution from the US aviation industry.

Given the different design constraints between a land-based fighter -vs- a carrier-based fighter, I struggle to see how the V143 could have such a marked impact on an airframe with a fundamentally different set of operating constraints. Oh...and the V143 had a maximum speed that was only 20 mph faster than the A5M which had entered service in 1936.

Personally, I find this sort of nationalistic racism reprehensible in this day and age. I could understand such excuses in the 1940s as pseudo-explanations for the relative poor performance of US aircraft against the Zero early in the war. The subtext in this day and age that the Japanese couldn't develop high-quality aircraft on their own is, frankly, ridiculous....and that's aside from the obvious attempt to diminish Horikoshi's design genius.
 
Several German aircraft manufacturers did have an influence on Japanese aircraft and it's most likely that the Japanese paid attention to American designs (even licensing a few), but the A6M was a clean-sheet design that had to meet strict IJN requirements.

Horikoshi was a brilliant engineer who had a good grasp of world designs, so there is a chance he examined various types to create his design, but it's highly unlikely he copied anything.
 
Mitsubishi had a long tradition of designing naval aircraft. Mitsubishi aircraft were set up in early 1921 to do just that, by the unemployed Herbert Smith and his team from Sopwith Aviation, formerly purveyors of aircraft to the now defunct Royal Naval Air Service.

The A6M was a clean sheet design using the lessons learned over the Chinese mainland by the IJN since 1932.

The main lessons being the new naval fighter must out perform land based fighters, especially in range - to keep the enemy at arms length - and manoeuvrability - because you would usually be outnumbered.
It wasn't lightly built because it was 'copied from the Hughes racer' as is commonly claimed, it was light to meet the IJN requirements.

Herbet Smith, although largely forgotten in the UK, is as widely known and respected in Japan as Jiro Horikoshi.
 
Well, here is another good picture of the V-143.

I realize that most of y''all are not engineers and that probably no one else here has worked in the Pentagon dealing with Technology Transfer issues and certainly has not testified before a Congressional Investigating Committee on the subject. But suffice to say, not copying a design rivet for rivet does not mean that you cannot derive considerable technical benefit from it., The A6M was a hell of a lot more like the V-143 than was the A5M, or for that matter, the TWENTY two seat export P-35's that the Japanese also bought.

V143_SideSM.jpg
 
Well, here is another good picture of the V-143.

I realize that most of y''all are not engineers and that probably no one else here has worked in the Pentagon dealing with Technology Transfer issues and certainly has not testified before a Congressional Investigating Committee on the subject. But suffice to say, not copying a design rivet for rivet does not mean that you cannot derive considerable technical benefit from it., The A6M was a hell of a lot more like the V-143 than was the A5M, or for that matter, the TWENTY two seat export P-35's that the Japanese also bought.

View attachment 705161

Instead of talking down to other forum members and assuming they don't understand and haven't worked in the acquisition and export arenas, maybe you can give some specific examples of the technology benefit that the V-143 gave to the Japanese?

Bear in mind that the V-143 was derived from the V-141 which was a failure from the US military's perspective, having lost out in competition to the Seversky P-35. The V-141 suffered from poor handling and was prone to spinning, and also suffered from tail flutter. The V-143 had larger tail surfaces which probably improved handling....but it was still hardly a world-beater. After a redesign, the V-143 was offered again to the USAAC but it was again rejected.

It's also worth considering that the P-36, which was acquired and entered USAAC service in 1938, had a litany of issues when it entered service including problems with the engine exhaust, skin buckling over landing gear, and weak points in the airframe. Again, if the US was so far ahead of the Japanese, why was its front-line fighter in 1938 so problemmatic...and what does that say about a failed design like the V-143?

What technology advantages did the V-143 provide to the Japanese? I see no clear connection between the Twin Wasp engine that powered the V-143 and any of the engines that powered the the A6M (the A6M1 was powered by a 14-cylinder Japanese engine that had a heritage dating back to 1931 and still generated more power than the Twin Wasp). The V-143 clearly didn't offer any advantages in armament. Having a retractable undercarriage was hardly ground-breaking.

So what clear advantage did the V-143 bring? Metallurgy? Construction techniques? I'd like to get out of the abstract and down to specifics.
 
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Metallurgy?
The Japanese used very advanced alloys for the A6M that were similar to 7075. It allowed the skin to be much thinner than contemporary designs.

Build technology?
The A6M was flush riveted at a time when most western companies were still getting their head around mushroom headed rivets

Construction techniques?
Any place he could, Hirokoshi built in lightness - the A6M airframe was a series of lightening holes held together with the minimum amount of aluminum sheet. In fact, the airframe was so light and flimsy, any Western Air Force would have rejected the design out of hand.

It was an incredibly light aircraft for its time, with plenty of power, but it was the end of an era.
It was a transitional design, the ultimate dogfighter, but it was at the crossroads between traditional dogfighters, and their eclipsing by the emerging energy fighters. Against the fighter designs of the 30's, it was a top dog, but come the energy fighters entering from1943, its days were quickly numbered.
 
If we wish to use visuals to try and determine lineage, here's the AP-7 - note the fuselage taper, cowlling (including cooling flaps), high and forward tapering cockpit canopy, wing-root span/location and the empennage design.

Far closer to the A6M (visually) than the V-141.

Seversky_AP-7.png
 
A number of the Zero's smaller components, such as instruments and engine accessories, were also license-built Bendix, Sperry, Kollsman and other designs, which would lead to later claims that the airplane was a "copy" of the Hughes H-1 Racer or the vaguely similar looking Vought V-143, but as Horikoshi later wrote, "We were trying to surpass the rest of the world's technology, not just catch up to it." The Zero's single most important "U.S." part was its Hamilton Standard-design constant-speed propeller. The Japanese had also bought a V-143 in 1937, and the Zero's landing gear and retraction mechanism was almost certainly a copy of the Vought's design; after all, the Zero was one of the first retractables the Japanese built.


Equating that to Vought or Northrop "helping" design the Zero is a non sequitur.
 
Or, alternatively, Jiro Horikoshi was just a great aircraft designer who created one of the best fighter aircraft of the early 1940s without ANY significant contribution from the US aviation industry.

Given the different design constraints between a land-based fighter -vs- a carrier-based fighter, I struggle to see how the V143 could have such a marked impact on an airframe with a fundamentally different set of operating constraints. Oh...and the V143 had a maximum speed that was only 20 mph faster than the A5M which had entered service in 1936.

Personally, I find this sort of nationalistic racism reprehensible in this day and age. I could understand such excuses in the 1940s as pseudo-explanations for the relative poor performance of US aircraft against the Zero early in the war. The subtext in this day and age that the Japanese couldn't develop high-quality aircraft on their own is, frankly, ridiculous....and that's aside from the obvious attempt to diminish Horikoshi's design genius.
Not so sure it is racism. I might accuse Myflier of being incorrect, but not racism.

More likely repeated tales from several sources along with a superficial resemblance in the two aircraft. But, most single-engine radial fighters with a monoplane low wing resembled each other since all the same parts were being used.
 
Not so sure it is racism. I might accuse Myflier of being incorrect, but not racism.

More likely repeated tales from several sources along with a superficial resemblance in the two aircraft. But, most single-engine radial fighters with a monoplane low wing resembled each other since all the same parts were being used.

I wasn't accusing MIflyer of racism. I was accusing those who keep insisting that US industry somehow helped Japan's development of the A6M as racist. This topic comes up time and time again and it frustrates me because it precludes the idea that Japan was more than capable of innovating themselves. In reality, it's just rehashing Western perceptions from the late-1930s that the Japanese only made cheap knock-offs, they were short-sighted, couldn't fly at night etc etc.
 
Well, a lot of early Japanese aero engines of the World War II era were based/inspired by US or European designs, such as the Pratt & Whitney Wasp series and the Bristol Jupiter (the Nakajima Sakae engine was related to the P&W Wasp, to the point where the Sakae and the R-1830 Twin Wasp shared mounting points, which is partly why most airworthy Zeroes use R-1830s).

But indeed, many German engineers were based out of Japan during that period. One of the most notable being Richard Vogt, who is most well known for his work with Dornier and Bholm & Voss. Kawasaki was a licensee or Dornier designs and Vogt was sent to Japan for partly that reason (and also maybe because Japan wasn't tied down by the Versailles Treaty until late 1934), and Takeo Doi (who designed the Ki-10, Ki-61, Ki-100 among others) became Vogt's protege.
 

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