Creator of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. Jiro Horikoshi was born in 1903 in Fujioka, Grunma Prefecture, Japan. His interest in aircraft began in grade school while he was reading newspaper accounts of the air war in Europe.During his senior year in high school he was faced with the decision of what to study when he graduated. He decided on aeronautical engineering and in April 1923 began his studies in the newly formed Aeronautics Department at the University of Tokyo.
In 1926, Jiro joined Mitsubishi as an engineer in the airframe design section. Jiro’s first major design project was the Prototype 7, a navy monoplane fighter. The project was part of a prototype competition that the Japanese used to select new aircraft. Both Prototype 7 aircraft built for the competition crashed during flight-testing. It was a rather inauspicious start for Jiro—but one that gained him a great deal of experience.
Jiro’s next project was the Prototype 9 or Type 96 No. 1 carrier-based fighter. This aircraft, the A5M, was known to the Allies as “Claude,” a top performer during its time. It was very fast and had excellent handling characteristics, which pilots particularly favored.
When the specifications for the Prototype 12 aircraft came to Mitsubishi in 1937, Jiro was once again called upon to lead the development. The Prototype 12 would become the Mitsubishi Type Zero carrier-based fighter, Model 11. The Zero would be the backbone of the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1940 to 1945.
While Jiro completed work on the Zero he was also tasked to produce a new aircraft the Prototype 14, the J2M Raiden (“Jack” to the Allies). The Raiden was an interceptor, used with very limited success against U.S. B-29 raids.
Jiro’s final design was in progress when the war ended. It was the A7M Reppu (“Sam” to the Allies), in flight-testing when the war came to an end.