Iconic Aircraft of World War II
Aerial combat played a huge part in the Second World War, including in the Pacific Theater, which unfolded across multiple islands. From this emphasis on aerial combat, several iconic aerial fighters emerged that were used widely and recognized for their power, speed, and reliability.
There were many types of fighters that could be touted as the best, but the following five are among the most iconic aircraft of World War II.
Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
Known for playing a major role in the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was the go-to fighter for the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. Introduced in 1940, the Zero was launched from aircraft carriers and showed great maneuverability and skill in dogfights. Its speed came at the cost of armor protection, self-sealing fuel tanks, and lack of engine power.
The A6M2 was arguably the most devastating force in the sky before Allies enhanced their aviation and surpassed the speed and firepower of the Zero.
If the name is one you’ve likely heard before, it’s likely because Grumman’s F6F Hellcat quickly became the preferred option for American aircraft carriers. The Hellcat was a direct response to Japan’s A6M Zero, and judging by the over 5,000 kills achieved by Hellcat pilots, it's fair to say it surpassed even Japan’s fearsome speedster. By the end of the war, it had racked up more kills than any other Allied naval fighter.
This single-engine, single-seat fighter served in the United States Army Air Force beginning in 1942. When it was introduced, it became the flagship fighter for the USAAF, and even continued to serve during the Korean War. Along with the Pacific Theater, the Mustang saw action over Eurpoe, successfully taking on Germany’s Focke-Wulf FW 190.
A single-seat, single-engine fighter-bomber of the Royal Air Force, the Spitfire first took to the skies in 1938, amassing an impressive victory-to-loss ratio. In addition to being RAF's premier fighter-bomber, the Spitfire was also important for reconnaissance, interception, and training.
Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Germany’s Jadgwaffe Fighter Force introduced the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in the summer of 1941. The Fw 190 was the German Luftwaffe’s go-to fighter, providing superior firepower and maneuverability compared to the older Messerschmitt Bf 109, especially at altitudes below 20,000’.
Oahu's Pacific Aviation Museum—included in many Pearl Harbor tours—offers a wealth of information about these and other aircraft of World War II and other military conflicts.