Random thoughts on Japanese colors. The Japanese A6M Zero…Part 1
I recently posted a similar article to this one about WW2 Japanese Aviation colors. It was not completely prepared so I removed the original posting. This is along the same line as my original intent.
Hopefully you will find it to be an easier read, since it is aircraft specific.
The following article is to be used as a guide, and only as a guide. Please do not take this "definitive". Information changes as new discoveries are made.
I have included links to other research websites dealing on this subject. This will allow you, the reader, the opportunity to make your own informed choices on the colors used by the various manufacturers of Japanese aircraft during the War.
I suggest that if you are really serious about the colors used on Japanese (or any Nation's aircraft for that matter), that you do your own research. There's a lot of information available on the web, but not everything you read on the Internet is valid... so take caution with what you read.
What I'm about to show you is based on my collection of notes on information which I believe to be true. I am also providing color chips that are very close to the original colors that were used on the A6M.
I scanned these color chips from my Federal Standard book, and they look very convincing... at least on my computer monitor. Some of the pages in my book are starting to turn a little yellow. Please do not be alarmed by this. The color chips still look good as new.
When I scanned these color chips, the scanner settings were left at the factory setting of "0" Zero... I spent a lot of time doing this for you. Hours...that turned into days.
This article is written based on the research of others, not mine. All I did was gather this information and sort through it.
I wanted to make this article clear and concise, and include a lot of information on specific aircraft colors available to use in one handy location as a reference.
Full credit for this research is due to men such as Nick Millman, Jim Lansdale, Ryan Towes, and countless others who have been studying in this area of research for many years.
This will hopefully be a series of articles that will eventually include various other Japanese aircraft and the colors they used.
Each article will be based on a specific aircraft type. Just as this article is concerned with the A6M Zero, there will be a following one for the Ki-43 Oscar, and yet another on the Ki-61 Tony as examples.
More "episodes" will continue with this series in the future if they are well received now.
Over the past few years I have been collecting notes on a lot of different WW2 Japanese aircraft. There are two main websites I have been using for color research where a TON of information on this subject has been written.
These websites are J.aircraft.com and Aviation of Japan.
Notice the background color of the page on this next website... (just a little hint). 😉
Almost everything over there has been compiled over the years and is a collection of research that is based on evidence and not conjecture or theory of some individual. Countless research hours have been spent by these persons, some of whom are aviation historians residing in Japan. These people have been scouring the archives, making trips to various museums, examining relics and artifacts of crashed aircraft that are located in museums and private collections from around the world.
I need not say it, but these guys really know their stuff !
Speaking about stuff, look how nice the underside of this wing looks ! It's shiny and clean...
Various Japanese aircraft items have been personally examined by these professionals. They have concluded what color they believe these items to be. Sometimes one person will say this part is this color, while another professional will say it is a very similar color, although different in the color chip number.
This happens because we all see colors a little differently. Women actually have a better color perception ability than men...
During this journey, I have also found out that light, (natural or artificial), will affect the appearance of a color. So do scanners and cell phone cameras. Thanks for the tips Boris...
These various Japanese aircraft relic items were compared to several different types of color swatches.
Color swatches used were from a US Federal Standards color chip book for certain aircraft parts. (I just happen to have one of these books... mine is the 1994 edition. More on that later).
Meanwhile, notice how well taken care of these early examples are... Highly polished propeller blades. The cowling has a shine to it as well.
The down side to the Federal Standards system is that it occasionally does not provide a good match to Japanese colors from World War 2. It will still give you a decent general guideline as to how the color could have looked, since it is a "Standard" of color.
The Federal Standards (or "FS" system) was placed in service during the 1950's, some years after World War Two ended. It's still used by the US Government today. They are still available should you want one. They come in handy when mixing up your own colors that are not available commercially.
There is however another more accurate way to match Japanese colors. This is the Munsell system. This system was also used on some of these "relic" items I talked about above to get a color match. The downside to the Munsell system is cost. They are expensive.
Both color systems have now been converted into computer programs, so that you can digitally render how a color "should" look. Please keep in mind that things like computer monitor screens will change how these colors appear to you.
Here's a link to a website that will allow you to type in a FS color number and have the color digitally rendered on your computer screen.
On some occasions, these Japanese "relic" items have also been subjected to testing of paint samples at various laboratories, to reveal exactly what chemical components and pigments these colors actually were made of, and how they could have looked when new. This will also rule out the arguments that have been made about how a color will shift as it ages, or has been exposed to heat or sunlight over time.
This is an evolving field of study, and new finds are uncovered on a regular basis. Because of this, what was once considered as fact, has now become myth in some incidents.
Notice at how the overall color of these restored Zeros look in each different photograph... I will discuss this later in another episode.
One such example is the Blue / Green color called "Aotake".
Aotake was a clear protective coating that was sprayed on aircraft aluminum to help protect it from corrosion. Depending on how it was sprayed on the metal, (and even to some extent where it was sprayed on the airframe), it changes the look considerably. Areas that were exposed to wetness (or the elements) often shifted from a blue to more of a green shade. In some instances, one side of a panel could be blue "ish" in color, while still having some green present in another part of the same panel. "Aotake" is typically a translucent color that allows the aluminum to show through from underneath, and will appear darker as more of the material is applied. It is commonly found inside fuselage and wing components, but not typically in crew compartment areas.
A rather convincing way to duplicate the look of Aotake when building models, is to spray on a base color of aluminum first. Once the aluminum color has dried, I use Tamiya Clear Blue X-24 and spray on a light coat. It's OK to let it get a little heavy in the corners. Then I will go back and spray on a very light coat of Tamiya X-24 Clear Yellow in a few places, making sure not to cover all of the blue. You will notice how the shade changes to a green where you have added the yellow. You can also use Tamiya Clear Green X-25 if you want. Experiment with this method, but keep in mind the trick is to "not" get it uniform ! You want it to have variations just as the real stuff did...
Here's a good example of "Aotake" from a Japanese plane. I found this photo online.
For many years this "Aotake" color was considered the "go to" color that was used in "all" Japanese aircraft cockpits. If you have any older model kits in your collection, look at the instructions... you will see what I mean. Needless to say, this is not always 100 percent correct, but the kit manufacturers didn't have this information available to them back then...
We do indeed live in the "Golden Age of Modelling".
The A6M Zero was manufactured by two different companies during the War. Much like the F4U Corsair was manufactured by Vought, Goodyear, and the Brewster aircraft companies, the A6M was built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. Because of this, there are several areas where different colors were used.
One thing to keep in mind is that all of the A6M Zeros that were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor were Mitsubishi built machines. Nakajima produced Zeros started rolling off the assembly lines later...
This next information on the landing gear and tail wheel colors was obtained through one of Nick Millman's postings.
Wheel Well / Main Landing Gear Bay Areas:
Mitsubishi built planes had the interior of the wheel wells painted in the same colors that were used on the exterior. This means that these locations should be the same "Amber Gray" color as the rest of the airframe is on the outside.
The main landing gear doors and the smaller "Crescent" shaped inner doors were also painted in the same "Amber Gray" color on Mitsubishi aircraft, inside and out.
The main landing gear struts were painted in a "Gloss Black" FS17038 color.
The retracting yokes on the small inner "Crescent" shaped doors were also painted using Gloss Black.
The torque links on the main landing gear were painted in an aluminum color, as were the main wheel hub covers. A good match is FS 17178
These colors were used in this manner on Mitsubishi built A6M-2 and A6M-3 aircraft.
Nakajima built aircraft had the interior of the main landing gear wheel wells coated in the "Aotake" Blue Green preservative. The smaller "Crescent" shaped inner doors were also "Aotake" Blue Green on the inside portion, similar to how the "restored" Zero in this picture looks. However this restored example is wrong, since the inside of the inner doors match the outer surface colors... I’m just saying. 🙂
The outer main landing gear doors however were painted in the same color as the rest of the airframe, inside and out. The outer main gear doors should be painted in "Amber Gray" color.
The main landing gear struts were painted in a Gloss Black color.
The retracting yokes on the small inner "Crescent" shaped doors were also painted using Gloss Black.
The torque links on the main landing gear were painted in an aluminum color, as were the main wheel hub covers, exactly as the Mitsubishi aircraft were done.
Nakajima built A6M-2's and up to the early A6M-5's were painted in this manner.
Tail Wheel Assembly: These items were painted the same way on both Mitsubishi and Nakajima built aircraft.
The tail wheel assembly was painted "Amber Gray".
The tail wheel well area inside the fuselage was "Aotake" protectant coating. However, this area was often covered with a removable canvas boot that was either dark green or black in color.
The Tail Hook was painted Gloss Black.
The front mounting of the hook assembly was also painted Gloss Black.
The tail hook shaft itself was either "Aotake" Blue Green or "Amber Gray". This color difference depended on the contractor that manufactured the part.
The Imperial Japanese Navy issued a document in 1944 that was called "Kari-Kikaku 117 Shiki-Betsu Hyojun" which translates into "Provisional Standard 117 Color Norms".
Color chips were produced to go along with the document.
A partial color chip book was recently found in Japan and can be seen here.
Engine Cowlings and Cockpit Decking (areas under the rear canopy section):
These two locations were painted in a color that is referred to as "Q-1" the 3rd type... in the 117 Standard. The color consisted of 4 parts of "Carbon Black" pigment, and one part "Ultra Marine".
The color when new looked to be Black.
However it was actually a very dark blue color that was "almost" black. It has been compared to RAF "Night". The blue was hardly noticeable when new.
The "Blue Black" faded when exposed to ultra violet light. As it faded, the color shifted to a blue "ish" gray appearance, similar to this.
On aircraft that were severely faded, this color took on the appearance of a "Light Blue Gray".
Check this picture out... and you will see what I mean.
This color was used on all Japanese Navy aircraft as an anti glare paint.
There have been reports that this "Blue Black" color was used on Mitsubishi built aircraft and that Nakajima planes used a typical "Flat Black" in it's place. However this is not very likely.
The areas located under the canopy that was located behind the pilot's seat (where the radio mast was placed) often faded to the lighter shades.
The cowlings would have been better maintained since they were removed for regular engine maintenance.
The cowlings would have most likely been repainted and would not have appeared as faded.
A good match for this "Blue Black" color is FS 25042. It also happens to be the same color that was used by the US Navy as "Dark Sea Blue".
On A6M-2 Zeros that were painted in the overall solid color of "Amber Gray", there were two styles of Hinomaru used.
The National markings were sometimes called "meatballs" by the Allies and were a bright red color. A close color match for the red is FS *1136.
I have left the first number off, as this is an indicator to the gloss.
A high gloss color will start out with the number #1.
A semi gloss color will start with the number #2.
Colors that are "Flat" will start off using the number #3.
One type of Hinomaru used on the A6M-2 had a small white ringed border that surrounded the red "Rising Sun". The other style was just the solid red Hinomaru.
Mitsubishi built aircraft had the solid red style in all positions. Two were located on the side of the fuselage, while each wing panel (upper and lower) had them. Four were present on the wings.
Nakajima built aircraft had the white ringed Hinomaru on the fuselage only. The ones used on the Nakajima wings were solid red, just like the ones used on the Mitsubishi planes. This was reportedly done to assist with maintenance. According to some, there was an occasional "problem" with the interchangeability between parts on the Mitsubishi and Nakajima Zero's. This was reportedly resolved quickly.
So the Nakajima Zero's had the white ring on the fuselage Hinomaru, while the Mitsubishi did not.
This one is a Mitsubishi built A6M-2, based on the fuselage markings.
While these are Nakajima built machines, based on the same information.
In the next installment, I will delve into the differences between Mitsubishi and Nakajima cockpit colors, and the exterior paints that were used on each type... along with the associated color chips.
To be continued... depending on the attention this article receives.
I have a lot more color chips to show... 🙂
Comments are encouraged.
2 additional images. Click to enlarge.