||Commemorative Air Force's Tora! Tora! Tora! fleet. (photo courtesy of CAF)
By Frederick A. Johnsen
When Twentieth Century Fox recast the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1969, it was widely said they spent more than the Japanese had in the original attack.
The most stunning accomplishment was the creation of a force of nearly 30 single-engine aircraft to represent the attacking Japanese Navy.
If movies in the past had conveniently painted red Japanese insignia on T-6 Texans because of their general resemblance to the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, this was not good enough for Tora! Tora! Tora!
The time-honored Texans were still recruited as Zero fighters, but extensively modified-cowlings, rounded wingtips, landing gear doors, and - especially visible - sloping canopies mated to fighter-style windscreens.
Zeros were the easy part.
To conjure accurate visions of Nakajima "Kate" torpedo bombers, T-6 Texans were stretched by several feet with plugs ahead of and behind the original cockpit compartments. The converters attached tail sections from an entirely different aircraft, the Vultee BT-13, to the stretched Texans to make the resulting movie planes amazingly similar in appearance to the Kates portrayed.
More BT-13s were procured in an era when such warbird trainers were plentiful. These were given a small stretch ahead of the cockpit to which a larger R1340 engine was added. Huge fiberglass wheelpants and tail fillets added to the image of these once-docile trainers as ferocious fixed-gear dive bombers.
The resulting attack footage, shot in Hawaii, is far more believable than a just bunch of cosmetically painted Texans.
With filming finished, the Fox Air Force shipped back to Long Beach, California, where the masquerading Japanese warplanes were sold to new owners.
That's how the CAF came to be given six of the movie machines-the foundation of their Tora! Tora! Tora! flight.
The fleet at AirVenture includes several original veterans of the movie: Zeros 111, 112, and 114 all flew over Hawaii, as did Kates 310 and 356. Zero 118 is a newly converted T-6 that entered the Tora! group about four years ago; Zero 115 is said to be a 1970s post-movie mod, and Val 257 also includes post-movie parts in its replication.