Return of grey Zero?
Sometime in the beginning of 2018 anime director,
illustrator and Japanese aviation colors researcher, Sunao Katabuchi published in Rekishi Gunzo
nr.147 an article where he quotes the paint color
specifications for the aircraft manufacturing under
IJNAF contract. Five colors from kariki 117 were
approved including J3 hai-iro which can be described as neutral grey. Katabuchi considers this color
as generally and widely applied and its “ame-iro”
appearance as a result of the aging or chemical
instability. No one seems to doubt the J3 application on Zeros. It was applied on one Zero (Yo-105)
during the Kugisho camouflage experiments. The
Zero units “in the field” must have had some stocks
of this paint and it cannot be excluded that it was
used after repairs. The chief Zero designer, Horikoshi, however described the paint as “dimly shining green ash”.
Mr. Kenji Miyazaki and Taizō Nakamura collaborate
with Mr. Katabuchi. You can find both of them on
Facebook, where Mr. Nakamura in particular is very
active being an avid Zero relics collector as well. It
seems he was involved in the laboratory analysis
of the surviving Zero color samples. He posted a
lot of photographs and opinions which may be well
worth checking. In 2007 Mr. Miyazaki wrote about
shades of grey on Zeros but was not too specific.
He doesn’t exclude the possible existence of “ame-iro” or some other “khaki toned grey” applied on
Zero but seems to prefer J3 grey as the only officially applied paint color for Zeros. He thinks it's
more probable that the color changed (yellowed)
due to aging. In Kugisho report 0266 however “cu-
rrently used hai-iro leaning toward ame-iro” is
mentioned multiple times. Mr. Nohara, I mentioned
earlier, stands behind his original opinion from 1998
i.e., amber grey was Zero factory finish.
A strong supporter of Katabuchi’s theories lives
on the opposite side of the globe. Tom Hall from
California (a very active member of j-aircraft.com
in its beginnings) wrote a series of short articles
on Facebook where he’s rather skeptical about
Lansdale’s and Millman’s research. His supposed
fluency in Japanese may give him an edge in obtaining some first-hand information from Japan. On
the other hand, his opinion that “the color changed
in the hangar at sunset” can be surprising. Regardless, the fact is that the current preference of Zero
image in neutral grey caught “the second breath”
and the further development will be interesting to
follow. For example, in January 2022 a book by Miyazaki and Nakamura will be released focusing on
Zero colors analysis. Good news is that the subtitles will be in English.
What color for Zero then?
First, do not get overwhelmed by the deluge of information in cyberspace. For example the fairly numerous Japanese aircraft interest groups on Facebook are a cesspool of unreliable information. This
article is an attempt at giving the Zero enthusiast
a hand in sorting out this information and showing
them the who, when, how and why. The treasure
trove of the information, and not only on Zero, can
be found on Nicholas Millman’s blog www.aviationofjapan.com. The high value reference is his PDF
“Painting the Early Zero-Sen” email Nicholas to
This is followed by Combat Colors No.9 which is an
illustrated guide to Zero color schemes and markings. Published in 2017 by Guideline Publications in
the UK may be rather hard to find these days.
Especially valuable is Millman’s specialist interest
in color science and coatings. In the end the decision how to paint your Zero is only yours. Despite all
that research, science and facts Nick stated once:
“Hardly ever any of us will be looking at factory fresh Zero on a sunny day”...
But let’s not forget. Zero was not made entirely out
of metal. All control surfaces (rudder, elevators
and ailerons) were covered with fabric. Their paint
color coating was of different chemical composition resulting in slightly different color shade, similar to FS 36307, we may say J3 from kariki 117.
Nakajima-built Zeros had these surfaces in slightly
more bluish tone, close to FS 26314. I am aware that
not everyone has access to Federal Standard 595B
color swatches I frequently refer to. It’s not easy
to obtain a set these days. From $25 I paid thirty years ago, the price went up to hundreds of US
dollars with a reduced number of swatches.
From the practical point of view then let me propose some hobby paint mixes which appear to be
close to amber grey (FS 16350/34201 but lighter).
My personal preference is GSI Creos (Gunze) Mr.
Color, C336 Hemp + C12 US Olive Drab, 25:1. One of
the mixes Millman recommends is GSI Creos (Gunze) Aqueous Hobby, H336 Hemp + H70 RLM 02, 1:1,
and it looks very authentic. Mission Model Paints
MMP110, J3 SP is supposedly a great match to amber grey. I have no personal experience with this
brand. For those control surfaces, especially for
Nakajima-built Zeros, Mr.Color C35 IJN Grey looks
If you use other hobby paint brands, ask your modeling buddies for a sample of these mixes and you
make your own shade. It is not necessary to be too
pedantic, the goal is to replicate the “character” of
the desired color.
the appearance of samples; and
3. Evidence from contemporaneous eyewitness de
scriptions - consistent with appearance of sam
ples and the Kugisho report.
A picture from Atsugi base in Japan, taken in September 1945, captures Kókútai 302 aircraft. Even though the camouflage paint on some aircraft shows considerable weathering, the national insignia's red is in excellent condition. This
paint was of high quality. During WWII there were at least three different shades of red, produced and applied to the
national insignias and the units' markings.
INFO Eduard - January 2022