DECATUR In his 96 years, Byron Bristol of Sulphur Springs, has seen and made quite a bit of history. One of his most interesting memories is the story of how an American company designed and built the Japanese Zero fighter plane.
The Mitsubishi Zero was one of the most famous fighter planes of World War II and began itÃ-s attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It was two years before the United States produced a fighter that could outperform the Zero.
The Zero was faster, more maneuverable and could reach altitudes and speeds considerably higher than the United StateÃ-s front-line fighter, the Grumman F4F Wildcat.
Even though the plane had superior climbability and maneuverability, it lacked protection for the pilot, according to a July 2007 article in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum magazine. The Japanese government made agility and speed a priority over pilot survival. The Zero did not have bulletproof glass, or self sealing fuel tanks, so one bullet could explode the plane, the article explains.
BristolÃ-s story crossed paths with the Zero when he went to work for the Chance Vought aircraft company in 1944.
Bristol began his career studying art and sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where he studied under Cyrus Dallin, famous for sculptures such as ÃThe Appeal to the Great Spirit.Ã® After finishing school and marrying fellow artist Esther Boston, Bristol specialized in making figures out of rubber and selling them as displays for window shops. His wife worked as a freelance artist illustrating childrenÃ-s books and catalogues.
By the time World War II began, Bristol had two young daughters and was working for a defense company. Bristol wanted to quit, but was afraid he would be drafted into the war and have to leave his family if he did.
He moved his family to West Redding, Conn., and went to work for Chance Vought in Bridgeport, Conn., as an engineering illustrator under architect Ray Quigley.
Quigley began associating with the special design staff for Chance VoughtÃ-s first jet fighter plane, the F4U-4 and soon Bristol was also getting to know the design staff. He was asked to sculpt and build a quarter scale articulate pilot so the design staff could use it to move inside the model cockpit and see how it could reach controls.
The new F4U-4Ã-s had completely redesigned cockpits, regrouped instruments and improved access to the radio gear, according to Chance Vought, LTV History, an online book at the University of Texas at Dallas, perhaps thanks in part to BristolÃ-s work.
Helping with the project gave Bristol access to the whole factory. He was not restricted to just one area like many other employees.
ÃI had access to the whole shop from top to bottom. It gave me access to the whole plant,Ã® he said. ÃI began seeing pictures that looked like a jap, and I began to ask around. They said Ã»we built the first jap right here. Ã-Ã® The company designed the Vought V-143 or Zero for the New York air show in the 1930Ã-s, according to Bristol. At the air show, the company planned to market the plane to the United States government or any other government that was interested.
The men working on the project lived at the plant and worked night and day to build the prototype without overtime pay, Bristol was told. Their wives brought in their food and they worked non-stop until theproject wasready for the air show.
The Vought V-143was the first all metal aircraft. Theprototype airplane was turned down bythe American government, but a commissionfrom Japan bought the airplane, the plans and the tooling, Bristol said.
He explained that during that time Japan was going through rapid industrialization. They would buy American cars, take them apart, analyze them, make improvements and then reproduce them. ThatÃ-s exactly what they did with the Zero, Bristol said. The Japanese lengthened the aircraft and made some other design changes, he said.
ÃMen in Bridgeport, Conn., built the first Zero that almost won the war for Japan. And it also killed thousands of Americans,Ã® Bristol said, ÃI saw the photographs.Ã®
The Japanese credit Jori Horikoshi, MitsubishiÃ-s chief designer, with designing the Zero to meet what seemed to be unachievable requirements from the Japanese government..
Chance Vought, LTV History, explored the possibility that the Vought V-134 was the Zero. The book states that the Vought V-134 was originally designed by Jack Northrop and the plans were later sold to Chance Vought. Plans for the Vought V-134 were purchased by the Japanese government in 1939.
ÃIn 1942, a Zero was captured off the Alaskan coast. A soldier in the area, who hadpreviouslybeen an engineer with Vought, at first sight remarked it was practically the same air craft he had worked on in 1936.
ÃAs the story goes, the U.S. government turned to Vought to build an aircraft superior to the Zero, because, who knew the ZeroÃ-s capabilities better? In point of fact, there is little similarity between the two aircraft designs. The Zero was a full 1,000 pounds heavier, all dimensions larger and had a different wing and tail design than the V-143,Ã® the book states.
By 1943 F4U series of Corsairs, built by Chance Vought, were easily overpowering the Japanese ZeroÃ-s in the pacific skies. The planes were rugged and fast at all altitudes, according to the book, and their performance made them a formidable weapon.
Bristol left the Chance Vought aircraft company in 1944. Along with his wife, Bristol continued to work in art and industrial design. Some of his projects included building stained glass windows out of fiberglass for churches in areas effected by hurricanes.
After a conversion experience, Bristol and his wife were in charge of a ministry for young people in Gainsville, Fla. In 1985 they moved their ministry to the Harbor House in Sulphur Springs.
Abigail Rogers has been interviewing Bristol over the
bast year and has written a biography of his fascinating life. The coffee-table-style book collages pictures of BristolÃ-s past with his story.
Surprisingly, Rogers is in her junior year of high school and wrote the book as part of a home-school project. She is continuing to interview Bristol about his life and is planning to write a more in-depth book about his experiences.
News, Pages 1, 2 on 08/19/2009