A6M2-N "Rufe"
Seaplane fighter version of Mitsubishi A6M2

In the autumn of 1940, anticipating the possibility of a Pacific war against the United States, the Japanese Navy issued a 15-Shi specification for a single-seat fighter seaplane that would be capable of providing air cover for offensive amphibious operations in far-flung places where land bases were not yet available. At that time, the Japanese Army's Corps of Engineers was quite small and was ill-equipped for the task of building airfields in newly-conquered territories in a hurry.

The Kawanishi Kokuki K.K. (Kawanishi Aircraft Co Ltd) began work on their N1K1 project to meet this requirement, but it soon became obvious that this ambitious aircraft would not be ready in time for the upcoming war with the USA. As a temporary alternative, the Japanese Navy ordered the Nakajima Hikoki K.K. (Nakajima Aeroplane Co Ltd) to begin work on a seaplane adaptation of the Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen (Zero Fighter) that Nakajima was also building.

Work on the project began in February of 1941. The A6M2 Model 11 with the non-folding wingtips was used as the basis. The retractable landing gear was removed and the wheel wells were faired over. A large central float was mounted, attached to the belly of the fuselage by means of a forward-sloping pylon and an aft V-strut. Two stabilizing cantilever floats were fitted underneath the outboard wings. The standard powerplant and armament of the A6M2 were retained. In order to provide the additional aerodynamic stability required by the presence of the large float, the area of the vertical tail surfaces had to be increased and a small ventral fin was added. Because the main pylon had taken up the space previously reserved for the ventral drop tank, an auxiliary fuel tank was installed in the float itself. The aircraft was designated A6M2-N.

The first prototype A6M2-N was flown on December 7, 1941, the first day of the Pacific War. Production was ordered under the designation Navy Type 2 Floatplane Fighter Model 11.

The first production A6M2-N was delivered in April of 1942. The A6M2-N first appeared in combat in the Solomons. The A6M2-N was given the Allied code name RUFE under Capt Frank McCoy's system of assigning hillbilly names to Japanese aircraft. A6M2-Ns were initially deployed to Tulagi, but were caught in the raids leading up to the American landings on Guadalcanal. Although they inflicted some serious damage on the B-17s of the 11th Bombardment Group, these A6M2-Ns were soon destroyed.

The A6M2-N was also used in the Aleutian campaign. In spite of the weight and drag of the float, the A6M2-N was actually quite fast and maneuverable, and could even outmaneuver many Allied fighters if they were unwise enough to try and dog-fight with this floatplane. On several occasions, they succeeded in scoring kills against aircraft as formidable as the P-38 Lightning.

As the war in the Pacific progressed, the A6M2-N was encountered just about everywhere. However, by this time the Japanese Navy had been thrown back onto the defensive, and in this mode the A6M2-N was no match for the Allied land-based fighters which opposed it. In spite of its obsolescence, the A6M2-N was still in service at Lake Biwa on the Japanese island of Honshu, being used primarily to train pilots for Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu floatplane fighters, but occasionally being called up to act as an interceptor in the defense of central Honshu.

A total of 327 A6M2-N floatplane fighters were built by Nakajima at the Koizumi plant between December 1941 and September 1943.

Specification of Nakajima A6M2-N Navy Type 2 Floatplane Fighter Model 11:

One Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12 fourteen cylinder air-cooled radial, rated at 940 hp for takeoff and 950 hp at 13,780 feet.

Performance: Maximum speed 271 mph at 16,405 feet. Cruising speed 184 mph. Climb to 16.685 feet in 6 minutes 43 seconds. Service

ceiling 32,810 feet. Norma range 715 miles, maximum range 1110 miles. Dimensions: Wingspan 39 feet 4 7/16 inches, length 33 feet 1 5/8 inches, height 14 feet 1 5/16 inches, wing area 241.54 square feet. Weights: 4235 pounds empty, 5423 pounds loaded, 6349 pounds maximum. Armament: Two 7.7-mm Type 97 machine guns in upper fuselage decking and two 20-mm Type 99 cannon in the wings. Two 132-pound bombs could be carried on external racks.