A & S Interview: Michimasa Fujino
President and CEO, Honda Aircraft Company
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, May 2007
Tim Loerkhe/USA Today
(Page 4 of 6)
A&S: Most aerodynamicists would worry that an engine mounted on top of a wing would produce too much drag.
Fujino: Right. It’s common sense in the airplane industry never to put anything on top of the wing because aerodynamic interference cases a drag penalty esecially at high speed. Also this configuration cases a loss of lift if it is not properly designed. So first I tried to minimize these disadvantages. Frankly speaking, the original MH02 is still facing some drag penalties at high speed because of the over-the-wing configuration. There was also some lift disadvantage as well. But the MH02 is a very low speed airplane: .5 Mach number—so the penalty of over-the-wing engine mount configuration is small and acceptable. When I started designing the high-speed HondaJet, I tried to create the best over-the-wing engine-mount configuration which minimizes drag at high speed and also minimizes lift loss. After I conducted extensive analyses and testing, I found the optimum location of engines relative to the wing, which gives higher efficiency than that of a conventional configuration by employing the new concept of favorable interference. As a result, HondaJet’s optimum over-the-wing engine mount configuration actually achieves lower drag and higher efficiency at high speed.
A&S: How did you get from the MH02 to the HondaJet? Did the company say, “Okay, make us an airplane?”
Fujino: It was a very difficult transition from the MH02 to the HondaJet. When the MH02 project was finished in 1996, the management gave up the airplane project. At the time the automobile industry was very competitive, and Honda was trying to be very competitive from a technical standpoint and marketing standpoint.
A&S: How did you feel about the company’s decision not to go forward with the airplane project?
Fujino: Of course, I was very disappointed because I had worked for almost 10 years on the airplane project. And I worked very hard to realize or make a foundation in Honda to build an airplane. And I thought my effort might be in vain if [the company walked away from airplanes.] So I wanted to continue and I wanted to build a new airplane. And also, after 10 years of working with American engineers and friends, I had confidence that I could build a much better airplane than existing airplanes. Combined with some confidence and passion to continue the airplane project, I decided to propose a new project, the HondaJet project, to management in 1997.
In 1996, our project was finished. It took me six months to a year to find an opportunity to propose the project to our top management.
A&S: What was your proposal?
Fujino: At the time, I found the oppportunity to talk with the president of the Honda Motor Company. I explained the future possibility of a small business jet. I explained my own practical experiences in the United States. Without that experience, it is very hard for an engineer to build a new product.
One advantage for a Japanese to design very good automobile is that all engineers drive cars themselves. They’ve owned automobiles, and they understand the need of a customer—the importance of the quality and of the performance and reliability. Those are very good feedback to the design. But for airplane, very few Japanese have the experience to use an airplane. So it’s sometimes very hard for them to understand how much potential exists in the small airplane market. Fortunately, I worked in the United States more than 10 years, so I tended to understand the American people’s lifestyle, culture, and the importance of small airplane transportation.
A&S: It seems like a bold move for Honda. Do you think the boldness was attractive to the President of Honda Motor?
Fujino: Actually, many of the board members were skeptical about the airplane project, but traditionally the president of Honda Motor comes from engineering background, and Honda is the kind of company that understands the product very well. Many Western companies are run by financial people. But in Honda’s case, the substance of the business is to build the best product and to sell with honesty or to sell with quality. That is the kind of circumstance of the business. And from such point, the president thinks we have to explore more long-term markets. Of course Honda’s looking at 3 years [out] and 5 years [out]. But we’re also looking at 10 years and 20 years as well. They just don’t concentrate on 3 years or 5 years only. Very few but some in management still have a very big picture. There are some broad-thinking people. They have a very good balance between a short-term business and a long-term business.
I think at the time [I made my proposal] the president had understood the future of mobility and his responsibility as a mobility company. He understood that a small airplane was a good thing to be pursuing.