An Automobile Company Designing Airplanes

Michimasa Fujino, the president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company.

(Tim Loerkhe/USA Today)
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A&S: How did that experience contribute to your next project?
Fujino: After I learned the very basic process of making an airplane, we tried to explore a much more advanced technology by building a more advanced airplane. The MH02 is actually the first all-composite business jet: The fuselage, wing, everything is made of composite materials.

A&S: When you were working with the fabrication of composites, did you at that time believe that you would be designing a new airplane from composites?
Fujino: I was the youngest member of the team and was treated like a technician there. So I didn’t expect that I could design an entire airplane. But after I gained experience—and in combinaton with theory and practical experience—it helped me a lot to understand many design options.

The MH02 had a forward swept wing. We tried many technologies on this; it was an experimental aircraft. We explored the application of these technologies to a small airplane.

We fabricated and assembled the airplane by ourselves and conducted flight test by ourselves, from theoretical design to publication and flight testing. We studied sophisticated techniques. And that was a very important step for Honda to establish all design techniques or theories. That was the foundation to go into the HondaJet.

A&S: Who determined the technologies you would test?
Fujino: At the time, there was a project leader. He had the concept; my role was to realize the concept from a practical design standpoint. He gave me the concept, and I made a sketch for him. My boss was a very good engineer but he didn’t have an aerospace engineering experience.

A&S: What was it like living in Mississippi?
It was very different from Tokyo. I didn’t know the United States very well. I had never been abroad. So from television, the image of America is New York or Los Angeles. When I went to Mississippi State, it was a kind of culture shock—only three traffic lights in the main street. But the costs to live were very low. My apartment was three or four times larger than my Tokyo apartment.

It was a good experience for me; there is so much diversity in America. I enjoyed the Mississippi State people; they are very friendly. And sometimes I went to Jackson or Atlanta, and that was a very good experience for me to see the difference between city America and country America.

A&S: What do you think was the biggest adjustment you had to make?
There are many small things. The first obstacle for me was that I couldn’t understand Southern accent. If I went to a hotel, I couldn’t understand what those in the service industry said. So communication was very difficult for me. And also there are no Japanese there: so no Japanese food, no Japanese culture. So that was a little bit difficult. But at the same time, that was good for me—to explore American society.

At the time, from Columbus [near Mississippi State] to Atlanta and from Atlanta to other small cities, I have to change airplane at a major hub airport like Atlanta. So I began to understand that from small airport to small airport, transportation is very important. If I use a small airplane from small town to small town, it is very convenient and it saves a lot of time. That kind of image [would have been] difficult for me to understand if I lived in Japan. [There] I didn’t use a small airplane at all. Also the traffic control system is completely different. But in the United States, using a small airplane is not so unusual. I could understand the future potential of a small airplane in the United States, especially when many cities are distributed all over the nation.

Also, sometimes in the United States, even a small city has a business. In Japan, the many corporations concentrate in Tokyo. But in the United States sometimes many enterprises are distributed all over the nation. So transportation is very important.

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