An Automobile Company Designing Airplanes

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

(Tim Loerkhe/USA Today)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 2)

Also I understand the individualism and independence of operations are very important in the United States. In Japan, when I worked in the automobile division, for the drawing we used a main frame, centralized computer. But when I came to the United States, even in Mississippi State, each student has a personal computer.

There is a lot of freedom and potential for even a small company or organization able to design an airplane. That is a very big difference from Japan.

A&S: Did the MH02 have its engine located over the wing?
Yes. The first experimental aircraft design was for an Advanced Turboprop—ATP—with very small diameter. The design was based on the pusher configuration, so you may know that the engine is mounted on the wing in a pusher configuration. But during the development of the Advanced Turboprop design, the [ATP engine development program] was terminated. Finally I was asked to change the engine from the ATP to an existing fan engine by my management. So we finally decided to use an existing engine from Pratt & Whitney. I was looking for a position where I can install the engine on the airframe. I tried many configurations. At the time very small engines were not available, so we had to use a large engine, which was a little too big for the airplane. As a result, there were many geometrical contraints. So, at the end, there was only one place where we could install the engine: over the wing.

But that design gave me a lot of design inspiration for the HondaJet because some technical aspects are very similar. I developed many analytical methods to design this configuration from an aerodynamic, structural, and aeroelastic standpoint. With the MH02 experience, I started to explore new configurations for the HondaJet.

A&S: Most aerodynamicists would worry that an engine mounted on top of a wing would produce too much drag.
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?
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?
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.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus