Game, set and match to Michimasa Fujino
World tennis was left reeling this week by the unexpected retirement of three-time Grand Slam singles champion Ashleigh Barty at the age of 25. Another retirement is attracting less attention but is no less significant for business aviation – at least. This is the retirement of Japanese aeronautical engineer and entrepreneur Michimasa Fujino at the age of 62.
Words like ‘visionary’ naturally attach themselves to Fujino; founding president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company. When he retires next week, he will conclude a working life at Honda dominated by his design the HondaJet, with its revolutionary over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM).
His plan was to launch a business jet that combined high fuel efficiency with high speed while maximising cabin volume and luggage space. The solution was an over-wing engine configuration, which allowed for a larger and quieter cabin by relocating the engines from the rear of the fuselage to over the wing. Further innovations included: a natural-laminar flow wing, all-composite fuselage, and glass cockpit. The proof-of-concept aircraft, incorporating turbofan engines, was built by GE-Honda, a partnership between Honda and GE.
Today, 17 years after the prototype aircraft was unveiled at the EAA AirVenture 2005 event at Oshkosh and seven years after certification, HondaJet deliveries total more than 200. Last year the aircraft remained the most delivered aircraft in its class for the fifth consecutive year, based on data provided by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). During 2021, Honda Aircraft Company delivered 37 aircraft to global customers, while the worldwide HondaJet fleet logged more than 100,000 flight hours in January 2022.
HondaJet is also developing a new model, the 2600, designed to fly nonstop transcontinental flights across the US, with a maximum cruise speed of 450 knots and maximum ceiling of 47,000ft.
Glenn Gonzales, founder and CEO of fractional firm Jet It, the largest operator of HondaJets, with a global fleet of more than 21 aircraft, is full of praise for Fujino’s many achievements. “Mr Fujino’s legacy will be as the last person standing amidst a number of hopefuls during the Very Light Jet craze to design and manufacture a new light jet,” Gonzales told Corporate Jet Investor (CJI). He attributes Fujino’s success to masterful engineering, social and internal negotiation, and an undeterrable vision.
“The OTWEM is the epitome of innovation,” he says. “Having flown and typed [rated] in fighters and Gulfstreams I am well versed in aircraft design and engineering and I am amazed at the many benefits of the novel design.”
Don Dwyer, Guardian Jet’s co-managing partner, finds Fujino’s story deeply inspiring. “Fujino-sama is a pioneer in the aviation business. His story has always been one of my favourites because it is a story of never quitting,” he tells CJI. “Getting a company the size of Honda to build an engine, a prototype aircraft, and then take the prototype into production, was a monumental task that he proved up to.”
Dwyer singles out the designer’s vision and tenacity. “The barriers to entry to becoming an OEM require the resources of a Honda but the vision of an individual.”
A spokesman for Honda Aircraft told us Fujino has reached executive retirement age under Honda Motor’s policy and will retire from the position of managing officer of Honda Motor and president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company effective March 31st, 2022. (He will be succeeded by Hideto Yamasaki who is currently part of the Honda Motor. He will join Honda Aircraft Company and assume the roles of president and director on April 1st, 2022).
Meanwhile, tennis star Barty has pledged to keep “hitting tennis balls”, even in retirement. It is not known whether fellow retiree Fujino (37 years her senior) plans to work on his tennis game too. But we do know he will continue to act as an adviser to the company for which he worked so long and where he birthed the HondaJet.