SINGAPORE (Mar 12): Michimasa Fujino was 26 when he went to the US for the first time to attend an aviation trade show. He was smitten and overwhelmed by the big, shiny jets that he saw. He says, “It was about this time that I thought that someday, I would have my jet displayed.”

That jet in question was the HondaJet, which Fujino conceptualised in 1997. This gleaming flying machine recently made an appearance before members of the media at the Jet Aviation Centre at Seletar Airport. Standing proudly by its side was its designer Fujino, now president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Co as well as managing officer of Honda Motor Co.

Fujino was in town last month for the Singapore Airshow. At a roundtable interview, he says it took him 30 years to see his dream come true and it gives him great pride when he delivers the HondaJet to his customers personally. He says, “When I see the customer’s face, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment — the HondaJet is like a piece of art. And every single HondaJet is like a child to me.” Fujino is responsible for the conceptualisation, design, certification, sales, production and customer service of the Hondajet.

Fujino excels at pushing technical boundaries, and this has earned the HondaJet many awards and accolades over the years. One of the most distinct design elements is the patented OverThe-Wing Engine Mount (OTWEM) configuration that was developed using advanced concepts in aerodynamics and design simulation.

The OTWEM configuration eliminates the carry-through structure of conventional fuselage-mount designs, allowing for greater use of fuselage space for the cabin and external cargo areas. The configuration is also designed to reduce cabin noise. By optimising the design and placement of the engine nacelles, the HondaJet OTWEM configuration exhibits less drag at high speeds than conventional “clean wing” designs, contributing significantly to the aircraft’s superior performance and efficiency.

Fujino, 58, explains: “One of the challenges for me, which is very difficult to achieve, is to design the plane with a large cabin. I was wondering how I could make the cabin larger without changing the size of the aircraft. I thought that if we put the engine on the wing or under the wing we could maximise the fuselage.

“Because the engine is not attached to the fuselage and if the engine were mounted to the wing, it would eliminate all the structure from the fuselage. So, you can maximise the space. But, at the same time, if you put things above the wing, there is a strong aerodynamic introduction and it is very hard to fly faster and it will add huge resistance.”

After much research, Fujino found the optimum location, which he calls his sweet spot.

If the engine were mounted on the sweet spot, then this technological breakthrough could be applied and used for the configuration of the jet to give it more room.

Indeed, inside the jet is the most spacious cabin we have ever seen, along with the trappings of luxury. It can comfortably accommodate four people and offers passengers a combination of workspace and a space to relax. Multi-axis seats slide, shift and lock without the restraint of a track. The windows self-tint on demand and the lavatory is fitted with a basin and vanity counter.

Fujino wanted to build a “flying sports car with a big acceleration”. He says: “Like a sports car, the jet is very agile but, at the same time, it is very stable. This concept is similar to a high-performance sports car.”

While the sports car may be a source of inspiration, Fujino says he admires the classic jets of the 1960s and 1970s — in particular, the SR-71 Blackbird. It gave him goosebumps when he first saw the plane — designed by American aircraft designer Clarence L (Kelly) Johnson — at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Similarly, he wants his customers to get goosebumps when they set eyes on the HondaJet.

Fujino’s reference was Johnson, who also designed the Lockheed U-2, among others. The SR-71 Blackbird was operated by the US Airforce as a long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s. Fittingly, Fujino received the Society of Automotive Engi neers (SAE) Clarence L (Kelly) Johnson Aero space Vehicle Design and Development Award a few years ago.

Fujino holds a bachelor of science and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from the University of Tokyo. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, SAE, the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Japan Society for Aeronautical and Space Sciences. He is also a foreign member of the National Academy of Engineering.

It was a natural progression for Honda to branch out into jet design. Fujino maintains that Honda is not merely an automobile or motorcycle company. “It is a mobility company. We start with motorcycles, automobiles and, now, aviation.”

With production at four jets a month, Fujino is optimistic about growth opportunities. Currently, HondaJet’s business is mainly in North America and Europe. He is optimistic about China and Southeast Asia too. “I see SEA and China as one of the largest growing markets in business jets. Industry statistics say that, in the next 10 years in SEA, China and Asia as a whole, 700 to 800 business jets will be sold in this region.”

Asked what advice he would give budding jet designers in an age of instant gratification, Fujino says to be patient. He offers the story of Japanese athlete and marathon runner Shota Kirihara, who wanted to give up during a marathon, but pushed on. His method? Kirihara took it step by step. Fujino says, “He would run from pole to pole. When he reached one pole, his next aim was the next.” In the same way, Fujino says that, when he wanted to give up, he told himself to work on the project for another six months. He kept adding six months until it was 30 years. Through perseverance and endurance, he completed the project and the first HondaJet was delivered to Thailand in 2017.