Zero No More – Mitsubishi Back In The Air

Matthew sent me a NY Times link to a great story on Mitsubishi building a new commercial passenger jet, which will, the article state, bring Japan back into the air as a manufacturer of aircraft.

After World War II, Japan’s occupiers got together and tried ensure the horros of that war could never include Japan again, and banned it from building aircraft again.

It did not stop it from designing aircraft, or from building components of aircraft – it just couldn’t construct its own bird again, like the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane, that was first famed and feared for its dog-fighting skills and then scorned and feared because pilots were using them as death missiles as part of Japan’s last gasp flight into the ‘divine wind’ with its kamikaze raids into U.S. naval vessels.

But now, the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is, to quote the newspaper article, presiding “over Japan’s biggest aviation comeback since the war.”

Uh… the implication here is that Japan has not built any aircraft since WWII. But, didn’t Honda Aircraft Company build an airplane recently – selling them, too – private jets?

Oh wait – I get it – Honda made a private jet, while Mitsubishi is looking to build a commercial passenger jet, with the first actual flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet MRJ90 scheduled to take its first flight later in 2013.

By the way…  Toyota Motor Corporation is also a partner in this jet.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet – see image at the very top, and scattered throughout this article – is still being built, but Mitsubishi says the sleek-looking 90-seater commercial plane will be the first to break the ban.

How did this come about? Part of it is due to the success (and failure) of Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner passenger, as Boeing outsourced a great deal of the design and construction of parts to foreign contractors, including many from Japan, as about one-third of that plane was made in Japan.

Among those contractors, Mitsubishi Aircraft’s parent corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the Dreamliner’s carbon-fiber composite wings (main).

Despite building these cutting edge wings for the Boeing plane, Mitsubishi says that its Regional Jet only uses a small amount of the carbon-fiber material in its entire construction.

It should be noted that the design originally called for more use of the carbon-fiber, but Mitsubishi had an about-face and switched to aluminum wings as part of its design back in 2009.

Mitsubishi has also decided against using lithium-ion batteries as part of the build, viewing Boeing’s problems with its new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet as a problem it would rather not have, especially as it is new to the market and trying to get a wing in the hangar door of the aviation industry after being absent all these decades.

Last time I checked, most human beings in the West had an ass wider than this walkway… I see problems.

Of course… this new jet built by Mitsubishi isn’t just self-serving, it also has the fate of Japan’s possible jump back into aviation in its hands, as success or failure with the Regional Jet could determine the fate of a Japanese industry for decades to come.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a failure with the development of the YS-11 60-seat turboprop plane  had a major impact on Japanese aviation.

While the plane did not fail, per se back then—some 182 aircraft were built up until 1973, 10 years after its maiden flight, there were far too many negatives regarding the airplane for it to be considered a success.

Despite large amounts of financial clout from the Japanese government, and an aircraft designed by Tojo Teruo (surname first),  the plane still had issues.

If the name Tojo sounds familiar to some of you older kids, Teruo was one one of the original engineers of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, but he was also related to a more famous Tojo, as he was the second son of Tojo Hideki (surname first), the general of the Imperial Japanese Army, the leader of the Taisei Yokusankai (also known as the Imperial Rule Assistance Association” or “Imperial Aid Association”, it was Japan’s para-fascist organization created by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in 1940 to promote the goals of a Shintaisei (New Order) movement, and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II, from 17 October 1941 to 22 July 1944 who was later executed by the Allies as a war criminal.

So… with a pedigree like that, how could the YS-11 fail? That was sarcasm, by the way.

Anyhow, the YS-11 apparently has engines that were too loud—passenger complaint, while earlier testing showed it leaked when raining and had a fair bit of a roll – though in all fairness, those were early versions of the plane.

Still, the plane didn’t sell, and the project was canceled in 1973.

While Tojo did become the vice-president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, he lamented in a 1990 newspaper interview an all to well-known fact: “We wanted to sell to the world, but on the ground, we felt we were chasing an impossible dream. Who would want to buy a plane made in Japan?”

And, while no one has bought a Japanese-designed and manufactured passenger jet since the ill-fated YS-11 in 1973, Mitsubishi is attempting to break that streak with the Regional Jet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view on war), the younger Tojo won’t be around to see it, having passed away in 2012 at the age of 98.

(You Tube video shows the initial flight testing of the Pratt & Whitney PW1200G Geared Turbofan engine – not on the Mitsubishi Regional Jet – at Mirabel Airport, Quebec, Canada back in 2012. I assume it’s the engine at the TOP of the aircraft.)

After the money-burning fiasco of the YS-11, Japan shied away from manufacturing its own planes, instead focusing on being a parts supplier for other aircraft manufacturers around the globe.

Now… as an aside… the YS-11… why would people want to purchase it? Even if it worked well, the late 1960s and early 1970s was still a relatively short time after the war, and people may not have trusted Japanese products. While people were buying Japanese products, I still wonder if wartime prejudices may have played a part in the aircraft’s non-acceptance.

Perhaps now, as the world gets older and past prejudices die off in favor of new ones, a well-built aircraft from a company used achieving success may just be the tonic to kickstart a new industrial aviation revolution for Japan.

And, in case you are wondering, American Skywest has placed a firm order for 100 MRJ90 aircraft from Mitsubishi for a reported $4.2-billion. All Nippon Airways (ANA) was the first to order a whopping 15 aircraft. I believe there is at least a minimum of 165 aircraft now sold, making it a greater success than the YS-11.

Cleared for take-off,
Andrew Joseph

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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