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Honda Aircraft founder set to retire

Visionary designer reaches mandatory retirement age

Editor's note: This article was updated March 3 to correct information about Michimasa Fujino's early career. AOPA regrets the error.

In a companywide announcement February 18, Honda Aircraft employees learned that their president and CEO and founder of the company Michimasa Fujino will retire on April 1.

Retiring Honda Aircraft founder and CEO Michimasa Fujino spent much of his adult life creating and producing the revolutionary HondaJet.

Fujino will reach reach Honda’s mandatory retirement age of 62 in March. Hideto Yamasaki will assume leadership of Honda Aircraft as Fujino departs onApril 1. Yamasaki has held numerous positions in the automotive side of Honda, including general manager in Turkey and more recently as a vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

In a telephone conversation with AOPA on February 18, Fujino said he intends to take some time off and especially to spend time with his wife, but he will continue consulting for Honda Aircraft.

Designing the unique HondaJet and then building the company to manufacture and support it has consumed most of Fujino’s adult life.

Fujino began his career at Honda working on automotive systems, especially electric steering systems. When Honda launched an aviation design unit in the mid-1980s he began work there at the bottom, sanding molds and laying up prepreg composites at Mississippi State University, where the company developed the MH02, a strange-looking high-wing jet with two engines mounted above the wings. The airplane flew 170 hours but has since been placed in a museum in Japan.

Fujino spent years fine-tuning the design, especially the idea of mounting the engines above the wings, what has become to be known as OTWEM—over-the-wing engine mount. His proof of concept airplane included OTWEM using turbofan engines built by GE-Honda, a collaboration between Honda and GE. The airplane featured a laminar flow wing and laminar flow cockpit section, a composite fuselage, aluminum wings, and trailing link landing gear—as well as a Garmin cockpit.

“I was almost fired when I first proposed this configuration,” Fujino confessed to me in 2005 when he was ready to reveal the proof of concept to the world while Honda considered whether it would enter the business jet market. “It was very controversial. The data helped me convince them. But finally, I just do what I think is best and right because top management trusted me and let me do whatever I want to do.

“Honda was very willing to allow me to try new things. I'm not sure an aircraft manufacturer would allow this.”

Shortly after the proof of concept was unveiled at EAA AirVenture 2005, the company announced it would move into the flight test and certification phase. Over the next decade, Fujino continued development of the airplane and built a new company, Honda Aircraft Co., to manufacture and support it. He was named president and CEO. The company now occupies an enormous campus on the airport at Greensboro, North Carolina, where manufacturing, deliveries, and customer training occur. Meanwhile, Honda Aircraft now has service and training centers around the world.

More than 200 HondaJets have been delivered since the jet received certification in late 2015. At the National Business Aviation Association annual convention in October 2021, Fujino unveiled a new, larger concept, the 2600, which includes coast-to-coast range, a larger cabin, and many other changes. The company has not yet announced whether it will put the 2600 into production.

Quiet and reserved in public, Fujino has had a significant impact on general aviation, creating the only successful standalone new business jet company in decades.

“Michimasa Fujino-san is an extraordinary and accomplished engineer who brought HondaJet to life with innovative designs and advanced technologies,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, upon learning of the retirement. “For a company that has never certified a civil aircraft to bring a clean-sheet jet design successfully to market is a Herculean task, yet Fujino-san has been the person equal to this daunting task. We are grateful for his contributions to the industry and wish him well in his retirement.”

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, also acknowledged the enormity of the task that Fujino accomplished. “Michimasa Fujino turned his idea for an aircraft design into an aircraft company,” Bolen said. “It is a remarkable journey that few people in aviation history have successfully completed. The HondaJet is a tremendous aircraft and it is a tribute to Fujino that the 2600 has been unveiled. He leaves an enduring legacy of excellence.”

Fujino also left an enduring impression on Garmin, an early avionics partner on the HondaJet.

“I met Mr. Fujino almost 20 years ago,” said Carl Wolf, Garmin vice president of aviation sales and marketing. “Mr. Fujino’s keen attention to detail and his creativity made a huge first impression on me. Our working relationship developed quickly, and I greatly admired his award-winning engineering, innovation and meticulous design expertise. Since that meeting in 2002, Mr. Fujino and I have built a special relationship that I will appreciate forever. His leadership and friendship have left an indelible mark on me and our team, and I very much appreciate all that he has done for Garmin. I wish [Fujino] and his family the very best in his retirement, and I hope our paths cross once again in the future.”

HondaJet customers have also admired Fujino’s vision for a new business jet. “When asked about his strategy for the HondaJet Mr. Fujino responded that his strategy was only to build a great product; a feat at which he certainly succeeded,” said Glenn Gonzales, founder and CEO of Jet It, a fractional ownership company. “Developing a clean sheet design aircraft with a first of its kind engine placement in the face of conventional design is no small task, but starting and building a new company in the process is simply amazing. As the world’s largest HondaJet operator, with over 21 HondaJets in operation around the world, we can attest the superiority of Mr. Fujino's product and efforts.”

Clearly, Fujino’s vision will have a lasting impact on GA. Yamasaki will have big shoes to fill in continuing to advance Honda Aircraft.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines

Contributor (former Editor in Chief)
Contributor and former AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
Topics: People, Jet

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