Michimasa Fujino always knew he wanted to be an engineer. “I wanted to build and design things,” he said. “When my parents were starting to build their house, I participated in the design and building of the model of the house.”
He was 11.
After graduating with a doctorate in aeronautical engineering from the University of Tokyo, Fujino joined Honda R&D’s automotive division in 1984 and, now the president and CEO of Honda Aircraft, he has worked for Honda ever since, both in engineering and branding.
When Honda initiated research into aircraft in 1986 to fulfill a dream of founder Soichiro Honda, Fujino transferred to the airplane division and moved to Starkville, Miss., to join a Honda research team at Mississippi State University.
“It was so different from life in Tokyo or Los Angeles,” he said. “It was my first time being exposed to a real different world, which I could only before see in movies.”
From 1986 to 1996, his team worked on aircraft projects. Then, one night, Fujino came up with the design for the HondaJet while he was sleeping. When he awoke, he didn’t have any paper, so he tore out the back of a calendar and sketched his vision for a private jet. It took Fujino and his team nearly a decade to get project approval from Honda, but what he sketched is similar to the aircraft today.
The project became a new division in 2006 called Honda Aircraft Co., but it took another nine years before HondaJet was certified by the FAA. There are nearly 100 in operation today. But Fujino wasn’t just involved in the creation of the jet. He also promotes and delivers them around the world, explaining the advanced technologies to customers and discussing worldwide sales strategies with HondaJet dealers.
“Close communication and relationships are very important to convey my message and passion for the HondaJet,” he said, adding that he personally hands a key to each customer.
“Honda’s goal with the HondaJet is to create new value in business aviation,” he said. “We would like to provide the public a new way of air travel and offer a new lifestyle to many people.”
When Fujino first started studying aircraft design, he thought the most important thing was to understand sophisticated theories, and he didn’t think much of hands-on and practical experiences.
“After I came to the U.S., I gained hands-on and practical experience. I actually fabricated and assembled aircraft and also conducted ground and flight tests by myself,” he said. “While theory is very important, I did not truly realize how much practical experiences helped me to design a state-of-the-art aircraft from a clean sheet of paper.”
Fujino oversees the design and development, certification, sales, production and customer service of Honda Aircraft’s HondaJet and HondaJet Elite.
How He Got the Gig
He founded Honda Aircraft Co. as a division of Honda Motor in 2006 after 22 years with Honda, including 20 years focused on aircraft projects.