Science Technology

The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost

After 60 years of fighting, I finally lost.
Article | Chinese Business Strategy Zhang Jingbo
Nagoya is destined to become a sad place for the Japanese.
On February 7, 2023, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced that it would terminate the research and development project of the Japanese domestic jet SpaceJet. This means:
The Japanese dream of a big plane for 60 years has finally turned yellow.
[Mengduan Nagoya]
At the press conference, the president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries bowed deeply and expressed his apologies:
“We have received the expectation and support of many people, but unfortunately, due to lack of profitability and other reasons, we decided to terminate the research and development.”
The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost
The factory in Nagoya has a locked gate and empty buildings. Outside the nearby airport runway, many Japanese people stopped and waited, unwilling to leave for a long time.
“I was surprised to hear that the progress was not smooth, but I didn’t expect it to be so…” A mother said this sentence almost with tears in her eyes.
The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost
Such a bleak scene can’t help but make people sigh: only eight years ago, it was a completely different scene here.
On November 11, 2015, the predecessor of SpaceJet, the Japanese MRJ regional airliner, successfully made its first flight.
This is the first flight of the propeller passenger aircraft YS-11 in 1962. After more than half a century, the Japanese once again achieved the first flight of the domestic passenger aircraft.
More than 500 people, including journalists, witnessed this historic moment. When the test pilot opened the cabin door, thunderous applause was heard in the hall.
The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost
“For decades, we have been limited to producing parts for Boeing. Today, we finally want to enter a new field.” The then president of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, Zhaoyang Kawai, was excited.
In the 1950s, when he was a child, he watched the US DC-3 take off and land at his home every day. At that time, he believed that Japan would no longer make aircraft.
MRJ has revived Kawai’s hope. It also carries the ambition and dream of the Japanese government to revive the economy.
In the past 30 years, Japan’s economy has fallen into a long-term depression. The consumer electronics industry, which once dominated the world, has gradually become lonely. The automobile industry has also been strangled by China and the United States in recent years.
Japan’s economy, like a trapped animal, is in urgent need of a victory to boost morale, and the big plane is one of them.
Therefore, the Japanese media praised MRJ for its first flight, saying that it ushered in a new era of aircraft industry in Japan. For this reason, aviation journalist Yoshihiko Sugiyama wrote a book called:
“Made in Japan Revived in MRJ!”
Kan Yiwei, the then Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan, stressed that the aircraft industry will support Japan’s future.
MRJ also lived up to expectations and once won 447 orders in the world. However, affected by many adverse factors such as capital, technology and market, MRJ subsequently embarked on a path of no return.
Finally, after 15 years and 1 trillion yen, the project had to be terminated.
Today, when consumer electronics are almost completely destroyed and cars are beginning to falter, the failure of large aircraft has caused a terrible blow to the reputation of the Japanese economy, especially the high-tech industry.
The Japanese who once created the myth of “Shinkansen” high-speed railway can hardly accept such a reality. The most unacceptable thing for them is:
Japan once held a good hand not to lose to China in the big aircraft project!
[Japan, try again!]
In 1957, Erlang Horie, 54, was recruited to work in New Mitsubishi. His task is:
Design a civil passenger aircraft for Japan.
As the father of Japanese aviation, Horie Erlang is a household name in Japan. The Zero fighter designed by him swept the Pacific sky at the beginning of World War II.
Despite its sins, JAL has ushered in a golden age.
During the whole World War II, Japan produced a total of 66000 aircraft, second only to the United States. The largest output is the zero fighter designed and produced by Mitsubishi.
After the end of World War II, Japan, as a defeated country, was prohibited from developing aircraft. It was not until the outbreak of the Korean War that the United States untied it.
The Japanese who got rid of the shackles vowed to regain the glory of Japanese domestic aircraft!
To this end, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and other Japanese consortia formed a Japanese aircraft manufacturing company. Horie Erlang and other fighter design talents were recalled.
Japan’s aviation industry, which has made great efforts, took five years to finally develop the YS-11 civil passenger aircraft.
In 1964, the YS-11 carrying the Olympic torch flew from Okinawa to Japan, which greatly boosted the confidence of the Japanese people and was regarded as a symbol of Japan’s post-war revival.
However, due to the lack of experience in civil airliners, the YS-11 has fallen behind before it was released.
In the 1960s, when the Boeing 707 was born and the international civil aviation industry entered the jet era, the YS-11 was still using a turboprop engine.
What’s more, the YS-11 designed by the fighter thinking has high fuel consumption and loud noise, which was roast by everyone.
The chilling crash record of 26 times in 10 years has made it the most unsafe regional airliner in the world.
Under this series of blows, the YS-11 had to stop production in 1972. The Japanese’s first dream of a big plane was thus extinguished. After the failure of YS-11, Japan turned to learning and became a component supplier of Boeing. The contract from Boeing has kept tens of thousands of Japanese workers busy.
By the first decade of the 21st century, Japan has become an important source of parts for Boeing.
The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost
Take the Boeing 787 as an example, 35% of the parts are made in Japan, especially the carbon fiber composite material. The Japanese media proudly declared that:
Boeing 787 is made in Japan!
The strong production capacity of parts and components has helped the Japanese to rekindle their long-suppressed dream of big aircraft.
In 2003, the Ministry of Economy and Industry of Japan (METI) announced the development plan of regional airliners with less than 100 passengers.
The plan is led by Mitsubishi, with the participation of industrial giants such as Kawasaki and Fuji. It can be said that the whole country of Japan can build a regional airliner later known as MRJ.
The ambitious Japanese are trying to challenge Bombardier, even Boeing and Airbus.
“It has been more than half a century, and it is time for Japan to try again.
In 2008, after years of preparation, the whole project was officially launched.
At the beginning of the plan, the Japanese had a great appetite, so they developed six models and set strict standards for new materials, fuel economy, low carbon and other indicators.
In order to show its determination to win, Mitsubishi also set up its factory in Nagoya. More than 60 years ago, the famous Zero fighter successfully made its first flight here.
However, the arrogant Japanese seem to forget that Japan has not been engaged in the development of civil passenger aircraft since the YS-11.
Moreover, the production of some parts and components alone is quite different from the development and production of a passenger aircraft from beginning to end. It requires the overall design and system integration capability.
This is precisely the weakness of the Japanese.
In fact, the first flight test of MRJ was delayed three times because of the change of fuselage design, insufficient wing strength and delayed delivery of parts.
Although the first flight was achieved after repeated modification and commissioning, it was delayed by 3 years.
On November 11, 2015, 12 years after the Japanese government announced the regional airliner development plan, MRJ finally made its first flight in Nagoya.
The Japanese cried after another major industry was lost
Many Japanese media are excited to call this day a day that will be remembered forever in the history of the Japanese aircraft industry.
However, the ill-fated MRJ did not change its fate because of this first flight. Due to the unclear positioning, MRJ has to modify the size data and indicators while developing.
In fact, MRJ has undergone more than 900 design changes in the entire development cycle, and has been delayed six times.
Internal management is chaotic, resulting in frequent accidents.
In 2017, when the second prototype of MRJ was tested, the engine failed and nearly crashed. The test site is in Oregon, USA.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States was frightened to stop the airworthiness certification of MRJ overnight.
Even the proudest carbon fiber composite material in Japan, because of the uncertainty of relevant technology, has been used in the development of aircraft, and only 10% is left, mainly for the tail.
The switch to the use of conventional aluminum alloy materials was hindered by the fake case of the supplier Kobe Steel. During this period, Mitsubishi itself was involved in data fraud.
Although Mitsubishi has tried several times to save the downturn, and even changed the name of MRJ to SpaceJet, this 15-year project, which cost 1 trillion yen and entrusted generations of Japanese people with the dream of flying, finally failed.
For the failure of Japan’s big plane, someone summed up with a sentence: heart is higher than sky, life is thinner than paper.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industry President Masaki Iwasawa also admitted in an interview: from the beginning, I didn’t expect it would be so difficult and expensive.
“To be honest, we are naive!” At the press conference announcing the termination of the SpaceJet project, Mitsubishi Heavy Industry President Kiyoshi Quanze was dejected.
[A game that big countries can afford to play]
The Japanese dream of breaking the big plane is, on the surface, the failure of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. But behind this, what really determines the success of the big aircraft project is:
National strength.
In terms of technology, Japan’s high-end machine tools reached the peak and controlled half of the world. New composite materials such as carbon fiber are even more unique in the world, and even Americans covet them.
This is also an important reason why the Japanese can monopolize 35% of the Boeing 787 supply chain.
In terms of industrial strength, Japan’s four major heavy industry enterprises, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Fuji and Ishikawa Shimbun, have a long history and a long reputation.
As early as the Second World War, Mitsubishi contracted Japan’s military manufacturing and developed the all-powerful Zero fighter.
The determination of the Japanese government is not small. From the 1950s when Japanese enterprises were encouraged to develop the YS-11 to the launch of the regional airliner development plan in 2003, the obsession with large aircraft remained unchanged for decades.
But the Japanese with a good hand played poorly in the end.
Japan’s failure has once again confirmed the great difficulties and challenges in developing jet airliners. Even with technology, ambition and strong support from the government, it is not enough to succeed in the aviation field.
Because the big plane tests the comprehensive strength of a country.
Although the Japanese have strong strength in airframe materials, parts and processing technology, there are still obvious weaknesses in aircraft manufacturing.
Aside from system integration, the Japanese are not good at basic fields such as pneumatic design.
The design of the aerodynamic layout determines the flight performance of the aircraft. The wind tunnel laboratory is indispensable for aerodynamic design. But Japan has almost no high-level wind tunnel group.
In contrast, China has the largest wind tunnel group in Asia and the most complete category in the world.
What is more insurmountable than technology is the market size, the discourse power of the industrial chain, the independence of the industrial system, and so on. To put it bluntly, it is bigger and harder than others.
In that year, the Japanese supplied 35% of the parts of the Boeing 787 airliner. They once put forward their own demands for the production plan, the final assembly line and other links, but Boeing directly rejected them.
Boeing can give orders to the Japanese, but those technologies with high gold content will never be touched by the Japanese.
As the only two civil aviation hegemons in the world, Boeing and Airbus will never wait to see the emergence of other food distributors.
The reason why MRJ failed to obtain the airworthiness certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is that the technology itself failed to pass the test, but it is also not ruled out that the US side deliberately created difficulties.
This is not without precedent.
In that year, when Bombardier and Embraer, which were becoming more and more powerful, tried to gain access to more than 100 trunk aircraft, they were jointly hanged by Boeing and Airbus with antidumping sticks.
In the 1990s, Indonesia, an emerging Asian power, also dreamed of developing the large aircraft industry. But then, the Asian financial crisis broke out, and the International Monetary Fund provided loan support for Indonesia on the following conditions:
Give up the big plane!
Large aircraft made in China can survive without the airworthiness certificate of FAA. After all, the domestic market is large enough. But if Japan’s big aircraft cannot enter the European and American markets, it will have to wait for death.
In 2002, China officially launched the ARJ21 regional airliner project, almost in line with Japan’s MRJ.
During this period, ARJ21 also experienced many hardships, and it did not realize its first flight until 2008. At first, the Japanese didn’t think much of this competitive product. They once made bold remarks:
MRJ will win more than 70% of orders for regional airliners in Asia, so that China’s large aircraft will never be sold!
Even when China produced the C919, a trunk plane larger than ARJ21 and MRJ, the Japanese were furious: China was tough when it lost to MRJ.
It’s a pity that the big plane competition is not about who has more saliva.
In December 2022, seven years after the ARJ21 was officially put into operation, the C919 also achieved its first delivery. Only two months later, Mitsubishi announced that it would terminate the research and development project of jet airliners.
The Japanese who clamoured to kill China’s big plane in those days never expected that they would be the last to cry.