Open sky, flying high

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

In her book “North to the Orient,” published in 1935, aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh, one of America’s first female pilots, and wife of fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh, wrote of the cultural differences she experienced traveling across Asia, and on the simple act of saying farewell. She remarked of her fondness for the Japanese word “sayonara,” which literally means “since it must be so.” Unlike the foreign equivalents of “goodbye” or “au revoir,” each denying the significance of the moment by dwelling on the more emotional notion of separation, “sayonara” accepts the parting. Yet departing for the sky would always be as momentous as it would be perilous, with any fear consumed by the anticipation of exploring the limitless sky above.

Modern aviation has transformed our relationship with home soil and foreign ground, and while it would seem there is little in aviation left to be discovered, the limits of flight still remain a source of constant invention. America’s recent Solar Impulse project to design a solar-powered plane that can fly unaided by fuel both day and night, for example, challenges not only engineering and technical skills — the plane is wafer-thin and wrapped in micro-thin solar paneling to make it extremely lightweight — but also its designers’ temperament, which can only be impassioned.

“OpenSky 3.0 — Creating the Aircraft of Dreams,” the current exhibition at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, documents a down-to-earth aeronautical challenge by engineer, pilot and designer Kazuhiko Hachiya.

Creating a single-person glider from scratch in Japan is highly unusual, with personal aircraft both an uncommon sight and basically restricted in terms of research, development and production. Hachiya’s solution is to maneuver through restrictions by developing the idea of a personal glider that incorporates an engine without losing any of its gliding potential.

Making something that is part plane and part glider perhaps hints at inspiration from the fictional glider in Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind.” But the reference, if there is one, is purely visual. The show documents 10 years of development, with sketch models, maquettes, photography and video showing the process of construction, as well as early test-jumps and takeoffs in the open air fields of Ishikawa and Fukushima prefectures. A flight simulator is on hand to provide the experience Hachiya hopes to achieve for real — sustained flight.

“Open Sky” originally took place at the Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto in 2003 and “OpenSky 2.0” at Tokyo’s NTT ICC in 2006. Being a model based project, “OpenSky 2.0″ involved the M-02 model, a manned glider, while M-02J included the jet engine. “OpenSky 3.0″ will see further development of M-02J, and Hachiya says that once this model has been through several more stages it’s expected to achieve sustained flight, though for how long and how far remains unknown.

Concurrently, a smaller exhibition of the Summer Rocket team shows the experiments of a committed group of enthusiasts to send rockets to the edge of space, or as near as possible. Remnants of old rockets and destroyed fuselage, melted cameras and other detritus go on show along with rocket technology that clearly influences Hachiya’s glider next door.

Both these installations at 3331 Arts Chiyoda capture the essence of any invention — part risk, part failure, part success, and all-experimentation. “OpenSky 3.0″ doesn’t reinvent the plane or air travel itself but does challenge our relationship with the wider landscape, refusing the limits placed upon innovation in the search for a new and unlimited experience.

“OpenSky 3.0: Creating the Aircraft of Dreams” at 3331 Arts Chiyoda runs till Sept. 16; open 12 p.m.-7 p.m. ¥500. Closed Tue. and Aug 13-16. hachiya.3331.jp