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Small Tokyo firm works to re-create wartime trainer aircraft

Kyodo

Olympos, a small Japanese aircraft-maker known for its unique products such as a real-life version of a fictional glider from popular animation, is now working on re-creating a defunct classic trainer biplane used by the former Imperial Japanese Army, aiming for its maiden flight next year.

Satoru Shinohe, who heads the four-member company that creates small aircraft and gliders — from the design stage to building and test flights — said in a recent interview that he was driven to create unique “dream-inspiring” planes that major companies would never manufacture.

Olympos received attention in 2009 when it succeeded in creating a jet-equipped glider that resembles the “Mehve” glider flown by the heroine from the anime classic “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” The 1984 film, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, memorably features Nausicaa, the heroine, lying on the glider’s body to pilot it.

Last year, Olympos, based in Ome, western Tokyo, carried out Japan’s first short-distance manned flight with a propeller aircraft powered by solar energy.

Its current project is to reproduce the defunct Type 95 model 1 trainer aircraft, developed in 1934 and used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II, for client Tachihi Holdings Co., formerly Tachikawa Aircraft, which produced the trainer and other warplanes.

The trainer aircraft, nicknamed Akatombo (Red Dragonfly) due to its orange-colored fuselage and double wings, is a “rootstock of made-in-Japan aircraft for both military and private use,” said Shinohe, the 55-year-old president of Olympos.

“The plane was made at a time when Japan was pulling out of creating aircraft by copying imported ones,” he said.

Tachihi Holdings, based in Tokyo’s Tachikawa, asked Olympos to make a full-scale model of the trainer as its main operation had shifted to real estate and it no longer possessed aircraft manufacturing skills.

Shinohe was not satisfied with the order and instead offered to reproduce the real one, although neither the aircraft fuselage nor its designs existed any longer.

“An airplane must fly. It’s a question of which you want to show to children — a living bird or a stuffed one?” he said.

Olympos has redesigned the old trainer aircraft by using old documents as a reference and is now in the process of using wooden materials to create the framework of a main wing.

Shinohe studied under the late Hidemasa Kimura, a Nihon University professor who created the YS-11, the first domestically produced passenger aircraft since the end of World War II.

Many of his classmates at the university got jobs at big manufacturing companies but Shinohe founded Olympos in 1985.

“I thought it would be impossible to create aircraft that I like if I work for a large company,” he said.

It was hard to get the company’s business on track initially by manufacturing aircraft and Olympos sought to raise working capital through other means, such as software development.

The company became eligible to focus on aircraft production in around 2000.

“We want to create aircraft that inspire dreams of children and make them tempted to become an engineer in the future,” Shinohe said.