22 April 2016

CHECK SIX: Chikuhei Nakajima and his Aircraft Company

So here's something from the "Persons in Aviation History that Don't Get Enough Attention" Department- this is Chikuhei Nakajima, the founder of the Nakajima Aeroplane Company in Japan. Prior to World War II, there were three dominant aircraft manufacturers in Japan- Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, and Nakajima. Both Mitsubishi and Kawasaki were capitalized from their founding by government contracts for military aircraft. Nakajima, on the other hand, was the only major Japanese aircraft company of the time that not only was independent of any other industry (both Mitsubishi and Kawasaki were divisions of per-exisiting industrial corporations), it also was privately capitalized on account of its success with flying its aircraft on air mail routes within Japan. 

Nakajima was a former naval officer with a background in engineering. While he was still in the Navy, in 1912 he spent time in the United States as a student and observer of naval aviation. He spent time studying aircraft manufacturing with Curtiss Aircraft and even learned to fly during his time with the company. When he returned to Japan, he left the Imperial Japanese Navy and started Nakajima Aircraft in December 1917. His business connections helped him raise capital- while Mitsubishi and Kawasaki's aircraft manufacturing was funded by military orders, Nakajima focused on civilian designs that could fly air mail routes in Japan. By 1924, Nakajima was also designing and building his own aircraft engines. In 1931 he retired with his younger brother taking over the company. 

By the end of the war, only Mitsubishi had built more aircraft for the Japanese war effort than Nakajima. By the terms of the surrender agreement and subsequent military occupation of Japan postwar, aircraft companies were forbidden from aircraft development and production. This wasn't so bad for companies like Mitsubishi and Kawasaki which were diversified. Nakajima had to be dissolved, but many of its managers and engineers stayed together in smaller ventures until 1950 when they formed Fuji Heavy Industries. 

The Fuji T-1 jet trainer was Japan's first indigenous jet aircraft following World War 2 when aircraft production was allowed to resume. Fuji builds trainer aircraft for the JASDF and is a subcontractor for several US aerospace companies, but you all might know Fuji more from their automobile division, Subaru. Many of the Nakajima engineers who couldn't work in aviation after the war turned their attention to Japan's then-fledgling automobile industry. Subaru has been such an important part of Fuji Heavy Industries that the Subaru logo in 2003 became the official logo for Fuji itself.

Further reading: 

(Photo: Wikipedia)

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