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New Type of Passenger Plane in the Works

October 26, 2000
An artist's rendition of the new plane design. (NAL)

Imagine a machine that flies at some times like a helicopter and at other times like a propeller-driven airplane. This vehicle would have a wide, stubby body, allowing it to carry passengers comfortably while remaining highly maneuverable. Japan's Science and Technology Agency is set to begin work on just such a plane in the near future. By shifting the alignment of its propellers, the plane will be able to take off vertically and on short runways, and its flattened wide-body fuselage--which functions as something of a wing for the plane--will be made available for passenger use for the first time ever.

The Best of Both Worlds
The new design mixes the strong points of helicopters, which can take off vertically, and prop planes, which can carry more passengers and cargo at higher speeds. The vehicle is small compared to most modern passenger planes, measuring only 18 meters (59 feet) long and 16 meters (53 feet) wide. Its most striking feature is the four propellers on its wings, which can be pointed forward for horizontal flight or angled skyward for VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) operations.

The plane now being developed at the Science and Technology Agency's National Aerospace Laboratory will be capable of speeds up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) per hour and have a flight range covering almost all domestic routes. It will also make efficient use of space with its unusual fuselage, which at 6 meters (20 feet) wide and 3 meters (10 feet) tall will be able to seat more passengers while providing additional lift for the aircraft. In fact, the new design will be able to seat 54 people--90% as many passengers as the YS11, a passenger craft developed in Japan soon after World War II--despite being only two-thirds the length of the older plane.

Keeping an Eye on Weight, Cost
The copter-plane is the first new passenger aircraft to be designed in Japan since the Asuka--an STOL (short take-off and landing) craft--was developed 23 years ago. For it to be truly feasible as a passenger design, its creators will have to focus on the weight of its body and cost of production. Toward the first end, researchers at the NAL are aiming to use special materials and cutting-edge physical design to keep the flattened fuselage lighter than its cylindrical counterparts. The NAL is hoping for a development budget of 10 billion yen (95 million U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar), which would let it put together a flying version of the plane in just a few years.

According to one staff member of the NAL, "This passenger craft will be the first created entirely in Japan since the YS11 came out some 40 years ago. We intend to put to use the technologies we worked on in the Asuka to make it a success." The researcher continues proudly: "The new aircraft will be able to take off and land at smaller airfields, meaning that we should see demand for it not only in Japan but throughout the developing countries of the world."

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.