Mike Laver had been exchanging emails with someone in Japan before we launched in his Mitsubishi MU-2 on this around-the-world trip, timed to place us in Nagoya, Japan, on Sept. 14–the 50th anniversary of the model’s first flight. This person was incredibly proud of the airplane, passionate about its history, and pleased that Laver was making this trip around the globe to commemorate the model’s capabilities half a century after the first one first flew. “You are a hero of Japan,” he wrote to Laver.
And it was a hero’s welcome that we received in Nagoya early on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 13. After turning left off the taxiway toward parking, dutifully following our second Follow Me truck of the trip, we both were surprised to see nearly 100 people waiting near the general aviation terminal building, standing on stairs and landings above the ramp, and looking on from adjoining hangars. Several were waving small flags–mostly Japanese, some American, and one or two Australian flags (Mike is a native and citizen of Australia). We heard applause when he opened the cabin door and stepped out.
We were greeted by Toru “Tod” Takasu, manager of MU-2 product support for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and several other MHI officials. Many in the crowd had connections to Mitsubishi; some wore the business clothes of managers or engineers, and others were in the blue uniforms worn by production workers. At a couple of places outside the fence I could see aviation photographers, a few with step ladders so they could photograph over fences, snapping photos of this unusual aircraft–just like in the United States.
The MU-2 drew a lot of attention, both overall and regarding specific aspects of the aircraft. People clustered around the left horizontal stabilizer, studying–and photographing–the airplane’s data plate. This is a plate affixed to all civil aircraft at the time of manufacture that records the airplane’s make, model, and production serial number. One man was very interested in the airplane’s landing gear and sat on the tarmac, nearly under the airplane, looking and taking photos. Another was very interested in the freon air conditioning system installed on N50ET.
Then it was time for group photos. I took a couple of frames before I was summoned into the group. Actually, it was a rapidly changing series of groups, but everyone was genuinely excited about the airplane.
Once the commotion died down, the airplane still needed to be fueled for Sunday morning’s first leg home, and our entry into Russia. Then, after we were cleared into the country by immigration and customs, Mike was interviewed by a reporter for a local newspaper. The reporter didn’t speak English but a helpful Mitsubishi employee served as translator.
After a quick lunch in a Mitsubishi conference room, Mike and I were given a guided tour of the company’s aviation museum, which was a real treat. On display in the museum is MU-2 serial number 501, the first Marquise model of the MU-2, which Mitsubishi used as a corporate aircraft for many years–until only about a year and a half ago. Mike noted immediately that the airplane had been retrofitted with a number of enhancements and upgrades that weren’t available when that airframe rolled off the production line. The museum also features a World War II Zero that had been restored from recovered wreckage, and a rocket-powered fighter that was based on the Messerschmitt Me 163, produced in Germany later in the war; the Japanese design never became operational.
We’re driven to another museum, which features one of only three MU-2A aircraft ever built. The engine cowlings seem downright skinny when compared to those for the MU-2B’s Garrett turbofans. The MU-2A, powered by the French-built Turbomeca Astazou turbine engine, reportedly was underpowered–the reason that so few were built. We learn that a second of the three MU-2A airframes is in another museum.
Eventually we’re driven to our hotel, and a large group of Mitsubishi employees bid us farewell. But our hosts apparently aren’t tired of us yet; a traditional Japanese dinner still is on the agenda. The meal and the company both prove excellent.