Photo/IllutrationThe YS-11 plane is transferred to the site of the Aichi Museum of Flight on Oct. 28 in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture. (Yoichi Kawatsu)

The Aichi Museum of Flight, an aviation museum, will open its doors on Nov. 30 in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture.

Prior to its official opening, I got to see a YS-11 on display, and thought this will excite and delight adults, rather than children.

The aircraft definitely looked elderly. The seats in the cockpit sagged from age, and the cabin's ceiling was low. But it warmed my heart in an indescribable way.

The YS-11, a turboprop airliner built by a Japanese consortium, symbolized Japan's post-World War II national reconstruction.

In 1952, a ban on aircraft development, imposed by the Allied occupation authorities seven years before, was finally lifted.

Tsuruo Torikai, 86, who designed the YS-11's tail, reminisced: "In the aviation industry, a seven-year lag is a killer. Trains and buses can be built despite the lag, but with passenger planes, we just didn't have the know-how. We were skeptical of ever being able to produce a domestic plane."

The functions required of Japan's first commercial airliner were that it be structurally sturdy and could make do with a short runway for takeoff and landing.

The development team pulled countless overnighters and engaged in heated discussions, until their product finally made its maiden flight in the summer of 1962.

But its flaws, including rolling in flight, were pointed out by U.S. aviation bureau inspectors who came to Japan.

It took repeated improvements to make it structurally safe even in the event of one of the twin engines suddenly stopping right before takeoff.

After earning the approval of the U.S. aviation bureau, Japan gradually expanded its YS-11 exports to more than a dozen nations, including Gabon, Greece and Canada.

Over time, a total of 182 YS aircraft took to the air. But for lack of profitability, the assembly line was shut down in 1973.

The last of the domestic liner fleet was retired in 2006.

But the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard have continued flying them. Torikai, who is no longer active in aircraft design, said he can still recognize a YS-11 immediately when he hears its distinctive high-pitched whine in the air.

I myself have taken YS-11 flights to visit remote islands. When I walked around the familiar cabin at the museum, for the first time in quite a while, I thought anew about the passion of people of the generation that sustained Japan's era of phenomenal economic growth.

After disembarking, I took snapshots of this aircraft that resembled a swan resting its wings after a long journey.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 29

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.