Composing supersonic materials

Published: 23 Oct 2015

Yoshiuasu Hirano - WW 20151020

A long-standing interest in flight and composite structures has thrust the engineer to the forefront of Japan’s next-generation supersonic civil transport project, and to also look at space-based applications for material.

Where were you educated?

I attended the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, where I earned my bachelor’s degree from the department of mechanical-aerospace engineering.

There I joined a club developing human-powered aircraft, in the role of chief designer.

Flying only with human power requires the ultimate in weight-saving design.

We decided to adopt carbonfibre-reinforced polymer. The longest flying distance it covered was over 18km.

In graduate school I researched the optimisation design of composite aerospace structure. Three years later I earned my Ph.D. in engineering.

What was your first aviation job?

I took up a fixed-term post-doctoral position at JAXA’s AdvancedComposite Research Center just after finishing my doctorate.

My first research project was to design and develop a low-cost composite wing demonstrator with a VaRTM [vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding] process. I was in charge of the material design and manufacturing process development, conceptual and detailed structural design and structural verification with full scale demonstrator test.

The research project finished successfully, and it provided me with a valuable experience of developing composite aerospace structure. After completion of the project, I signed with JAXA for mid-career employment.

What are you working on?

I’m a researcher in composite material and structure, involved in both the fundamental research on composite material and the development of flight experimental vehicles.

My recent research interests include the optimisation design of composite structures and the lightning damage behaviour of composite materials. 

I’m also involved in the conceptual design of the next generation supersonic civil transport, as well as the structural design of the experimental flight demonstrator of the D-SEND2 and FEATHER projects.

My role in the D-SEND project was to develop structural design for an unmanned experimental aircraft which demonstrates JAXA’s low-sonic boom aerodynamic design concept, called the S3CM: Silent SuperSonic Concept Model.

No composite materials were applied for the experimental aircraft, since a lightweight structure was not a priority for the project. 

My current challenge is to develop composite materials concepts for JAXA’s next generation supersonic civil transport.

“There is a large gap between fundamental research and practical application”

Do you work with JAXA’s space programmes?

In the past, I have had few opportunities to contribute directly towards the development of a space exploration project. However, since composite materials have been drawing greater attention as a space structure, I am now getting involved.

What’s most difficult about your job?

There is a large gap between fundamental research and practical application. Since structural integrity is directly related to safety, aircraft development is often based on conservative approaches and it usually takes a long time when applying new material or a structural concept into aircraft development. 

Although there are frequent pressures that request short-term outcomes from fundamental research activity, it is always necessary to ensure I have a long-term perspective.

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