The aircraft imagined by anime master Hayao Miyazaki in “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” has become a reality, thanks to Japanese media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya. Since 2003, this conscientious dreamer has built prototype after prototype inspired by the Möwe.
Tokyo, from our correspondent
In the beginning, in the early 1980s, there was the manga, followed by the anime, by Hayao Miyazaki: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. For the first time, Japanese fans “saw” the Möwe fly, a sort of personal glider that the princess of the wind perfectly masters, while saving the planet from an ecological war. Its name, “Möwe”, refers to its shape of a seagull with wings outstretched in flight. The fictional glider has no tail, but folding wings, a small jet engine, and carries the pilot on its back. Ever since the international success of the film, Möwe is part of our collective imagination.
For a long time, Kazuhiko Hachiya dreamed of flying like a bird in the open sky. Like all science-fiction fans, he was fascinated by fantastic vehicles. This fascination led the media artist to build a functional aircraft that was as close as possible to the legendary Möwe. In 2003, with his own money, he realized the first Moewe 1/2. The OpenSky project was launched.
Hachiya’s first life-size model, the M-01, a hybrid of wood and fibre-reinforced plastic, was built in 2004. In the following years, he refined variations of the M-02 in collaboration with engineers from the aeronautical company Olympos, so that the folding wings and body of the machine could carry a pilot weighing about 50kg. During this time, the prototypes were exhibited in art museums in Kumamoto and Tokyo, Japan. The first test flights began in April 2006.
The first time the M-02 glider took off, one meter above the ground, on April 21, 2006 at Meisei University in Tokyo, was one of the two high points of the OpenSky project, reminisces the now 50-year-old jockey-sized artist. The other high point was the first take-off of the M-02J, the glider successfully augmented with a jet engine, again at one meter above the ground, seven years later in 2013.
That year, the 10th anniversary of OpenSky was celebrated with a retrospective exhibition at 3331 Arts Chiyoda in Tokyo, following other major exhibitions in previous years in Kirishima and Kanazawa. The anniversary show featured talks on aircraft technologies and issues, a book about the story of OpenSky, workshops to make paper planes and rockets, as well as interactive installations that simulated flight on the M-02 and M-02J.
First take-off of the M-02J, 2013:
While Miyazaki himself once sent a letter of congratulations to Hachiya, the artist is careful not to associate himself with the filmmaker’s Studio Ghibli or any other company. The OpenSky project is produced exclusively by Hachiya and his own company Petworks, so as to assume full responsibility for human safety.
For this same reason, he is still hesitant to make the plans of the glider open source, well aware of the risks presented by this experimental project. “I believe that a serious maker could probably build the frame of the aircraft,” he says, “but piloting it requires special training, in addition to an optimal flying environment.”
For now, OpenSky remains a purely artistic project… with a certain political bent, from the very beginning: “Hayao Miyazaki’s manga evokes a war between State religion and big powers,” says Hachiya. “In 2003, Japan was dragged into the Iraq war, because our Prime Minister at the time felt that he could not oppose this war started by the United States. It was a dangerous situation that I think was similar to the story in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”
Building a physical incarnation of the Möwe also references Japan’s post-war status, as Hachiya remarks: “Currently, Japan has almost no civil aviation. Even if we can’t compete with Airbus and Boeing, it’s still interesting to create a general aviation and small planes. The goal of this project is to prove that it’s possible, even in Japan, to build this type of personal aircraft.”
Meanwhile, the most recent test flight of M-02J took place in Takikawa, Hokkaido, last September. “It was the closest thing to flying like a bird,” Hachiya smiles.
M-02J test flight, September 2016:
More about the OpenSky project