““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
It’s been a long wait.
The HondaJet grew out of a research project that began in 1986. The all-composite MH02 featured an above-wing engine mount and a forward-swept wing. It first flew in 1993. With that research in hand, Honda went back to the drawing board and 10 years later the first HondaJet prototype took to the skies. Today, the 420-knot, $4.5 million entry-level twinjet is well on its way to certification in 2013. The manufacturer expects the five- to six-passenger jet to be certified for single-pilot operation and to have a range of 1,180 nautical miles, an initial climb rate of 4,000 feet per minute and a maximum altitude of 43,000 feet. Honda claims the aircraft has 15 to 20 percent greater fuel efficiency and faster speed than competing models.
A fleet of conformal test aircraft (that look almost identical to the prototype that has been flying since 2003) is currently racking up hours. More than 600 employees are working at Honda’s massive 83-acre Greensboro, N.C. campus, which has 500,000 square feet under roof and should be able to turn out 70 to 100 aircraft per year when production is fully ramped up. The first two years of production are already sold out.
The HondaJet uses a carbon fiber composite fuselage mated to metal wings. The appearance is unconventional, featuring over-wing engine pylons, thin natural laminar flow wings, porpoise-like nose and raked cockpit side windows. The design yields more speed; more luggage space; and a larger, quieter cabin with less vibration. The over-wing pylons reduce drag and eliminate the need to contour the aft fuselage. Honda is currently showing one cabin configuration: a single-place, side-facing divan opposite the entry door followed by club-four seating and an aft-cabin lavatory with privacy door. The aircraft’s interior features upscale automotive accents, such as high-tech plating that runs the length of the cabin.
Other possible configurations include substituting a small refreshment area, cabinets and a closet for the single, side-facing seat; and an all-forward-facing seat layout for air-taxi operations. The color/fabric palette for the interior will initially consist of four to five possible combinations. Honda is using high-performance computers and software to create virtual-reality, high-resolution pictures of the cabin in different colors and fabrics and is continuing to collect customer preference data.
Honda engineers worked with the theory that each passenger requires about 60 cubic feet and that the seat pitch angle needs to be such that passengers’ feet don’t overlap when they’re seated in the club-four facing seats. Passenger legroom is generous.
Key suppliers for the HondaJet include GE Honda Aero Engines for the HF120 engines (2,050 pounds of thrust each); Garmin for the G3000 touchscreen avionics; and Emteq for its SkyPro HD IFE and cabin-management system, which features Audio/Video on Demand, interactive 3-D moving map, exterior camera and wireless cabin control of lighting and monochromatic window shades at each seat via passengers’ personal electronic devices. With the SiriusXM satellite radio option, passengers can select station presets at individual seats.
While the prototype has been flying for many years, it wasn’t until March 2011 that a conforming test model achieved the design speed and altitude numbers at a weight equivalent to that of an aircraft with a finished interior and passengers.
A few glitches have caused delays. The HF120 engines initially failed ice-ingestion tests, forcing a costly redesign of engine fan blades that set the development schedule back almost a year. While the new blades are only slightly thicker, the redesign forced Honda to repeat much of the testing it had performed on the original blades. The redesign was also complicated by the fact that the engine fan is made from a blisk or single forging that includes all the blades and the fan hub.
HondaJets will be sold through a network of dealerships that are expected to construct customer sales and service centers to company standards–much the same way Honda sells automobiles. To date, the company has announced dealers in Tallahassee, Fla.; Des Moines, Iowa; Phoenix, Ariz.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Greensboro, N.C.; Toluca, Mexico; Madrid, Spain; Munich, Germany; Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, Canada; and Farnborough, UK. In addition, Honda will open a $20 million maintenance, repair and overhaul center in 2013 on its North Carolina campus. The company also plans to put its complete HondaJet parts catalog on the Internet.
Honda has begun manufacturing customer aircraft. Expect to see one soon at an airport near you.
At a Glance
Price: $4.5 million
Maximum cruising speed: 420 knots
Range: 1,180 nm*
Cabin Length: 17 ft 8 in
Cabin Width: 5 ft
Cabin Height: 4.94 ft
Cabin Volume: 860 cu ft
*NBAA IFR reserves, four passengers Source: Honda Aircraft. All figures preliminary.