““[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.’” ”
Honda Founder's Aircraft Dreams Taking Shape
Having completed construction of its 263,000- square-foot production facility in Greensboro, N.C., earlier this year, Honda Aircraft has been busy building more HondaJets, accelerating the flight-test program and preparing to ramp up the assembly line for Honda's first foray into the aviation market.
During a rare open-house event that this reporter attended in July, Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino highlighted the parent company's determination to begin delivering the high-performance light HondaJet in the third quarter of 2012. The event encompassed tours of Honda Aircraft's design, assembly, painting, completion, inspection, flight-test and delivery facilities. It also included a visit to the telemetry room, a NASA-like mission-control center where engineers monitor flight-test activities as millions of bits of sensor-fed data are beamed into their workstations.
In the design studio, Honda Aircraft engineers showed off some of the new paint colors and the incredible attention to detail bestowed on the cabin and cockpit furnishings. The company has invested $100 million in the production facility, according to Fujino, and that doesn't include the cost of equipment and personnel or of the development and certification program.
Earlier this year, the first HondaJet built to FAA certification and production standards, met several key performance goals. It flew to its 43,000-foot maximum altitude and achieved a 3,990-feet-per-minute climb rate. It also exceeded its 420-knot maximum speed target by five knots.
The HondaJet can seat six passengers and one pilot and, uniquely for this size aircraft, features an enclosed lavatory. Fujino, who first sketched the HondaJet concept in 1997, was able to incorporate the lavatory because of the jet's unusual engine-mounting scheme, with turbofans poised atop wing-mounted pylons instead of hanging from the aft fuselage. This configuration not only opens up space in the rear of the fuselage for the lavatory and a large 57-cubic-foot baggage compartment but also boosts efficiency at high speeds, making the HondaJet a contender for top-performing light jet.
As engineers and technicians assemble the next flight-test HondaJets, the factory is being prepared for production ramp-up, which begins next year and will swell the employee ranks by 300 to about 1,000. The first HondaJet delivery is planned for the third quarter of 2012, and production should reach 70 to 100 jets per year in two to three years.
Fujino, who has been working on his dreams of a Honda jet since 1986, explained that company founder Soichiro Honda had a passion for aviation and had hoped to build airplanes beginning in the 1960s. Fujino visited Honda's wife after he died and showed her a model of the HondaJet. "She said if he were alive, how happy he would be," Fujino recalled.