Aircraft: One and Perhaps Done

  • Mary Grady

The Hondajet offers everything you would want in a business jet—speed, fuel efficiency, and a comfortable cabin—but you can’t have the airplane. The designer says it will fly as fast as 480 mph, operate at altitudes as high as 41,000 feet, and have a range of 1,200 miles. The Honda Motor Co. claims the aircraft burns far less fuel, has a more spacious interior, and has a faster cruising speed than any comparable jet. However, the HondaJet is not for sale—not yet, at least.
 
Honda developed the twin-engine, four-passenger jet in secrecy at a remote airfield in Greensboro, N.C., ultimately building an aircraft with a long, narrow nose and with engines—Honda’s new HF118 small turbofans—mounted on pylons above the wings. After the aircraft’s first flight two years ago, the company insisted that it was purely an experimental project, that Honda had no production plan or marketing strategy for the jet. The company stuck to that story this past summer when the HondaJet made its first public appearance at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association air show in Oshkosh, Wis. It taxied into the center of the show, where thousands of curious onlookers admired it. Then the jet flew back to Greensboro, but not before its designer, Michimasa Fujino, discussed its unusual design.

He acknowledged that he initially was skeptical about mounting the engines on pylons, because such a configuration seemingly would increase drag and create stress on the wing structure. However, moving the engines off the fuselage would enable him to increase the size of the cabin, and so Fujino created this pylon-mounted design that, he says, actually makes the jet more aerodynamic. To further enhance the jet’s fuel efficiency, Fujino gave the nose its distinctive shape and constructed the fuselage entirely of lightweight graphite composites, which also make the compound curves of the nose section possible.
 
After landing the HondaJet at Oshkosh, test pilot Richard Gritter, one of the few people to have flown the aircraft, said it handles like a sports car—nimble and agile. Gritter also noted that the airplane’s low landing speeds would make it easy to manage even for a pilot with minimal flight hours in a jet. The cockpit is equipped with state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass-panel integrated avionics.

Aviation industry observers speculate that the HondaJet would sell in the $3 million to $4 million range, which would be competitive with the prices of other light jets—if Honda were selling the airplane. As of late last year, the company still was calling the HondaJet “an experimental program.” However, Jeffrey Smith, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Honda America, did say, “We found our reception at Oshkosh was heartwarming and extremely encouraging. We’re testing the HondaJet very aggressively. And we’re extremely pleased with its performance.”

Honda, www.world.honda.com

Photo by Scott Williamson/ www.photodesignstudios.com; Automobile courtesy Boulevard Motorcar Company
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