After Two Decades of Development: the HondaJet

Honda Makes a Jet Now, and It May Be the Most Innovative of its Type


January 30, 2018 Cars : Aircraft By Photo by Eric Adams
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Honda’s (yes, that Honda) airplane is a twin-engine light jet capable of carrying one pilot and five passengers up to 1,300 miles on a single load of fuel. At $5 million, it’s not exactly the “Civic of the Skies,” but nevertheless the HondaJet represents a significant value for those who take their business travel — or even recreational flying — quite seriously. In that light, think of it more as an “NSX/RLX of the Skies” — a cross between the Acura supercar’s performance and the luxury sedan’s comfort and functionality. Indeed, the airplane is fast, efficient and loaded down with all the innovation you’d expect from Honda, with advanced aerodynamics, novel engine configuration and plenty of top-shelf cockpit and cabin features.

HondaJet has been in development for two decades, and is now in production at the Honda Aircraft Company’s Greensboro, North Carolina, headquarters. To date, more than 60 are in private hands. I flew along in one from Charleston, South Carolina, to the Greensboro facility in order to see how the airplane stacks up against other business jets, and the cruddy regional jet I had to fly home in. Short answer: it’s far better than many of the former, and absolutely buries the latter.

Verdict

HondaJet’s twin-engine private jet has taken the aviation community by storm. Not only does the jet represent a great value with low operating costs — the key variable to corporate flight departments — but it also has a compelling origin story. HondaJet comes from a company completely new to aviation, and it’s also the first time that an aircraft company has developed its own turbofan engine, which Honda did in partnership with GE. Both of these contributed to the jet’s long development time, but they also allowed the company to hone its first offering’s tricky engineering decisions and retain absolute control over every element of the project.

The airplane makes sense from a fiscal perspective, too: business jets can easily cost tens of millions of dollars and up to $5,000 per hour to operate, against HondaJet’s modest $1,130 hourly cost. From a pilot and passenger’s perspective, it’s easy to fly thanks to heavily automated engine and aircraft management systems, and it’s a pleasure to be in thanks to its thoughtfully designed cabin.

Honda Aircraft Company HondaJet
Cost: $4.9 million
Capacity: 1 pilot + 5 passengers maximum
Average Cruise Speed: 423 mph
Maximum Cruise Altitude: 43,000
Range: 1,388 miles
Rate of Climb: 3,990 ft / min
Takeoff distance: <4,000 ft
Landing distance: <3,050 ft
Engines: GE Honda / HF120
Output: 2,050 lb-ft of thrust each
Dimensions: 43 ft long; 40 ft wingspan; 15 ft tall
Cabin: 18 ft long x 5 ft wide x 5 ft tall

The Good

The sleek, 7,200-lb jet has a variety of distinctive features, including pronounced sculpting of the fuselage — particularly the slightly dropped nose — to enhance airflow and novel placement of its engines. Both of the 2,000-pound-thrust turbofans are mounted on top of the wings rather than to the sides of the fuselage. This improves aerodynamics by reducing drag, opens up space inside the cabin for extra storage and a bathroom and reduces cabin noise, since engine vibrations dissipate through the wings. The overwing placement — a bold departure from every other business jet — sets the HondaJet apart visually and from a performance perspective. To further minimize drag in key airflow places, the wings also feature winglets at their tips and smooth rivets.

Inside, the cockpit features a customized instrument panel based off the Garmin G3000. It allows for easy and fast checklist scans, brisk transitions between screens, color-coded diagrams that provide immediately intuitive system checks and automation of everything from fuel flow to engine startup and management — both of which are typically multi-stage processes. Ultimately, this reduces the workload on the pilot, minimizing stress and allowing him to devote more attention to navigation and communication. It also makes things more enjoyable for passengers, who can better comprehend what’s happening in the cockpit while flying as a passenger in the right seat.

Those in the cabin will find the experience cozy but equally enjoyable. The cabin measures five-feet in diameter, which means you have to wriggle through spaces and into your seat, but once there it’s pure business class: comfortable chairs can be positioned in a variety of directions and placements, electrochromic windows dim at the touch of a button and stealthily-hid tables pop out for secure and stable workspaces. You can also control cabin lighting, temperature and audio features through a mobile app, which eliminates the need for a lot of movement. The spacious and well designed bathroom in the rear has a surprisingly sculptural sink and mirror combo and good privacy.

The Hondajet’s acoustics rate perhaps the highest in private-jet travel. You notice the engine and wind noise, but it’s muted compared to other jets. You can have conversations without raising your voice and rest and relax without your ears straining against the din of jet travel.

Watch Out For

Forward visibility. Business jets are overwhelmingly flown via the instruments: adjusting the autopilot and navigation waypoints, checking radar for weather and other aircraft and communicating with air traffic control. As a result, the instrument panel feels more prominent from the front seats than the windows do. That’s by design. A pilot will do visual flying on takeoff and landing and in certain weather conditions so the HondaJet has nice, big windows, but stunning views aren’t the priority.

Who It’s For

Corporate (or just enthusiastic) globetrotters who want a smart, efficient alternative to the nightmare of commercial travel. Among its competitive segment of small business jets, HondaJet is among the most efficient and high-performance, leading in maximum cruise speed, maximum altitude and other important biz-jet metrics. It’s also a looker, with curvy and unconventional nose shaping and its equally unconventional engine mounts. Be prepared to give a lot of tours when you land at airports.

Alternatives

The Cirrus Vision Jet is a smaller and less expensive private jet, geared more toward owner/operator pilots transitioning for the first time into a jet from a turboprop or a piston engine. The HondaJet will more likely be flown by professional pilots owned by corporations. Its most direct competition is the Cessna Citation M2 ($4.5 million) and the Embraer Phenom 100 ($4.5 million). All are considered Light Jets or Very Light Jets and are certified for single-pilot operation.

Other Reviews

“At last, a Honda that really needs its wing.” — Car and Driver
“It’s not technology just for technology, but technology that helps augment the craftsmanship.” — USA Today
“It’s an absolute game-changer.” — Business Insider

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