Honda Jet – The Wing Takes Flight
By Sam Longo AME A&P (AMU Magazine 2006)
Soichiro Honda was a creative innovator. In the 1960s, his vision produced reliable, oil-tight, small displacement motorcycles that anyone could ride. His company’s motto was, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, and suddenly the motorcycle was respectable. In the 1970s, Honda automobiles went mainstream and now the Honda name has a world-wide reputation for superior quality and sound engineering.
An early experience made Mr. Honda a firm believer in research and development. Long before motorcycles, his first real business was manufacturing piston rings. Unfortunately there were problems. Due to lack of experience, the rings were brittle and broke easily. After much experimentation and nearing financial ruin, he found the answer. A higher silicone content made the rings strong and flexible and the company prospered. This was a lesson Mr. Honda and his company never forgot. To this day, no Honda product makes it to market without exhaustive testing.
Anyone that knows me or has read any of my previous articles knows that I am a bit of a Honda fanatic. I have been riding and restoring Honda motorcycles for over 35 years. Perhaps you can imagine my delight when my two greatest passions, aviation and Honda motorcycles were now about to be combined in a way that I could never have imagined possible. Honda is finally entering the world of aviation. Personally I’m somewhat surprised that it took them so long. A friend recently asked me a question: “Sam, if Harley Davidson built airplanes, would you fly in one ?” My answer was; “not on your life, but if Honda built one, I would climb on board with confidence!” At Oshkosh 2006 the Honda Motor Company finally announced plans for production of their Hondajet. The plan is to have the “very light” business jet (VLJ) type certificated in the next 3 to 4 years. The prototype has already completed over 240 hours of flight testing. Honda also announced a new limited partnership with Piper Aircraft for sales, service and distribution. The fact that the company is building an aircraft is not surprising. Other automotive based companies have dabbled in aviation, such as Ford, Saab, Mitsubishi and countless others. What is interesting is that Honda is doing it all in-house, including producing their own high efficiency turbo fan engines!
The flying prototype is an impressive piece of technology. The tiny 5 to 6 passenger twin engine jet has a composite structure fuselage and an integrally stiffened all aluminium wing. It’s unique over the wing mounted engine design improves aerodynamic performance at high speeds, while delivering a 420-knot cruise consumption of 0.75 pounds of fuel per hour.
The HF118 turbo fan engines will be produced in partnership with aviation giant General Electric .The engines are rated at 1,670 pounds of thrust and have been flown reliably on a test bed Citation Jet for over 2 years. It is a twin spool design with single stage fan and two stage compressor, utilizing a two stage turbine. Honda has also created its own ultra-compact FADEC system (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control) which was originally developed for automotive applications. The engine has a dry weight of 392 pounds and a fan diameter of 17.4 inches.
How the engines are mounted to the aircraft is a model of efficiency. By mounting them to the wing structure close to the fuselage, they retain good centralized thrust but lose the conventional fuselage structure and plumbing requirements, resulting in 30% more cabin space. The co-cured composite and honeycomb fuselage is both light and strong and enables pressurization to a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet. Cockpit display information is provided by a state of the art Garmin G1000 glass cockpit flat-panel system, with conventional dual-control-yoke flight controls. Other specifications include a maximum take-off weight of 9,200 pounds and a cruise range of 1,100 nautical miles.
Honda first began research into the compact business jet arena in 1986, and although the future of their “very light jet’ project was often uncertain, the latest announcements and collaborations seem to prove that the Hondajet is on a solid footing for future production. Type Certification takes time, patience and resources, however there is no doubt, when you see the quality and sophistication of this prototype, that it won’t be long before the skies begin to fill with Honda built aircraft.
Soichiro Honda passed away on August 5, 1991, before fully realizing the dream of seeing his tiny innovative Hondajet take flight. Its completion was never in question, and his company’s goal remained true. For a man that devoted a lifetime to perfecting personal transportation, efficient flight had to be an integral part of his ultimate ambition. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that even his earliest motorcycles displayed the legendary symbol that hinted of great things to come. Congratulations Mr. Honda, your “Wing” has finally taken flight!