Strutting down the tarmac headed toward a brand-new HondaJet, I try not to think about Honda ‘s current troubles with keeping a 1.6-liter V-6 running for the duration of a Formula 1 race, or that I’m trusting the same company that makes a pretty decent lawnmower to be responsible for elevating me and up to 10,600 pounds thousands of feet into the sky. Nervous fliers like me shouldn’t think about all that.
Irrational fears of flying aside-I know I’m more likely to crash and die in a car-the HondaJet is a pretty cool answer to a question few can afford to ask. Compared with the personal jets made famous by companies such as Lear, Gulfstream, and Dassault, the HondaJet HA-420 is smaller and lighter. The Federal Aviation Administration says a single pilot can operate one.
A Leap into the Sky
Since it received FAA certification in December 2015, Honda Aircraft Company has delivered about 60 HondaJets to customers and claims to have 100 orders in total. The Greensboro, North Carolina, factory can produce between 80 and 100 per year. So figure to wait a year if you hop on the list now.
At maximum takeoff weight, the HondaJet takes flight at about 138 mph (120 knots for the flying nerds). We were surely lighter and probably didn’t need that speed, but we were airborne in about 1500 feet with the Honda/GE engines each providing 2050 pounds of thrust.
HondaJet fuselages are made of carbon fiber and aluminum. Honda admits it could stretch the design if the need for a larger cabin arises. In its standard configuration, the cabin can accommodate six passengers (including one or two pilots), but there is an optional seven-seat layout that adds a side-facing seat across from the main door. A larger version of the plane probably will happen, but airplane life cycles are measured in decades, so don’t expect a HondaJet L any time soon.
Both the fore-aft and side-to-side location of the moderate-bypass engines was nitpicked. Moving them just a little forward or a little aft of their final location would increase fuel consumption and impede speed-that’s an impressively Honda-like laser focus on efficiency.
Then the pilot made a rather steep approach into Monterey and I got a little green with fear. I was so comfortable in the plane that my irrational fears of a midair breakup had drifted into the same cranial compartment where I store the oft-forgotten reminder to take out the trash on Sundays. After an uneventful landing and a short taxi, I was in the back seat of an Acura MDX. No jet bridge, no schlepping luggage through the terminal, no curbside pickup in a rattly shuttle van. If you can swing the cost, avoiding those annoyances may just be worth the HondaJet’s five million bucks.
We got nowhere near the 43,000-foot maximum altitude on our short flight. Large windows fitted with electrochromic shades that darken at the touch of a button allow for great viewing of the ground, which-when the HondaJet is pressed-will pass by at a maximum of 486 mph. But we found ourselves fixating on the wings. Like the engines, Honda developed its own airfoil for the HJ to maximize performance and minimize risk of losing control. The wings themselves are machined from giant ingots of aluminum, with the ribs and spars integral with the top skin. Unlike a commercial plane, with wings that flex to alarming angles in routine flight, the HondaJet’s wings look almost rigid, like giant toothpicks bent up at their outer ends and then transversely stuck through a cocktail weenie.
Our flight was short, a quick jump from San Francisco to Monterey, California. It’s about 110 miles on the road, about 30 miles shorter through the sky. (With four people onboard, the HondaJet can travel just over 1400 miles before having to refuel.) But it was long enough to experience the plane. For starters, the HJ will figuratively stand on its tail with the ability to climb at nearly 4000 feet per minute. Airliners typically climb at half that rate. Our pilot showed off a little with a high-performance takeoff. It’s the aero equivalent of a brake-torque launch: max thrust with the brakes on, then release the brakes for an aeronautic hole shot. A new Accord might beat the HondaJet to 60 mph, but turbofans have no match once at speed.
Honda’s dream to go flying started in the late 1980s and blossomed into the MH02, an experimental high-wing jet built in conjunction with Mississippi State University. That plane flew in 1993, a decade before the HondaJet’s first flight. It took another dozen years to get official permission to sell the HA-420.
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