Honda "Challenges The Limits"
By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com
Using a new-age FADEC-controlled turbofan and an over-wing engine configuration reminiscent of seaplanes, a Japanese giant strives to fulfill it's founder's dream with an American-made aircraft.
What took it so long to take to the skies was corporate culture. Despite the stunning bodywork of its Acura sports models and the perfectly shaped and balanced tines on its garden tillers, Honda - in its heart of hearts - is, was and always will be an engine company. The idea of launching a Honda aircraft powered by another company's jet was not only untenable, it was unthinkable.
Enter the Honda HF118 turbofan engine and the made-in-the-U.S.A. (Greensboro, North Carolina) HondaJet airframe, originally touted as merely a test bed for the new powerplant.
The rest of the story so far, happened quickly.
October 2004: Honda and General Electric establish GE Honda Aero Engines to manufacture, sell and service 1000 to 3500 pound thrust-class jet engines for the business and general aviation industry. (Current customers include Honda and Spectrum Aeronautical.)
August 2006: Honda establishes Honda Aircraft Company, a wholly owned Greensboro-based subsidiary to develop, sell and manufacture the HondaJet.
October, 2006: Honda files FAA certification papers for the HondaJet and accepts first orders. Initial price: $3.75 million. Estimated delivery date: 2010
February, 2007: Honda Aircraft announces $100 million expansion of HondaJet factory adjacent to Piedmont Triad International Airport in Guilford County, North Carolina. Company estimates annual wage of new hires will be $70,000, twice Guilford County's average.
AirTaxiFlights.com: After all the market research, engineering studies and financial projections were done, was there one compelling reason that tipped the scales in favor of going ahead with the HondaJet program or was it more a matter of the weight of all the evidence pointing toward go?
Jeffrey Smith: Obviously, all our forecasts were positive, but, I think, the thing that put it over was the word "motor" in the our corporate name: Honda Motor Company.
That word is a clue to our DNA, which is heavily oriented to creating high-quality motors for global customer satisfaction. Depending on their interests or experience with our products, people may perceive us as a car company, or a motorcycle company, or a lawn mower company, or an outboard engine company, but internally we look at ourselves as a mobility company.
Combining mobility and engines takes us into markets like portable generators, which give people the ability to take electrical power with them on the road. It takes us into esoteric areas like robotics where our Asimo Humanoid Robot, the most technologically advanced walking, talking, running robot in the world, will eventually be providing virtual eyes, ears and legs for mobility restricted individuals.
Looked at another way, we started out building and modifying motors to power bicycles, if you extrapolate from there to turbofan engines for Very Light Jets you can see a theme. A theme of enhancing people's ability to move adroitly through their environment in a clean, safe, energy-efficient manner.
AirTaxiFlights.com: So the decision to produce a complete aircraft wasn't made until after the prototype HondaJet had been flying for several years?
Jeffrey Smith: That's correct. The first airframe was built strictly as a test bed for the HF-118 engine. At that point we really had no definite plans to go into production with a complete aircraft, though, of course, the idea of building airplanes had been kicking around the company for decades ... all the way back to Soichiro Honda's days actually.
Jeffrey Smith: The HF-120 is a medium-bypass turbofan with 2,050 pounds of takeoff thrust and several unique features, the most important of which is a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronics Control) system derived from the HF-118, the first engine in this class ever controlled by FADEC.
Using FADEC to monitor and manage engine functions and precisely meter fuel flow to the engine makes the HF-120 much more fuel efficient than engines of similar size and thrust in any airframe. Mated to the HondaJet chassis, we are finding that it can carry a bigger payload higher and faster than anything in its class using 30 percent less fuel.
AirTaxiFlights.com: Having already developed the engine, why did you decide to joint venture it with GE?
Jeffrey Smith: That's a very good question and the assumption back of it is very valid. We are fiercely independent and we do tend to do things ourselves, which is another part of our corporate culture going back to Mr. Honda, who stated his philosophy as "carry your own torch with your own hand."
Using that philosophy, we conduct a tremendous amount of in-house fundamental research and have produced proprietary technologies which have rewarded us with pre-eminence in auto racing, engine design, fuel efficiency, safety and, now, Very Light Jet airframe and turbofan engine design.
When it came time to fly, which as I mentioned was one of Mr. Honda's dreams, we followed his philosophy right down the line and developed both the engine and airframe on our own. Not alone or in isolation, we certainly had help and guidance from engineers and experts outside the company, but everything was integrated into functioning, state-of-the-art products here at Honda.
AirTaxiFlights.com: You mentioned that the HondaJet engine would be very fuel efficient in any VLJ airframe but that it would "carry a bigger payload higher and faster than anything in its class using 30 percent less fuel" mated to the Hondajet. Why is that?
Jeffrey Smith: Right now our prototype has a 30 percent larger cabin area and is 30 percent more fuel efficient than anything in its class, the Cessna Mustang, for example. We attribute this directly to the company's commitment to basic research.
The FADEC system, the over-the-wing engine design, our natural-laminar flow (NLF) "air-foil" wing, and the HondaJet's NLF noise and all-composite fuselage combine to produce an extremely aeronautically efficient airplane that glides through the sky instead of fighting its way through.
AirTaxiFlights.com: I understand that you will also be partnering with Piper in bringing the HondaJet to market.
Jeffrey Smith: Yes. Piper is a very well-established, well-known company with an excellent sales and service network. While I can't reveal any specific plans at this time, I can say that we will be working with Piper to develop customer satisfaction initiatives that will elevate the whole process of customer service in this market to a new, higher level.
AirTaxiFlights.com: Are you at all disturbed by the fact that the decision to green light the HondaJet for production came after so many other companies had already produced confirming prototypes and were pushing through the FAA certification pipeline?
Jeffrey Smith: Not at all. Not in the slightest.The fact that the project is where it is today is very satisfying and encouraging
We're very enthusiastic about where we are right now and so is the aviation community. In fact, one of our development engineers was on stage talking about technical specifications at a recent aviation event and people stood up and began to applaud. I'd never seen anything like it.
The important thing is not when, but how. We've brought new technology that will have a very positive impact on aviation to the table. We've brought a dogged determination to maximize fuel economy to the table. We believe the HondaJet and Honda Motor Company's entry into the general aviation industry will be a tide that lifts all boats.
When we entered the minivan market critics said that we had waited too long. But the Odyssey is always sold out, we can't make them fast enough. The critics also said we came into the SUV market late, but those models also have waiting lists.
There were, for that matter, a few cars on the road before we decided to make our first one, but we've seem to have done rather well in the automotive market.
Bottomline is, we may come to the party late, but we always arrive well dressed.
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