The newest flying jet from a car company

Oshkosh is all you need to say to a General Aviation or homebuilt enthusiast. They will all know what you are talking about: the largest gathering of air enthusiasts held by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture held annually at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

In a conference call on July 25, 2006, to journalists from Oshkosh, Machimasa Fujino, Vice President of Hondas research and development, Jeffery Smith, Assistant VP of Hondas corporate affairs, James K Bass, CEO of Piper aircraft Inc announced that Honda had a jet that would go on sale in October and that they were forming a business alliance with Piper Aircraft Inc, based in Vero Beach, FL, to collaborate on sales and service, and to explore opportunities in engineering and other areas within general and business aviation.

In 1948 Soichiro Honda founded Honda motor company as a motorcycle manufacturer. For years Honda has been making cars, such as Civic and Accord that have great engines and are fuel-efficient. Quietly, Honda has been working on a dream for the last twenty years, according to Fujino.

“Aviation has been an important dream of Honda for more than four decades,” said Satoshi Toshida, senior managing director of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. “Our goal is consistent with the philosophy of other Honda products — to provide convenient and efficient transportation that will make peoples lives better. We are excited now to enter a new dimension of mobility.”

If a car company is able to provide one more inch of interior space in a car they boast about it. The same with fuel economy, if a car gets two miles per gallon more than last years it’s breaking news. The big news here is that Honda has not only created a very light jet (VLJ) but a jet that has more interior space and better fuel economy. “I work for an automobile company so I’m always looking at the layout of the automobile closely,” said Michimasa Fujino. According to Honda, the HondaJet will get 30-35 percent better fuel economy than comparable very light jets result of 20 years of aviation research innovations include a patented over-the-wing engine-mount configuration, a natural-laminar flow (NLF) wing and fuselage nose, and an advanced all-composite fuselage structure. According to Honda, HondaJets patented over-the-wing engine-mount configuration helps eliminate the need for a structure to mount the engines to the rear fuselage, maximizing space in the fuselage for passengers and luggage. The engine is an HF118 jet engine made in collaboration with General Electric, each supplying 1,670-pounds of thrust at takeoff.

Piper, the Hondajets new partner, has produced more than 144,000 aircraft and developed more than 180 different models. Piper has a global presence with 80 sales and service centers worldwide. Piper CEO Bass said, “the HondaJet is a stunning, innovative design with well thought out features.” When asked if Piper was considering the top engine mounted design Bass acknowledged that there would be collaboration in areas, such as “sales, marketing, engineering, and design.” Bass also said that Piper, best known for it’s Piper Cub aircraft, will be announcing a new product announcement at the same time HondaJet starts taking orders for their VLJ.

“We want to create new value within the aviation market through the unique new design of HondaJet,” said Michimasa Fujino, HondaJet project leader and vice president of Honda R&D Americas, Inc. “Our goal is to deliver three key attributes – performance, quality, and comfort – beyond what people currently expect from light business jets.”

An aviation enthusiast, Ben Foster of Houston, TX, wrote me in an email, “This system is to the small aircraft industry as the first brick road was to the Model T. Hondas jet is just one of the new tiles of a larger mosaic. The total picture encompasses the understanding that there is under-utilized capacity in this country’s (and foreign) airway system.” NASA, in association with the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility and with the F.A.A., is planning for a new airway system to augment the existing one represented by large airports. Today, many of these airports are overcrowded in terms of passengers and jet traffic. For shorter domestic flights, the potential to save time by traveling from and to these airports is sometimes consumed by travel to and from the airport itself. ”

Foster is right, according to the NASA website, VLJs and thousands of air travelers may benefit from NASA research into a Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS). NASA’s SATS will help by providing the infrastructure needed to safely circumnavigate threatening weather and to avoid terrain by incorporating visual systems in the cockpit. These systems are more intuitive and easier to manage than traditional VOR radio. VOR is an acronym for VHF Omni-directional Range which is a type of radio navigation system for aircraft.

Foster went on to say, “I should have also mentioned that weather and terrain have always been a larger factor for the smaller aircraft. While large commercial jets can fly over bad weather and have sophisticated avionics to help avoid terrain and to land in low visibility conditions, but this equipment is very, very expensive.”

Honda has said they will form a new U.S. subsidiary to handle production of the HondaJets, expected to be priced under $4 million. Honda is expecting the certification process and regulatory clearance to take about 3-4 years. There are about 200 VLJs sold annually. You can place an order for the six-to-seven seat HondaJet at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) conference in Orlando, FL in October 2006.