This year’s Chicago Auto Show has been a different show than the one that I’ve visited since 2009. There are fewer cars and there’s a much larger emphasis on test tracks than I’ve seen in the past. Honda didn’t even bring a car as the showcase vehicle of its display, but a revolutionary business jet. This is the HondaJet Elite II, a very light business jet with the engineering of Honda.
Honda’s presence at shows in recent times has been fun. When I went to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show last year, Honda’s display was filled with cars, SUVs, and side-by-sides. The headlining vehicle, of course, was the HondaJet. But it was still a bit weird that my first time seeing the Honda Civic Type R was at an air show of all places. Now, Honda’s doing it again, and its display here in Chicago features a variety of different types of vehicles. What I didn’t expect, however, was to see the HondaJet again. It’s here, and it’s sitting on a raised display dead center of the booth.
At any other Chicago Auto Show, there would be the latest Honda car sitting here!
Honda Gets Into Aviation
It’s been a long road for Honda to get here. The company says that the history of the HondaJet started in 1986, when four engineers in Honda’s research and development began to build Honda’s aviation division from scratch. At first, this involved experimenting with materials. As Flight International explains, lead designer Michimasa Fujino graduated from Tokyo University with a degree in aeronautical engineering, but couldn’t find any interesting aviation jobs in Japan. So, in 1984, he joined Honda and began working with cars. Two years later, he joined Honda’s aviation effort in Japan.
In 1986, the small team joined forces with Mississippi State University and their effort bore fruit with the Honda MH-01. This was a Bonanza A36 turboprop featuring a fuselage built out of composites. The “MH” in the name meant “Mississippi Honda.”
For the company’s next effort, it continued its partnership with the Mississippi State University Raspet Flight Research Laboratory. Out of the other end came the Honda MH-02.
This aircraft was a twinjet with room for six passengers and was used to further research engine placement and the use of composites in aircraft construction. The MH-02 was completed in 1992 and made its first flight in 1993. That project was powered by a set of Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D1 turbofans, but Honda had its own plans. While this development was going on, Honda’s aviation team also worked on testing of its own engine, the HFX-01 turbofan. In a way, this aircraft could be seen as a sort of proto-HondaJet. Research continued using MH-02 as a testbed until 1996, and the aircraft was exported to Japan in 1998.
The Beginning Of The HondaJet
Finally, in 1997, the concept for the HondaJet was born, from Honda:
It was during one night in 1997 that Michimasa Fujino, the future leader of the HondaJet project, came up with the “Over-The-Wing Engine Mount” configuration, a totally new concept in business aviation. Not finding any paper nearby, Fujino quickly tore a page off a calendar on the wall and drew the first HondaJet concept sketch on the back. The sketch received internal approval, formally launching the HondaJet research project.
If you think this plane resembles a shoe, you would be right. The nose was inspired by Salvatore Ferragamo designer shoes.
According to Flight International, Fujino originally came up with the idea in 1996. He wanted to reduce the very high cost of a business jet by making it smaller. However, reducing size also typically makes for a smaller interior, reducing comfort. Making matters worse is the fact that the typical business jet has its engines and supporting systems on the fuselage, further reducing space. For Fujino, the solution to this problem was to find a way to move the engines and its systems outside of the fuselage. This wasn’t easy, says Fujino, because there isn’t enough clearance to hang the engines under the wings:
“I had to find a location for the engines,” Fujino says. “Under the wings was not possible, because of ground clearance, but we were taught never to put anything above the wing. It’s the first lesson – it’s been tried before and the design flopped; stay away from it.”
Fujino was referring to the VFW-Fokker 614, an aircraft from the 1970s featuring a similar engine-over-wing design.
This aircraft was a commercial failure and its design and engine placement limited its speed. Using computer analysis, Fujino didn’t just figure out how to fix the problem with drag, but he was able to explain what the Germans did wrong with the 614, from AIN Online business aviation:
The breakthrough came as Fujino pressed on with the over-the-wing concept, because it completely removed all engine structure and systems from the rear fuselage, greatly expanding available interior space. “One day,” he said, “I thought that if we could place the engine to get a favorable pressure gradient at [certain] locations–that means favorable interference between the nacelle and the wing–I thought we might be able to manage the high-speed drag.”
What Fujino found was that an over-the-wing engine placed in exactly the right spot could help delay the onset of the drag-producing shock wave that builds as jets gain speed. Or as Fujino put it, “There is a strong interference between the high accelerated flow and the engines, so generally, it causes a strong shock wave and you cannot fly at high speed. But in the HondaJet case, I could find the kind of sweet spot, the best location to minimize the shock wave, and we could find five percent better fuel [efficiency] by having the sweet spot locations.”
For the HondaJet, the sweet spot is 75 percent of the wing chord, with careful design of the engine pylon so that it doesn’t generate too much side lift or drag. Asked about the placement of the VFW 614’s [Rolls-Royce/Snecma M45H] engines, Fujino said they were at 50 percent of chord, the worst possible place, although other design considerations may have taken precedence on that airplane. Fujino and engineer Yuichi Kawamura received a U.S. patent for this “method of reducing wave resistance in airplane” on Oct. 30, 2001.
In 2000, Honda R&D Americas set up a research facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina. Development continued, including high-altitude tests on Honda’s HF118 turbofan, which entered development in 1999. Finally, in 2003, Fujino’s dream took to the skies as an experimental HondaJet took its first flight.
Soon, Honda made its first public announcement that it was working on a business jet.
From there, Honda continued development, but now it was no longer in the shadows. The HondaJet made its world debut at EAA AirVenture 2005, Honda created a joint company with General Electric to produce engines, and in 2006 Honda officially established the Honda Aircraft Company as its aviation arm. Honda started selling the jet in 2006, but development would take until 2012 for construction on the first customer aircraft to begin and until 2015 for the very first plane to be delivered.
The HondaJet In Chicago
As of today, there are more than 200 HondaJets in the world and Honda claims that the $5.4 million jet is the most-delivered aircraft in the very light jet category. The company has even released upgraded versions, starting with the HondaJet Elite. In October 2022, the company released the Elite II.
And for the price of $6.95 million, it currently represents the best of what Honda has on deck for aviation. The fuselage of this plane is on display in Chicago.
In paying the money, you get a jet capable of taking you and up to 6 of your best friends or associates up to 1,547 nautical miles nonstop. This is an aircraft that can cruise at 43,000 feet, fly at 422 knots at 30,000 feet, and comes with a whole host of technology.
Honda boasts the aircraft’s automated anti-icing, lighting, and pressurization systems, as well as its use of Garmin Autoland, a system capable of landing the aircraft by itself should the pilot(s) become incapacitated. It also has an autothrottle system. Honda also touts the aircraft’s composite construction and aluminum wings as being pretty revolutionary in general aviation.
Power comes from a pair of GE Honda HF120 turbofans producing 2,050 lbf each and the jet is capable of climbing 4,100 feet per minute. The HondaJet HA-420 isn’t the fastest way to get your business suit to a new location–that distinction goes to the Bombardier Global 8000–but it also doesn’t cost $78 million like a Global 8000, either. Honda tells me that its customers love their jets and they’re so safe that only one of them has experienced a hull loss, and it didn’t result in injuries.
It makes me wish I could fly a jet because this looks great. Perhaps the most impressive part about all of this is that the production version of the plane doesn’t just use someone else’s engines, but Honda spent all of these years developing its own engines with some help from GE.
I feel like showcasing a plane at a car show really only appeals to car people who also love planes. I’m not complaining, though, because I am one of those people.
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That is a super long engine pylon. I would be interested in the wing structure. Big ol torque there. 2k lbf of thrust isn’t much though.
It kinda looks like it’s wearing a plague doctor mask. High angle shots of it are not flattering.
Looks a lot emptier than before (not just people, I know it’s media day). Fewer cars, lots of empty space.
Too bad; I’m planning to go the last weekend. First auto show in 3 years. Hoping there’s still some good stuff to see.
I’m going Monday (took the day off). As I understand the show shrunk to only one side of McCormick Place last year.
I’ve seem more at Cars and Coffee
That is one good-looking airplane!
Beautiful paint job.
When you folks hit it big, you’ll have to do some private jet reviews from the air.
Enjoying the RV/Airplane —other vehicle type articles alongside the traditional.
maybe bring in Kristen Lee for a cross post/combined article for those private jet rides.
Good God I miss Fancy Kristen!
you can still catch her on a competitor, just not with the old gang. I’d love to see her come back if budgets expand and it aligns with everyones future goals.
Cool! I took the day off Monday to go see the show without a big crowd.
I know there’s probably not a ton of overlap between people who buy new Hondas, and the people who value private jets as a wealth signifier (as opposed to AV geeks, those beautiful nerds), but it’s still a neat, unique thing to draw people in that no other OEM has. Maybe if Pontiac embraced “Like a G6,” they’d still be around?
This isn’t exactly related, but my first trumpet and motorcycle were both Yamahas.
I’m kind of jealous… at the Phoenix Auto Show this past Thanksgiving, Honda didn’t even show up.
Probably just stuck it in storage after the air show to use at Chicago. Saves money in shipping.
Hey Mercedes, quick nitpick: you me too twice that Honda built it’s planes with engines sourced from other manufacturers, making it sound as exceptional. It’s the other way around (and I’m pretty sure you know this already!)
It’s really really fucking impressive that Honda took part in the design of their jet engines, even with GE as a partner. The only other aircraft manufacturer I can think of that tried something similar is Boeing for the NMA’s APU, and we know how that ended…
I edited for clarity! Indeed, Honda uses its own engines in the HondaJet. The mentions of other engines were supposed to refer to Honda’s earliest efforts with the MH-01 and MH-02, respectively.
Awesome, thanks for the revised version, it’s much clearer! Keep up the good work, it’s great to see other avgeeks around here 🙂
*you mention twice
I think it mostly demonstrates that auto shows are primarily media events now.
Back when, for much of the public, they were a real chance to learn about (and actually see!) new and upcoming cars b/c where else would you do it? Now, they seem very geared toward presenting an overall corporate image.
Sure, that’s always been in the cards (and part of the fun), but at least for me, I liked them more when they focused on the actual cars as things in themselves, not just as signifiers of a desired feeling or emotional response.