What does the first flight of the HondaJet conforming prototype really say?
Considering the more than 500 flawless flight hours already logged by the earlier HondaJet prototypes, is December’s maiden flight of the conforming variant really that important?
Does it make a statement that goes beyond “we’re proud to have reached another milestone on the path to certification and production”? Does it, in other words, say anything meaningful that we all haven’t heard before?
You bet it does!
It says an awful lot about Honda as a company.
Remember this, with the HondaJet Honda is doing something no other aircraft manufacturer in this space has even tried: To design, engineer, test, build and bring together at the same place and time an entirely new next-generation airframe and an equally new and advanced VLJ engine purpose-built for that airframe.
True, the twin Honda HF120 turbofans that power the HondaJet are officially products of GE Honda Aero, but the conception, design, and advanced performance/fuel efficiency ratio are all pure Honda (derived from the HF118 turbofans built by Honda prior to establishment of the joint venture with GE.) What GE brings to the party is an awesome ability to manufacture and service what are arguably the best jet engines in every market in which GE chooses to compete.
So while there have been delays and deadline pushbacks along the HondaJet timeline, they have primarily been caused by issues inherent in any attempt to develop two major systems from white paper to fruition in lockstep with each other. The truth is that none of the delays have been caused by either a lack of faith or funding on Honda’s part. To the contrary, Honda has even gone as far as advancing money to subcontractors impacted by the recession to enable them to perform their part of the work on schedule.
To convey the depth of Honda’s commitment to the HondaJet, all you really need to know is that the second conforming prototype is already completed and the third one may be rolling down the taxiway by the time you read this. Not only that, but two other conforming prototypes, one for flight tests and one for structural tests, are also slated to be completed in time to support the certification of the aircraft by mid-2012.
The launch of the first conforming prototype also says a lot about the improving health of the VLJ market. In the five years since the HondaJet first went on sale, the basic list price has escalated almost $1,000,000, from the mid-$3,000,000 range to the mid-$4,000,000 range.Yet the volume of firm advance orders, now totaling more than half-a-billion dollars, continues to grow at a healthy rate.
On another level, the maiden flight says something that may turn out to be of major importance to the air taxi industry. The HondaJet is an expensive aircraft to acquire, but a remarkably economical one to operate. If it meets its design targets of faster cruise speeds, higher altitude operations and 20% more fuel efficiency than competing twin-engine VLJs, it may very well offer return on investment advantages sufficient to cause some operators to reconsider augmenting their fleets with VLJs instead of lower-cost, lower-performance piston-engined aircraft.
There are two other subjects on which the flight of the first conforming HondaJet speaks volumes. The first is the future of passenger aircraft engineering.
Consider for a moment some of the design elements which have gone into the HondaJet. To cite just two, the unique combination of aluminum natural laminar-flow wings mounted above the body to reduce drag and lower perceived noise and an unusually light carbon fiber-and-resin composite fuselage, have resulted in an aircraft in which the sum is not only greater — but much more cost effective — than the parts.
Put simply, the sum of Its 1800-lb fuel-efficient new-generation engines, low-weight, streamlined fuselage and advanced wings enables the nearly 9500 pound maximum takeoff weight (MTF) HondaJet to fly further on less fuel than any other airplane in or near its class.
Since the amount of AvGas carried aloft is a major contributor to any jet’s MTF, range, and performance, the HondaJet’s ability to get from Point A to Point B on less gas enables it to fly faster and higher at less cost than its more heavily fuel-laden competitors.
(Note: Honda has not, to date, revealed the HondaJet’s fuel capacity.)
Will any or all of the advanced mileage-enhancing technologies developed for the HondaJet eventually be adopted by designers of larger business and commercial aircraft? Hard to say. But with many air carriers running flights under-fueled to trim weight and cut operating costs (reducing safety margins in the process), it’s easy to believe that they will.
Which brings us to the final point, what does the launch of Honda’s conforming prototype have to say about the future of business aviation?
Let’s look at two brief laundry lists.
– Passenger/crew capacity: 7
– Total baggage space: 66 cubic feet
– Range: 1611 miles (VFR)
– Cruising Seed: 483mph
– Service Ceiling: 43,000 ft.
– Lavatory: Private and fully enclosed with flushing toilet, washbasin, vanity and coat and magazine storage racks.
– Base Price: $4.5 million (approx.)
– Passenger/crew capacity: 9
– Total baggage space: 65 cubic feet
– Range: 1732 miles (VFR)
– Cruising Seed: 535mph
– Service Ceiling: 51,000 ft.
– Lavatory: Private and fully enclosed with flushing toilet, toilet paper holder, sink with tepid water, lighted vanity mirror, coat rod, belted toilet seat.
– Base Price: $10.2 million (approx.)
The Lear does, of course, have a few things the Honda doesn’t. Such as an optional microwave-equipped galley, an extra $3.8 mil on the sticker price, an additional 10,000 pounds (much of it fuel) that needs to be hoisted aloft and astronomically higher operating costs.
As always, the customers will pay their money and take their choice.
There is, now that we think it, one other thing that the first flight of the HondaJet conforming prototype says. It says, and it says it loud and clear, that Honda, as it did with its first 50cc step-through scooter over half-a-century ago, is once again reshaping — if not exactly reinventing — the wheel.