The reason we and other car enthusiasts have a soft spot for Honda is not because it makes the Accord or ordinary versions of the Civic. At its most appealing, Honda is the kind of company that gave us the NSX and has the passion to go racing at the Isle of Man TT.
It’s the Honda that, when other car makers were fitting catalytic converters but still couldn’t meet US Clean Air Act rules, made an engine so clean that it passed the tests without an exhaust catalyst. It’s the Honda that has even grown a shorter, hardier grain of rice, whose harvest is less affected by bad weather.
Honda at its best is innovative and thoughtful. It tasks small teams of talented and often young engineers to think radically and wilfully differently, in order to create something that hasn’t been created before.
Because it’s the sixth-largest car maker in the world, things can’t always be like that – it also needs to make boring cars that sell - but the HondaJet, the light private jet you see here, is true to Honda’s roots. Its story epitomises the spirit of the company’s maverick founder, Soichiro Honda, to the core.
Honda puts a lot of stock in future R&D. It first looked into small aircraft and engines in 1986, and its first prototype light jet, the MH-02, was constructed in 1993. Honda’s first turbofan engine, the HFX-01, had 70 hours of testing in 1996.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century, however, that Honda began testing a new small turbofan engine and established a research facility in the United States, from where the first prototype HondaJet took its maiden flight in 2003.
Even then, though, production was by no means a certainty. In fact, Honda and GE Aviation announced they were to commercialise just the engine in 2004, and it wasn’t until after the HondaJet’s first public outing, at Oshkosh air show in 2005, where its reception was overwhelming and customers tried to place orders on the spot, that Honda’s board gave the green light for sales.
Five legislation-conforming aircraft have been completed since then, with the first production aircraft being certified now, ready for delivery in 2015.
Design and engineering (five stars)
Aircraft take a long time to develop, and Michimasa Fujino, the father of the HondaJet, was the kind of young, talented engineer who was a natural to excel at Honda when he was first tasked with researching small aircraft and jet engines. That was as long ago as 1986.
Fujino’s research – and in the beginning, it was purely research – culminated in the development of the experimental MH-02 aircraft. Even in that aeroplane, which has high-mounted wings and engines mounted atop them, you can see Fujino’s radical thoughts on how to improve a very light jet.
Most private jets didn’t look like the MH-02. And, indeed, most don’t look like the production HondaJet. Most, for example, have engines attached to the fuselage, for some sound engineering reasons.
Forgive us while we outline those in detail, because they are key to the existence of the HondaJet. If Honda wasn’t going to do things differently, it wasn’t going to do them at all.
Light jets are small and their wings are close to the ground, so there isn’t room to mount the engines beneath them. The landing gear would be tall and the cabin would be too far from the ground for a small, plane-mounted ladder to reach it.
You can get around this by mounting the wings high, as on the MH-02 and some other small passenger planes, but the structural supports for the wings then stretch into the cabin space, just where you don’t want it to; they limit headroom in what is an already compact passenger compartment. Additionally, mounting the engines above the wings is fraught with associated problems, such as reduced lift and a problem called flutter.