Honda breaks ground on new engine plant

 - December 27, 2007, 10:31 AM

Honda Aero held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new engine plant in Burlington, N.C., on November 28. The plant will assemble and test new GE Honda Aero HF120 turbofans selected to power the HondaJet and Spectrum Aeronautical’s
S-40 Freedom.

The $27 million 102,400-sq-ft plant will employ about 200 people when it reaches initial capacity of 200 engines annually one year after production begins. An 8,000-sq-ft test cell is also part of the plant and is sized to allow Honda Aero to test larger engines as the GE Honda engine series expands.

The Burlington facility, located on Burlington-Alamance County Regional Airport, will also be used for product support. Eventually, according to Atsukuni Waragai, executive vice president of GE Honda Aero Engines, Honda Aero plans to build a taxiway to the plant so that customers can taxi directly to the facility. “We would like to have an overhaul facility here,” he said.

Waragai has been working on Honda turbine engine designs since 1986, after spending his first three years out of college working on Honda automotive engines. Honda kept its early turbine efforts a secret for 10 years, he said, which made it difficult to hire outside the company and forced Honda engineers to climb a steep turbine-engine learning curve. This turned out to be an advantage, he noted, because Honda engineers had to tap internal resources and build everything from scratch. In 1995 Honda went public with its turbine engine project and began hiring outside talent.

The first-generation turbine engine that Waragai helped design contained ceramic materials, but subsequent engines have traditional construction. Waragai was chief engineer on the HF118, which powers the prototype HondaJet and is the foundation for the more powerful HF120, Honda’s fifth-generation turbine engine. Honda and General Electric jointly own GE Honda Aero, which is designing, developing and marketing the 5,000-hour-TBO HF120. GE Honda Aero will offer engines ranging from 1,000 to 3,500 pounds of thrust.

The Honda Aero plant in Burlington is scheduled to be completed by year-end. Certification testing of the 2,050-pound-thrust HF120 is due to begin this year, with FAA certification planned in 2009 and entry into service in 2010.