Back to the Future…of the HondaJet

 - October 2, 2006, 8:12 AM

As he does with all VIPs arriving at AirVenture, EAA president Tom Poberezny greeted Honda’s Michimasa Fujino with warm words and great respect. But the HondaJet’s future remains an enigma. Though the Japanese carmaker has officially launched its joint marketing program (with General Electric) for the HF118 turbofans that power the HondaJet, the official company line has been that there is “no business plan” to certify and bring the airframe to production status.

At AirVenture, Fujino conducted a detailed tech briefing in a theatrical setting. His presentation reiterated most of what has appeared in his published engineering papers to date, including the results of non-FAA-sanctioned tests regarding issues such as fatigue, flutter, stability and control and load limits. He explained the development of the airplane’s unusual over-the-wing engine pods and how Honda R&D used computational fluid dynamics to calculate the exact position and angles that would not only reduce drag but actually create a configuration that had less drag than a “clean” wing. But he remains mum about anything related to certification, and presumably all the tests conducted so far at Honda’s Greensboro, N.C. facility would have to be repeated under FAA scrutiny should the company push ahead with a plan to build the HondaJet.

For his part, Rich Gritter, one of three test pilots to fly the HondaJet, said it flies like a sports car when compared with conventional light jets, such as the Cessna Citation CJ used as a testbed for the HF118 engines. He told AIN, “If you can fly a King Air 90, you can fly this. Even with no speed brakes, thrust attenuators or reversers, you can’t make a bad landing.”

It’s very appearance in such a public forum could be construed as evidence that the HondaJet program has legs, but that could also be misleading, according to those familiar with Honda’s business practices. Fujino told AIN that Honda’s longstanding dream is to produce aircraft as part of its mission to promote mobility and a better life for all people. He said, “It is my dream, too. But we cannot announce anything. You understand.”

Reports early last month from Tokyo at first seemed to indicate that Honda president and CEO Takeo Fukui was giving credence to company plans to build the HondaJet. The press reports quoted Fukui saying that Honda “could be” entering the market in three years. But close examination of the quotes reveals that Fukui was merely saying it would take that long to bring an airplane to market, should Honda decide to pursue it. The report also said Honda had received a deposit for the airplane, but Honda told AIN that the deposit came unsolicited and has been returned.

For the present, HondaJet watchers will have to be satisfied with speculation and high hopes for the small jet. Asked at AirVenture if he had flown in the prototype, Fujino told AIN, “Not yet. Maybe next week.”