On December 9, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta presented the type certificate for the HondaJet to Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft, at a ceremony held at the Honda Aircraft customer support facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. More than 2,000 Honda Aircraft employees, suppliers, dealers and customers were in attendance as Huerta handed over a large ceremonial type certificate while confetti cannons spread multi-colored ticker tape over the stage and audience. “Today I’m very proud to announce that we reached an historical milestone in our program, FAA type certification,” Fujino said. (The HondaJet had earned provisional FAA type certification on March 27 last year.)
Full FAA Part 23 type certification marks a major milestone on Fujino’s journey, which began in 1986 when Honda sent him to the U.S. to begin an aviation research project. “Since that day I have devoted myself to design and build Honda’s original airplane,” he said. The prototype HondaJet made its first flight on Dec. 3, 2003, powered by Honda-designed engines that were the foundation of the GE Honda Aero HF120 that received FAA certification on Dec. 13, 2013. Delays in the HondaJet program, originally slated for certification in 2009 or 2010, stemmed in part from the engine, as some of the required flight- testing for certification couldn’t begin until the engine was approved. The 2,095-pound-thrust engines are manufactured in Burlington, N.C., by GE Honda Aero Engines, a 50-50 joint venture between Honda and GE.
“The pivotal moment,” Fujino said, “was the HondaJet world debut at AirVenture Oshkosh in 2005. We displayed the HondaJet as an experimental aircraft. At that time I did not know what the future held for our project. However, when we showed the test HondaJet to aviation enthusiasts at AirVenture, the response was overwhelming. It was more than I could ever have imagined. In a sense, this was a true beginning for Honda’s aviation adventure.”
Small Team Dreams Big
In 2006, when Honda announced plans to bring the HondaJet to market and establish company headquarters in Greensboro, he said, “We had very small team, less than 50 people at that time. Honda took on board the challenge of designing and certifying a clean-sheet aircraft with new technologies, with a new engine, with a new avionics system and by a new company. It was an unprecedented challenge. To be honest, sometimes it seems nearly impossible for a new manufacturer to certify a clean-sheet design. However, today, we have nearly 1,700 associates working on the program from all over the world. Our associates helped share the same challenges and devote themselves both day and night to overcome obstacles during a difficult time, and we share our success together.
“In my lifetime,” Fujino told the audience, “I have participated in four airplane projects as an aircraft designer. I now realize that only by experiencing certification of a clean-sheet aircraft design we can truly appreciate the complexity of the technologies. It is an unimaginable experience. Not many people have the opportunity to experience this in their life. This moment we are sharing together today is a peak experience in our lives. If I may use a Japanese expression, it is a crystal of our sweat and tears. I’m truly grateful for our associates’ passion and perseverance to achieve our goal. Again, thank you very much for coming tonight and please enjoy tonight together.”
FAA Administrator Huerta praised all involved in the program. “Aviation globally and in America has always been defined by two things,” he said. “It’s always been about collaboration and it’s always been about how we harness innovation. And tonight we celebrate both of those things. We’re celebrating the issuance by the FAA of the type certificate for the HondaJet, but as we all know, the journey began long before that.
“It was in 1997 that Mr. Fujino first sketched what would become the HondaJet, an airplane with engines mounted on pylons high above the wing. He wondered if anyone would ever accept that. It looked a little funny, but it was dramatic in terms of what it achieved in the use of aerodynamics to deliver a more efficient and a quieter light business jet.
“Now, turning that into a reality has taken 18 years, more than 3,000 flight hours and nearly 1,700 associates here at Honda Aircraft and throughout the world. Certification is the culmination of that hard work and that dedication, and the FAA is proud to be a partner with you in achieving this important milestone today.”
Kenny G Takes the Stage
After Huerta’s talk, the lights in the building dimmed, and a piano could be heard, softly playing a jazzy tune. Suddenly, a saxophone blended in with the piano, the lights brightened, and audience members gasped as they realized that musician Kenny G was belting out “Silhouette,” one of his most recognized songs. During the song, Kenny G eased into his signature move, circular breathing, where he plays continuously without appearing to take a breath, and walked off the stage to shake Fujino’s hand. Kenny G’s long time co-collaborator and musical director Robert Damper was on keyboards, and the two serenaded the hushed audience inside the big hangar.
After the song, Kenny G said, “Congratulations to Honda Aircraft Company and to you, Mr. Fujino, on your type certification achievement. We’ve been touring around the world this year but we wanted to make sure we were here tonight to say congratulations to all our friends at Honda Aircraft. So good job, you guys, well done; it’s a beautiful airplane.”
Kenny G, who is a pilot, had toured the Honda Aircraft facility six months earlier and flown both the HondaJet and the full-motion Level D simulator at the adjacent FlightSafety Honda learning center. “I was impressed with the climb performance,” he said. “It was responsive [and] ergonomically intuitive, and when I sat in the cockpit, everything seemed to be in the right place. I do want to say that I think your aircraft is amazing. I know there are a lot of you out there who are the ones that built it. Awesome! It’s like the future of aviation, and I’m honored to actually stand on this stage with what I consider a new innovator in aviation, Mr. Fujino.”
Fujino then asked Kenny G to play one more song, and when asked which song he requested, Fujino explained: “My first jet I designed, the first flight was March 1993, and probably if you work for the aviation industry, you will understand how busy [it is] six months [before] first flight. It is very [high pressure] and I have to work seven days a week, day and night, so it’s very intense, very tough, very stressful. So sometimes I feel like I couldn’t even breathe, but Kenny introduced a new album in 1992, Breathless. So I went to the music store and I just purchased it. There is my favorite song in his Breathless album, the song’s name is ‘Morning.’ That is why I like that music, when I was 20, when I was 30, it’s a very tough life, and sometimes I feel like morning will never come to my life, so I was always hoping sometimes morning will come, so I respectfully request, please play ‘Morning.’
As Kenny G and Damper played a heartfelt rendition of his favorite song, Fujino was overcome by emotion, and as the last notes faded away, the audience stood and applauded.
Afterwards, Huerta handed over the ceremonial type certificate, and Fujino joked, “This is one of the most expensive [pieces of] paper! Thank you so much,” he concluded. “I highly appreciate my team members’ work and also all the associates and associates’ family. I really appreciate this moment.”