HondaJet Elite

HondaJet Elite

The original model garnered praise but also criticism. An upgraded version will likely produce more of the former and less of the latter.

When deliveries of the original HondaJet began in late 2015, it quickly attracted attention for its over-the-wing-mounted engines and generously sized cabin, which represented design departures for a light jet. In one respect, though, this aircraft was like any other new model: when it debuted, it had bugs and shortcomings.

For a relatively small jet—its maximum takeoff weight is 10,600 pounds—it had a relatively long takeoff distance, just under 4,000 feet. GheThe crosswind component was pegged at a niggardly 20 knots. There were some blown-tire incidents resulting in a few runway overruns—three in as many weeks last year alone. The range, at 1,223 nautical miles (one pilot, three passengers, NBAA IFR reserves), made it essentially a two-and-a-half-hour airplane. 

HondaJet Elite cockpit

Meanwhile, the HondaJet wasn't the least expensive nor the most: 2016 models listed for $4.5 million, while the comparable Embraer Phenom 100 and Cessna M2 could be had new for $4.1 million and $4.6 million, respectively. The HondaJet’s unusual design and superior speed and cabin comfort helped allow for the price premium; so did the parent company’s reputation for building well-designed, durable products, including motorcycles and automobiles as well as outboards, generators, and lawn mowers.

It's no surprise to many in the industry that Honda Aircraft began working on improvements to the original model shortly after it entered service. After all, the Honda corporation was deeply steeped in kaizen—the process of continual improvement—and the teachings of quality guru W. Edwards Deming. But aerodynamic and other changes take time, not just to design and implement but also due to the need for certification of the improvements.

The HondaJet has its roots in aerodynamic studies that began in 1986. The all-composite MH02 Honda research twinjet featured an above-wing engine mount and a forward-swept wing. It first flew in 1993. With results of its flights in hand, Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino returned to the drawing board and 10 years later the first HondaJet prototype took to the skies. The unconventional-looking seven-seater would be certified for single-pilot operations after a long gestation period.

The first-generation HondaJet boasts 420-knot speed and, as noted earlier, a range of 1,223 nautical miles. It has a brisk initial climb rate of 4,000 feet per minute and a maximum altitude of 43,000 feet. The manufacturer claims it offers 15 to 20 percent greater fuel efficiency and faster speed than competing models.

HondaJet Elite cabin

The HondaJet's carbon-fiber composite fuselage is mated to metal wings with over-wing engine pylons, thin natural laminar flow wings, a porpoise-like nose, and raked cockpit side windows. The design helps to make the aircraft speedy and allows for more rear cabin and luggage space–including room for an enclosed toilet—and a larger, quieter cabin with less vibration. The over-wing pylons reduce drag and eliminate the need to contour the aft fuselage.

Honda engineers worked with the theory that each passenger requires about 60 cubic feet and that the seat pitch needs to be such that passengers’ feet don’t overlap when they’re in the club-four facing seats. Legroom is generous. The cabin incorporates a single-place, side-facing divan opposite the entry door followed by the club-four seating and an externally serviceable aft-cabin lavatory with running water and privacy door—unheard of features for an airplane in this category until Honda came along. The aircraft’s interior employs upscale automotive accents, such as high-tech plating that runs the length of the cabin.

Key suppliers for the HondaJet include GE Honda Aero Engines for the HF120 engines (2,050 pounds of thrust each); Garmin for the G3000 touchscreen avionics; and Emteq for its SkyPro HD IFE and cabin-management system, which features Audio/Video on Demand, an interactive 3-D moving map, and an exterior camera. The system also provides for wireless control of lighting and monochromatic window shades at each seat via passengers’ personal electronic devices. With the SiriusXM satellite radio option, you can select station presets at your seat.

Those who fly the airplane regularly report that it handles turbulence like a champ and has the cockpit control and cabin feel of a much larger airplane. The overall report card: good, but not perfect.

Loyal to the principles of kaizen, Honda wasted no time in making improvements. Some, like better brakes, were implemented expeditiously in the name of safety, while others were bundled into the new Elite version of the aircraft, which the airframer began delivering last year. This HondaJet incorporates improvements to the avionics, aerodynamic cleanups, and interior upgrades that collectively result in more range, shorter runway requirements, and a quieter cabin.

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The manufacturer’s new $15.5 million wing and parts facility in Greensboro, North Carolina will shorten the time between order and delivery.

Avionics updates to the Garmin G3000 system include faster processors and new Garmin Electronic Stability and Protectin features, including underspeed protection and autopilot-coupled go-arounds. The airframer also increased fuel capacity and that—combined with trimming 100 pounds from the old aircraft—has boosted range by more than 200 nautical miles while adding nearly 200 pounds of payload capacity. (The aircraft’s weight is up 100 pounds because of the extra fuel). Aerodynamic cleanups include an extended horizontal stabilizer, tighter hinge gaps, and scuttling the unsightly vortex generators. A new engine inlet design reduces noise in the cabin and outside the aircraft.

The belted lav seat is now certified for takeoff and landing, preserving passenger capacity for those who take the aircraft with the optional forward galley in place of the side-facing single passenger seat opposite the entry door. You now also have a wider selection of interior fabric and aircraft paint choices as well as the option of ordering the speakerless, transducer-based Bongiovi audio system with signal processing, which provides surround-sound even when you’re wearing headphones.

HondaJet Elite in flight

From late 2015 through June 2019, Honda delivered 130 HondaJets, including 17 Elites. It was the bestselling jet in its category for the first half of this year. Honda says its fleet currently has a dispatch rate of 99.7 percent.

The company employs 1,500 people at its sprawling campus in Greensboro, North Carolina, and this summer broke ground there on an 83,000-square-foot service parts warehouse and wing manufacturing facility.  Fujino says the facility will increase production efficiency with a highly automated process and will shorten the times between purchase and delivery, eventually allowing the company to increase output. Adherence to kaizen pays off for automobiles—and airplanes.

2019 HondaJet Elite at a Glance

Price:                                       $5.25 million

Crew:                                      1–2

Passengers:                             5–6

Range*:                                   1,437 nm

Maximum takeoff weight:      10,701 lb

Maximum speed:                    422 kt

Takeoff distance:                    3,491 ft

*One pilot, three passengers, NBAA IFR reserves

Source: Honda Aircraft Company