AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 18

WAYPOINTS

The rest of the story

BY THOMAS B. HAINES
Editor in Chief

Reflecting on 15 years since the HondaJet's debut

Editor in Chief
TOM HAINES has
been covering the
general aviation
industry for more
than three decades.

18 | AOPA PILOT October 2020

AS UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES OFTEN HAPPEN, this one
cropped up unexpectedly and with a simple phone call.
The voice on the other end-friend and industry contact MayCay Beeler-asked me in the spring of 2005
if I would be interested in going to Greensboro, North
Carolina, to interview the designer of the mysterious
business jet Honda had been quietly developing.
The proof of concept aircraft had flown in December
2003. There had been a few sightings in the following
15 months, but the company was tight-lipped, barely
acknowledging that it existed and offering few details.
"So this is a media event?" I asked.
"No, just you. If you're interested, you can be the first
one to tell the story. They plan to unveil it at Oshkosh,"
Beeler said. A resident of Greensboro, she had become a
communications advisor for the nascent aircraft company.
And so began a months-long odyssey of telling
the story of what we today know as the HondaJet
Elite, built by Honda Aircraft Co. The company didn't
exist then; nor did the mammoth factory complex at
Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport. All
of the secretive development was done out of a couple
of nondescript hangars on the opposite side of the field.
There was no Honda branding anywhere, although if
you looked closely you would notice a preponderance of
Honda and Acura automobiles in the parking lot.
The company's only request was that I not share
the story any earlier than the August 2005 issue of
AOPA Pilot, the issue scheduled to be at Oshkosh.
And so on April 25, 2005, AOPA Senior Photographer
Mike Fizer and I launched in my Bonanza for the 1.7hour flight southwest. We were met on the ramp by Rich
Gritter, who had been quietly doing much of the test
pilot work on the proof-of-concept airplane.
Gritter ushered us through a plain white door into
a maze of office cubes and ultimately to a conference
room where we were introduced to Michimasa Fujino,
the aircraft's designer.
Fujino started at Honda working on automotive
anti-lock braking systems, but quickly volunteered
for the aviation program Honda was tinkering with
in the 1980s. He began sanding composite molds for
the MH02, an unusual high-wing business jet Honda
designed and flew for 170 hours at Mississippi State
University. The MH02 had its two engines mounted
above the wings, a key design feature that would find
its way a decade later onto the HondaJet.

And while the over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM,
as Honda calls it) is the most obvious and unusual feature of the HondaJet, it is just one element that Fujino
brought to develop an airplane with the stated goal to
outperform competitive aircraft on cabin size, fuel consumption, and cruise speed. The OTWEM was designed
to reduce drag and to allow for a constant contour cabin,
providing more passenger or baggage space because the
fuselage doesn't need to narrow at the aft end to accommodate the engine nacelle structure at the back of most
business jets. To further reduce drag, Fujino designed a
new natural laminar flow aluminum wing section and a
laminar flow nose section. Those, combined with a cocured composite fuselage, give the HondaJet significant
speed and efficiency advantages over competitive airplanes, especially the Cessna Citation CJ2, which was
the main competitor at the time.
After hours of technical briefings, Fujino escorted us
to a ramp where we were given a detailed walkaround of
the stunning blue-and-white proof-of-concept airplane.
Fizer was busy taking photos, but was told he couldn't
shoot the airplane from the rear. Apparently, the company wasn't quite ready for the world to see detailed
images of the aft shape of the engine pylons.
Later, we took the aft double doors off of my Bonanza
as Fizer strapped into the back. Fujino climbed into the
right seat next to me and we taxied out with the stunning
new HondaJet trailing us. Fizer clicked away for 90 minutes over the North Carolina countryside. Fujino held a
small video camera up to the window, grinning as he saw
from the air for the first time his dream take flight.
As always, Fizer delivered beautiful photos, and the
HondaJet made the cover of AOPA Pilot's August 2005
issue. At Oshkosh, the HondaJet made several passes
in front of the crowd before taxiing into what was then
called Aeroshell Square for about a three-hour visit, surrounded by mobs of people anxious to know more.
We all know the rest of the story. Honda made the
decision shortly thereafter to continue the program
and a decade later the airplane was certified. I had the
chance to fly it for the first time in May 2016, 11 years and
a month after first seeing it. This summer, Honda celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the Oshkosh debut
with a flashy new corporate video. Time does fly. AOPA
EMAIL thomas.haines@aopa.org

@tomhaines29



AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 3
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover4
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