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As the recession bites across parts of the world businesses are continually looking for ways to cut costs. To this end modern technology has been of great benefit. The world wide web has opened up new lines of communication with prospective customers. Video conferencing allows a more personal touch. However, there is still always the need for face to face negotiating, to clinch that all important deal, and hence the need to travel will always exist.
Travel with any of the world's airlines is often a time consuming business. They are scheduled operators, operating to their own schedule, not yours. The unpredictability of the length of time to negotiate security checks means you end up building in more and more time to allow for potential delays. This is in addition to travelling time to and from an inconveniently located airport.
Yes, airlines do offer very inviting business lounges with all sorts of delectations to keep you entertained but, hit them at the wrong time of the day and you may as well have travelled economy.
No plane no gain
A business jet gives you the privacy to discuss commercially sensitive information with colleagues away from eavesdropping fellow passengers. Add in new technologies that allow you to stay in touch with colleagues on the ground, then travelling time becomes productive, as if you have never left the office.
Does size matter?
Medium size business jets are a substantial investment, not only the capital outlay but also the running costs can be very high. Yes, many are transatlantic capable but if the majority of your journeys are on the same continent you may be incurring unnecessary expense.
I am not decrying the advantages of owning a sizeable business jet, however, in some instances with journeys of less than 1000 nm, this may not warrant the commitment that a larger jet justifies.
Smaller aircraft invariably require a shorter runway allowing a departure from airports that are closer and more convenient for the operator. No security lines to negotiate, the aircraft departs according to your schedule, getting you even closer to your business destination. It also becomes a time multiplier allowing you to get to more than one destination in a day and so attend more meetings. You could even reschedule in flight diverting the aircraft to a new destination and business opportunity. The possibilities are endless.
When you Google, "Very Light Jet (VLJ)", it is surprising the number of manufactures that come up. However, when you dig a little deep it soon becomes apparent that not all are mainstream manufacturers but merely small turboprop makers with aspirations to join the jet set.
There is one VLJ manufacturer who is, surprisingly, a household name. No matter where you go in the world the company's products will be present. It is one of the largest manufacturers of human mobility systems in the world. We know them more for automobile, motorcycle and marine engine manufacturer and probably not at all in the world of aviation.
Honda is a name which is synonymous around the world for anything that moves people irrespective of the terrain or challenge.
Honda has, in the past, produced a small number of research aircraft, but none have gone into full scale production. This should not, however, put off any prospective purchasers, particularly when you bear in mind that Honda has been involved in motorsport for decades. This is an industry that has numerous parallels with aviation. Motorsport uses cutting edge technology and aerodynamic design to ensure success on the race track.
The HondaJet aims to dominate the skies. To produce the most advanced, fastest, highest-flying, quietest, most spacious and most fuel efficient light jet for many is only a dream. Blue-sky thinking with an innovative approach is at the epicentre of the Hondajet paradigm.
The history of HondaJet is very much the history of Michimasa Fujino. As an aeronautical engineering graduate his ambition was to design his own aircraft. However, the only option open to him in Japan after graduating was to enter the automotive industry. So his career with Honda began. Michimasa’s initial role was in research and development of automobiles.
At his interview to join Honda he was asked if he wanted to design aircraft but never realized the importance of this question until two years later. During a lunch break he was informed by his boss that he was being transferred to a new project, aircraft design. Not only that but he was also to be the head of Honda's new aircraft project. Now the significance of that question made sense.
So in 1986 Fujino started working on what was to be a highly secretive project within Honda. So secret, in fact, that he was unable even to tell his family.
Because there was no established aircraft manufacturing in Japan, aircraft certification proved extremely expensive. This was because of the restrictions placed upon operating experimental aircraft. Consequently the Honda Aircraft Division was set up in Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA.
HondaJet has been in the conception and design phase for over two decades. The 3rd December, 2003, was very special day for Michimasa Fujino, with the proof-of-concept HondaJet aircraft’s maiden flight. It was the culmination of over 25 years work.
Breaking with convention
From what ever angle you view the HondaJet it is different from the norm, distinctive but still elegant. However, there is a reason for this with every curve and line having a purpose.
Probably the most striking aspect of the jet are the engine mounts. We are used to seeing either underslung or tail mounted engines. HondaJet has radically changed engineering perception by implementing the unique, optimum Over The Wing Engine-Mount (OTWEM), where the engines are attached to the upper surfaces of the wing.
Aerodynamic theorists, in the past, said that this design was fraught with problems. However, Fujino has proved them wrong with the discovery of a “sweet spot” on the wing. This position brings many aerodynamic advantages over and above a conventional engine location. With improved aerodynamics comes a reduction in drag and as a consequence improved efficiency. The passengers benefit from a marked reduction in engine noise and vibration as well as increased cabin space.
Natural laminar flow is the maintenance of smooth airflow over a surface. When it breaks down, turbulence forms and drag ensues. To create it, is from an engineer's perspective, an art form. One that Fujino has mastered. He has succeeded in maintaining laminar flow over a sizable portion of the forward fuselage. Combined with the wings natural laminar flow he has managed to achieve the highest cruising and most fuel efficient aircraft in its class.
With the optimized Over The Wing Engine Mount the cabin is promising to be a surprisingly quiet, comfortable and spacious place to do business. It also allows the fuselage to be of a continuous diameter and not narrow towards its rear.
Because of its weight it is often termed a Very Light Jet, however, Fujino prefers to call it an “advanced light jet”. With more usable space than many aircraft and its very high performance in the light jet sector it is to some degree difficult to categorize. However, it still has more space than many within that sector.
The HondaJet will be certified with a maximum capacity of seven occupants including a crew of one or two and up to five passengers seated in the cabin. The aircraft’s club seats are completely adjustable on all axes, yet the cabin still has the best in class legroom.
Another advantage of the engine positioning is that it allows excellent access to the aft hold which combined with the fore hold gives a total capacity of 66 cubic feet.
The cabin's ambience is easily controlled from a variety of personal mobile devices allowing the passenger to adjust audio, lighting, heating or the electrochromatic light shades.
This is a no compromise aircraft with a fully private wash room. Like many business aircraft the final internal finish is of a high standard with leather and wood veneer being the norm.
The Garmin G3000 is known for being the best light business jet avionics suite currently available. However, a little know fact is the major involvement of Fujino in its development.
HondaJet wanted the finest avionics suite. The only way to achieve this, working secretly with Garmin, was to design it to their own specification from 1999.
It consists of three flat panel displays with touch screen interface controllers. The two outer flight screens not only show flight information but also have a synthetic terrain overlay. In addition, an electronic flight bag is available ensuring all flight documentation is readily available and current. Engine instruments are displayed in a clear and concise manner making them easy to interpret. The traditional “U” shape control wheel has been adopted.
The HondaJet has been designed for single pilot operations and as such is relatively simple to operate. This all helps reduce pilot workload and so ensuries a safe transition between sky and ground.
The power to fly
The heart of any aircraft are its engines. For its size, the HondaJet's engines seem surprisingly small. However, despite this they are capable of propelling the aircraft to 420 kts at 30,000 ft with a maximum cruising level of 43,000 ft and an IFR range of 1180 nm.
Once again Fujino and his team have taken a very much hands on approach to developing the engines. They have not taken the easy option and selected an engine off the shelf. Instead, they have developed their own bespoke power unit. The HF120 is a joint development between Honda Aero Engines and General Electric. Consequently they have produced the most fuel efficient engine in its class.
To any aircraft designer weight and drag are the enemies of efficiency and performance. HondaJet lead the way in innovative fuselage design. Instead of adopting traditional Aluminum construction, HondaJet employ a lighter yet stronger carbon fibre composite fuselage.
The wings are probably the most critical component of any aircraft paramount to performance and efficiency. HondaJet's own wing design has an exceptionally smooth surface. The wings upper surface is machined on the inside. This eliminates rivets protruding into the airflow.
The engine position ensures the aircraft is exceptionally quiet from the ground. Any noise from the fan section of the engine is shielded, this proffers protection against any potential future noise regulation.
Several manufacturers have had a head start with their aircraft already in production. However, that does not mean HondaJet have been left behind.
The clean sheet approach has delivered an efficient, high performance aircraft at the cutting edge.
It sets a new standard in aviation for others to follow.
For Michimasa Fujino the power of his dreams has been realised.