Honda Jets Prepare to Fly



Honda of Japan has announced the formation of Honda Aircraft Co., Inc., with headquarters inGreensboro, North Carolina, for the manufacture and marketing of a new twin-jet small executive-type airplane it has developed. And in true Honda fashion, the subsidiary’s newly named CEO Michimasa Fujino was also the engineer who led the team that designed and developed the prototype Hondajet over a 20-year period.

Mr. Fujino told Detroit ’s Automotive Press Association that his company had shown off the prototype aircraft to a business flyers’ association and received more than 100 orders. However, it will be a while before there will be any deliveries: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Honda only experimental licensing for the plane, and it may be three to four years before “type certification” permitting sale is granted after extensive testing.


The 41.7-foot long Hondajet lays claim to several new design features, most obviously the mounting of the jet engines on struts above the wings on either side of the unique composite material fuselage. The plane is projected to provide seven or eight seating positions, including pilot, providing more space for both passengers and luggage than present competitors in the small jet market, Eclipse and Cessna. According to the Detroit Free Press , the five-occupant Eclipse 500 and Cessna Citation Mustang are priced at $1.5 million and $2.6 million, respectively. The Japanese company projects the price for its Hondajet at $3.65 million.


Honda says it will announce later where in the U.S. the Hondajet plant will be built for worldwide distribution.


So what does this have to do with automobiles, and why should TheCarConnection readers care?


In the first place, an airplane is a “motor vehicle.” And Honda is big in motors, having started after World War II by converting war surplus radio generators into engines to power bicycles and morphing from there into motorbikes, motor scooters, and motorcycles as well as stand-by generators, outboard motors for boats, and finally Honda and Acura cars.


In the second place, as old timers and business historians know, it’s nothing new for an auto company to be in the aviation business. For example, Ford pioneered all-metal commercial airliners with its Stout-designed Tri-Motors, of which more than 170 were built between 1926 and 1932. During WWII, Ford redesigned the Consolidated B-24 so it could be built on an automotive-type assembly line, and turned out 8685 of the bombers at the famed Willow Run plant in a miracle of wartime production.


General Motors invested in Eastern Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Fokker Aircraft, Bendix, and North American Aviation in the 1930s, supplied Allison liquid-cooled engines for P-38, P-39 and P-40 fighters, and built more Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers than Grumman (including the TBM that President Bush 41 was flying when he was shot down in the Pacific late in WWII).


In the third place, Honda has a history of proceeding very deliberately from one highly engineered and innovative product to another, showing infinite patience with the normal delays that frustrate Western businesses. Eclipse, of which retired Ford CEO Red Poling is chairman, and old-line aircraft producer Cessna will need to step lively to keep ahead in the small jet market.


Is it unbelievable to speculate that Boeing, too, needs to keep an eye on Honda?


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