Air­field pro­file

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

Con­ve­niently lo­cated by a rail­way line, Head­corn is friendly and re­laxed, and has been fam­ily-run for ninety years

Logic in the over-wing en­gine mount

There’s much to dis­cuss about the Hon­da­jet, its de­sign phi­los­o­phy and its ges­ta­tion, but since we’re hav­ing a tea break at Stansted, we de­cide to go over it in more de­tail there, once we’ve ac­tu­ally flown in the thing. One of the ad­van­tages of the Honda’s dis­tinc­tive over-wing en­gine mount­ing that is ap­par­ent right from the start is that it frees up space in the cabin that would oth­er­wise be taken up by the mount­ing re­in­force­ment and struc­tures re­quired by con­ven­tional fuse­lage-mounted en­gines. There is thus plenty of bag­gage space in the rear locker even for a pho­tog­ra­pher’s para­pher­na­lia and we don’t need to use the ad­di­tional locker in the air­craft’s nose.

I climb up into the air­craft via a com­bined door/stairs, com­plete with beau­ti­fully crafted guide ‘rope’ in leather and turn left into the cock­pit. Here I find a qual­ity of fit and fin­ish that is echoed ev­ery­where in the cabin. Fin­bow is al­ready in place and ad­vises on the method of get­ting into the right-hand seat with­out do­ing dam­age to his $5m demon­stra­tor. A bit of a squeeze but the seat, once ad­justed for height and reach, is very com­fort­able. First im­pres­sion? It all looks in­cred­i­bly sim­ple to op­er­ate.

Three Garmin G3000 screens dom­i­nate the panel. De­vel­oped es­pe­cially for the Hon­da­jet but now in use in other air­craft, the screens are billed as be­ing very easy to use. Un­less you drive a Tesla, your car will have more switches and knobs than the Hon­da­jet. A flick of one of them and the screens come into life. Al­though my RV-7 has a lit­tle bit of glass (a Dynon Flight­dek 180) I’m very much an ana­logue man. That’s per­fect for VFR fly­ing in a pretty ba­sic air­craft with brisk per­for­mance, where the less time spent with eyes in the cock­pit the bet­ter. For IFR fly­ing in a com­plex and very fast air­craft, the sim­plic­ity and mas­sive ca­pa­bil­ity of a full glass panel are ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits.

Few sounds in the world are as ex­cit­ing as that of a gas tur­bine start­ing. In the Hon­da­jet it is a bit of a non-event. Fin­bow presses a sil­ver but­ton down on the cen­tre con­sole la­belled START (one for each en­gine) and the FADEC sys­tem does the rest. Wear­ing ANR head­phones, I can’t hear the en­gines start, the only give­away be­ing graph­ics on the screen show­ing the N1 in­di­ca­tion go­ing green and the revs in­creas­ing.

Mike Fin­bow’s ac­cess to the G3000s is via a touch-screen pad (there’s one for me, too) through which he can con­trol vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing. It would take a 10,000 word fea­ture at least to ex­plain one tenth of what this avion­ics sys­tem is ca­pa­ble of, but only a cou­ple of words are needed to de­scribe what it can­not do; not much.

Mike’s loaded our flight plan, all the Jeppe­son plates are lurk­ing dig­i­tally in the back­ground and he’s run­ning through the check­list, scrolling down the items in front of him via a but­ton on the con­trol yoke and tick­ing them off with the same. When we’re ready to go, the park­ing brake is re­leased, take­off flap set (the brake and flap con­trols, and those for the un­der­car­riage and throt­tles are about the lot, as far as op­er­at­ing levers go) and we taxi out to the run­way.

Nose­wheel steer­ing is ‘fly by wire’ and, as I dis­cover later, the Hon­da­jet has an ex­tremely com­pact turn­ing cir­cle which is helped when ma­noeu­vring by its stubby, forty-foot wing­span (only five feet or so wider than a Piper Cub−ed). Re­leas­ing the park­ing brake au­to­mat­i­cally switches on the taxi lights, and open­ing the throt­tles turns on the strobes and land­ing lights. You can op­er­ate all of them man­u­ally as well.

Im­pres­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion – and nim­ble foot­work

Fin­bow presses the brakes, pushes the throt­tles up to take­off power and re­moves his toes from the brakes. I’m fol­low­ing through and, apart from the im­pres­sive ac­cel­er­a­tion, I’m sur­prised by the amount of foot­work go­ing on. There is a bit of a cross­wind and those OTWEM (over-thew­ing en­gine mount) tur­bines−a mar­riage be­tween a car maker and avi­a­tion is bound to give birth to plenty of acronyms−bring with them ex­tra keel area. The re­sult is a cross­wind limit of twenty knots (not a ‘demon­strated’ fig­ure−this is the limit).

We’re off the ground quickly and Fin­bow sur­prises me by hand­ing the climb over to me. ATC has cleared us to our first re­port­ing point at 4,000ft and in the Hon­da­jet that’s only a minute in the climb. It seems merely sec­onds be­fore we

At FL170 we’re flash­ing over the ground at 385 knots

pop out through the cloud and I level us off. It’s not pos­si­ble to form pro­found opin­ions on han­dling from a very short time in con­trol−that’s go­ing to have to wait un­til we have the op­por­tu­nity for a full flight test−but the Hon­da­jet feels sur­pris­ingly re­spon­sive in pitch and roll. The stick forces re­quired to main­tain cruise alti­tude and wings-level are im­pres­sively low−it’s lighter than a Bo­nanza and nearer a Cir­rus.

From now on we’re on the au­topi­lot. I’m only an IR/R holder but I’ve spent hours up-front on char­ter flights so un­der­stand this fly­ing in con­trolled airspace game. The Hon­da­jet doesn’t have au­tothrust but it does have Cruise Speed Con­trol, which does ex­actly what its name sug­gests. Press the CSC but­ton on the au­topi­lot panel and it will hold speed ac­cu­rately by slight ad­just­ments via the FADEC sys­tem. At FL170 we’re flash­ing over the ground at 385 knots. De­spite the speed it couldn’t be sim­pler. What a con­trast to a very re­cent IMC re­newal taken in a ninety-knot PA-28 us­ing hor­ren­dous NDBS and fid­dly VORS. It’s hard to think how the Hon­da­jet could be made sim­pler and more straight­for­ward to op­er­ate. An ex­pe­ri­enced Cir­rus SR22 owner with IR ex­pe­ri­ence would find the up­grade to this air­craft straight­for­ward.

Honda planned it this way. The whole phi­los­o­phy be­hind the com­pany’s first air­craft is sim­plic­ity, right from the buy­ing, train­ing, main­te­nance to the ac­tual fly­ing. This is the Honda way, and how the com­pany has ap­proached all its en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges. The orig­i­nal NSX sports car launched in 1990 was in­tended to be all of the above, sub­sti­tut­ing driv­ing for fly­ing. The NSX wouldn’t be as fickle as a Fer­rari, nor as tem­per­a­men­tal or as costly to run. Honda’s bikes are the same, as any­one who has owned a Fireblade or VFR750 will know.

Later, on the leg to Birm­ing­ham, I will dis­cover what it’s like for the pas­sen­gers, but up in front the word for it is serene. There is hardly any noise, it is a smooth day and only breaks in the cloud and a view of the ground give any sense of for­ward mo­tion. We’re not in ic­ing con­di­tions but the Hon­da­jet has all that in hand au­to­mat­i­cally. The wind­screens are heated elec­tri­cally and the wing lead­ing edges by hot air from the en­gines. The lead­ing edges of the tail are pro­tected by a clever sys­tem of elec­tri­cally-pow­ered ac­tu­a­tors that in ef­fect ham­mer the skins to dis­lodge ice. It’s called EMEDS− Elec­tro Me­chan­i­cal Ex­plo­sion De­ice Sys­tem. The wings and em­pen­nage, by the way, are metal but the fuse­lage is com­pos­ite.

Load­ing up the en-route and Stansted’s ATC fre­quen­cies and ILS de­tails takes sec­onds, and af­ter what seems an ex­tremely brief flight (less than thirty min­utes) we are turn­ing fi­nal onto Stansted’s Run­way 22 and pick­ing up the lo­caliser. The Hon­da­jet is slip­pery and doesn’t like slow­ing down but for­tu­nately it’s fit­ted with speed brakes. These are fit­ted to the tail and fold out like petals. There’s no sound as Mike de­ploys them. Again I fol­low on the con­trols as we cross the thresh­old at around 110kt. I’m an­tic­i­pat­ing the flare but there isn’t one to de­tect, at least not with a feather touch on the yoke. “You pretty much fly it onto the run­way,” says Fin­bow. The brakes are car­bon and the stopping dis­tance is mighty im­pres­sive.

At this point I’m usu­ally tap­ping away on my ipad to get up the air­port di­a­gram so those “taxi via Novem­ber and Papa to Que­bec cross­ing Romeo” kind of in­struc­tions from the Tower make some sense. In the Hon­da­jet it is al­ready dis­played on the cen­tre Garmin G3000 and what’s more, so is our po­si­tion. It couldn’t be eas­ier.

Honda’s kind of cus­tomer

It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see who buys the Hon­da­jet. Techno junkies and those with an eye for de­tail will love things like the com­pos­ite fuse­lage mated with an alu­minium wing that fea­tures spars ma­chined from bil­lets. Ev­ery­one will ap­pre­ci­ate the way the un­usual place­ment of the en­gines above the wings not only in­creases in­te­rior space but cuts noise and vi­bra­tion.

I dis­cover just how quiet and smooth it is in the cabin on our short hop to Birm­ing­ham. Four pas­sen­gers are seated in pairs of fac­ing seats on ei­ther side that can be slid side­ways to­wards the aisle to give more head­room for taller in­di­vid­u­als. The fifth pas­sen­ger sits fur­ther for­ward, fac­ing the door. In sin­gle-pi­lot op­er­a­tions, a sixth pas­sen­ger can be car­ried in the right-hand seat up front. Even though my head is right be­side the en­gine in­take, I find it’s still pos­si­ble to talk with­out rais­ing my voice.

Be­hind me is a loo with wash basin and a cur­tain. Handy when you’re op­er­at­ing the air­craft to its max­i­mum 1,200nm range. In a com­pact air­craft of this size you’re never go­ing to be able to fit a lux­u­ri­ous bath­room that of­fers the pri­vacy of home. The cur­tain that slides across is solid but us­ing the thing is still go­ing to be un­nerv­ingly pub­lic for many peo­ple.

The air­craft’s cabin environmen­t is con­trolled from the Garmin 3000 with sim­ple on-screen heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing con­trols. For such a com­pact air­craft the Honda’s pas­sen­ger cabin feels spa­cious. It’s taste­fully done, too, with none of the ’70s Cadil­lac Seville thick car­pet and over-the-top up­hol­stery you find in some biz­jets. The leather feels high qual­ity and is nicely trimmed. Pas­sen­gers will have to bring along their own en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems as there are no flat screen tel­lies or mon­i­tors.

I would guess that most own­ers, even those who can fly, will want the con­ve­nience of a sec­ond pi­lot. I know sev­eral suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men who are pi­lots but don’t fly them­selves in their own jets be­cause com­bin­ing an im­por­tant meet­ing and a cross-europe flight is too tax­ing, with a risk of foul­ing up both jobs. Even though the Hon­da­jet is very easy to op­er­ate, plan­ning both an IFR jour­ney be­tween, say, Lu­ton and Vienna and the de­tails of a busi­ness meet­ing at des­ti­na­tion is ask­ing for trou­ble.

The Hon­da­jet has a cou­ple of di­rect ri­vals: pri­mar­ily Cessna’s Ci­ta­tion M2, which has the same G3000 avion­ics. The Em­braer Phe­nom 100−another one of the orig­i­nal group of very light jets that re­mains in pro­duc­tion−is a fur­ther con­tender. How­ever, I sus­pect that the Hon­da­jet’s main ri­vals are not jets but tur­bo­props like the So­cata TBM 930 and Pi­la­tus PC-12, both of which not only need less tar­mac but can also op­er­ate from grass air­fields.

The Hon­da­jet’s ace card is that it is not just new but that it comes from a de­but man­u­fac­turer. When we landed at Stansted the ground con­troller said over the ra­dio “Wow, a Hon­da­jet. We haven’t had one of those in here be­fore”. Mike Fin­bow says this kind of re­ac­tion is nor­mal. It’s an air­craft that looks dif­fer­ent and is dif­fer­ent. That alone gives it ap­peal to the ul­tra-wealthy, who love ex­otic toys that don’t need an ex­pla­na­tion. You never have to de­scribe the ap­peal of a Bent­ley or Lam­borgh­ini, and the Hon­da­jet falls into the same bracket.

Odd-look­ing over-the-wing mounts al­low max­i­mum cabin space and iso­late en­gine noise

Demo pi­lot Mike Fin­bow ex­plains the sys­tems to Good­win while the au­topi­lot holds head­ing, al­ti­tude and speed

Func­tional and muted in­te­rior de­sign is clearly in­spired by Honda’s cars

Sim­ply press but­ton to start — the elec­tron­ics en­sure it re­ally is as easy as that

Plenty of room for bag­gage, front and rear

Hot air de­ic­ing pan­els and LED nav­i­ga­tion lights

Good­win was de­ter­mined to bag the first ride

Now rid­ing pas­sen­ger, Good­win pon­ders own­er­ship. How many cus­tomers will fly the Hon­da­jet them­selves?

Honda puts func­tion ahead of flashi­ness through­out

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