A flash of insight woke Michimasa Fujino one night many years ago, when the Honda engineer had been researching aircraft design for the Japanese automaker. After puzzling over theories of optimal airflow he read in a 1930s fluid mechanics textbook, Fujino came to the solution midsleep. Unable to find a piece of paper, he tore a page from his calendar and drew a small jet with a dolphinlike nose and engines mounted over the wings.
By the time the first HondaJet customer took delivery, some two decades later in 2015, the jet still resembled Fujino’s visionary nighttime sketch, complete with Honda’s patented over-the-wing engine mount configuration and HF120 turbofan engines, which are jointly developed by Honda and GE Aviation. The combination of design and performance embodied in the plane has resulted in Honda Aircraft Company growing into the sixth-largest maker of business jets last year, even as industry sales have slipped nearly 20% worldwide since peaking over $22 billion in 2014, according to data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. There are around 140 HondaJets in operation today.
“It is gratifying to see that our advanced technologies are tapping into new markets and that our hard work is paying off,” says Fujino, now the CEO of Honda Aircraft Company, the business unit spawned from his design. “My vision is to create new value in business aviation and personal mobility.”
Stretching 42.62 feet long and having a maximum takeoff weight of 10,700 pounds, the HondaJet is said by pilots to be crisp and precise to fly, like an airborne sports car. That’s an apt description since the plane is fastest in the very light jet category, with speeds topping out at 422 nautical miles per hour. At 18.5 inches in diameter, the HF120 engine generates 2,095 pounds of thrust, making this the smallest jet engine in GE’s portfolio. (GE’s largest engine, the GE9X, has a fan diameter stretching a full 135 inches.)
In addition to the dolphin nose — which reduces drag and improves pilot sight lines — the HondaJet is also easy to spot because of its unique over-the-wing engine mount configuration. After 20 years of research and development, engineers concluded that this design could increase fuel efficiency, reduce cabin noise and maximize cabin space in the jet’s small footprint. The plane can carry up to eight people, including the pilot. “The engines have proven to be reliable and are performing exceptionally,” Fujino says. “Honda and GE have fostered a great partnership.” The HondaJet has a 99.7% dispatch reliability rate, an industry standard measuring the percentage of planes that make scheduled departures within 15 minutes.
While the HondaJet has been marketed to business owners who require the flexibility a small jet affords, the combination of style and performance has been widening the aircraft’s appeal, from movie stars to ambulance services. Recently, a Hollywood actor became an owner after visiting Fujino at HondaJet’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the jet’s construction. “He mentioned that the effort it takes to create a state-of-the-art aircraft reminds him of his hard effort in creating movies with creativity and passion,” Fujino explains. He says the star quickly tackled an intensive HondaJet training course in Greensboro, where new owners can become HondaJet type-rated. “He was one of the best-prepared pilots for the training and our instructor was very impressed by him,” Fujino adds.
While celebrity purchases provide a nice brand halo, the HondaJet’s practicality is allowing for a larger customer base. The company recently announced that Hawaii air ambulance company Wing Spirit purchased several HondaJets to begin medevac service in early 2020. The company bought HondaJet Elites, the updated version of the plane that adds about 214 additional nautical miles of range — to 1,473 nm — along with shorter takeoff and landing runway needs. The interior of the jet is similar in size to an ambulance, allowing enough room for medics, a patient on a stretcher bed and various equipment.
“Air ambulances are generally the quickest way to reach medical care when time is of the essence,” Fujino says. “Especially in this case in which patients will be transported between islands, the HondaJet is clearly the most effective method of transportation.”
The fixed-wing air ambulance market is growing at more than 9% a year and should hit $2 billion in service revenue by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Overall, despite the dip in recent years, worldwide business jet sales are projected to grow to $36 billion, according to Research and Markets, a research provider.
“As a result of our commitment to innovation, the HondaJet Elite is the fastest, farthest and highest-flying aircraft in its class, while also being the most fuel-efficient and comfortable,” Fujino says. “We have successfully designed and built an innovative aircraft that transforms people’s lifestyles.”