How Honda Builds the Business Jet of the Future

From the outside, HondaJet reveals two few key innovations. Its engines sit on pylons above the wings, rather than being attached to the fuselage. This cuts drag and frees up space in the cabin—since the engine mounts don’t intrude. It also reduces noise and vibration, which dissipate through the wings rather than heading for the passenger compartment. And to maximize laminar airflow, in which the air clings tightly to the aircraft surface for a cleaner passage, the designers dropped the nose down slightly and created a wing surface absent any extrusions. Even the rivets are milled flush against the surface.

Honda designed and manufactures the jet’s dual HF-120 engines, with support from GE. Doing the work itself (a rare move in the aviation biz) lets Honda push on innovation: The computer-controlled engines are maximized for high efficiency and low noise, producing 2,000 pounds of thrust each. They can push the relatively light plane to a speedy 423 mph cruise at 43,000 feet, or 480 mph at 30,000 feet. The 133-acre Greensboro campus includes the subsidiary’s corporate headquarters, R&D center, customer service center, and the actual production assembly line.

Assembly begins with the arrival of carbon-fiber fuselages, which are manufactured at a contractor facility in South Carolina and delivered via truck. Carbon fiber reduces weight, improves strength, and allows for the aerodynamically-optimized nose and fuselage shaping. (Carbon fiber requires fewer turbulence-causing fasteners and can be molded more precisely and at lower cost than aluminum.) The strategy also minimizes fuselage joints, allowing for greater interior space.

The HondaJet’s wings are milled from single pieces of aluminum, with integrated skins that minimize the need for turbulence-inducing fasteners. After wings are attached and engines mounted, technicians begin to install the airplanes wiring and electronics, as well as the flight hardware, including cables, cockpit framing, and control surfaces. As each airplane nears completion, technicians install the remaining doors and the cockpit avionics, and prepare the airplane for painting and the installation of cabin interiors, including seats, the lavatory, carpet, and cabinetry.

The HondaJet’s interior fit-and-finish rivals that of far pricier jets, with hideaway tables that glide effortlessly into their storage compartments and seats that can be easily repositioned on multi-axis mounts. In flight, the cabin is quiet enough to chat in a normal speaking voice. Electrochromatic windows can be dimmed at the press of a button, and the cabin temperature, lighting, and audio systems can be controlled through a smartphone app. Wi-Fi is also available as an option.

The cockpit interfaces (three 14-inch displays, via Garmin) are meant to minimize pilot workload by facilitating access to navigation, communication, airplane systems, and flight-planning interfaces. The airplane also handles many of the fuel-management, engine control, de-icing, and cabin-comfort functions on its own. Since it’s certified for single-pilot operation, owners can fly it themselves or corporations can put a passenger in the second cockpit seat.