ST PAUL, MN — With a quiet whoosh, our HondaJet departs St. Paul Downtown Airport and rapidly climbs into the sky. A loop around the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis under clear skies gives a glimpse of an alternative way to get around by air — in the company of three to five others, direct to your destination, with no stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, or Denver.
This ride was in conjunction with Honda’s press introduction of the third-generation Honda Insight hybrid, which mounts its now downsized, now lithium-ion battery under the back seat. The HA-420 HondaJet has been the subject of intense interest because of its comparatively low price for a twin-engine jet, around $4.9 million, and its pioneering use of a carbon fiber fuselage in a small jet. It flies up to 1,400 miles non-stop.
Pilot Cameron Schiess prepares the HondaJet for departure. Automated checklists and smart features help the pilot get ready to fly quickly. Example: During the pre-flight walk-around, any latch that isn't properly positioned reveals a bright orange stripe.
For such a small jet, the cabin is spacious, with plenty of leg room. Each side has a pair of facing seats, plus a fifth non-reclining seat opposite the cabin door, which can be swapped for a small galley.
The HondaJet can cruise at 422 knots true airspeed (KTAS) at 30,000 feet, or 486 mph. The flight ceiling is 43,000 feet. Commercial airliners fly at 530-560 mph, but they can't land on short runways.
Cutaway view of the HondaJet fuselage. The plane carries up to seven passengers: one or two pilots, plus five or six passengers. Luggage capacity behind the lav and in the nose is 66 cubic feet, a lot for a small jet.
The HondaJet's flight deck uses a Honda-tweaked Garmin G3000 next-gen all-glass avionics system. It's possible for one pilot to fly the plane. Honda says many early buyers are individuals who plan to fly themselves.
HondaJet ready to taxi at St. Paul Downtown airport. Takeoff distance is rated at less than 4,000 feet. Landing distance is just over 3,000 feet. That makes the HondaJet suitable for small fields closer to the final destination.
Flying Tigers fly again? What looks like a World War II P40 shark-nose design is actually part of the HondaJet's windshield electrical heating system. The plane also senses wing ice and automatically activates de-icing.
A side view of the HondaJet. It measures 42.62 feet long (12.99 meters), 39.76 feet wide (12.12 meters), and stands 14.90 feet high (4.54 meters). The cabin is 17.8 feet long, 5.9 feet wide, and 4.8 feet, meaning you can't stand up inside.
Preparing the HondaJet for boarding. As is typical of private jets, the steps are integrated into the plane. That and a half-door emergency exit on the right side are the two ways out.
The two pylon-mounted GE-Honda HF-120 engines are each rated at 2,050 pounds thrust. They have a bypass ratio of 2.9:1, meaning for every 3.9 pounds of air drawn into the engine, 2.9 pounds go around the engine core and 1.0 pounds go through. (Higher is better.) Engine vibration dissipates through the wings, with less vibration reaching the cabin than with fuselage-mount engines.
HondaJet windows have an LCD panel that dims the windows, with no shade needed. When dimmed with no interior lighting on, the cabin takes on a bluish, underwater hue.
A work table pops out for busy passengers. The four main seats, all reclining, can slide sideways into the aisle for more elbow room when seated.
Honda worked diligently to cut weight wherever possible. The emergency-briefing card is on the lightest cardstock imaginable with a thin plastic coating.
writer Bill Howard in the side-facing, fifth passenger cabin seat. It doesn't recline, but it beats driving to meet up with the four passengers who fly in greater comfort.
For the fifth passenger in the cabin, seated opposite the main (only) entry door, the folding stairs convert to support a tray table. Smart thinking.
The HondaJet weighs 7,200 pounds. Max range is about 1,450 miles, less with a full load of passengers, headwinds, or high temperatures. Still, it goes cross-country on two tanks of fuel.
Locating the Honda-GE jet engines on pilons above the wings keeps the cabin quieter, with less vibration, and allows more room aft that would otherwise be impacted by the mounting points. It's quieter than commercial jets; noise cancelling headphones or earplugs are unnecessary for most passengers.
The biggest difference in business jets isn't range, speed, or price tag. A serious business jet has a lav and the best have separate compartments, as with HondaJet. True fact: the HondaJet Elite edition, just announced, has a seat belt in the lavatory. Go ahead, Google it if you don't believe us.
Third generation of the 2019 Honda Insight and HondaJet, hull number 57, on the tarmac at STP, with the city of St. Paul in the background.
Hot damn! Video journalist Roman Mica chugs away from the HondaJet with a big smile. That's how most riders felt. (One claustrophobic journo stepped inside, took a look, and turned back.) Mica is executive producer of the YouTube Channels TFL (The Fast Lane) Car and TFL Truck.
Honda is one the world’s most unique companies, with a portfolio of cars ranging from mainstream sedans, crossovers, and pickups, plus Formula 1 and IndyCar racers, plus motorcycles, lawn mowers, jet skis, electric generators, and outboard engines.
The HondaJet dates to design studies in the late 1980s. Prototypes were built in the 1990s to validate the feasibility of using carbon fiber composite instead of aluminum. The plane’s design was sketched out by HondaJet company founder Michimasa Fujino in 1997. A proof-of-concept HondaJet flew in 2003; it was green-lighted for production in 2004. An early HondaJet flew at the 2005 Oshkosh, Wisconsin, airshow, and in 2006 Honda announced the HondaJet would move ahead as a commercial venture.
New aircraft of all sizes face challenges in meeting the initial timelines for development and production, and the HondaJet is no exception. The first HondaJet to conform to FAA regulations flew in 2010 and FAA type certification came in 2015, along with delivery of the first customer plane. As of this month, some 110 HondaJets have been built at Honda’s production facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina. Production is ramping up from 3-4 per month to 6-8 a month, up to 80 planes per year. Piedmont airport is HondaJet’s only manufacturing facility, and the initial deliveries have been to American companies and individuals.
Honda in May received FAA certification for a variant, the HondaJet Elite. Weight was reduced 100 pounds and carrying capacity increased 200 pounds. Additional fuel capacity gives the plane an additional 17 percent more range. First deliveries of the Elite are this fall.