Flyways And Byways
We’ve all had the same experience: you leave on a road trip and half an hour later you can’t remember if you locked the front door behind you, or turned off the oven, or maybe even left a tap dripping into the (inevitably) plugged sink.
Perhaps you’ve flown off to an important conference where you’re scheduled to give a big speech and you realize you left the USB drive at home — the one containing the notes you didn’t backup to the cloud nor copy onto your laptop.
Or you’ve turned up at the altar all dressed in your finest (rented) suit ready to perform your duty as Best Man, only to remember as you stand there listening to the vows that you left the ring back at the office. Which is locked for the weekend.
In my case, I woke up a couple of years into my sixth decade and realized I’d completely forgotten to put aside $100 million. This astonishing oversight means not only that my retirement to Tahiti is now looking rather unlikely, but it also means I can’t afford to purchase and operate a HondaJet.
Which is a nuisance, because the HondaJet is a superb piece of design.
The original concept dates back nearly a quarter of a century and captures Honda’s aspirations to become an all-round mobility company. Honda began post WWII with its much-loved and ultra-reliable 50cc scooter, which even today is a best-seller across the developing world. It then expanded into motorcycles and by the 1970s had become a major player. Like other Japanese manufacturers, its upper-end bikes used straight-four overhead camshaft engines, but Honda also innovated with a water-cooled V-twin and a Schwarzenegger-like inline six cylinder CBX that looked from the front like a sideways apartment building rushing frighteningly toward the onlooker. I rode one once and it was quite an experience knowing that the slightest mistake would result in me toppling over astride a medium-sized building. It would have taken days for a rescue crew to dig me out from underneath the rubble.
Flights of fancy aside, we all know Honda also expanded into automobiles and today manufactures the world’s most reliable vehicles bar none. Acura is the entry-level luxury brand, Honda is the bread-and-butter line, with Accords remaining on the top-seller list for the last four decades. If you appreciate solid engineering, total reliability, and superb value for money, you probably already own a Honda.
But… what Honda has been far less good at is brand marketing. Toyota blew past Honda when it came to establishing Lexus as a desirable luxury brand, and the new “halo car” in the Acura stable — the marvelous NSX — has failed to capture the interest of people who buy Ferraris and Lamborghinis thanks mainly to its Honda-sourced interior elements. But back in the late 1990s Honda had the best motorcycles and had a Formula One race car and the old NSX was a runaway success and everyone wanted to buy an Accord for their High School graduate. Naturally the folk at Honda thought, the sky’s the limit.
And so they gazed up at the wide blue yonder.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the executive jet market was an expensive place to go shopping. Then as now, Gulfstream dominated the long-distance market. Cessna had just introduced the mid-distance go-faster Citation X, laying to rest decades of jokes about lethargic products. The French had their executive jets such as the Dassault Falcon, which generally sat midway between the CitationX and the Gulfstream 550. But all of these would require the wealthy buyer to shell out around $30 million and potentially much more depending on how opulent an interior was desired.
The alternative was to buy a business jet like a used 757 or 767, which would be cheaper to acquire but pricy to re-equip and very expensive to operate.
Into this market stepped Honda. The Swiss had the turboprop Pilatus, which was optimized for very short runways and even no runways at all. And there were Beechcraft and a few other medium-range turboprop aircraft with four to eight seats. But they were all comparatively slow and had a relatively low operational ceiling compared to jets. Although several companies had plans for small jets around the same time Honda was creating its preliminary designs, all folded before any aircraft were produced due to a mix of poor market demand, unworkable economics, and the 2008 financial crisis.
But Honda persevered. And it’s a jolly good thing they did. Honda took the concept of small jet and began not by trying to scale down existing designs or assuming previous solutions were necessarily the optimal ones. Instead they began with a blank sheet of paper and engineered their way forward. Each aspect of the problem was considered: interior space, takeoff and landing requirements, range, ceiling, fuel consumption, avionics, and passenger convenience. With as much care and thought as goes into each Acura, the Honda Jet engineers put the pilot and passenger first and then solved to optimize their comfort, safety, and convenience.
Pilots in the HondaJet can enjoy a thoroughly modern all-glass cockpit with comfortable seats and superior visibility. Passengers can enjoy a surprisingly spacious cabin given the overall dimensions — and the cabin has a basic galley and a toilet, which is unheard of in such a small aircraft.
The two engines are on nacelles above the wings which maximizes cabin space and minimizes noise and vibration. As the jet is small with a good overall lift ratio, operating costs aren’t as prohibitive as in larger jets.
Of course the HondaJet has compromises: its operational ceiling is 45,000 feet, around 7,000 feet lower than a Gulfstream 650 ER. And its operational range is only 1,400 nautical miles (about 1,600 ground miles) compared to the Gulfstream which can fly from San Francisco to Paris without stopping to refuel. And the HondaJet is a lot slower than the Gulfstream, with a maximum cruising speed of 420 knots (just shy of 500 mph) against the G650 ER’s 680 knots. But the HondaJet costs less than $5 million compared to the G650 ER’s sticker price of $80 million and upward. And the HondaJet can operate out of modest local GA airstrips, which the Gulfstream cannot.
In other words, the HondaJet is aimed at people who really do need or want to get around over medium-sized distances. At a stretch one could travel from San Francisco to Boston with only a single refueling stop, and for a European owner Paris to Athens is possible without stopping to refuel at all. It’s the quintessentially affordable jet, providing greater fun and speed and altitude than a turboprop at no greater cost. It is the ultimate Honda: well-engineered, totally reliable, a pleasure to own, and superb value for money.
Which is why I’d really like to have one.
Unfortunately Honda hasn’t replied to any of my begging letters.
So if anyone reading this article happens to find $100 million lying on the road, or has it stashed away in a cookie jar and no real plans to use it, I’d be much obliged if you could send the money to me.
I promise I’ll make very good use of the first $5 million.