Out of the closet: Honda’s jet

In the beginning, the HondaJet didn’t exist, according to those in North Carolina who, as it turned out, were building it.

Then, when it was rolled out and flown late last year, it was shrugged off by Honda as strictly a technology exercise and a test-bed for the company’s HF-118 fanjet engine, also described as experimental until Honda made a deal with GE to develop it. No plans for airplane production, Honda spokesmen insisted.

Then the HondaJet got its first public exposure — albeit for only three hours — at Oshkosh in July, where it generated an astonishing amount of interest.

Now, a couple of weeks later, Honda Chairman Takeo Fukui is saying that Honda just might certify the airplane. Despite all those denials, Honda seems to be moving into the airplane business after all.

The HondaJet is innovative in many ways, although its most distinctive feature – engines mounted on pylons above the wings – is nothing new. That configuration appeared in 1971 on the world’s first regional jet, the 44-passenger VFW-Fokker 614.

Honda, however, has done highly sophisticated studies of airflow dynamics around the pylons and along the fuselage, resulting in a unique, almost wing-like pylon shape. An airfoil thicker than one might expect is due both to the torque strength needed for the wing to support engine thrust and to Honda’s conclusions about natural laminar flow. That laminar flow is maintained almost two-thirds of the way back over the wing’s chord, Michimasa Fujino, vice president, said at Oshkosh. Interestingly, in wind tunnel tests the wing’s characteristics proved similar with and without the nacelle, he said.

The unusual, sculptured shape of the airplane’s nose also keeps laminar flow attached beyond what has been achieved by other designs, Fujino added.

Honda has put a lot of time and effort into learning more than anyone previously about laminar flow, its control and its effects on aerodynamic efficiency. It will be interesting to see what comes of it, as more veils of secrecy are shed.

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